Pseudo-Events: Term Coined in 1961 Still Resonates in 2018

While popping in and out of my office one morning, catching Rush Limbaugh in patches, I heard him mention a provocative term called “pseudo-events.” He was talking about an article he’d read that referred to Daniel J. Boorstein’s book, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, a take on the metamorphosis (I say decline) in news reporting since the inception of newspapers in America. His take is uncannily prescient. The book was published in 1961!

The term pseudo-events struck me when I thought about how news reporting affected me as a police officer. I’d read newspaper accounts of incidents I’d been at, and I could hardly recognize any truth or accuracy in the stories. Though I didn’t use the term then, editors and reporters were creating pseudo-events. Turning what happened into something different to fit a predetermined narrative. It got so bad during the 1999 Seattle WTO riots that the biased reporting forced me to drop my newspaper subscription.

Later in my career, local media skewered me for daring to write an article opposing social justice policies that were poisoning the criminal justice system. In the newspapers, I was reading about this badge-heavy, racist, evil thug who didn’t realize the social “playing field” was not level—and it was me!

This showed me firsthand how reckless the leftist media have become. Only one reporter bothered to contact me before writing her comments. Another commentator, who has since passed away, after saying he didn’t know me, wrote, “If Seattle police officer Steve Pomper would just stop polishing his billy club for a moment…” He hadn’t contacted me to get my perspective. But what’s worse was he knew me. Our high school-aged boys had played on the same baseball team. What kind of “reporting” is that? The media has only gotten worse since then.

Boorstein wrote about how journalism has changed since America’s first newspaper appeared. Benjamin Harris published Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick in Boston in 1690. At that time, according to Harris, “The responsibility for making news was entirely God’s or the Devil’s. The newsman’s task was only to give ‘an Account of such considerable things as have arrived unto our Notice.’” Objective news, what a quaint notion.

Though a biblical view of journalism has diminished over time, for a while, an inkling of the divine persisted. In 1866, biographer James Parton commented, “The skilled and faithful journalist, recording with exactness and power the thing that has come to pass, is Providence addressing men.” He’s talking about another quaint notion: reporting the truth.

By 1961, Boorstein observes a huge change in journalism expressed in the words of Arthur MacEwen, hired by William Randolph Hearst as the San Francisco Examiner’s first editor. MacEwen described news as “anything that makes a reader say, ‘Gee whiz!’”

Boorstein notes society has “shifted responsibility for making the world interesting from God to the newspaperman [media].” He adds that there was a time when no one would blame a reporter for having no news to report. “He could not be expected to report what did not exist.” Oh, how times have changed. Today, if there’s no real news, or the real news doesn’t fit your agenda, then you can always fall back on reporting fake news. My anonymous source told me… Sure he did.


(Credit: Pixabay/GDJ)

The author details the journalistic change in perspective. Boorstein tells us if a reporter has no story, then he can fabricate a story with the questions he puts to public figures. He says the news has morphed from reporting facts and occurrences to pure entertainment. Can you say, “Russian Collusion” or “Stormy Daniels”?

The following comment about the American news audience may appear cynical at first, but after thinking about it, and observing the state of the media today, you learn Boorstein is stating a simple fact: “But it is we who keep them in business and demand that they fill our consciousness with novelties, that they play God for us.” Okay, maybe not for all of us but enough to keep the mainstream media muck flowing.

So, now, Boorstein’s prophetic observations have come to fruition—no longer much of an attempt to even disguise the biased reporting. The mainstream news today is overflowing with pseudo-events. The following is an abbreviated version of Boorstein’s view of the characteristics of a pseudo-event:

  1.  It is not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted or incited it.
  2. It is planted primarily (not always exclusively) for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced. Therefore, its occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media. Its success is measured by how widely it is reported.
  3. Its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous. Its interest arises largely from this very ambiguity.
  4. Usually it is intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Example: The hotel’s thirtieth-anniversary celebration, by saying that the hotel is a distinguished institution, actually makes it one.

