When I was in university, I found out that PR firms were managing the narrative of the Civil War in the former Yugoslavia. I discovered FARA. I also discovered the press releases that littered the desks of newsrooms.
I was not happy, but I was not surprised as the first Gulf War had been revealed to have been sparked by a PR firm as well.
The worst of it was that it was all an open secret: if someone wanted to know the role of public relations and propaganda in press coverage, just a little digging would reveal the truth.
So I wrote letters to media outlets, letting them know that other people knew about the role of PR in their news stories, and they ought to be verify their own information on their own.
A lot wrote back to me in the days before email and Internet were a thing.
I was told two things: that a journalist’s knowledge is thirty miles wide, but only one inch deep.
And that the first casualty of war is truth.
So basically, it was, yes, these are lies, but it all is fair in war, and we’re not going to be turning over every rock just because one female teenager from Canada knows it’s a sham.
I wasn’t just going to sit back and watch people take shortcuts. I had written hundreds of letters, and started getting a feel for a mindset of a profession. There was no deviation. They were all in lockstep with each other, saying the same things in the same way.
However, eventually, one of those letters would set of a chain of events that would lead me to use my newly minted psych degree to conduct one epic experiment: become a journalist to study how journalism was failing.
How does PR play into the product? How do journalists do their jobs? How do they conduct interviews? How do they choose stories and narratives? How does advertising come into play? Circulation? How do personal problems harm the product? What is their methods of quality control? How do hoaxes and fabricators take over the product?
Eventually, I had enough information to write a book. And then another one.
And now a third.
I knew that I would never understand the profession if I stayed an outsider. If I was an actual journalist, I could go through it the way those in the profession go through it. I could see the differences and similarities of various reporters. Who was doing journalism right, and who was doing it badly.
As I made my living as a journalist, I wasn’t pretending to be one. I wasn’t removed from it. I didn’t go into the profession with disdain, or a chip on my shoulder.
I went in as a scientist looking for the reality and truth of the situation.
And it left me in a peculiar position.
Journalists were too close to their situation to see the truth, but academics were as useless because they were too far away to experience the reality. Neither side had an inkling about what was both the truth of the profession, and its reality.
But I had both pieces of the puzzle because I was both the experimenter and the test subject, something you need if you are going to know the state of journalism. You cannot do it in a lab. It was not a post hoc thing where I saw things in perspective only after I left the profession.
I went in with test hypotheses, and knew precisely how I was going to do both — be a real journalist who was also a real experimenter. There was no after-the-fact reasoning in this equation.
As well as the results as countless experiments I conducted with myself as a test subject.
When the 2016 US Election came rolling by, I could have told you exactly how journalists in the US were going to cover it. I knew the script cold.
I also knew without a doubt that Trump would beat Clinton. I was never pro-Trump, but I knew that Clinton was incapable of winning because she is one of those people who will over-work things as she over-thinks them, the hallmark of someone who will do absolutely anything and everything except the one thing she absolutely has to do because doing that critical thing will prove her life theory to be fundamentally flawed, and she will never admit to it.
Trump is a saleman. He was in New York real estate, and that market is chaotic, volatile, and hard to navigate through without getting wounded numerous times. You look at the bottom line, and do the absolute minimum required to win because you do not waste precious resources.
The over-thinker always wastes resources in a bid to hide the flaw in a theory.
Politics is war. The side that uses the minimal number of resources to maximum capacity wins.
Had journalists been soldiers, they would have seen this coming.
But they have the same blindness as Clinton. They do everything except what is needed to be done because to switch a course would be tantamount to admit that the old path was wrong.
The problem was that before the Internet became mundane, journalists held all the power in broadcasting. They were the gate-keepers. Their flaws couldn’t weaken them because no matter how badly they messed up, they had no competition.
Until their audiences became that competition.
And the press then decided to do what they always do: socially engineer an outcome.
Except they couldn’t do it this time in this war.
And that was the day journalists became the first casualty of war.
Truth got her revenge.
And I am still an experimenter, chronicling the fallout as I watch a profession go up in a giant mushroom cloud.