Journalism ill-woke, weaponising press conferences, plausible lying and the battle of the dead and live cats.
For all the journalism conferences you’ll likely to attend, all the interview and tweets that will follow about crisis and intended panaceas in journalism, it remains utterly shocking, staggering and mournful the state news journalism finds itself covering politics.
News editor will utter something about data as the future, interview skills, even AI and bots, but few acknowledge they’re on the ropes because they’ve little idea about the new psychological realm they’re trapped in and as such how to confront politics and politicians.
And would they send themselves off to advance comms schools to learn? Course not! They know better, but I’m yet to see a panel of psychologists and surreal theatre directors address a group of journalists. Why surrealists? Vladislav Surkov! If that doesn’t cause a reaction, don’t bother.
There are some brilliant journalists whose actions suggest they’ve broken the moors of confectionary journalism and are seeking answers, but broadly watching interview after interview is like being hammered with the impenetrable cult show The Prisoner, I’m watching on cable. What the heck is going on equally applies to journalism?
The halcyon days are far behind us when accountability mattered, where eventual truth was sacrosanct, where journalists clearly felt they led and politics answered to them.
I can’t tell you the exact time because it’s been a slow mission creep by depth manipulators, psychoanalysts, spin merchants and bent elected officials from the days of Edward Bernays, the father of PR. Politicians distilled and refluxed the truth, but their conscious about the consciousness of the state and others reigned them in.
Today it’s abundantly clear that there is a large schism between journalists’ belief about how important they are and how modern politicians treat them with contempt. Click bait, anyone?
The art of Plausible Deception
The key component today is “plausible deception”, which emerges from the episteme of plausible denial. Whereas the latter signified being actively consciously ignorant to hide a wrongdoing, the former allows for conscious deception to the extent of not telling the truth to obfuscate an unequivocal reality. The deception, in the eyes of the beholder, yields a far more important advantage to its perpetrator, particularly when communicating to their social media followers.
Frankly the politician doesn’t care, because his/ her supporter base doesn’t care and the chances of convincing a waverer outweighs the risk of losing a vote. Or and otherwise it’s the stuff of wargaming — fair game — insidious, mendacious and a bit of a laugh. It’s psychological mathematics towards winning hearts and minds.
It’s so now woven into the fabric of politics that it’s near normalised. I look forward to the day with dread when Governments will sanction mass deception/lying on one particular day, re: the Purge, so the rest of the year people can pledge to tell the truth.
Politics has become less about serving the people but winning at all costs. Any costs. And plausible lying or even plausible co-lying where you co-opt your colleagues to participate is 2000s break from 20th century communications. Politicians always bent the truth, but they feared the tipping point journalism would lure them towards and the abyss awaiting them.
Marlon Brando’s “I used to be somebody” is writ large here.
Not any more. Plausible Deception means a politician doesn’t care about the social scales, whilst weighing up the pecuniary costs should there be a transgression of the law.
What matters most is air time. Air time to enact how memory works -repetition. Sitting with nurses, touring schools and factories, taking at podiums — nothing matters about the actual outcome, because any segment can be reconstructed to shape a narrative towards plausible lying.
The strategy goes like this. Say anything outrageous and get air time, because what else will general broadcasters grant you? Once you’re in the midst of the environment craft your own histrionics to spin to your constituents. This can take the shape of a rebuttal on anything you’re asked whilst you spend the rest of the interview attacking the opposition.
The journalist won’t cut you off because, unlike you, they still feel this is traditional journalism circa 20th century. This, they tell themselves is the way it should be. It’s like watching alternative comedy suffocate the comedy of its time, with stage acts asking why no one was interested in their mother-in-law gags.
And if your attack in sloganeering against your opponent is perceived as stronger than your plausible deception you’ve won. This is politics-by-any-means-necessary.
The key is not to let the plausible deceptor get off subject. Memory is aided by repetition and thwarting the politicians whilst sticking to your questions and cutting off all other responses is the way forward.
You’ll be accused of not letting them answer the question. Here again the politician feels the need to guilt trip the journalist into believing the rules of the 20th century apply. They don’t.
