Media, Search Engines, and the Power of a Gaze

When we talk about the media we often do so in ways that don’t acknowledge the technological changes modern society has undergone. We think of the media in terms of either printed publications or television broadcasts, still, despite many of us having long since moved away from these controlled legacy media sources.

But we should include in our understanding of what the media is any of the filters on reality imposed by corporations, governments and vested interests. Anything that mediates between you and reality, to your detriment or for the purpose of your exploitation by others, is the media. Anything that controls what you hear and see, and what you are in turn allowed to say or show, is now the media. So really both the legalistic moves by the State to enact censorship and the way a search engine defines what you are allowed to discover, particularly when corporations and the State work closely together, as is as much ‘the media’ as a newspaper or a TV report is.

A large part of tyrannical power, it seems to me, depends on two ocular phenomena. The effective tyrant has an unrestricted gaze. He can see whatever he wants to see. You have no privacy, no right of concealment, from him. This is the tyranny of the surveillance state, and the tyranny of the collection and control of your personal data. Tolkien symbolized the sheer horror of malign near-omniscience in the Eye of Sauron. But the tyrant, the unjust society, also gets to choose what it wishes to ignore. It also gets to direct your gaze, as well as impose it’s own. Controlling what you can see is as important as you not being able to conceal anything from the tyrant.

The 24/7 news cycle enacts both of these ocular aspects of tyranny.

The actual print runs of most physical newspapers, magazines and journals are low, and have been steadily declining across all topic areas for a long time. Many of the oldest newspapers in the world run today at near bankruptcy levels, propped up by billionaire patrons or owners ready to suffer the losses of outlay and ongoing costs for the prestige and influence gained, not with a majority of a now indifferent public, but with that minority that sets political policy and forms the main consumer of traditional news.

We are turning our eyes away from it. Surely that should lessen its power?

Well, if only. The physical newspaper has gone from the way the powerful communicate with the ordinary person, truthfully or as propaganda, to the way a ruling class communicates with itself. Legacy media outlets, especially given growing general disgust at their pervasive dishonesty, are more about reassuring the elite of the validity of their most irrational prejudices and the morality of their most selfish desires, than they are about fooling you or me into sharing these viewpoints.

They are the house organs of incipient unacknowledged tyranny. The professional journals and industry magazines written by tyrants for tyrants.

A classic example of what I am talking about here comes with The Guardian newspaper, the peevish, entitled UK based voice of the British chattering classes. This paper no longer reports its average circulation figures, probably because they are embarrassingly low. The last time it did report such figures, in 2021, the paper boasted 108,687 sales as an average in January of that year. As an indication of the rate of decline in people actually bothering to purchase a physical copy, that was roughly 30,000 copies lower than the previous year.

But even that precipitous decline doesn’t tell you the full story of the paper’s growing irrelevance and lack of popularity with the wider public. Because a significant proportion of The Guardian’s alleged sales come not from individual purchasers on the street or in newsagents shops, but from automatic bulk purchases from ideologically aligned portions of the State. The BBC, for example, admitted to ordering 69,212 copies of The Guardian in 2017. There are hundreds if not thousands of other branches of the State, or institutions staffed by ideologically committed fellow travellers, who will be doing the same thing.

There is a strong quid pro quo existing between such a paper and the public bodies that bulk purchase copies of it, with both the BBC and The Guardian exchanging staff and compliments at a furious rate. Guardian hacks will write pieces extolling the cultural importance of the licence fee and the wonderful work the BBC does, especially in news and culture, whilst BBC reports will cite The Guardian as an unimpeachable, innately respectable source whilst regularly inviting Guardian contributors like Owen Jones on as guests and talking heads. And it’s not just the BBC. Perhaps an NHS hospital trust purchases a certain number of Guardian copies every year to grace waiting rooms and staff canteens, whilst being assured that The Guardian will always be a slavishly worshipful supporter of the intrinsic value, worth and excellence of the NHS.

Back in 2012, when reports of how much the BBC was spending on copies of The Guardian first circulated, Guardian columnist Roy Greenslade offered a hilariously dismissive and superior defense. Of course, Greenslade opined, the BBC buys lots of copies of The Guardian, using taxpayer funding to do so. After all, both are “imbued with a public interest ethos”. The public interest being, apparently, that everyone should pay for both the BBC and The Guardian shoving the same propaganda in their direction, at their unwitting expense. Greenslade described genuine public dislike of this incestuous relationship between the State funded broadcaster and the premier leftist-progressive newspaper as “an obvious conspiracy theory”. In other words, financial proof that one helped prop up the other, when absolutely factually proven to be the case, was a “conspiracy theory.”

