“In this last election, the nation was assaulted by impostors masquerading as reporters. They poisoned the conversation with lies on the left and the right. Many did it to influence the outcome, others, just to make a buck.” — Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes
The segment began with the story of #Pizzagate, where Edgar Welch opened fire in a D.C. pizzeria that in the darkest corners of the internet, was purported to be the center of a child-sex trafficking ring run by Hillary Clinton. Michael Cernovich created Danger & Play, which helped spread these absurd lies. 60 Minutes preceded their segment by derisively describing Cernovich as having “a taste for stories with no basis in fact.”
The interview opens up with Scott Pelley telling Cernovich that “these news stories are fakes. They’re lies.” Cernovich counters each charge with categorical denials of “they’re not fakes. They’re not lies. 100% true.” Pelley then responded by asking if he believed it, or if his statements were just marketing for his website.
It’s here where we see the obvious trap this member of the mainstream media has set for himself. These truth anarchists have spent a lifetime studying carefully constructed “gotcha” segments like this. The path Pelley is headed down would be objected to and dismissed as a leading line of questioning in a courtroom, and it immediately reveals that Pelley is more concerned with exposing Cernovich than understanding him. Before the interview has begun, even the façade of objectivity has been removed. The knives are out for all to see, and now there will be no winners in this exchange, only losers.
After Cernovich combats Pelley’s narrative with his own—establishing a stalemate—60 Minutes cuts to B roll of Cernovich broadcasting one of his rants on social media while Pelly breathlessly exclaims that he generated 83 million impressions in the last month. Pelley’s intended audience is supposed to be horrified by that statistic, but it serves as validation for Cernovich’s supporters. The media has been hyper-focused on ratings ever since their invention, so clicks for their opponents’ subversive heroes are the antidote to the tyranny of Nielsen. After Cernovich responded that 83 million was a low number for him, Pelley made a mistake that represents the many missteps made by the mainstream media which have given life to the Mike Cernovich’s of the world.
PELLEY: [Reading Danger & Play’s headline] Hillary Clinton has Parkinson’s disease. You don’t think that’s misleading?
Good to see that Pelley cleared that up. What exactly did he think Cernovich was going to say? These websites never back down from their ludicrous claims. Pelley’s playbook will yield no concrete gains in this exchange and only furthers to detail the biased picture Cernovich’s side is seeing. After pointing out the fact that the story was sourced to an anesthesiologist who never met Clinton, Pelley came back and committed the fatal error.
CERNOVICH: She had a seizure and froze up, walking into her motorcade.
PELLEY: Well, she had pneumonia. I mean…
CERNOVICH: How do you know? Who told you that?
PELLEY: Well the campaign told us that.
CERNOVICH: Why would you trust the campaign?
PELLEY: The point is…you didn’t talk to anybody who had ever examined Hillary Clinton.
Neither did you Scott. You just talked to someone in the campaign who spoke to someone who examined her, and therein lies the problem. The gatekeepers of the mainstream media wrongly deemed some campaign sources worthy of serving as a primary authority in the 2016 election, despite decades of evidence (and common sense) which demonstrate that a political campaign saying one thing does not make it so. You can be disgusted with Cernovich’s rumor-mongering which nearly cost lives, but you must admit that he nailed Pelley to the wall with his own words here. Because outlets like 60 Minutes were willing to take the Hillary camp seriously, but did not look at the Donald Trump team in a similar light, it’s impossible for them to credibly say that they are not biased, yet they refused to even acknowledge this possibility during the campaign. They were defeated at the ballot box as much as Clinton was.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are not equivalent liars, but neither’s campaign demonstrated the trustworthiness worthy of being the primary source used to dismiss a video that raised some serious questions about Hillary’s well-being. After fainting, Clinton reportedly left to her daughter Chelsea’s apartment, but it took about 90 minutes for the campaign to tell anyone what was going on. The fact that the press largely took the campaign’s word as to what happened, and that this episode was not scrutinized more, is the clearest demonstration of why outlets like Cernovich’s have gained serious traction. His response to Pelley’s incredulousness encapsulated the divide the mainstream press has forced us into.
CERNOVICH: I don’t take anything Hillary Clinton is gonna say at all as true. I’m not gonna take her at her word. The media says we’re not gonna take Donald Trump on his word, and that’s why we are in these different universes.
He’s right. Donald Trump has no credibility, and he should be treated as such, but every political campaign should not be perceived as entirely credible. They’re selling a product, which inherently makes them biased. The mainstream media wouldn’t simply print a press release from a brand touting a new creation, so why would they accept whatever a campaign tells them at face value? The main reason the media was unable to pin Donald Trump down on his litany of lies was because they had burned all their impartiality prior to the 2016 election, and so after years of being talked down to and feeling duped, voters rebelled.
Many of Trump’s supporters are well aware of his lies, but it doesn’t bother them because they feel like they’re in on the joke. For years, they have been deceived by reporters with agendas mirroring those of their sources, and voters place much of the blame for their current malaise on those they perceive to be the enablers of policies which have degraded their lives. Deceit is seen to be the status quo in our media landscape, and now a forgotten swath of America feels like they finally have weaponized lies of their own that they can fight back with.
The mainstream media still doesn’t seem to understand this, as Pelley’s 60 Minutes interview with Cernovich demonstrates. There is an impulse across the political spectrum to create made-for-TV “gotcha” moments, as opposed to an earnest attempt to understand the other side. Outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post have dispatched reporters to the former manufacturing centers of America to run breathless features on mostly old white men as a method to try to get to know these voters who have seemingly jerked them out of their oblivious slumber.
These articles reflect the media’s obsession with demographics over mindsets, as simple math based on exit polls demonstrates that women and people of color make up the majority of the Trump coalition. The mainstream media’s default mentality is to separate us into groups where demographics are destiny, and that patronizing worldview is why they are struggling to cope with their colossal loss of credibility. The media largely populates America’s elite coastal centers, and they have tricked themselves into believing that the diverse skin colors which surround them automatically equal diversity of thought—inherently making their worldview superior to the swaths of America that are mostly white. However, any simple study of humans should remind them that groupthink is a powerful force, no matter where it takes root.
I held my nose and voted for Hillary Clinton this past November and am utterly horrified by the Presidency of Donald Trump, but I can sympathize with the frustration of his voters over the media’s coverage which can come off as biased against our president. I have written at length at Paste about the simple errors the media makes nearly every day. Whether it be Rachel Maddow hyping up a fairly mundane Trump scoop like it will rock Western Civilization to its very core, to the mainstream media publishing Wikileaks’ propaganda in a rush to get a story up that they didn’t quite understand, to completely misinterpreting Donald Trump’s bizarre statement on Sweden, to printing whatever comes out of the office of the president, or their pathetic response to Trump’s non-State of the Union speech as proof that the pivot to a statesman of their liking has arrived—the mainstream media has made my job much easier than it should be.
At some point in the last few decades, the media went from reporting the facts of the matter to using them to infer the evidence of the future. Inertia soon set in, and now this feature is baked in to how many do their reporting. Scott Pelley had a real opportunity to try to understand why so many people like Mike Cernovich have gained popularity and legitimacy, but instead 60 Minutes used the interview as a moment to try to discredit someone whose own words should do the job by themselves—if we lived in an environment more accepting of unadulterated facts. Americans own much of the blame for blindly pursuing narratives which confirm their biases, but the breach of trust began on the supply side of this exchange of information, and until the mainstream media begins to fix their end of the problem, America’s delusion will only continue to worsen.
Jacob Weindling is Paste’s business and media editor, as well as a staff writer for politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.