Working in the magazine industry in New York City in the 1990s was a glamorous gig marked by lavish expense accounts, front row Fashion Week seats, and daily supermodel sightings. I cut my publishing teeth at SEVENTEEN, where I learned critical skills like crafting compelling 13-character cover lines (LIFE’S A BEACH!) and sucking up to PR sharks for bottomless boxes of freebies. SEVENTEEN was staffed by an army of well-dressed recent Ivy League grads (I was an exception on both fronts) and I made many lifelong friends there. It was at the same popular rag that I learned that magazines are a lot like politicians: shameless, habitual liars.
One of my tasks as a fashion and beauty editor was to identify the makeup each month’s cover model was sporting. You know, so readers could go out and buy that very same, sparkly yet sheer, perfect -shade-of-plum lip gloss that Cindy Crawford was wearing. Since I attended most of the cover shoots, you might imagine me bellying up to the vanity and taking furious notes as the makeup artist pulled products from her small but carefully curated stash.
That’s not how it worked at all. The makeup artists would stroll in rolling dishwasher-sized bins brimming with products from every cosmetics purveyor on the planet. They all had their favorites; this (no-name) concealer or that (discontinued) eyeshadow or some lip liner you could only buy in Japan. They’d expertly pluck pots and palettes from their cache, layering shades like a mason placing bricks, until Cindy looked as close to perfect as humanly possible (which seemed needless as she was perfect to begin with and also, the magazine’s art department would go on to photoshop the shit out of the final image anyway, but whatevs. Magazines were made of money back then and they had salaries to justify.).
When the final cover image had been selected and doctored to the editorial team’s collective satisfaction, my job was to have it couriered to the month’s chosen cosmetics company, picked from a rotating list of top advertisers. (Can you imagine if Estee Lauder was spending three million dollars on ads that month and we featured a brow pencil from a penniless competitor like Wet N Wild? Perfectly-coiffed heads would roll!) In a day or two, the company would courier back the photo, along with a list of their products that, well, mostly matched.
“Cindy Crawford is wearing Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey,” I’d lie, feeling bad for every poor fourteen-year-old soul who was going to fork over nine weeks of allowance on a single lipstick that Cindy had never worn in her life because of it.
It wasn’t just makeup; the clothes were altered, pinned, and digitally manipulated as well; products made “editor’s picks” lists and earned “best of” banners based on nothing more than ad spends. Like a union of magicians, we publishing perjurers used smoke, mirrors and all manner of sleight of hand to create the illusions that would keep both our wealthy corporate sponsors and our broke young readers lining our paper pockets.
It took me a few decades to realize that mainstream media works pretty much the same way. Know what Good Morning America, CBS Health Watch, Anderson Cooper, ABC News Nightline, CNN Tonight, Meet the Press, and 60 Minutes (among a bottomless list of other MSM shows) have in common? They’re all “brought to you by Pfizer!” Yes, the same Pfizer that has a miles-long rap sheet for bribing doctors, falsifying data and employing fraudulent marketing practices; the one that manufactures the most widely administered of the three COVID-19 vaccines available in the US. There’s no question their jab is killing and maiming people in record numbers, an inconvenient reality that puts the networks in a bit of a pickle. Reporting the truth would be like telling your parents the babysitter lets you eat ice cream for dinner while you watch Weeds. I believe the phrase is screwing the pooch.
Late last year, a Gallup poll found that Americans’ trust in the media had dipped to a near record-low, with 36% of folks saying they had a “fair amount” or “great deal” of trust in news reporting. (I know, that number seemed high to me, too.) The bottom line summary of the poll is particularly telling: “Just as Americans’ trust in the three branches of government is faltering, so too is their confidence in the fourth estate — the media.” It’s this patently corrupt blending of government and media—an entity I dubbed “governmedia” in a previous post—that’s so dangerous.
When I was growing up, I didn’t view the news as something you questioned so much as watched or read and accepted as fact: It was going to rain tomorrow. A bridge had collapsed in North Carolina. Fat made you fat! Sure, the media sometimes exaggerated for the sake of a good story (it’s kind of funny when they’re talking about the weather) and even made mistakes—ask never-President Dewey—but they always corrected them, even if the correction was in tiny type buried in a box beneath the weekend’s garage sale listings.
I found this little gem in a 1995 Harvard Business Review article: “The U.S. press, like the U.S. government, is a corrupt and troubled institution. It fails to do what it claims to do, what it should do, and what society expects it to do. The news media and the government are entwined in a vicious circle of mutual manipulation, mythmaking, and self-interest. Journalists need crises to dramatize news, and government officials need to appear to be responding to crises. Too often, the crises are not really crises but joint fabrications. The two institutions have become so ensnared in a symbiotic web of lies that the news media are unable to tell the public what is true and the government is unable to govern effectively.”
You can say that again. When the governmedia spends two years trying to convince us we should hole up in our homes to avoid a virus data shows is actually less deadly than the seasonal flu; when they censor and silence renowned experts, refuse to release critical safety data and systematically ignore the stories of the countless vaccine injured; when they relentlessly urge us to inject our children with known poisons to prevent a disease that has a next-to-zero chance of harming or killing them, trust has officially and permanently left the building. (And don’t even get me started on their embarrassing coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, which has included but isn’t limited to using recycled stock photos, completely fabricated or otherwise misleading footage, and even movie and video game clips as clickbait. They’re like the drunk friend who won’t stop singing karaoke at the bar; somebody needs to just shut them up and shove them into an Uber.)
In hindsight, that the governmedia is wickedly corrupt should shock no one who’s familiar with, say, history. (Take Operation Mockingbird, a little scheme by the CIA to use our own media to spread propaganda in the 1970s. But surely they’ve changed!) That’s why the traditional outlets loathe profane podcaster Joe Rogan so much, and why they’re so threatened by him: People trust him. He’s curious and smart and not afraid to question the carefully constructed, paid-for narrative. And if his explosive, ass-kicking numbers tell us anything, it’s that Americans are fed up with lies and hungry for facts.
Just like the magazine industry I once worked for is mostly dead, the mainstream media seems to be limping along on life-support. I for one can’t wait until someone finally pulls the plug. I’m sure I’ll find out about it from Joe Rogan.