Tucked behind this theme is the complexity of journalism trying to do its work. It’s not a perfect social sciences dependent upon interpretive skills and dialogue amongst nimble thinkers. What happens when the source of a story or one close to it yields multiple conflicted “facts”. What can you believe? And if the source has form to obfuscate or lie about previous egregious issues, then thoughts that would once be seen as conspiracy theories enter the realm of probabilities. A conspiracy theory in itself is a notion. It arises when there is little in the way of scientific evidence or historical fact to support claims. When someone has form in bending the truth, and there is palpable circumstantial evidence for their deeds, any assumption about their motives need to be taken seriously
As a campaign strategist for the Labour party yesterday was a day you’d like to forget. A figure of import, one to whom his many kith and kin have emotional shares in the labour party, came out swinging.
Swinging is a wrong word choice for a Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, a temperate man, or either one that doesn’t speak for all jewish people, too the lead in the news claiming Labour and Jeremy Corbyn had failed to deal with anti-semitism in the party.
But that didn’t do it, whether entrapment or the offer of condolences for how Jewish people felt, journalists wanted Labour’s leader to apologise. Andrew Neil, Beth Rigby and others, but Mr Corbyn was having none of it.
There’s several ways to look at this. An apology is no admission of guilt. However it frames a wider responsibility to what happens next. You may not be culpable, but since you offer an apology what are you offering going forward. To some the very nature of an apology however tactically it’s made is an apology and an association of blame.
Either way Mr Corbyn isn’t going there and the public must make up its mind as journos too think they have the bit between their teeth.
Perception, like it or not, is powerful kicker in forging people’s beliefs. So today Labour strategists struck back with a bombshell. News that the PM Borish Johnson has secretly been negotiating with the Trump administration; the effect of which is the NHS is not safe.
This was a solar plexus shot. The facts are still emerging at this point, but if true how does that affect the voting in this proxy-Brexit general election. There’s some history to consider.
Back in the 2015 election, Ed Milliband had Cameron and the conservatives on the ropes over Non Doms and tax havens. The conservatives strategy was to wheel out the seemingly mild-mannered defence minister Michael Fallon MP.
It was cringe-making to watch and to try and understand the logic, but it worked a treat for the Conservatives as the media e.g. BBC Radio 4 et al lapped up the message. Ed Milliband was not to be trusted because he stabbed his brother in the back.
As then reported in the Guardian this was a dead cat in motion, admired by Labour strategists and Conservatives alike in putting an end to Labour’s run of the news.
Journalism couldn’t get by this trickery ‘gift wrapped’ as important and new, and their full throttle approach was a lesson in how to curb a gullible media.
If the conservatives can benefit from a platform of the chief Rabbi, can labour bring to heel with their own dead or is that live cat? For the NHS issue is not a distraction, but almost certainly has been deployed to arrest the negativity of labour’s position in the last two days.
Perception, that tonic of an elixir. Watching Mr Corbyn spell out the Labour’s scoop against the Conservatives were you like me. Whaaaa And whilst some might say it’s being delivered in a mild mannered way, this ace card maybe is in danger in getting lost.
A little bit more drama and projected profoundness, followed by a memorable slogan eg. It’ll be hoary under the tories would levitate this announcement, give is some fuel as as a news quotient beyond a live cat.
The democrats in their impeachment hearings against the President Donald Trump have most definitely upped their game, dragging every morsel of news to be new and elongating the new cycle. Will this be Labour’s strategy?
Either way, plausible lying, and journalism going on a tail spin will be set in motion ad nauseam. That next news conference, get yourself some psychiatrists.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah, was a former political producer in 2000 working on Channel 4’s politics show edited by Andrew Brown (brother of Gordon Brown MP). He started his TV news career at Newsnight in 1990s. Today he’s a lecturer at Cardiff University on Foreign News Reporting and Emerging Journalism. His PhD explored aspects of neuroscience and cognitive behaviour in a new video form of journalism called Cinema Journalism.