Thursday, November 3, 2022

The pleasure of having one's prejudices confirmed

I forced myself to watch Web of Chaos, Tuesday night’s state-funded TVNZ documentary that promised “a deep dive into the world of disinformation”.

It’s sad that I should regard it as a chore to watch something I helped to pay for, but that’s the way it is. I wanted to satisfy myself that Web of Chaos was exactly what I expected, and so it turned out. There are few things more richly satisfying than having one’s prejudices confirmed.

The first clue was in the name of the director: Justin Pemberton. I vaguely recalled the name from somewhere else, and it soon came to me. Pemberton made Capital in the 21st Century, which I described in 2019 as a masterpiece of the propagandist’s art.

I wrote then that “The film uses every trick in the documentary-maker’s book to dramatise its message, which is that contemporary capitalism is overwhelmingly rigged in favour of the ultra-rich and basically rotten to the core”.

Web of Chaos uses similar techniques – powerful images, slick editing, ominous music – to create a sense of dread and foreboding. It’s a clever piece of work that will have chilled the hearts of anyone open to its message, which is that shadowy, dark forces on the far Right (that term again) are using the internet to promote hatred, division and paranoia.

If the name of the director wasn’t a pointer to the likely tone of the doco, the identities of the participants certainly were. The names were almost comically predictable: self-described “disinformation researcher” Byron C Clark, cultural historian Kate Hannah from the shadowy Disinformation Project, “media literacy expert” and activist Sanjana Hattotuwa (I presume that being an expert on “media literacy” means we can trust him to tell us which sources of information are safe), celebrity TV reporter David Farrier (memorably, if unflatteringly, described by Sean Plunket this week as a gutter-snipe journalist), the achingly woke Marc Daalder, Newsroom’s in-house proselytiser on climate change and right-wing extremism, and University of Otago philosophy professor Lisa Ellis, the one name unfamiliar to me, whose online resumé tells us she writes about “climate adaptation justice”, whatever that may be, and edits a magazine called Political Theory. Enough said.

In other words, the usual suspects: a tight little coterie of mutually supporting (and apparently well-resourced) activists marching in lockstep with a radical leftist government and mainstream media. All are caught up in, and simultaneously promulgate, a moral panic over so-called disinformation, which can loosely be defined as any information or opinion they dislike.

So … not exactly a balanced line-up, but polemical documentaries like this – even ones funded, albeit involuntarily, by the taxpayer – don’t pretend to be balanced. Would I turn to any of these “experts” for guidance on what I may safely watch, read and hear? Absolutely not. No one should.

No surprises, either, in the political phenomena that the doco presented as proof of the far Right’s baneful influence: Brexit, climate change denial, Donald Trump, toxic masculinity, evangelical Christianity (white Christianity, to be precise) and pandemic conspiracy theories all got a raking over.

There was talk of gullible people falling down rabbit holes, yet it occurred to me that the participants may have fallen down a few themselves. (Ah, I can almost hear them say, but their rabbit holes are okay.) They have immersed themselves in the same febrile, conspiratorial netherworld as the people they rail against. Perhaps they all deserve each other.

It also occurred to me (as it did with Stuff’s recent Fire and Fury documentary) that by amplifying online hysteria and paranoia, and probably doing their enemies a favour by doing so, they become part of the problem they purport to deplore. A detached observer – someone living in the real world, perhaps, and thus immune to overheated conspiracy theories from either side – could hardly be blamed for wishing a plague on all their houses.

What particularly struck me about Web of Chaos was the feeling that what really vexed the participants most is that they’re unable to control the digital conversation. Much of the leftist idealism that drove the internet in its early years has evaporated and anarchy has moved in. This is not how it was supposed to play out.

This is not to deny that some of the online content deplored by the virtuous participants in Web of Chaos is poisonous – but in the information wars, the poison flows both ways. The documentary didn’t mention neo-Marxist vitriol on Twitter or the routine cancellation of any opinions, no matter how reasoned or moderate, that run counter to woke orthodoxy. Neither did it consider the possibility that conservative opinion has been driven underground because it was locked out of mainstream social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

Extremism is bound to thrive when dissent is suppressed by members of a pharisaical caste that takes upon itself the right to determine what others may read and hear. This was the less than surprising conclusion to be drawn from Web of Chaos – a documentary accurately assessed by the aforementioned Sean Plunket as having the same level of journalistic integrity as Fire and Fury, but with the important difference that it was made using public money. Hence we all become accomplices in our own indoctrination.

