Last month, I was so burned out following the Trump train wreck that I unsubscribed from a few media sites in order to give myself a break. I put on hold the next book I wanted to read and kept the news at arm’s-length. I just wanted some time to rest.
But I found myself trying to imagine how Trump thinks. He’s a notorious non-reader. I watched a little cable news, which I learned doesn’t really require any investment of effort. And I imagined Stephen K. Bannon whispering into Trump’s ear like Wormtongue and got the chills. There’s a lot about the world you can’t learn from Fox News and Bannon.
Here’s proof positive: Do you know that some accuse Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia of helping to create ISIS? Bandar famously said, “You suspect me and I turn in my chauffeur and say he did it. You would think I am no longer a suspect.” I never heard that from Fox News. Trump recently met with a corrupt Saudi scion, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, son of King Salman of Saudi Arabia, which I read from Reuters.
We learn from the groundbreaking book, House of Bush, House of Saud, “Working closely with Turki and with (King) Salman, then the governor of Riyadh, Osama bin Laden played a key role in financing, recruiting and training Arabian volunteers” to fight against the Soviets. Mohammed is King Salman’s son.
The Salman family is notoriously corrupt. From Unger’s book, we learn that many allege King Salman “had advance knowledge of the 1995 bombing (of Riyadh) and allowed it to take place to solidify his political position.” One of King Salman’s son’s, race horse owner Prince Ahmed bin Salman, was identified by an Al Qaeda operative as the person who served as the intermediary between the Saudi royals and Al Qaeda and “knew in advance that Al Qaeda would attack on 9/11. Not long afterward, the prince died mysteriously in Saudi Arabia of a heart attack…” Trump’s Russian anti-hero, Vladimir Putin, has also been accused of killing those who expose the truth about his regime.
But you won’t get this information from watching cable news. Slightly more than half of American adults get their news from television. Yet only 23 percent of people say they trust television news, the same level of confidence people have in newspapers.
About one out of five people get their news from the Internet, which you’re doing now. In fact, The Huffington Post is ranked by many as the most popular source for political news. It is from The Huffington Post in 2013 that we learned that more than a quarter of American adults hadn’t read a book in the past year.
In 2002, at the start of this age of fear and false information brought on by the war on terror, Noam Chomsky participated in an interview about the promise of technology. He said, “The Internet could be a very positive step towards education, organisation and participation in a meaningful society. But if you look at the latest figures for internet use, things such as pornography and e-shopping overwhelm everything else.”
David Harvey, a professor and critic of neoliberalism, offers a more radical suggestion. Media are “subservient to financial interests,” he writes in A Brief History of Neoliberalism. He continues by writing, “There is overwhelming evidence of massive interventions on the part of business elites and financial interests in the production of ideas and ideologies; through investments and think tanks; in the training of technocrats; and in the command of the media.”
There are two vital questions one asks when confronting our current media landscape and Trump’s attraction to its stupider end: Why has it become so hard to get vital information that is necessary to support or argue against our government’s actions? And why do so few people put forth the effort to dig deeper and read closely?
Of course, the answers to the questions are interlaced. We do not read closely because it is hard to devote the cognitive energy to do so and most people are working longer hours for less pay. We do not get vital information because it requires courage on the part of journalists. The media landscape is dependent on the political landscape, where the crisis in democracy is now finally an issue. People in power have little incentive to make information more transparent if it reduces their power.
Those are just some of the answers. America used to be a place where people read newspapers and books. It’s not an intellectual or snobbish thing to do. It’s vital to learn about what powerful people are up to. If only Trump could read more than a teleprompter…