Finally Friday Reads: The Media is the Message

Portrait of Pablo Picasso, 1912 – Juan Gris

Good Day, Sky Dancers!

Way back in 1964,  Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan titled the first chapter of his book  Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man“The Medium is the Message.” You may read that chapter at the link with the pdf.  Wiki has a good summary of the book’s theses, which might explain why I went down this rabbit hole. I read the book in my first high school journalism class, and it’s stuck with me on many levels.  He discusses economics, Shakespeare, Cubism, and print and tv media,  among other modern inventions, which sent me back to the book for a reread when I declared my economics major and had just finished my Shakespeare class in university.  Here I am again, chasing the medium and the message for clues.

McLuhan argues that a “message” is, “the change of scale or pace or pattern” that a new invention or innovation “introduces into human affairs”.[10]

McLuhan understood “medium” as a medium of communication in the broadest sense. In Understanding Media he wrote: “The instance of the electric light may prove illuminating in this connection. The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message, as it were, unless it is used to spell out some verbal ad or name.”[11] The light bulb is a clear demonstration of the concept of “the medium is the message”: a light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. He describes the light bulb as a medium without any content. McLuhan states that “a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence”.[7] Likewise, the message of a newscast about a heinous crime may be less about the individual news story itself (the content), and more about the change in public attitude towards crime that the newscast engenders by the fact that such crimes are in effect being brought into the home to watch over dinner.[12]

In Understanding Media, McLuhan describes the “content” of a medium as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.[11] This means that people tend to focus on the obvious, which is the content, to provide us valuable information, but in the process, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time. As society’s values, norms, and ways of doing things change because of the technology, it is then we realize the social implications of the medium. These range from cultural or religious issues and historical precedents, through interplay with existing conditions, to the secondary or tertiary effects in a cascade of interactions that we are not aware of.[12]

Pablo Picasso, 1910, Girl with a Mandolin (Fanny Tellier),Cubism. (2023, May 10). In Wikipedia. 

So, I will spare you the Shakespeare but indulge in cubist art today as we consider two things that didn’t exist when the book was written or when I was in high school or University. Today, we have social media and constant streaming of news and news opinion in online newspapers, tv, and podcasts. The medium is a new form of news sharing, and the message, well, the message, can be pretty alarming.  At the moment, it all seems overwhelming.  I do, however, delight in sharing degenerate art.

Hold on to your coffee cup.  I’m about to write about two people who I loathe and whose leadership and contributions to the US public square come through today’s modern media.  First up, Elon Musk will be stepping down from Twitter, and his potential replacement is causing windows to rattle in right-wing buildings everywhere.

Reportedly, his replacement will be Linda Yaccarino. Brian Krasenstein introduces her thusly.

NBCUniversal’s Linda Yaccarino appears to be in talks with Musk and Twitter for the position as the company’s CEO. Currently Yaccarino works for NBCUniversal where she is responsible for monetizing the company’s industry-leading portfolio of linear networks, digital and streaming platforms, distribution and commerce partnerships, and client relationships. She also oversees all Global, National and Local Ad Sales, Partnerships, Marketing, Ad Tech, Data, Measurement, Commerce and Strategic Initiatives there.  

Yaccarino worked for the WEF (World Economic Forum), one of the global institutions that frighten anyone on the right.

This is from Today’s Washington Post.  

Musk had not publicly named Yaccarino but said Thursday that the new CEO will start in aboutsix weeks, after which he will transition to executive chair and chief technology officer.

The choice of Yaccarino, a longtime media industry insider, could signal a change at the ailing microblogging platform and prove a relief to advertisers, many of whom left Twitter after Musk took control. Twitter has laid off roughly three-quarters of its staff, and users have complained about outages and a shift in atmosphere amid sweeping Musk-led changes.

Whether Yaccarino will restore Twitter’s pre-Musk culture, double down on the tech executive’s approach or transform it into something else entirely will be a key question of her tenure — and users have wasted no time scraping her history to make predictions. Here’s what we know.