And speaking of brazen, state-funded journalistic bias, how about the latest Sunday programme on TVNZ? In a lifetime of television viewing I’ve seen some atrocious reportage, but rarely anything so egregiously slanted as Mark Crysell’s report on the consequences of the US Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Crysell took it as given that it’s a fundamental human right to take the life of an unborn child. Not for a millisecond did he bother himself with the consideration that many of the people watching his report find abortion deeply repugnant. Insofar as objections to abortion were acknowledged at all, they were presented as being confined to a slightly mad and dangerous religious fringe.

He informed us that what’s unfolding in Texas, where abortion is now illegal unless the mother’s life is threatened, is a “human tragedy”. But wait! This could be to New Zealand’s benefit, Crysell revealed, because disenchanted American medical professionals are thinking of emigrating. This could be the solution, he suggested, to the staffing crisis in our health sector.

Really? I’m not sure I’d welcome doctors and nurses who want to leave the US for the sole reason that they’re no longer allowed to kill foetuses. I subscribe to the quaint idea that we’d be better off with health professionals who are concerned with saving lives rather than terminating them. Yet Crysell portrayed the Texas abortionists as being motivated by high principle. It was a striking illustration of how grotesquely warped the abortion cult has become.

As is invariably the case in media coverage of abortion, the unborn child was unmentioned and invisible. Easier and more convenient to ignore it.

Crysell’s report was a “f*** you” gesture to all the mugs in Sunday’s audience whom he must have known would find its tone offensive. They pay his salary and pick up the tab for his flights, hotel bills and rental cars (not that they have any say in the matter), and in return he exercises an assumed right to impose on them his personal prejudices on a profoundly contentious issue.

What a contemptible creep. As an arrogant abuse of media power, it’s equal to anything Rupert Murdoch ever dreamed up.



Gary Peters said...

I'm stunned you lasted until the end.

The anti capitalists that I have met have all gained what wealth they possess through "capitalism". Whatever I have have obtained is also through "market forces", providing a service people are willing to pay for, and "capitalism" where cash flow and debt control have allowed me to obtain the assets I wanted and required.

"Mis information" and "Hate speech" are being hijacked in order to push a narrative which has been, in many cases, built on mis information and hate speech, it's just better when it comes from the left isn't it ??????

The fact that media are so willing to toe the party line, and not just for dollars, appalls me and I suspect that Karl is onto something with the "arrogance" these pricks are displaying.

Odysseus said...

Thanks for taking one for the team Karl by watching this garbage. It sounds like the brief for "Web of Chaos" was straight out of Ardern's shocking speech in the UN General Debate in September where she championed a crackdown on free speech on subjects like climate change for example. I may be becoming paranoid but I believe we are witnessing a concerted campaign by Labour to whip up a moral panic in support of draconian restrictions on freedom of expression in New Zealand. This government has lost the argument on every major issue it faces so perhaps they plan to shut down all but the meekest "opposition" in order to cling to power at the next election. No wonder they are empting the jails of murderers and rapists, they need to make room for political prisoners who dared to speak truth to power.

Russell Parkinson said...

Thanks for taking one for the team Karl. I couldn't face the thought of watching it.

I am bewildered that anyone cant understand that capitalism produces the best results for the most number of people. Sure some fall through the cracks but nothing else comes close to bringing a higher standard of living to the highest number of people on this planet.

Yesterday I noted that our own Julianne Genter says that we should put people before profits. Do these people not realise that without profits we are subsistence living in grass huts.

LNF said...

I read a very sensible comment regarding abortion. It was someone in USA
We determine that someone is dead when their heart stops beating
We should determine that someone is alive when their heart starts beating

Madame Blavatsky said...

Taking a 30,000 foot perspective on this subject, propaganda in the service of the agendas of those who hold institutional power is nothing new, it is simply that it has become far more hysterical and devoid of subtlety in the current day, due to the share volume of narrative-conflicting information and ideas that are available at the press of a button. Propaganda has existed since the dawn of civilisation, with its reach and scope increasing exponentially with the advent and development of mass media (from the Gutenberg printing press, to network television, to Twitter and Facebook).

But the reality is that we have all been subjected to agenda-reinforcing propaganda all of our lives, in that case as well as in this present instance of "Web of Chaos", propaganda campaigns aimed at forming certain opinions, behaving in certain ways, and making us think about the world with reference to a paradigm that benefits those at the top of the pyramid. We like to assume that "we" (say, in the West) have a clear and true picture of what is what, while "they" (be it, say, the Soviets or the Germans) are simply poor unwitting dupes of propagandists intent on painting "us" in a negative light and themselves positively. The fact that we think in this way and accept that this is the case is an example of how effectively we have been propagandised. What are, for instance, Hollywood and the MSM other than instruments for shaping society, culture and public opinion for the benefit of those an elite class? Sure, they purportedly "entertain" and "inform" respectively, but their primary function is much deeper than these surface level assumptions.