Think about all the stories and images we’ve seen lately of “children in cages” or crying for their parents from whose arms oh-so-brutish ICE agents have dragged them. Even though the events portrayed in these images took place in 2014 under the Obama administration, it doesn’t matter. There are enough shallow thinkers and media charlatans in America for whom facts don’t matter. Hell, the images even fooled Britain’s Prime Minister enough to make her lash out fiercely at an American president and a U.S. law enforcement agency.

One current example of a pseudo-event is brought to us by Time Magazine’s photograph of a little Honduran girl wailing before an intimidating President Trump looming over the girl. The caption reads: “Welcome to America.” Time, and many other news outlets, reported that Yanela was taken away from her mother Sandra Hernandez after her mom was caught crossing into the U.S. illegally with her child.

There’s one problem with Time’s reporting: it isn’t true. Well, that she crossed the border illegally is true, but neither Border Patrol agents nor ICE officials separated the girl from her mother. Apparently, they are together and doing well.

How do we know? Well, DailyMail.co.uk interviewed Yanela’ father, Denis Hernandez, who told them his wife and daughter are fine and were never separated. In fact, the only separation that took place was when Sandra took two-year-old Yanela from her father and three siblings, suffered the travails of the 1,800-mile-journey through Mexico, and then tried to sneak across the border into the United States.

According to the Daily Mail, during the interview, Mr. Hernandez said he spoke with a Honduran official in the U.S. who described his wife and daughter as together and doing “fine.” Sandra and Yanela were among a group of people who’d just used a raft to cross the Rio Grande river illegally from Mexico into the United States.

U.S. Border Patrol agents caught the group after they’d landed on U.S. soil. Reports say Sandra paid a coyote $6,000 to get her to America. Mr. Hernandez said he didn’t support his wife’s decision to go to the U.S. and noted that they have three other children who remained behind in Honduras. He also alluded to her not telling him the exact time they were to leave because he said he was not able to say a proper goodbye to his daughter.

The thing about pseudo-events is they only work if people let them. There are those who will dismiss these stories out of hand as nonsense—as they should. Others will accept them as a matter of political affinity for the party that supports the pseudo-event. However, those in the independent middle or who are politically unaffiliated may accept these stories as true through intellectual laziness and a lack of critical thinking.

Images evoke emotions, sometimes very strong ones, especially when they feature children enduring any perceived trauma. Like little Yanela above, when my granddaughter cries, I melt. I’m putty in her hands, wrapped around her finger, and any other cliché that applies. Why do I bring this up? Because children at this age cry for all kinds of reasons or for no reason at all. Exploit that child: with a camera you can place him or her into any context you wish—create a pseudo-event.


(Credit: Facebook/93.7 The Beat)

This concerted attack against facts and truth is why it is so important to understand what pseudo-events are and to resist buying into them. Also, people on the right who recognize these events as frauds need to speak up against them, so the left doesn’t get away with these scams. Don’t be afraid to let friends and family know how you feel about political issues when asked.

You don’t have to be the guy or gal everyone avoids so they don’t get bombarded with your politics—you know, like so many lefties tend to do. But do stand your ground. And, more particularly, don’t pretend you agree with those who believe differently, just to get along. You don’t betray the political philosophy you espouse when you do this. You betray your duty to yourself. Why shouldn’t your beliefs count as much as theirs?

We are in the midst of a political, civil cold war that is edging ever closer to violence with each leftist pundit’s attack on a Republican president and his followers, conservatives, and libertarians as “pure evil” or “Nazis.” Black Lives Matter, Antifa, Occupy Wall Street and others are openly advocating for violence against law enforcement in America. What’s worse is there is a political party, the Democrats, that have been taken over by the far left and who tacitly endorse their uncivil and even violent tactics, if by nothing else, through their silence when these groups target their political opponents.

Oh, and the Democrats also do this by conspiring with their mainstream media allies to plant pseudo-events for the evening news to broadcast to enrage low-information voters.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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