Yaccarino is chairman of global advertising and partnerships at NBCUniversal, where she oversees 2,000 workers on a team that has generated more than $100 billion in ad sales, according to her profile on the company’s website. Her team has forged partnerships with Apple News, BuzzFeed, Snapchat and Twitter, among others. Word of her talks with Musk come at a potentially awkward time, as Yaccarino is scheduled to address major NBCUniversal clients on Monday at the company’s “upfront,” an event intended to attract advertisers.

Some Musk fans have zeroed in on Yaccarino’s work with the World Economic Forum, an organization of political power brokers and global business leadersthat Musk has criticized, as a sign that she will return Twitter to its old ways or tamp down on Musk’s free-speech initiatives. At the WEF,which promotes globalization and hosts the annual Davos forum,she serves as chairman on the Taskforce on the Future of Work and sits on a committee for media, entertainment and culture, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Responding to some of those concerns in a tweet, Musk said that the platform’s “commitment to open source transparency and accepting a wide range of viewpoints remains unchanged.”

Fernand Léger, The City, 1919, oil on canvas, 231.1 × 298.4 cm (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

This is a rapid about-face given the timeline of Musk’s Twitter acquisition. Musk began acquiring Twitter on April 14, 2022.  The deal wrapped up on   October 27, 2022.  Musks started buying company shares in January 2022.  He was the largest shareholder by April, with a 9.1 percent ownership stake.

Meanwhile, back in TVland, the Trump CNN Townhall continues to disgust. BB featured this yesterday, and the hoopla continues.  This is from Hugo Lowell, writing for The Guardian. “Trump’s team revels in town hall victory as CNN staff rages at ‘spectacle of lies’ Questions also linger over what the network offered the ex-president in exchange for what some called a Trump infomercial.” Nothing says hostile work environment like putting a young woman in the position of being called “nasty” and listening to an accused Sexual Abuser and defamer give a repeat performance on prime time tv.

Donald Trump believes he got everything that he wanted from the controversial town hall hosted by CNN, according to multiple people close to him, even as it embarrassed the network and prompted a wave of outrage, including from many of its own staff who were upset that it gave Trump a platform to lie to a large audience.

The former president was interested in doing a town hall mainly because it would give the campaign material to clip for social media. He was interested in doing it on CNN because the campaign reached an understanding – which a spokesperson denied – that it would book more Trump surrogates.

Trump was not particularly concerned by whether the broadcast would get high ratings, though he told CNN’s chief executive, Chris Licht, backstage that he would boost their ratings, to which Licht nodded and said he should have “a good conversation and have fun”, two of the people said.

Trump’s advisers saw the town hall ultimately as a strategic win for the former president, who revelled in playing off the live audience of Republican and Republican-leaning voters in New Hampshire, which is hosting the first 2024 GOP presidential primary, and talked over the CNN moderator, Kaitlan Collins, as she tried to factcheck him in real time.

Man in a Hammock by Albert Gleizes

Nothing says Medium and Message more than this. “Licht nodded and said he should have “a good conversation and have fun,” two of the people said.”  Yes, that’s precisely what a town hall for a criminal, racist, misogynist, insurrectionist presidential candidate should do.  I particularly liked this headline and take by Dan Froomkin. “Lessons for Chris Licht’s successor at CNN.”

There is no evidence that CNN President Chris Licht is capable of learning anything. Nevertheless, his own journalists gave him a hell of a lesson during and after the totally predictable disaster that was the “town hall” with Donald Trump Wednesday night.

Licht has tried to make CNN neutral political territory, most notably by firing bold truth-tellers like Brian Stelter and John Harwood who minced no words when it came to calling out the tornado of lies spawned by Trump, Fox News, and the rest of the MAGA ecosystem.

Licht made it clear to the remaining CNN staffers that they should shove the contentious talk about Trump, in an attempt to appeal to more conservative voters; that they should not “take sides”.

