Will the Market Punish Delusional Media?

James Joyner discusses how consumers of particular conservative media outlets were shocked that President Obama was re-elected and were shocked again that Senator Hagel was confirmed as Secretary of Defense.

Bubble-supporting media presumably attracts an audience by telling them things they want to hear. But when the predictions that media makes are dramatically wrong over and over again, will the audience eventually shrink?

I know some people who humiliated themselves socially this November by bragging loudly about the coming thumping of Obama and then had to slink back to their social circles shame-faced after the election. They were set up for that fall by their reliance on bubble-support media and I would think that would make them less willing to consume it in future.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

29 thoughts on “Will the Market Punish Delusional Media?”

  1. Question at the end.

    Two kids grow up side by side in Baltimore. Both are bright enough, but not exceptional. Russia sends up Sputnik. Prez tells us we gotta catch up; we gotta train lots of engineers. Both kids love machines, hear a lot about Werner von Braun, decide they want to be rocket scientists.

    First kid lives in a reality-based home. Parents are very supportive, as they always have been. They tell him to study hard and, since he’s a junior in high school, take the College Boards for practice. That, they explain, will give him a good indication of what types of colleges he should apply to. Kid takes the College Boards, does “pretty well” but not 99th percentile. So over the summer they visit several small colleges with good math and science reputation, plus the University of Maryland, which actually has an excellent College of Engineering. Kid likes the small colleges, but he’s really intent on being a “rocket scientist” (which really means engineer) so he goes to U of M, does pretty well. It takes a lot of hard work, because he’s not 99th percentile, but that’s OK, because his parents have brought him up with the understanding that success in anything is hard, and takes hard work. Kid graduates with a degree in aerospace engineering, gets a great job, works hard all his life, and retires with the lifetime of satisfaction he’s earned.

    Second kid lives in a “self-esteem” based home. Parents are very supportive, in the way they think they need to be, which is to continually reinforce the kid’s self-esteem. They are always telling him “you are terrific; you can do anything you want to.” Unfortunataly, one thing that’s missing is the reality of genetic differentiation. And then there’s another part that’s also missing–the reality that even if you have the talent, “want to” has to be measured by “how hard you are willing to work for it.” So the summer after his junior year, these “supportive” parents take him to visit MIT, Carnegie-Mellon, and Cornell. Kid applies to all three, of course, but he is appalled at his three rejections. So he winds up with his friend at U of M. Unfortunately for him, his parents’ “support” has not inluded the inculcation of a habit of hard work, so he finds the aerospace engineering curriculum too hard. He switches to a business major, and ends up spending his life in retail sales. As he reaches 65, he looks with envy at his friend who has success and satisfaction, and reflects on how the world is unfair.

    So here’s your question–Do you really think that second kid thinks he was set up for a fall by his parents, or did he go on thinking he was terrific, but the world is out of kilter?

    1. “Self-esteem based household” – good thing we don’t believe in dog whistles in the RBC.

      1. Huh? Care to explain? If this is a dog-whistle, I must be losing high-frequency hearing with age.

    2. Unfortunately for him, his parents’ “support” has not included the inculcation of a habit of hard work, so he finds the aerospace engineering curriculum too hard. He switches to a business major, and through his superior social skills and inflated sense of self-esteem, successfully cultivates social relationships which end up landing him in upper management at the aerospace company the other kid works for as an engineer. As he reaches 65, he retires far more comfortably than his childhood friend, and reflects on how the world is unfair as he sips fine wine on his yacht.

      Who retired wealthier — Bill Gates or Paul Allen; Steve Wozniak or Steve Jobs? The real world is what is is; what it isn’t is fair.

      1. Without attempting to assess the relative merits as businesspeople of Allen and Gates, didn’t Paul Allen retire not because he was lazy but because he was awfully busy fighting a bout of lymphoma?

        And your other comparison is no better: Wozniak was a technological savant and perhaps visionary, and never remotely a businessperson, while Jobs was never nearly so much of a technical whiz as Woz and was always a salesman and gifted opportunist.

        1. But surely that would prove Freeman’s point. Engineers and tech guys are mostly just wage slaves. Yes, a lot of these guys made money during the tech bubble but they are almost all people like Woz, who was in the right place, at the right time and had stock options. But, by and large, if you look at most businesses (and especially technology related businesses, half of the people who struck it rich are reasonably well connected nerds/college dropouts who founded some kind of tech company during the bubble and basically won the lottery and the other half are well connected people with some kind of a liberal arts eduction who won the tech bubble lottery.

