Don't Look Up
Media helps White House spin shot down “objects” story out of the headlines
February 16, 2023
Dateline: The day the Microsoft Bing Chatbot AI got seriously scary
Watching this week…
— “Objects” story drifting away
— Fetterman info coming now
— Haters, Old vs. New Media: FW Pod with Clay Travis
— The End of Casual Consumption
— Great Moments in Pandemic or Policies Journalism
Don’t Look Up: Media helps White House spin shot down “objects” story out of the headlines
It was a fascinating and disturbing report, even for people who aren’t as into the topic of UFOs and UAPs like me. On Saturday night, CNN published a lengthy triple-bylined article about the “unidentified object shot down over Alaska.” At the time of publication, this was after the Chinese spy balloon we shot down — and, notably, knew what it was — but before we would subsequently shoot down another “object” over Canada and a third unidentified object over Lake Huron, before the weekend was done.
But in this piece, it’s clear the Alaska object was puzzling. “Some pilots said the object ‘interfered with their sensors’ on the planes, but not all pilots reported experiencing that,” reported CNN. “Some pilots also claimed to have seen no identifiable propulsion on the object, and could not explain how it was staying in the air, despite the object cruising at an altitude of 40,000 feet.”
So, what were these three “objects” we shot down? This week, the story would shift rapidly. On Monday, while Karine Jean-Pierre was denying these “objects” were related to “aliens or extraterrestrial life,” and reporters giggled along with her, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was giving a far more sober assessment. “I want to be clear -- the three objects taken down this weekend are very different from what we were talking about last week,” he said, referring to the Chinese spy balloon.
But then came Tuesday. CNN published a story about the White House wanting to “tamp down on conspiracies” about these objects. But that was in relation to officials telling the outlet that we could not definitively say what we shot down without recovering debris, but that “debris of downed objects may never be recovered.”
That seems like a recipe to continue the conspiracies. Well hours later, CNN changed the headline:
Ah yes, we’ll never be able to know for sure what we shot down, but the “leading theory” is that they’re just “‘benign’ balloons.” And this has largely been the new talking point — it’s probably just balloons, let’s move along now. “These three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies,” said President Biden today.
Except back when that wasn’t the talking point only a few days ago, the New York Times’ The Daily podcast reported something that would counter that theory significantly. Reporter Julian Barnes said that when we shot down the Alaska object, “it doesn't pop, it doesn't deflate. It doesn't act like a balloon. Instead it breaks apart, something falls to the ground.”
And couple that with the CNN report about the Alaska incident — again, from less than a week ago — about the pilots thinking the object messed with their sensors, and had no visible propulsion. These don’t sound very much like a “benign” weather balloon.
Perhaps what we shot down over Lake Huron was a balloon. But the press is letting the administration get away with dismissing all of these — by grouping the objects together, and by allowing for the narrative that we’ll never know for sure what they are without debris, and we won’t be able to find debris.
This sort of dismissiveness is the talking point even when it comes to the Chinese spy balloon, with the Washington Post quoting unnamed “U.S. officials” saying that the balloon was likely supposed to go to Guam and never enter the U.S. airspace at all. Just a little mistake. No need to worry.
I get why the Biden administration and intel agencies want this storyline out there. They don’t want the press, or the public, asking too many questions they either can’t explain, or don’t want to, for one reason or another. They don’t want to panic the public either. But what’s most telling, and alarming, is the corporate media that appeared to be taking all of these “objects” seriously for a few days has now completely given up the pursuit.
I don’t know what these three new objects are (I have my theories!). But I do know the public has a right to know much more than we’re being told. Four *whatever they ares* get shot out of the sky in North America in the span of a week, and no one wants to pursue this massive story? Don’t look up, they say. Nothing to see there.
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What is “information hostage-taking” — and how does it relate to the media?
If you’ve been a reader of Fourth Watch for the past three years, you’ll be familiar with certain terms I use sometimes while describing concepts related to the media. There’s the “Acela Media,” or “Guilt Journalism.” And related to the next story in this newsletter, there’s “information hostage-taking.” Each of these terms are explained in great detail — with new examples and background — in my new book, “Uncovered: How the Media Got Cozy With Power, Abandoned Its Principles, and Lost the People,” which is out on Tuesday next week. (“Information hostage-taking” is in chapter 7, for example.)
If you like Fourth Watch, I think you’ll like “Uncovered.” It’s my take, plus the on-the-record thoughts of more than two dozen media members throughout the industry — from Tucker Carlson, to Jane Coaston, to Will Cain, to Olivia Nuzzi, to Kayleigh McEnany, to Ali Velshi, to Ben Smith, and more.
More coming on Tuesday…
Information hostage-taking, and the tragic Senator John Fetterman debacle
We got the sad, but not entirely unexpected, news tonight that John Fetterman, now senator from Pennsylvania, has checked into Walter Reed Medical Center as he battles with “severe” depression. This comes less than a week after he was released from a three-day stay in the hospital with “lightheadedness.” According to the New York Times, Fetterman is expected to stay hospitalized for “longer than a few days.” In the statement tonight, his spokesperson said Fetterman “has experienced depression off and on throughout his life,” but that “it only became severe in recent weeks.”
I suppose it’s not the public’s business to learn that Fetterman is someone who has had clinical depression throughout his life. But it is just the latest piece of information that was previously taken hostage — only to be released when it no longer was useful, or possible, to keep it hidden away.