What CNN journalists made clear in turn, on Wednesday night, is that in the Trump era, standing up for the truth absolutely requires you to engage in behavior that looks very much to one side like you’re taking the other. You simply cannot be a legitimate journalist and be neutral about Donald Trump.

Kaitlin Collins is no liberal – Tucker Carlson plucked her straight out of college to work at the Daily Caller — but Trump, blustering and blathering, cast her as a lefty patsy simply for trying to correct a tiny percentage of his flat-out lies. One MAGA publication called her a fool, rude, smug, arrogant, dismissive, boorish and ignorant.

Coming right out of the town hall, CNN’s star anchors completely refused to appear neutral – because to do so would have violated every jot and tittle of their journalistic principles.

And they didn’t only pan Trump, they expressed horror at the bizarre, ravening audience that Licht had pulled together.

Dancer in a café by Jean Metzinger

But then there’s my old friend from Katrina days, Anderson Cooper.  “Anderson Cooper, company man .”  This is from Finding Gravity and  Jamison Foser.

Speaking of fundamentally dishonest, CNN host Anderson Cooper used his show to lash out at critics4

Now, many of you think CNN shouldn’t have given him any platform to speak. And I understand the anger about that. Giving him the audience, the time, I get that. But this is what I also get. The man you were so disturbed to see and hear from last night? That man is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president. And according to polling, no other Republican is even close. That man you were so upset to hear from last night, he may be president of the United States in less than two years.

And that audience that upset you? That’s a sampling of about half the country. They are your family members, your neighbors, and they are voting. And many said they’re voting for him. Now, maybe you haven’t been paying attention to him since he left office. Maybe you’ve been enjoying not hearing from him, thinking ‘it can’t happen again. Some investigation is going to stop him.’ Well, it hasn’t so far.

So if last night showed anything, it showed it can happen again. It is happening again. He hasn’t changed, and he is running hard. You have every right to be outraged today and angry, and never watch this network again. But do you think staying in your silo and only listening to people you agree with is going to make that person go away?

This is just breathtakingly dishonest, condescending, and hypocritical.

I’ll take the last part first — the hypocrisy. Here is Anderson Cooper, a multimillionaire dozens of times over thanks to a hefty salary from the cable channel he is so piously defending, 5

ridiculing CNN critics for siloing themselves away so they don’t have to hear a word they disagree with — and he’s doing it as a monologue on the television show he hosts! Cooper could have invited a critic of the CNN/Trump rally on his show; could have given the critic a chance to counter his defense of CNN. But he chose instead to hide behind a monologue, siloed away, safe from counterpoint and disagreement. Like a coward, hoping those he disagrees with will simply go away if he ignores them long enough. He did exactly what he claimed CNN critics are doing. Pathetic cowardice and pathetic hypocrisy.

And of course CNN’s critics 6

aren’t siloed away, unaware of what Trump says. They can’t be — it’s virtually impossible to be unaware of the crap that oozes out of Donald Trump’s mouth; news companies like CNN constantly report the things he says and does. And critics aren’t saying CNN shouldn’t do that. They’re saying CNN should do it responsibly. They’re saying that there’s a difference between reporting on Trump and giving him a platform. They’re saying that CNN shouldn’t give him more than an hour of live airtime to lie and spread hatred in front of a hand-picked audience of adoring fans.

And speaking of that audience, the one Anderson Cooper so condescendingly insisted was a “sampling” of about half the country, as though anyone is unaware that Trump has fans, and as though broadcasting the audience was some kind of important piece of journalism? That audience was instructed that they could applaud but not boo. It was an orchestrated event, a fictionalization.

Think about how much contempt you have to have for your audience to behave the way Anderson Cooper did tonight. To condescendingly, and dishonestly, lecture your audience for not wanting to listen to a (carefully stage-managed) crowd cheer on a man who regularly incites violence as he mocks a woman he has already lost a civil judgement for defaming and sexually assaulting are nothing but snowflakes. To ridicule your audience for being afraid to hear disagreement — and doing it in a monologue instead of in conversation with a guest who might push back on your dishonest portrayal of critics.