Be it Putin's Russia today or Hitler's Germany in the 20th century (to give two of the most prominent examples and instances that are so often connected in 2022 for propagandistic effect), what we believe and accept uncritically about these topics is often hopelessly skewed or even totally inverted in the service of elite agendas. Many (including myself) believe that we were all cynically constantly deceived and lied to over the Covid fiasco, but it is very naive to think that false-realities like "Covid hysteria" only began being constructed in 2020.

R Singers said...

My response is not to watch legacy media. It feels like a flash back to the beginning of the millennia when people talk about NZ broadcast TV as a thing you might actually spend time consuming.

On David Farrier, I paid to subscribe to his Substack Webworm. When he started to complain about Sean Plunket defaming him, I went to the comments section - one of the most misanthropic forums I have ever experienced - to suggest that he asked Sean for an interview. As well as being more productive than a juvenile spat on Twitter it would allow him to promote his documentary.

I now have a 100-year ban on commenting.

Karl du Fresne said...

R Singers,
If you don't watch so-called legacy media, you can't call them out. And if you don't call them out, they've won by default.

Anonymous said...

Yes Karl, I had to force myself to watch, because as you write, one has to know the enemy. I am relieved that Kate Hannah came over as such a tit, because one other man seemed quite - well - sane. I dearly look forward to their failure to gain employment when we are in happier times. Whadda-loada-rubbish. Anyone who believes it deserves to feel' unsafe' - the noddies.

(I am, myself, still delighting in the look on Jacinda Ardern's face as she hears David Parker refuse to allow co-governance in resource management. Yay!)

R Singers said...

Karl, I find that a very odd argument. The only winning is getting views and therefore ad revenue. With no ad revenue legacy media disappears. If you're shouting at an empty room, you are most definately losing. And surveys show us that the NZ legacy media is no longer trusted.

I watched an interview with lee Mack he was asked why he didn't use Twitter. he said when he was young he'd get accousted by crazy drunk people outside pubs trying to start conversations or arguments. He said that's exactly what Twitter is, and just because it's online some how people think it's ok to engage with the crazy people.

Karl du Fresne said...

Damn. If you find it an odd argument I guess I must be wrong.

Bob McCoskrie said...

I don't want to be the bearer of bad news, Karl, but that's 20 minutes of your life that you'll never recover :-)

rouppe said...

Regarding the first half of this post, I didn't watch it because I knew it would be basically dismissing anyone who listens to differing views as a conspiracy theorist.

Regarding the second half, this is a fraught topic. On other matters, something legal cannot be argued on moral grounds, such as alcohol sales. So really the question to be answered is "when is the foetus a human"? I know there are legal definitions, but in my view that's a cop out.

It's not uncommon for babies to be born prematurely, nominally unviable, yet survive.

So it seems to come down to personal values. Does the individual believe a foetus to be a developing human, or a growth that can be scraped off like an unwanted eyebrow hair?

Kyle Reese said...


A Hegelian would say the baby was in the process of becoming.

Bad jokes aside, sometimes there is no right or wrong answer. Sometimes there are only two bad choices.

What would most Western liberals know about having to choose between two bad choices. For these people there is always a solution, always a way out, projected and imaginary as it may be in this case.

Karl du Fresne said...

To the commenter who sent me background information on Sanjana Hattotuwa: thanks, but not interested. Another rabbit hole.

Andrew M said...

Thanks so much for speaking 'to' these 2 issues.
As a Christian (and white!) I now know I am not appreciated in NZ. The way media represents prolife folks is appalling. NZ is in bad shape media wise. Also, it was sad a while back when Luxon showed cowardice in the face of the media re abortion. As your recent blog noted, Luxon is lacking in any sort of moral courage.

Andy Espersen said...

Beautifully written, able review of that TV piece, Karl - and a devastating critique of it. I admire your masterful English - and I so agree with your sentiments.

It also confirms my wisdom never ever watching TV these days (except perhaps at very special news reports about specific events I personally wish to see). I am sure I miss many worthy programmes - but just think of all the stuff I am saved from seeing! I was once quite addicted to the 6 o'clock news - but that is all now hopelessly biased and quite untrustworthy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for watching this on my behalf. I couldn't do it without seriously wanting to throw up...One of Goebles's famous quotes is that when you tell a lie often enough, you will eventually come to believe it yourself. I'm fairly convinced that this is where these muppets making this stuff are heading. BTW, VFF is having a glorious time telling people to surrender terrorist weapons like yoga mats, knitting needles and all of those other items identified by these idiots as 'weapons of war'.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Andrew Clarkson said...

