Worldview (n.) – a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Worldview is everything in political belief, whether or not we wish to admit it. What dictates beliefs from an ideological standpoint varies widely from person to person. The extremes of both sides of the ideological aisles often fail to see, or choose to be blind to, this fact. What is more bothersome is that many of the things which we hold as truths, as Obi-Wan Kenobi once observed with such eloquence, depends entirely on our point of view or, to use a more modern vernacular, our worldview.
This definitely affects how news and information is approached and received. The notion of “fake news” is not a new concept; President Theodore Roosevelt spoke of reporters who infiltrated sweatshops in America’s Northeast and Midwest in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as “muckrakers.” To him, many of these reporters were simply attempting to sensationalize the conditions, such as those described in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, in an attempt to advance an agenda. Granted, this was largely the case and did achieve historic changes which led to modern health and safety rules in the workplace, but Roosevelt and, more to the point, industrialists directly affected by the changes caused by said articles, regarded these journalists as self-serving do-gooders whose publishers where more concerned about selling newspapers than actually looking out for the national interest. It is very familiar song.
While the journalists of that time were unjustly regarded as parasites, today’s media has created much of its own perception issues, but those problems have also been exacerbated by the proliferation of the sources which cater to one particular worldview. Websites such as RedState, Huffington Post, NewsMax, and Mother Jones were all established with one purpose – activist journalism, which takes legitimate information and manipulates it to advance an agenda, be it conservative or liberal. These websites have become popular, and even trusted, because traditional legacy sources such as network news and periodicals such as Time, Newsweek and USA Today lost sight of their primary mission – to inform the public. Instead, traditional information sources have focused more on the viewpoints of individual writers and “anchors” to “sell the story,” rather than letting the story sell itself.
A great example would be to compare the Trump Administration to the Nixon Administration in terms of media coverage. Today’s media is focused on “pouncing;” attacking what the President does with Twitter, or what his underlings say in press conferences, and picking it apart. The media of the Nixon era was more concerned with receiving information as it was disseminated, analyzing it, and finding inconsistencies. While it was not entirely investigative journalism, the reporters of Nixon’s day focused more on the facts and allowed that administration to create its own worst nightmare; impeachable offenses revealed through a combination of individual hubris and collective administration incompetence. For the Nixon White House, the gaffes of ego committed by the cabal led by both Nixon himself and advisors, such G. Gordon Liddy, did more damage to that President than any newspaper editorial ever could. For Trump’s Administration, the media now appears to be willing patsies in a war of misinformation and blatant ego inflation. Rather than reporting on inconsistencies and obvious conflicts of interests, the media’s obsession with the President’s twitter feed and what his children do in their off hours appears to be stuff of political and editorial vendettas, as opposed to the work of truth-seeking reporters.
During operation Desert Storm in 1992, the late Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf pulled one of the great distraction moves in modern warfare. He sent coalition forces to the Kuwait border in such numbers to keep the late Saddam Hussein’s forces occupied and obsessed with stopping a direct invasion and then, in a bold move, launched a massive offensive to west of Kuwait, destroying the Iraqi Army’s rear lines. Much of Trump’s campaign and administration’s public relations moves appear to be the same; focus media and public attention away from the more pressing issues of the day by using marketing buzzwords and research to distract the public and media, then working to do things his way without public scrutiny. This sort of distraction is a classic tactic in business – use distraction in negotiations to focus attention on one hot-button issue in order to gain larger concessions on broader matters, and his most vocal, rabid supporters are defending him at every single turn, no matter how questionable his statements on these matters. A good question is why are these voters buying into it, but a better question is how is Trump pulling it off?
The answer is simple; Trump is playing to the fears of his base’s worldview.
Many Trump voters share a similar, if not identical, worldview; a collective group of nations, largely Muslim, which seek to destroy the United States by any means necessary. While several of these nations exist, most lack the will or ability to strike even indirectly. In addition, they feel that corporate America is part of a globalist cabal which seeks to destroy the American-Western way of life. Some of these worldviews also put white Anglo-Saxon protestants (so called “WASPs”) at the top of the world pyramid of authority. Others espouse the worldview that Western culture is far superior to any others on Earth – former radio host and libertarian standard-bearer Neal Boortz once famously admitted he was not a racist but a “culturalist,” stating he did believe that Western civilization was superior to all others on Earth and must retain its eminence, and TheBlaze founder Glenn Beck was pulled from Fox News when even the heads of the largely conservative-oriented news network got the jitters over Beck’s increasingly conspiratorial claims on his own short-lived TV program.
While these worldviews are often based in personal experience, they can also be based in a facade of nationalism designed to profit from the fears and emotions of those who seek validation of their beliefs and views. It is these individuals, such as conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones and Breitbart head/Trump advisor Scott Bannon, who are the greatest purveyors of convincing misinformation. In Bannon’s case, a reasonable individual can deduce one reason for his practices – packaging propaganda in a veneer of factual data to present in such a way that it’s accepted because it matches the accepted views of those who voted for Trump in the first place and, therefore, emboldens the President to behave in a manner which is to the advantage of both Bannon and those of his ilk.
To many, the media is not reliable because it was the media itself who bought into the notion of not only informing the public, but influencing it to act in accordance with a narrative. Individuals such as CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Nancy Grace, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews, and even Fox News’ newest crop of hosts are not journalists in the true sense of the world, but commentators using the facts given by genuine reporters to advance an agenda. This is reminiscent of another individual who has used legitimate reporting as a means to advance an agenda – The 700 Club’s Pat Robertson. The controversial conservative minister’s Christian Broadcasting Network, though a reasonably ethical operation on its own, allows its facts to be manipulated for Robertson’s own purposes, mainly fundraising. For this reason, CBN suffers from a heavy dose of “guilt by association,” and is regarded as a less-than-credible outlet for information.
Another example of worldview issues could be found on the other end of the spectrum, BBC News. For years, Britain’s government-owned network was regarded as a go-to source for information from around the world, with strong ethics and a high standard of quality and accuracy. As time went on, BBC’s own anchors became more and more focused on news which portrayed the United States in a less-than-flattering way and, for that reason, aided far-right media types in a campaign to paint the mainstream media as liberal elitists. Unfortunately, this image was only entrenched further when a scandal broke within the BBC’s ranks exposing editorial bias being encouraged and dissent being quashed by network bosses. Those with a worldview of journalists being nosy crusaders only concerned with their career found their views confirmed, and this only served to undermine the media and enhance the position of ideologically-oriented websites which take legitimate information and spin it to suit their needs.
So how can we separate the good from the bad, the reliable from the speculative. Critical thinking comes into play here. If something doesn’t an instinctual “smell test,” chances are it is either false or manipulated. Stories about Trump which seem too crazy to be truth tend to be so, just as stories about former President Obama also lean that way. Both sides have websites which focus on fomenting resistance though inflammatory news articles, and both are extremely adept at pointing fingers at the other side while denying stories which they themselves plant. One way to determine the veracity of story is to know the backgrounds of the writers. When one sees the words “activists,” or “political expert” or “left” or “right” in their bio, it is a fairly safe bet that writer has the interests of their cause, not the reader, at heart.
While some ideologically oriented websites have quality informational articles, double checking the information though other mainstream sources is always advised. If even a sliver of the information is accurate, it could point to a much greater situation. Nevertheless, worldview contributes to how we view news, whether we want to admit it or not.