          Steve Jobs died with way more fame and money than Woz.

        2. That’s the point; Ken’s analogy didn’t ring true for me. Even as wildly successful as Wozniak and Allen were, as the more-techie half of their pairings with more-business-oriented partners, guess which half was most successful? It’s that way up and down the scale. I’ve worked my entire career in aerospace engineering; we do alright, but the pointy-haired bosses with the business degrees do better.

    3. I don’t know. It’s your hypothetical and your imaginary people so I would suppose that the answer to your question would depend on the extent of your protagonist’s self-awareness or perhaps yours. What’s your point?

      1. My point? A response directly on point, based on my own experience (no, the two kids were my friends, not myself) to the question Keith asked in the title to his short post.

        People who are fed a line of bullshit, when the bullshit is what they wish were true, and the folks who feed it to them are folks they wish they should believe, will tend to keep swallowing the bullshit, and keep believeing the bullshitters, while faulting the world for not conforming to the bullshit model they’ve bought into.

        There–that’s my answer to Keith’s original query. It’s what I believe. But I thought my earlier response, with its carefully worded analogy, was a little more useful since it tells *why* I believe that.

        1. But I thought my earlier response, with its carefully worded analogy, was a little more useful since it tells *why* I believe that.

          Except that your analogy seems to be drawn from an outlier. The business-major managers almost always earn more than the engineers and technicians who do the actual work. The manager in your analogy represents the outlier who fails to rise to his level of incompetence. I’d wager that had your manager friend entered the aerospace industry instead of retail sales, the story would be quite different. And if he wishes to compare his relative fortune to his peers in a more favorable light, he could always consider the fates of the retail salespeople who worked under him.

          My dad was an aerospace engineer for the first half of his career who switched to selling tools to other engineers for the second half. He made about twice the money as a salesman, but at no point did he make more than his business-major bosses.

  2. I’m unconvinced.

    Suppose the bubble-supporting media provided all sorts of excuses: voter fraud, “gifts” to minorities, liberal media unfairness to Romney, etc.

    Won’t the people you talk about just rely on those rationalizations?

  3. “Will the Market Punish Delusional Media?” “Not bloody likely”, unfortunately, has to be the answer of any consumer of the progressive blogosphere in recent years. Start with Krugman on “zombie ideas” and go from there. “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts” is the motto of this little corner of the world, but not of much of the rest of our public discussion.

  4. Confusing question, “Will the Market Punish Delusional Media?” Simply the name, Rupert Murdoch,” is your obvious answer. Unless you mean, someday, over the horizon, when the plutocrats, politicians, and similar assorted sociopaths, having devoted their lives to dumbing down the populace for the singular purpose of fleecing them of everything they own, including their dignity………who know? Maybe.

    But, ever since that GW Bush’s aide authored the winger’s philosophy, “we make our own reality,” I’ll take some bets that, as we speak, most of those “slinking, shame-faced” acolytes have already made their own “reality.” Do I need to run through the litany of Delusions they have so recently, publicly, and shamelessly, slobbered up? Or, do I need to offer links to sites displaying countless psychological studies explaining why delusional predictions followed by predictably negative results are almost immediately accepted as actually confirming their initial delusion? Just watch some of those tv preachers if you need a primer.

    “My, my, your Aunt Phoebe dropped dead of the cancer two days after rubbing her belly with the healing cloth I personally anointed, and sent you for the discounted price of “99.95?“ (Sad, knowing look on his face) “Maybe Aunt Phoebe didn’t really have all the faith she told you she had.” (As the niece walks away nodding, and thinking, “I’m gonna have to work harder on Cousin Ebenezer.”

    However, if “Delusional Media” includes the parabolicly increasing rise of the really suicidal, poison-pill that civilization has so blindly swallowed, our so-called, “Social Media,” then, as commenter, Ken Rhodes hinted at with his “self-esteem” meme, we’ve got something to debate.

  5. Has this market ever punished any religion for the absurdity of its tenets or the blemish less record of failure in its predictions? No.
    Has this market driven astrology, healing energy cures, biofuels, climate denial or any other mass delusion to extinction? No.
    So why would this market drive phony media to extinction?