Greenslade, clearly, was something of a precocious talent, since such argumentation (of course it happened, it’s good that it happened, and it’s a wild crazy conspiracy theory to say it happened) would become in more recent years the primary template of any mainstream media article, on anything.

Greenslade also noted (remember, this was supposed to be a defense asserting that none of this was evidence of bias and a social class rewarding it’s own) that the readership of The Guardian, like the staffing of much of the BBC, came from the same rather narrow group of people:

“It’s clear from the National Readership survey data…that the vast majority of Guardian readers are drawn from the upper end of the social classes, with two-thirds in the top AB bracket.”

In his own words Greenslade fulminates against the characterization of the Guardian reader as a “politically-correct, angst-ridden, middle-class, liberal-minded bureaucrat” then admits that they all come from the same social demographic and that they are all middle class and that it’s perfectly natural for a huge number of them to be working at the BBC (a vast media bureaucracy….).

All of this should be both laughable and encouraging for those who want real news, real objectivity, or real reporting standards, because it makes two things plain. First, these legacy media outlets are not sustainable without the life support of public funding, of appropriations from the State. They aren’t popular, they aren’t commercial on a level playing field, and the majority of people are either indifferent to or actively despise the views they present. Second, it also makes plain that these people are biased, are incestuous, are just a narrow class protecting their own interests in a narrow bubble of views which are so inherently self-ratifying and so riddled with confirmation bias that they have lost any talent at the thing they supposedly exist to do, which is persuade others. Greenslade’s article, proving his own argument false, is a typical example of that incompetence.

But here’s where we get to the real problem. Because legacy media, these print based companies designed to sell lies but not very good at it anymore, still shape the narrative. They haven’t died the death that a genuine free market would offer them. Every Guardian article now comes with a desperate plea attached-’please fund us’ messages. But these pop up online, when viewing these pieces as most of us, today, would view them. Not as print copies, as online reports.

Some of the legacy outlets moved entirely online, because they somehow managed to be less popular than The Guardian and became completely economically unviable even to owners with very deep pockets. This is what happened with The Independent, even backed by a former KGB oligarch dynasty. Some were created to completely stop pretending that these news sources could actually build a commercially viable attractive brand, like The Metro, offered free as disposable propaganda to train commuters in London (and also to train those commuters) and as bedding for the homeless, perhaps the only good that rag has ever done.

The Metro is a particularly hilarious example of the disconnect between modern journalism and things ordinary people actually want. When you see a Metro stand that isn’t empty, it is telling you that these particular journalists can’t even give away what nobody would ever bother to buy.

Some legacy media, it must be admitted, handled the transition to an online world in smarter ways than the rest. Typically, since these ‘right wing’ outlets had already been smarter and more popular than their leftist competitors, The Sun and The Daily Mail managed to create online versions of their papers that were pretty popular. Both still sell far more print copies than The Guardian, and both also have an online presence with far more reach.

ALL of them, and their US equivalents, do not attract subscribers and audiences to compete with the leading podcasts. Just as Fox News at it’s Tucker led height attracted nothing like the number of views Tucker can command when freed from the ‘respectable’ restrictions all legacy media work by-restrictions which are designed not to enforce truth but to control it, to strangle to death any truth that is inconvenient or that challenges the powers that be, whilst treating as truth any lie that does the opposite.

At this point we have to confront a contradiction. That contradiction is this-more and more people know that legacy media lies constantly. Fewer and fewer people consume (and are consumed by) legacy media reporting. We don’t buy them in print form anymore. Millions of us have stopped watching them on TV screens. The viewing figures of Fox, MSNBC, CNN, ANC, any BBC news channel, the Canadian State broadcaster, their Australian equivalents-all of them are falling, failing and unpopular. Nobody can point to one of them today that has a much bigger audience than it had 20 years ago.

There is an across the board decline, and it’s not just in the print versions. When they first moved online, of course they built something there. Because they were starting from zero. But there’s no mainstream media journalist with the following Joe Rogan has. The whole organisation, with thousands of staff, has followings and viewing figures well below the numbers a top alternative news podcaster will get in a few days or even a few hours with each episode. Mainstream media can still make a name, but it doesn’t make the biggest names. And a big name there can get even bigger, much bigger, by leaving.

So in all these ways the entire edifice of old fashioned propaganda is dying. In all these ways the control is slipping.