"Web of Chaos" sounds nauseating.

24th of June 2022, Roe v. Wade was struck down! An epic day, nearly fifty years overdue! Thanks for speaking up for those who can't speak for themselves.

Quoting Ian Wishart:

You can only believe abortion is irrelevant if you adhere to one or more of the following:

• You believe the infant is not human

• You believe the infant is not really alive

• You believe there is nothing special about human life

• You believe a woman’s right to choose whether she has a child trumps the infant’s right to live

• You don’t feel you have a right to tell anyone else how to run their lives

• You believe that an adult life is worth more than a fetus’

• You believe only a wanted child should be brought into the world

Kyle Reese said...

That’s a shame, Karl.

I am sure many of your readers would be intrigued to know that one of the country’s so-called disinformation experts had spent 10 years receiving funding from the CIA via NED.

But they can always research these characters for themselves, I guess.

The internet is still relatively free, for now.

Tom Hunter said...

Like my comment on the "Far Right" post I have to say that I'm not too worried about this, for several reasons.

First, because although I'm thankful you took one for the team in watching all this garbage, the fact is that it's mainly your generation who do so. I stopped watching One News in 2000, Three News in 2003, and quit broadcast TV altogether around 2007. RNZ held on longer but I dumped them around a decade ago. And that's just me as a Gen X'r. My kids couldn't care less. In fact it pains them to watch broadcast TV and all its adverts, not to mention the shallowness of what's shown.

Second, these same generations, Mill and Gen-Z are far more alert to the propaganda techniques of the MSM that you describe and the only purpose of these shows to them is to be used as fodder for mockery on their various Web sites.

My only fear is that the feckless National/ACT government we're likely to get in 2023 will continue to fund these bastards, probably buying into the "Public Broadcaster" BS and establishing some toothless new regulatory body that will "insure" that all POV are catered to. HAHAHAHAHAHAH. They'll laugh in National's face and continue to be the Labour/Green operatives with bylines they have been for ages. They're not even worth selling so just shut them down and spend the money on something worthwhile - like hospitals.

Anonymous said...

I watched it for the same reason and came to the same conclusion, not one word about left wing extremists, they obviously don’t exist. The big problem is how many young people are influenced by this blatant misinformation? Probably a lot and it will take years for them to realise they were lied to, so trying to point out the obvious inconsistencies is vital.
For Roe vs Wade, it’s a done deal and the US states will sort it out for themselves, rabid blue states will bring in abortipn laws and the more rational red states will listen to their voters

Tom Hunter said...

Oh - and as others have said here, the mere existence of the show demonstrates that they know they're losing control of The Narratives they're gagging to tell.

JohnC said...

TVNZ's Sunday promotes itself as 'in-depth current affairs'. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. It typical of TVNZ's offerings which are designed to keep the population permanently sedated and distracted so everyone believes Labour deserves a third term.

Hilary Taylor said...

Hardly a day goes by when I don't muse on the profound change in my tv/radio consumption in a short space of time. I didn't watch WoC, so I have nothing to add to the chat, but I have enjoyed your piece Karl, and the thread of comments. I'm gobsmacked folk like Hannah think they're educating/saving us...ha!
The fetishisation of on-demand abortion is sickening. The very same people will celebrate the entire gestation if it suits them, or claim the right to abortion-as-contraception if that suits them better.

Anonymous said...

“ What a contemptible creep. As an arrogant abuse of media power, it’s equal to anything Rupert Murdoch ever dreamed up”

About the only accurate 2 sentences in your entire shit post, that perfectly describes you & your entire shit post.

You seriously couldn’t get a more perfect example of a pale, stale male with hurt feelings drunk on his home made white whine.

Stay classy!

Anonymous said...

100% agree. I watched that abomination of TV too and my exact thoughts were that they all sounded very conspiratorial themselves!! They’ve dug their own rabbit holes and fallen down deep. I have to say I’ve gone from being bewildered by the current social landscape to being quite frightened by what I’m seeing. The rhetoric coming from parliament and the legacy media is propagandist and does not bode well for the future of NZ.

Karl du Fresne said...

I tossed up whether to publish the anonymous comment above (not the one immediately above this one, but before that) and eventually decided I would, because I think it says something.