by Andrew Elliott – 3 August 2017
Welcoming a new writer Andrew Elliot to the Participator!
Andrew Elliott can be found here: https://gab.ai/AndrewElliott
In February of this year the writer and public speaker Milo Yiannopoulos was riding high. He was working as the Tech Editor at Breitbart, he had recently completed a successful speaking tour of Colleges across the US and had signed a book contract with major publishers Simon & Schuster. On the 17th of February he appeared on the TV program The Bill Maher Show and he was due to be a headline speaker at CPAC the following week. He appeared to be at the peak of his career and yet within a week he was forced to resign from Breitbart, his book contract was cancelled and his CPAC appearance was also cancelled.
Various commentators declared that he was “finished”. A ‘mainstream’ journalist called him to ask “What are you going to do with your life now that your journalistic and media career is over?” After a few days of writing hostile articles about him media outlets that had been attacking him intermittently for months stopped writing about him altogether.
What had happened? On the surface what had happened was that a couple of year old Youtube clips of Milo expressing offensive opinions on the subject of Homosexuality and Hebephilia had surfaced. CPAC, Simon & Schuster and Breitbart all felt horror at the words spoken and though Milo apologized for what had been said this was not sufficient and his employments with them were ended.
At a deeper level however what had happened was that a ‘Degradation Ceremony’ had been performed by the mainstream media. ‘Degradation Ceremony’ is a sociological term summarized in a recent Washington Post article last October by the journalist Dana Milbank, talking about the need for such a ‘ceremony’ to be performed on then candidate Trump
“ The need to deal Trump a humiliating defeat has a sociological basis in the “degradation ceremony,” in which the perpetrator (Trump) is held by denouncers (officeholders and others in positions of influence) to be morally unacceptable, and witnesses (the public) agree that the perpetrator is no longer held in good standing.”
A more scholarly description of pattern of the “Degradation Ceremony” can be found here:
To see how Milo’s experience follows the pattern of the ‘degradation ceremony’ it is instructive to look at other examples. One of the greatest examples is that of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Now most people who have heard of the Senator will know of him as a fraudulent demagogue who whipped up popular anger against innocent people with baseless accusations that exploited people’s fears and ruined lives. This reign of terror was only brought to an end when a few brave journalists like Egdar R Murrow spoke out against him and shamed the Senate into officially censuring the Senator and ending his damaging witch hunts.
Now the truth about McCarthy was very different. From 1950 to his death in 1957 Joe McCarthy spoke out publicly against the infiltration of government service by Communist Party members and fellow travellers (contrary to US law and at a time when the world was facing a severe threat from communist aggression) and the covering up of this problem by senior Democratic Party politicians and others. For this he was, for four years, pilloried by both the political establishment and most of the mainstream media. This culminated in his famous censure by the Senate in 1954.
McCarthy’s biographer M. Stanton Evans describes what happened next:
To all appearances, then and later, a crushing defeat was inflicted on McCarthy when his colleagues voted to condemn him. The defeat wasn’t merely the three-to-one division in favor of the formal verdict but the informal penalties that followed. For many in the political world and press corps, he became a nonperson to be ignored and shunned, a ghost figure with no relation to the serious business of the Senate. Reporters who once hung on his every word now observed a tacit compact to treat him as if he were no longer there?—?which perhaps, in other than a purely physical sense, he wasn’t.
Blacklisted by History, The Untold Story of Joseph McCarthy by M. Stanton Evans (page 599)
Here we see clearly a key part of the modern ‘Degradation Ceremony’ and the important role the media play in it. There is a steady stream of media invective aimed at the target, reaching its peak when the target is formally denounced by some authority and then followed by silence about the target afterwards. The media play three crucial roles in ensuring the success of the ‘degradation ceremony’. Firstly they seek to diminish the credibility and good standing of the target, secondly they support and promote the authority and reliability of the ‘denouncers’. Thirdly and crucially they will afterwards help imprint on the public the idea that the ‘ritual’ was successful by stopping dead their coverage of the target at the point of his formal denunciation. In the case of McCarthy this ensured that the last news most people heard from McCarthy was his censure in the Senate and this would give people the impression that the censure was the last and definitive word on McCarthy. This indeed is the impression that most people have of Senator McCarthy to this day.
I’m sure that everyone can think of many other examples following the same pattern. Some individual is denounced publicly for having said or done something contrary to politically correct sensibilities, that individual is denounced by some authority accompanied by a flurry of media attacks and then the media coverage of that individual promptly stops.
Which brings us back to Milo. Understanding the events of February as being an example of a media ‘degradation ceremony’ helps make sense of some otherwise curious aspects of those events. Why were the offending Youtube video clips, that had been available for over a year, only brought to public attention at that time and why, when they were, did numerous media organizations all chime in at once to denounce him. Why did they then become silent about him after months of low level negative coverage?
The low level negative coverage was there to prepare the ground for Milo’s eventual denunciation (which journalists would have assumed would come sooner or later). CPAC and Simon & Schuster who sacked him and those journalists at Breitbart who forced his resignation there played the role of the ‘denouncers’ in authority who declare the target to be persona non grata. The flurry of denunciations from the mainstream press was meant to endorse the correctness of this ‘degradation ceremony’ and media silence afterwards was meant to signal to the public that the ‘ceremony’ had indeed been successful and that Milo was now to be considered by all to be persona non grata.
Even the phone call to Milo from the journalist asking “What are you going to do with your life now that your journalistic a media career is over?” was meant, consciously or unconsciously, to help make the ‘ritual’ successful. Like a boxer shouting at his floored opponent to stay on the canvas the call was meant as a message to Milo that ‘you are finished now so stay down’.
And yet Milo has not stayed down. He has found new backers for a media venture. He has published his book without Simon & Schuster, with it becoming an instant bestseller, and he will be starting a new speaking tour in the Autumn. Why has the ‘degradation ceremony’ here failed when it was successful with Joe McCarthy and with so many other cases? This brings us to the changed media environment and the role of social media and other new media.
The importance of the role of the media in the modern ‘degradation ceremony’ and the psychological importance that this role has to journalists is shown in the Milbank quote above. During last year’s elections many US journalists spoke of the need for there to be a ‘Murrow moment’ that would bring down Trump and stop his Presidential ambitions. There were many such ‘Murrow moments’ and yet Trump still won the election. How could that be? The reason was social media and new media. Trump was able to use these to challenge mainstream media journalists’ narrative and their authority directly so that message against him would increasingly become neutralized and ineffectual, a fact that the President has himself alluded to many times.
Likewise for Milo the role of social media and new media has been crucial. It enabled him to communicate his own message and narrative against the mainstream media narrative before and during his ‘degradation’. Crucially it also enabled him to get around mainstream media blacklisting afterwards, keeping in touch with his fan-base. This in turn enabled him to fund-raise and to continue to promote his book, lecture tours and other ventures.
The mainstream media oligopoly which ran from the mid twentieth century to the early twenty first was a product of the media technology of its era. The pattern of media based ‘degradation ceremonies’ that were enacted by those press and broadcast oligopolies were also a product of those technologies. New technologies have enabled a major diminution of the power of those oligopolies to determine the narrative. The present struggle over the future of new media and social media is, in essence, a struggle to either defeat or regain that power. The examples of McCarthy and Milo show us where we have come from and where we are now. It remains to be seen where we will be in future.
What do you think? Is the MSM oligopoly now being broken? Please leave a comment below.