So where does all this leave us? There’s been a lot written recently about how we’re in a “post-truth” world, one in which facts cease to matter and narrative is all. In this I guess things are not too different to how they would have been for most of humanity’s existence, when most people were reliant upon gossip, rumour, travellers’ tales, ballads, pamphlets and sermons for their news and the interpretation thereof. It’s really only the last 100 to 150 years in which we’ve had fact-based news coming from sources which prided themselves on their accuracy and reliability.
We may come to look back on those years as a golden age of objectivity, which of course they were not. Even our most respected news outlets have always had to chose what they report and how they analyse it, and they have never been immune to propaganda. As an illustration, take a look at this picture from the 1980’s miners’ strike, from the Battle of Orgreave. It’s a famous picture which has been widely reproduced, and taken alone it appears like a classic face-off in the midst of a violent conflict, two men possibly on the verge of coming to blows, and that was the context in which the contemporary media used it. Of course Orgreave was very violent. Nonetheless, this particular moment in time wasn’t violent, as the full picture sequence taken by the photographer shows.
The picture was cherry-picked by the media to support the story they wanted to tell.
No surprises there, although again, it’s easy in our cynical, wordly-wise, why is this lying bastard lying to me* world, to forget that the revelation that the media did not report objectively was once quite novel, as demonstated nicely by this Guardian advertisement from the time.
*Louis Heren: “When a politician tells you something in confidence, always ask yourself “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?”