In "Why liberals fell for ‘Muslim lesbian blogger’ hoax" (OC Register, June 17, 2011), Mark Steyn tells a story that shows why current Big Media won't likely recover from their current tailspin:
On Sunday, Amina Arraf, the young vivacious Syrian lesbian activist whose inspiring blog "A Gay Girl In Damascus" had captured hearts around the world, was revealed to be, in humdrum reality, one Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old college student from Georgia. The following day, Paula Brooks, the lesbian activist and founder of the website LezGetReal, was revealed to be one Bill Graber, a 58-year-old construction worker from Ohio.
In their capacity as leading lesbians in the Sapphic blogosphere, "Miss Brooks" and "Miss Arraf" were colleagues. "Amina" had posted at LezGetReal before starting "A Gay Girl In Damascus." As one lesbian to another, they got along swimmingly. The Washington Post reported: "Amina often flirted with Brooks, neither of the men realizing the other was pretending to be a lesbian."
It got so crazy that
three armed thugs were supposed to have captured "Amina" and a Free Amina Facebook page sprang up.Until, that is, the construction worker outed the college student … then got outed himself.
Front and centre: Media would have ignored these Yankee guys except that they were pretending to be gay Muslim girls and media had no means of establishing the facts. So they were all-day suckers. (Meanwhile, in news no one notices, Syria's government killed 19 protestors at the biggest rallies yet …)
Mark's right to say that "'Amina Arraf' is nothing more than the projection of parochial obsessions on to distant lands Western liberals are too lazy to try to figure out." But it's more than that: Today's media are obsessed with their writers' concerns, not their readers. Have things changed? Yes they have. Fifty years ago, media sometimes obsessed foolishly. But their concerns (the Cold War comes to mind, as do space aliens) were in fact those of their readers. In recent years, they moved toward an untenable position: They should somehow force the writers' concerns on the readers – while remaining mainstream. And they've gone downhill in audience ever since.
Every medium gets hoaxed now and then. But out of touch media are more susceptible to damage from the hoaxes they fall for. When few readers share the hoaxed obsessions, few are sympathetic to the hoaxee.
Some media pros are grumbling about how the blogosphere causes this. No, it doesn't. All the blogosphere causes is communication potential, period. I used to teach kids, re the Internet in general: When in doubt, doubt, and if it sounds unbelievable, don't believe it.
Steyn also notes, "We have become familiar in recent years with the booming literary genre of the fake memoir, to which Oprah's late Book Club was distressingly partial." But again, the fake memoirs were believed because they catered to unexamined stereotypes among Oprah's audience. At least the Book Club wasn't expecting the rest of us to read and believe them too.
This problem will not get any better. The only solution is, find and support new media you trust. Yes, like Salvo.