The following is an excerpt from James O’Keefe’s new book, American Muckraker: Rethinking Journalism for the 21st Century (Post Hill Press).
In 2016, not coincidentally, Donald Trump was elected president. Trump’s ascendancy, argued Barton Swaim in the Wall Street Journal, represented the “spectacular failure of America’s expert class,” one “that would have been impossible without the willing support of a credulous news media.”A colleague of senior ABC correspondent David Wright, Andy Fies, explained the nature of that failure to an undercover Project Veritas reporter:
It’s about the f**king horse race … people in New York are constantly, I think, fascinated by how can people like Donald Trump, how can people understand. You know, well f**k, cross the Hudson now and then, and come out and spend some time, and you’ll hear why.
The disconnect between public sentiment and corporate media culture was echoed in 2017. CNN employees reluctant to speak publicly, did so privately to Project Veritas. A twenty-five-year veteran of CNN said of his employer:
I hate what we’ve become … we could be so much better than we are … All they gotta do is take an anchor, and put him at the desk, and tell the news … We’re so busy trying to get appointment viewership … Even though we’re totally left-leaning, we’re not, we don’t wanna admit it.
Although most journalists have been unwilling to acknowledge this bias out loud, people as different as Glenn Greenwald, Noam Chomsky, and President Trump have not shied from pointing it out, especially Trump when he talks about “fake news.” Despite the public silence, in private, even a CNN supervising producer admitted his network’s shabby motives. That producer, John Bonifield, told a Project Veritas undercover reporter that the reason CNN constantly focused on Russia was “ratings.” Bonifield added, “It’s mostly bulls**t right now. Like, we don’t have any big giant proof [of Russian interference].” Not one to mince words, the Wall Street Journal’s Barton Swaim called Russia collusion “an idiotic conspiracy theory.” Another hidden camera recording at a bar in New Hampshire caught Andy Fies, an ABC News producer, admitting, “We f**ked up four years ago , and we’re f**king up in the same ways today.”
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The effects are astonishing. Big Media had become a Goliath itself decades before, but as 2020 approached, the press, prominent CEOs, and the administrative state “[found] themselves in closer political alignment than at any time in decades.” Now, however, the citizen journalist advanced thanks to new technologies while the oligarchy could only play defense. As undercover German muckraker Günter Wallraff said, “David assumes new strength while Goliath is attacked on all sides. The Hunter becomes the quarry.” David suddenly had the power to upend Big Tech and Big Media as well as the political machine. “Once Gunther [sic] gets on stage,” writes radical activist Abbie Hoffman, “We begin to see things in a different focus.” For Hoffman, Wallraff’s technique is “[j]ournalism as guerrilla theater. The reporter as life-actor.”
Throughout that year and in the years that followed, those specialized classes of responsible men, bewildered by their failure to anticipate Trump’s populist appeal, attacked citizen journalists when they weren’t belittling their work product. After months spent mocking these uncredentialed journalists and the people who relied on their information, the more honest of these responsible men and women admitted to their own unbearable smugness, what CBS Digital’s managing director Will Rahn called “a profound failure of empathy in the service of endless posturing.”
Social media had rapidly become the main source of information for many Americans. By 2020, four billion people worldwide were on the various platforms. Critics put increasing pressure on social media executives to, in the words of one tech insider, “demonstrate their legitimacy.”
Tech companies were forced to make high-stakes gut decisions “under extreme duress.” Facebook’s head of global affairs, Nick Clegg, revealed on a leaked internal staff call published by Project Veritas:
Ideally, we [Facebook] wouldn’t be taking these decisions on our own. We would be taking these decisions in line with and in conformity with democratically agreed rules and principles. At the moment, those democratically agreed rules don’t exist. We still have to make decisions in real time.
Clegg, in the recording leaked to Project Veritas, discussed a veritable “Supreme Court” of outside experts of journalists, politicians, and judges leaning on his company to yield to the powers that be.
The unprecedented amplification of certain voices frightened Goliath. Big Tech honchos responded by setting the algorithms on the major social media platforms to monitor content that “moves, inspires, and/or terrifies us,” and by reacting accordingly. This led to the outright exclusion of those citizens who terrified those gatekeepers of information, including the president of the United States. It also meant excluding certain targeted media, including Project Veritas. Such exclusion has always and everywhere been a detriment to the truth, but the scale and speed of this exercise in social control was unprecedented. An individual or a media entity could lose a million followers in a heartbeat with no viable recourse.
At present day, the tech companies have reached a concentrated form of political power not unlike leaving a “loaded gun on the table.” During the 2020 election, they regularly engaged in “phony fact check” exercises, removed articles and videos that troubled them, and employed the kind of circular sourcing that would have impressed Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. By 2020, they had the power to sway an election and ultimately shape policy, and that is exactly what they did. Said Benny Thomas, Facebook’s Global Planning Lead: “Facebook and Google are no longer companies, they’re countries…. They’re more powerful than any country…. They must be stopped.”
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gave the social media giants immunity from the libel and defamation laws under which other media labor. Republicans have put pressure on the tech companies to be neutral. Some have even sought to end the Section 230 exemption altogether, but no congressional effort would have resolved the core dilemma. While the Republicans wanted policy reform in order to minimize censorship, Democrats were proposing bills to increase censorship by holding tech companies “accountable for enabling cyberstalking, targeted harassment, and discrimination.”
As Charles Murray argued in his book By the People, “American government was now in an advanced stage of institutional sclerosis where solutions were beyond the reach of the electoral and legislative process.”
During and after the 2020 election, both major American political parties yielded to the Silicon Valley cartel with regard to voter fraud. In imposing unprecedented censorship policies in the midst of a contested election, Big Tech shook the pillars of the American Experiment to its very core, and the political classes scarcely protested.
Perhaps the only way out of this impasse, in a world in which media is very nearly everything, would be full transparency over the content decisions of tech and media companies. This would involve some combination of cinéma vérité and libel suits to force transparency through discovery. In this case, it would be Project Veritas v. The New York Times Company. Jonathan Turley found the court’s decision to reject the Times’ motion to dismiss and grant Project Veritas discovery noteworthy, “because it calls out the New York Times for blurring the line between opinion and fact.” Turley described it as “a shot across the bow,” one that might well restrain the oligarchy’s power. Though slim, David had forced a crack in Goliath’s shield.
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