Paysage Cubiste by Albert Gleizes

Well, that should harsh his mellow.  And then there’s this: “CNN’s Trump town hall was a fascist ritual ”  It’s written by Noah Berlatsky at Public Notice.  That headline gets straight to the point about the medium and the message.

How can 74 million Trump supporters be fascists?

Pundits and experts have long scoffed at the idea that Trump’s supporters are actually implicated in his evil — or at least, they’ve insisted that saying they are is verboten.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was widely excoriated when she said in 2016 that half of Trump’s voters were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic” — a “basket of deplorables,” as she memorably put it. In 2022, Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute worried that “to say that tens of millions of supporters of the other party … are fascists, fascistic, or semi-fascistic is to use the language of national emergency.” That transforms the other party from “adversaries to enemies,” he argues, which makes it too easy “to justify taking extraordinary action to suppress the threat.”

Hamid is afraid of the effects of polarization. But the way he keeps incredulously insisting that tens of millions of Trump supporters can’t be fascists also suggests that he is just loath to believe that so many Americans — our fellow countrymen, our neighbors, our relatives — can be bad people. Fascism is evil. Americans aren’t evil. So how can Americans be fascists?

The CNN town hall was a 70 minute demonstration in the grim mechanics of how. Robert O. Paxton argues that a core characteristic of fascism is “an obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood” paired with “compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity.” Fascists claim that they, the pure bearers of the nation’s pride, are being assaulted, smeared, and debased (generally by marginalized people). They then use that as an excuse for extremes of violence in the name of revenge and purity.

You can read more about any of this analysis at the links.

So, I’ve gone way over my usual word count, so I’ll assume you’re mostly asleep by now.  However, there’s just one more deplorable to mention.  He’s been taking lessons on how to use the term ‘witch hunt’ from Donald Trump.  He’s not quite up to the anger level yet.

This is from the New York Times. “What Comes Next for George Santos?  The fraud and money laundering charges unsealed on Wednesday do not immediately restrict Mr. Santos from serving in Congress, but the consequences in the months ahead could be severe.”  Perhaps a CNN townhall is in his future?  The article is written by Rebecca Davis O’Brien.

The day after Representative George Santos was charged with wire fraud and money laundering as part of a 13-count federal indictment, he was free to go back to work as a freshman Republican congressman from Long Island. Mr. Santos, who pleaded not guilty, can still vote in the House, and he can still raise money to run for re-election.

In other words, there were few tangible, immediate consequences for Mr. Santos as a result of his indictment.

But that could change in the weeks to come.

First, Santos has little to do in Congress since he sits on no committees.  His basic job is to vote the way McCarthy tells him to vote.  He finally has his dream job.  They’re not going to toss him out.  He’ll just have to wait for the Federal Criminal Case.

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday indicated that their investigation was ongoing: The U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn is working alongside the Department of Justice’s public integrity section in Washington, the F.B.I., the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, and the criminal investigation arm of the Internal Revenue Service.

The grand jury that voted to charge Mr. Santos will continue to meet and hear witness testimony. Prosecutors could bring additional charges against him, and even charge other people, since there are still a lot of unanswered questions about his background and the financing of his 2022 campaign.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

26 Comments on “Finally Friday Reads: The Media is the Message”

  1. dakinikat says:

    Have a peaceful weekend!

  2. dakinikat says:

    • NW Luna says:

      They must have hunted really hard. I’m frankly surprised they didn’t make something up. Wonder if the media will give this announcement of no wrongdoing as much play as they gave all the accusations.

  3. dakinikat says:

    The deplorables are having a meltdown on Twitter. It’s really funny. They all have blue checks, and they are whiny little weiners.

  4. NW Luna says:

    Wow. Look what Serbia’s doing!

    Serbians handed in thousands of guns in the first three days of an amnesty aimed at disarming the country following two mass killings last week, including one targeting schoolchildren.

    Almost 6,000 unregistered weapons, 300,000 rounds of ammunition, and 470 pieces of mines and explosive devices have been voluntarily surrendered nationwide since Monday, the country’s interior ministry said Thursday in an Instagram post promoting the measure.