On Friday last week we got the big piece. As Fetterman remained hospitalized, the New York Times’ Annie Karni told the truth about Fetterman so many reporters wouldn’t say for months — his “physical impairment and serious mental health challenges” are worse than previously reported. “When it’s bad, Mr. Fetterman has described it as trying to make out the muffled voice of the teacher in the ‘Peanuts’ cartoon, whose words could never be deciphered,” she wrote.
And later: “He has had to come to terms with the fact that he may have set himself back permanently by not taking the recommended amount of rest during the campaign. And he continues to push himself in ways that people close to him worry are detrimental.”
This is information hostage-taking in action. Take the truth hostage while Fetterman is engaged in a battle with Dr. Oz that could have balance-tipping stakes in the Senate. Then, when the information is no longer useful, it can be set free to the public. Of course, it is worth pointing out that it’s the New York Times that broke this story. We do rely on a corporate press to tell us important truths — even when it’s, essentially, too late. That’s the hypocritical corrective in action too (another concept in “Uncovered”!)
After he was released, it felt like the press wasn’t totally sure how to handle it. Here’s Politico showing Fetterman’s first vote back this week, while noting that he “did not appear to otherwise linger.” Can you even spot him?
Back during the campaign, NBC’s Dasha Burns was pilloried not by political operatives on Fetterman’s staff but by the press themselves for daring to note that the candidate did not seem capable of small talk when he couldn’t read what was being said to him. “Disability advocates are accusing NBC News of ableism,” began one representative BuzzFeed News article about the incident. Dare to point out the obvious? You’re ableist!
But as we see tonight, it was really worse than that. The political machine, and the corporate press working in conjunction with it, did Fetterman a disservice by pushing him to continue down this path. Those who cautioned against it were actually looking out for him. And now, just weeks into his six-year term, Fetterman is hospitalized for the second time in a week, for both physical and psychological reasons. If only the media did its job originally, like Dasha Burns did, perhaps this could have been different.
New and Legacy Media, Dealing with Haters: Fourth Watch Podcast with Clay Travis
Clay Travis is one of the few media personalities today who successfully straddles the divide between politics and sports — simultaneously. Ahead of the Super Bowl last week, I talked with Clay on the latest Fourth Watch Podcast, about Super Bowl storylines (he got the Chiefs right, but picked the under), the success of Outkick and the Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, dealing with haters, and more. You can listen to the bulk of the podcast for free on Apple, on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Or watch some clips - like getting his start in the sports writing world and building Outkick from scratch, or his take on the Steven Crowder vs. Daily Wire fiasco.
Paying subscribers get the full podcast, a few extra minutes, which you can listen to here:
The End of Casual Consumption
What do we lose when our lives — from the content we consume, to the food we order, to our social media feeds — are carefully curated to our exact wants? Or, rather, to what it is we think we want?
We are stopping ourselves from stumbling onto something new and unexpected in the content we consume. Casual consumption has been replaced with consumption that’s ceaselessly intentional. The massive abundance of choice in the marketplace has become so pervasive that it’s actually made choosing less of an activity — a “choice” becomes a “standard” quicker than ever before. And this presents a very real problem.
In my latest “Rabbit Hole” deep dive column for paid subscribers, I explore this phenomenon. Check out an extended preview at this link:
Another poll, this time by the Knight Foundation and Gallup, another eye-opening drop in trust in the media by the public.
The saga of a NewsNation reporter being arrested at an Ohio press conference has finally come to an end, with charges being dropped. Still — outrageous.
Jeff Greenfield, formerly of CNN and CBS News, has written compellingly for Politico about why Biden should have done the Fox Super Bowl interview.
Speaking of Fox News, late night host Greg Gutfeld got the Fox News Super Bowl spot slot.
And…on a different note… Fox News’ Julie Banderas appeared to announce her divorce on a recent edition of “Gutfeld!”
ABC Executive Producer Dax Tejera reportedly died from choking while drunk, rather than a heart attack, as was originally reported.
Why is the State Department funding an organization that is smearing legitimate media organizations like Reason as purveyors of “disinformation”?
⏪ DROP EVERYTHING: Trump Era Journalism Edition ⏩
⏪ Putting a special section here to give a shoutout to a comprehensive dissection of the problems with the Trump Era press by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jeff Gerth in CJR. It’s four lengthy sections, laying out in meticulous detail just how down the Russiagate rabbit hole so many elements of the press fell. It’s essential. Drop Everything… and check it out.
In the “more TK” section I usually focus on something that’s forward looking, but I have to say, this time it’s to note my shock that we’re still looking back at the Hunter Biden laptop mess and giving weight to James Clapper trying to spin his way out of culpability for that intel community letter pointing to “earmarks” of “Russian disinformation.” This week, here’s The Washington Post’s fact-checker doing just that. So what’s happening here? Just a total lack of introspection — or is it something deeper, that’s trying to get out ahead of another shoe to drop in the near future…
GREAT MOMENTS IN JOURNALISM
No, the Associated Press, the “pandemic” didn’t cause the feelings of sadness or hopelessness. We continue to see the press mistakenly point to the pandemic, rather than the policy responses to the pandemic, as the cause of these ongoing problems in America.
Thanks for reading. Back Sunday with the next “Rabbit Hole”…