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Warren KInsella“All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values,” Marshall McLuhan said.

When the most revered media theorist of all time leaves a show-stopper quote like that, it’s pretty hard to discount. All media, he essentially said, are liars and bullies. No apology.

Conspiracy theorists will naturally agree.

But was McLuhan correct?

No, for three reasons.

One: Anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom knows that the media lack the essential skills needed to mount an effective conspiracy. When you observe the disorganized journalistic genus up close, it’s a miracle we can get a paper out every day.

Two: The media cherish conflict, not consensus. Disaster, division, disunity are the things that make our bells go off. Eyeball any news story and you will see this to be an immutable truth: we in the media always seek one side’s point of view and then the other side’s – even when there isn’t another side. We can hardly be accused of pushing a particular “value,” as McLuhan claims we do, when we ceaselessly promote the notion that there is never a consensus on values.

Three (this is key, in the era of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump and Canadian Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch): To affect public opinion, the mainstream media needs to have an understanding of public opinion. But, increasingly, we don’t.

The reasons? Polling – to which we are hopelessly addicted – is flawed. Social media has distorted the consensus that once existed about was important. And technology has enabled citizens to become their own editors, rendering the likes of newsreader Peter Mansbridge irrelevant.

Here in McLuhan’s homeland, we saw the truth of all this recently. Leitch, an MP desperate for attention and her party’s leadership, declared she would screen immigrants and refugees for “anti-Canadian values” (whatever those are). On cue, as Leitch clearly hoped, politicians and media folks were apoplectic. They condemned her and wrote stirring editorials about values.

And then, the Toronto Star – the paragon of progressive values – sheepishly released a poll showing that two-thirds of Canadians agreed with Leitch. So much for manufacturing consent. So much for an omnipotent, all-seeing media, “investing our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.”

I don’t give a sweet tweet about whether two-thirds or three-thirds agree with Leitch. Her stunt was a naked appeal to latent bigotry, designed to draw out the very worst in people.

It worked. Good for her, shame on us.

And anyway, Leitch isn’t alone. Trump, daily, shatters the notion that there is a popular consensus about anything – or that a media conspiracy is at work.

Because, in the main, we in the media are at work for Trump. We are. Every day for a year, we have meticulously documented Trump’s racist statements and reported all of his many lies, and shown how they are lies. Yet Trump has persevered, survived, even grown minutely more popular.

That is because Trump – like his willing student, Leitch – understands the media better than the media does. He understands that, if two guys are onstage, and one says he has the solution to the Middle East and the other one falls into the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the news that night?

The irrelevance of the media is seen, over and over, in the Trump phenomenon. Our impotence is made clear with every one of his foul utterances: Mexicans are rapists and murderers; immigrants should be rounded up and shipped out; Muslims should be barred from the United States; a wall should be built; he’d promote the use of torture and kill the children of his enemies; soldiers aren’t heroes when they are captured and tortured or killed; rape on military bases is defensible.

In every one of those instances – and many more – we in the media were astonished and outraged. We rained down opprobrium on the Republican nominee. And Trump shrugged and carried on.

We in the media don’t run anything, as much as we’d like to. We don’t affect public opinion, as much as hope to. We don’t have the power McLuhan said we do.

You, the citizen, do. It is up to you to banish the likes of Trump and Leitch to the rock-bottoms from which they crawled.

So go do it. You are the real boss.

Troy Media columnist Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator. 

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power is in the hands of the citizens media

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