    How countries around the world have responded to mass shootings
    President Aleksandar Vucic announced a suite of gun-control measures on May 5, pledging to “carry out an almost total disarmament of Serbia.”

    Serbia is among the most heavily armed countries in the world, in part a legacy of conflicts in the former Yugoslavia throughout the 1990s. It has the third-highest rate of civilian gun ownership per capita (tied with Montenegro), according to the 2018 Geneva Graduate Institute’s Small Arms Survey. But its government aims to change that with a policy package announced in the aftermath of the two shootings.

  5. Enheduanna says:

    Dak you are never boring – thank you for the news I’d probably miss otherwise!!!

    P.S. I’m a giant fan of Shakespeare and also your resident crackpot on the authorship question (it was Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford!) so bring it on! LOL

  6. bostonboomer says:

    If you look at Yacarino’s Twitter feed you’ll see she is a carbon copy of Musk. She’s a right winger, probably a Trump supporter. Musk will still be in control of everything.

  7. dakinikat says:

    • dakinikat says:

      And I hope CNN likes to have their trademarks infringed upon …

    • Ronstill4Hills says:

      The problem with giving Trump a microphone then trying to fact check him, even in real time, is that his followers are proud when he gets confronted for lying and shrugs it off. They are impressed with his shamelessness and bravado. Fact checking may as well be applause. Lying with a straight face, like wanton cruelty, is a MAGA superpower. They marvel at his ability to create and alternate reality on the fly, to them the internal contradictions and inconsistencies of his gibberish just shows how he runs circles around the impotent libtards.

      “And they wondered and marveled after the beast, who in all the world is like him?” Paraphrased, but the MAGAts think he is magic. Like Hitler. I say it over and over, Trump and his followers must be kept out of power until they die out. They want a fascist dictatorship so badly they. An taste it. And they have seen how easily it can be achieved, if we flinch, that is. Sticking with the apocalyptic motif, we are facing Armageddon and if we aren’t careful we will lose.

  8. bostonboomer says:

    Sorry, Anderson Cooper, Trump’s followers are not half of the country. Republicans are about a third of the country, and Trump fans might be half of that. Biden will win again if Trump is the nominee.

  9. bostonboomer says:

    • NW Luna says:

      Hedgehogs are so cute! Too bad we don’t have them in our country. I’m surprised at the dog just watching mournfully, though. Maybe he’s been taught not to chase the little ‘hogs.

    • dakinikat says:

      Cute little bugger!!! I get raccoons and possums grabbing cat food I put out for the ferals during the cold season. Not as cute as hedgehogs!

  10. NW Luna says:

    For shame. Democrats vote against healthcare for detransitioners.

    • bostonboomer says:

      That’s sick. So if you want to transition, it’s great; but if you decide you made a mistake, tough luck. Freedom for people with the *correct* views only.

      • quixote says:

        Really. If you’re for funding transition you have to also fund detransition. This is gross. I’d assumed, in my wide-eyed way, that they were for funding to help people live as they wanted to. (Me, personally, I’m not sure why I should be paying for that, unless taxpayers also fund my mind-expanding experiences….) But, _any_way. Taking this attitude about detransition says it was never about individual choice 😯

  11. dakinikat says:

    You have to read this thread by Washington Spectator’s Dave Troy. It basically outlines a plot by right-wing libertarians like Elon Musk and others to blow up the US economy and get rid of the US Dollar and Fed. There was a 5th Circuit opinion headed to SCOTUS that could make the FED unconstitutional. Folks like the Pauls and big Republican Donors and the Crypto fetishists love it and seemed to be actively involved. It’s frightening.

    • quixote says:

      That is some seriously scary stuff. The sort of thing where in Ye Olde Days we’d just laugh and say ‘look at those loonies.’ But Putin’s Playbook of messing with the understanding of what’s real seems to work all too well. And this whole pattern, which I hadn’t seen before, fits right in.