And yet, and yet….the mainstream media can declare an election to be legitimate, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that declaration stands.

The mainstream media can push a Russia collusion lie that was a concoction, a fantasy, an election interfering smear, and it results in multiple impeachments, in prison terms for some innocent men, and is never, to this day, retracted. The media can lie in the most profound and corrupt ways, in ways that allow the total destruction of any real democracy, without one journalist even so much as printing an apology.

The mainstream media can also, en masse, refuse to publish truth, comment on facts, or allow others to comment truthfully. They can silence a President. When Trump was fighting the theft of 2020, they stopped reporting that. The man who they had obsessively reported. They cut away from his comments, they refused to air some of his statements. Whilst he was still the serving President.

They still supplied bucketloads of their lies, but his words were cut off. They just ignored what they wanted to ignore, happily misrepresented whatever they considered useful to distort, and stopped bothering to investigate or report at ALL.

In other words, they may fail to persuade us anymore, but they still control what is deemed truthful or real by the society we live in. They no longer attract our gaze, command our support, or effectively deceive us….but we still have to live by their rules and definitions. They can still shape the world we are allowed to see.

Today, they have all decided in large part not to report on the Biden impeachment process. I looked at Yahoo News today. I counted 59 anti Trump articles linked on that one page. Sometimes four different articles on the same story, but all anti Trump. For example a reaction ‘So and So laughs at crazy Trump speech’ followed by, referring to the same speech, ‘Standup B mocks crazy Trump speech’. 59 examples of that, as ‘news’.

The same page didn’t have a single article on the extensive evidence being presented that Joe Biden and his family took tens of millions of dollars in bribes for influence from foreign sources. Not one.

And this is where we come to the point about real power, and where it lies. Because much as we would like it to be, real power has nothing to do with popularity. Real power isn’t about persuasion. It’s not about people liking you better than the other candidate. It’s not about your policies being ones the majority of people support. It’s certainly not about you governing effectively or making lives better or keeping the price of gasoline and the inflation rate low. It’s none of that.

It can only be that in a non-corrupt setting.

Real power as we live today is being able to punch people in the face, literally or metaphorically, and get away with it. Real power is being able to lie every second of every day and have the world treat your lie as the absolute goddamn definition of truth. Real power is lying so hard and so often that the dictionary changes the definition of the thing you are talking about. Real power is shoving your lie in the face of every single person so that even those who hate it and don’t buy and don’t want it and don’t believe it see it all around them.

That Yahoo News page that gives you 59 lying articles on Donald Trump? That comes up automatically on your laptop. Or it’s the search engine pre-loaded on your cell-phone. That Google search engine that hides things you want to see and shows you things you don’t believe and imposes criteria on your searches programmed by people who wouldn’t know what truth was if they slept in the same bed with it….that’s real power.

When you want to check an article you’ve read and a case you remember and it’s no longer there and no search engine will show it. That’s real power.

If any of this was about actual popularity legacy media would have no power left. Just as if election results were still about actual votes Donald Trump would be reaching the end of the second term he won rather than potentially being imprisoned for protesting about it’s theft.

So legacy media, combined with the Big Tech search engine and social media companies, still has the power, and those vastly more popular alternative voices, still don’t. If they can’t sell a single printed copy of their lies, and if nobody tunes into their broadcasts except fellow conspirators, fellow liars, and fellow members of the tiny minority in power, it doesn’t matter. They still define the reality you are forced to occupy.

And they always will until THEY pay for their crimes. Until there is that consequence, some response more severe than the things they do, they don’t need to fear mere popularity. Any more than they fear the average citizen they are lying to and lying about.

The search engine joins the print and TV image as a control mechanism directing your gaze. Going back to the comments about Sauron, think of this part of the media as the palantiri. In Tolkien’s work, these were magical artifacts which were large round stones or orbs, like a fortune tellers orb, which allowed images and thoughts to be exchanged over vast distances. People could use them to view distant locations and events. But since Sauron possessed one, looking in another risked attracting his gaze. Every time you used the seeing stone, he might see right into you. Or he might distort what you saw, selecting what you could see. In this way, through these seeing stones, he lured Saruman to evil and drove Denethor II, the Warden of Gondor, to insane despair.

The thing that controls your gaze is one of the most powerful weapons of evil, capable of both tempting you to its service and robbing you of the will to resist. All by only showing what it wants to show.

I can’t think of a better metaphor for the entire media complex than that.

Reprinted with permission from Daniel Jupp. Find his column Jupplandia on Substack. He recently published his second book, Gates of Hell.