Hate Inc. by Matt Taibbi
reviewed by jim hepplewhite
“Of all the taboos and deceptions in the media, this is the one we lie about the most. The thing we’re most afraid to discuss has to do with precisely that question of what happens if you should stop following the news.
The answer, of course, is nothing. Not only can you live without us, you probably should, most of the time…”
I try not to use the words like “important” in reviews, but I do think Hate Inc., by Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi is a pretty useful book. Pitched as a guide to the mainstream media’s deceptions, Hate Inc. uncovers the media’s dirty tricks to maintain your attention.
If that sounds somewhat familiar to you, it should. Matt Taibbi’s main influence on Hate Inc. is Manufacturing Consent by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, and Taibbi wears the influence on his sleeve, even interviewing Chomsky in an appendix.
It’s also pretty valuable as a guide to recent electoral history. In one of many fine moments, Taibbi correctly views the beer test as a genius ploy by reporters to remove substantive politics (ie: policy) from the campaign trail. Why ask the candidate’s position on, if elected, using 28 U.S.C. Section 1498 to lower prescription drug prices all without needing Congressional approval, when that would require more work than just asking a question about whether the candidate is concerned that they’re not “likable enough”?
I enjoyed reading Hate Inc.. I wish there were a couple more examples or statistics to support his conclusions. Aside from that, I liked his conclusions: The media, broadly speaking, now uses anger as its mechanism to manipulate consumers into keeping their attention glued to their television (or Twitter), and must maintain it by ever higher doses of rage.
“The trick here is getting audiences to think they’re punching up, when they’re actually punching sideways, at other media consumers just like themselves, who just happen to be in a different silo. Hate is a great blinding mechanism.”
That blinding mechanisms works wonders, as Taibbi shows the reader how within the last 20 years, political coverage looks more and more like cheering sections, especially as substantive discussion of policy disappears from the campaign trail. As of this writing, there’s three Democratic primary debates occurred, each of them sandwiched into a small enough window that a candidate has around a minute to explain their position on health insurance, or whatever that moment’s issue is. It’s tough to get substance out of that, but it does make soundbites tremendously effective.
Coming into 2020, I imagine I’ll find Hate Inc. increasingly valuable. They’re already cutting WWE-style promos in Iowa, where Biden calls Trump an “existential threat” and Trump replied by calling Biden a “loser” and “mentally weak.” Swap out a debate dais for a wrestling ring, and the clown shoe fits. In fact, that’s what chapter 7 is about, what the media learned from professional wrestling.
I think you can read it casually, outside of a curriculum. Hate Inc. isn’t quite as rigorously academic as I’d like, but Taibbi’s points are too good to ignore.
“That’s why 85 SENATORS, INCLUDING PROBABLY THE ONE YOU COTED FOR, APPROVE OBSCENE $160 BILLION MILITARY INCREASE becomes ‘Trump snubs McCain during bill signing.’
In the modern press, agreement routinely becomes discord by the time you see it. We addict people to conflict stories so that our advertisers can remind them to indulge other addictions, like McDonald’s.
It’s a perfect business model.”