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The Zeitgeist Weekend Edition – 3.16.2019

Every morning, we run The Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories. On the weekend, we leave finance to cover the last week or so in other shifting parts of the Zeitgeist – namely, politics and culture. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But these are articles that have struck a chord in narrative world. 

Potential Excessive Testing at Scale: Biomarkers, Genomics, and Machine Learning [JAMA]

It’s closer to a journal article than news (no, not that journal), but clearly on-narrative with a lot of what we have been seeing on health care and pharmaceuticals pricing. The only difference is that in the case we’re talking about the aggregate influence of aggressive biomarker-driven testing.

The drumbeats around this topic are coming from every direction. There is no article published in the last week in any publication in our database that demonstrated as much connectivity among different topics and uses of language as this one. Some of that is subject-matter based – it covers scientific, economic, trade, health, social, behavioral and political matters – but that is the point. A high-attention narrative is often one which threads its way through a variety of topics.

FBI busts widespread college entrance exam cheating scheme that got athletes into elite schools [NBC]

Both Ben and I have rather a lot to say about this – because we think most observers are getting both the narrative effects and where we go from here wrong. Not just wrong, but 180 degrees wrong. Keep an eye out for new content on ET In Brief this weekend. 

Rahm Emanuel: Dems seem duped by Trump into reading ‘ready-made script’ for socialists [Washington Times]


There is a lot of time until the election, but my sense – my opinion – is that a deepening of the Widening Gyre generally favors Trump.

Why? As that widening gyre drives the bi-modal peaks of our political distribution further apart, the appetite and demand for more extreme rhetoric and positioning will grow. I suspect the center-left candidates will poll well early, but discover quickly that sober ecumenism is not what primary voters are looking for after 3+ years of The Donald. You’d have to be deaf to miss the drumbeats of Inequality Narratives. They are the fuel that will accelerate the transition of democratic socialism into the mainstream of Democrat policy platforms. To some extent, they already have.

Redistributive policies, social program and schemes to reduce the power and influence of the wealthy will poll well individually. Strategists and advisers will convince themselves this means they can tell their candidates to boldly embrace them. But whatever people think about individual policies consistent with democratic socialism, a Socialism narrative is still poison in 2019.

Whatever you or I may think of it, a narrative of National Populism ain’t. 

Again, there is still a lot of time for all sorts of ridiculous things to take place that change the whole structure of this competition. But whatever you think about my opinions, recognize that Fiat News is already shaping yours (and mine). After Emanuel wrote these things in the Atlantic, here is the list of national publications who thought them newsworthy:

  • Fox News
  • Washington Times
  • USA Today

That’s it. When Fox and the Washington Times decide to cover this topic and a range of other publications don’t, you’re getting a message about how different media outlets want you to think – and what they want you to think about. Coverage biases are a huge part of Fiat News. More on this in the next installment of Road to Tannu Tuva. And in the next Zeitgeist story.

The Irish prime minister brought his boyfriend to meet Vice President Pence [Business Insider] / Lisa Page admitted Obama DOJ ordered stand-down on Clinton email prosecution, GOP rep says []

Alright, why the two-fer? What could these articles possibly have in common? Well, by a wide margin, they were the two articles from our dataset with the most social engagement over the last week. Dig in and you’ll find something even more interesting: ALL of the engagement is coming from news pieces – not opinion or analysis – deemed newsworthy by publications with one political persuasion.

Who published “Pence forced to meet gay Irish PM” pieces? Beyond BI, it was covered by the Washington Post, HuffPo, Daily Mail, The Guardian, Daily KOS, the BBC, the Hill, Daily Telegraph, most LGBT publications (e.g. Gay Times, Outmost) and just about every Irish publication.

Who published pieces referencing the Lisa Page testimony? Far more than Pence’s visit – after all, it was a formal hearing. But let’s look at the full list of articles published by four publications – all national, but two with a focus on Washington D.C. politics, and two with a more general political focus. Two with a progressive editorial perspective. Two with a conservative editorial perspective.

Fox News

Washington Examiner

Washington Post


If you’ve got a spare hour, read through this set of articles – it is a case study in all of the ways that Fiat News influences our understanding of the world. We are being told how to think more often than we are likely to recognize. We are influenced explicitly, through more subtle use of language, through the obfuscation of lines between news and analysis, and through editorial determinations of newsworthiness.

Worst of all, if it seems like the topics most sensitive to Fiat News are also the ones which make the social media rounds, you aren’t imagining things. They are.

There is very little that is more powerful to the individual interested in retaining their sovereignty than a willingness to listen to, tolerate and consider views that they may find distasteful. Full Hearts means demanding our inherent right to freedom of speech, but putting our weight behind freedom of expression.


  1. Good pickup on topics that are most sensitive to fiat news being the ones that go around social. But I also notice that their trending falls as quickly as it rises. When the Lisa Page testimony topic trended on Twitter with the related Fox article referenced, I remember saying to myself here’s something that’s fully “right” influencing and that it won’t last trending. It didn’t. Bias or is there something to this?

  2. Interesting observation! I will say that social media engagement is often not strongly correlated to our measures of narrative cohesion, so it is certainly the case that many of these “flame out” before they really have a lot of influence on the stories being told.

    It’s one of the reasons why we generally focus on news articles rather than scraping social media or, say, scouring sell-side research for similar commentary. In the end, it is the traditional media which act as the primary promoters and repeaters of the messages of missionaries.

  3. I think this fits here. I have never read more news, articles, op/eds, etc., than I do today - and I was a consumer of several daily papers and had numerous subscriptions to news magazines back when dinosaurs roamed the earth - but I feel much less of an ability to learn the truth (or something close to the honest facts) in our present “information age.”

    Maybe I was never learning the truth before, so maybe nothing’s changed; but it feels as if you can’t get there today as you just read more and more contradictory things. For example, you’ll read a seemingly smart thread - explaining an event with facts - by a well-known expert (not a crackpot) on Twitter that sits out there by itself never becoming part of the MSM coverage, but still, it pings around in your head.

    As noted, it might have been a false impression in the past, but today - on all but the simplest and least-controversial stories - I never feel like I get to the truth.

  4. (So the capricious ‘thumbs up’ button is becoming evermore annoying. )
    In the meantime, TU

  5. Does traditional media’s clear bias toward the Liberal/Progressive cause affect how one determines or reads the narrative messaging?
    Or does it even matter?

Continue the discussion at the Epsilon Theory Forum


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