    Bubble media will disappear four minutes after its sponsors do, and not a nanosecond sooner. The relevant market is not the one of information seekers looking for knowledge of reality, but rather of sponsors funding those who can gather the gullible into a mass audience for sale to the sponsors at the lowest case. For them, the failure to accurately describe reality or create hypotheses that survive contact with it has never been a negative. It’s not a criterion of concern either way; in fact, if the audience were to insist on it, sponsors would be deterred from that media outlet; as the saying goes, their only interest in intelligence is figuring out how to overcome it.

  6. I’ve been surprised by how little Obama-stole-the-election conspiracy talk I’ve seen. I’m sure the wing-nuts are hard at making stuff up but no one else seems to be buying it.

    Fox News, although likely to be king of the hill of cable news ratings for some time yet, is seeing some declines. I think it is particularly notable that the declines are strongest in the 25-54 demographic. I take that and the fall election results as a sign that, in that demographic at least, those media failures as well as other failures have been noted.

    I also see Krugman et al making some headway in getting people in general to notice the right things on the economic front too. A few years ago almost no one in the general public had a clue about macroeconomics and recessions. Now I see a significant number of bloggers and commenters who get those basics. It appears to me that the populace is getting ahead of the mass of politicians in that regard, probably because people who haven’t staked their jobs on zombie ideas are more willing to consider the evidence.

    Were it not for the irony of Republican gains in 2010

  7. Count me among the skeptics regarding the power of the Reality-based. Smug liberals have, again and again, gotten their lunches eaten by people who decide what they want to believe, then look for evidence.

  8. Outside Fox News, the internet seems to have a bit of a verdict on one of Fox’s great heroes and one of its favorite villains.

    Go to Google, type in “Why is Dick Ch” and pause to observe the autofill.

    Do the same with “Why is Bara” and compare what happens.

  9. On the other hand, there are few who understand market forces better than Warren Buffett, who argues here that quality journalism has a competitive advantage. (Though Buffett isn’t specifically addressing the market value of truth vs. falsehood.)

    Charlie and I believe that papers delivering comprehensive and reliable information to tightly-bound communities and having a sensible Internet strategy will remain viable for a long time. We do not believe that success will come from cutting either the news content or frequency of publication. Indeed, skimpy news coverage will almost certainly lead to skimpy readership.

  10. I think the biggest mistake here is to assume that consumers of bubble media do so in order to inform themselves or make predictions about the future. I think the target audience is more people who feel they already know how the world works and what should be done. The point is to comfort them by giving the impression that an influential group of people share their Weltanschauung. The bitter reality that most people do not in fact think the way they do just isn’t viable psychologically, regardless of what the media say. They have to keep believing that the majority of Americans have just been temporarily sidetracked, however delusional that belief is, because the alternative is too horrible for them to entertain.

    In a way, it’s the right-wing version of leftist media that constantly announce the revolution to be imminent and that all it will take to get the workers on board is to awaken them to the reality of their situation. The failure of the revolution to materialise is a constant shock, but it takes a lot more than that to dismantle the fantasy.

    1. “I think the target audience is more people who feel they already know how the world works and what should be done.”

      Well yeah. The question is whether any of those people change their attitude about those media when those media turn out to have completely misled them about something obvious. The example being “Romney will win in a landslide” juxtaposed with Obama’s relatively comfortable margin.

      1. Not unless reality forces them to abandon their cherished beliefs. It may be easier for them to believe that Obama rigged the election, rather than accept that a majority of voters genuinely preferred him to Romney.

  11. “Will the Market Punish Delusional Media?”

    Tell me again how the Hearst empire was punished.

  12. Most members of the Conservative Bubble media probably understand on some level that they are propagandists- though can’t so admit, for obvious tactical reasons. “We are SO FairNBalanced!” Given that the idiots in the “Mainstream” media peddle a similarly surreal narrative while thinking they’re operating under the false-equivalence halo of OBJECTIVITY (see Woodward, Bob or any of them, really)the avowed wignuts are arguably LESS delusional in some regards.

  13. Funny how I can post through a proxy server, but not using my regular IP.

    It is almost like my IP was blacklisted, or something.

    Keith is wrong again. The Republicans will never stop believing. Take a look at the Millerites, the Great Disappointment, and the subsequent growth of the 7th Day Adventist Church.

    Discernible reality has been demonstrated time and time again to crash on the rocks of faith.

    1. No idea what’s wrong with your postings, but RBC doesn’t keep a mechanical blacklist, so guess again. When we ban a commenter – which we have done, though rarely – we just manually trash that person’s comments until they stop posting.

Comments are closed.