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This column is not what the mainstream media want you to hear

If Russell Brand and Rupert Murdoch aren’t the elite, who is? These days, what is snidely referred to as MSM is the true counterculture

We need a new name for what you and I are involved in now – writing or reading articles on The Irish Times website or in the printed newspaper. For “mainstream media”, abbreviated in the jargon of anti-elitism to MSM, does not cut it any more.

For one thing, everybody wants to play the outsider now. In his fabulously disingenuous retirement statement last week, Rupert Murdoch, arguably the most powerful media baron the world has ever seen, posed as a rebel upstart: “Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.”

Coming from a man who pursues the truth the way a lion pursues a baby antelope, this would always have been phoney. What makes it doubly absurd is that it could, word for word, have been spoken by Russell Brand about Murdoch’s own journalists at the Times and Sunday Times, who had just published an excellent investigation into Brand’s alleged sexual predations.

In a world where rich and powerful men like Murdoch and Brand claim to be champions of truth against “elites”, “mainstream media” is a rhetorical device, not a description of reality.


The biggest newspaper in the English-speaking world, the New York Times, has 9.7 million subscribers to its print and digital editions. Brand’s main YouTube account has 6.6 million subscribers. Associated accounts on YouTube add roughly another half a million, and his Rumble channel has 1.4 million.

So, one luridly verbose conspiracy theorist-cum-wellness guru has almost as many customers as perhaps the world’s most respected newspaper. The London Times has 641,000 subscribers – less than a tenth of Brand’s following on YouTube alone.

On Twitter, which I decline to call X, Brand has 11.2 million followers. The Times and Sunday Times has 1.7 million. On Instagram, Brand’s 3.8 million compares with one million for The Times and Sunday Times.

Tucker Carlson, the white supremacist demagogue whom Murdoch shamelessly promoted until he committed the only unforgivable sin (costing Murdoch money), retweeted Brand’s pre-emptive video attacking the rape allegations, adding: “Criticise the drug companies, question the war in Ukraine, and you can be pretty sure this is going to happen.” Carlson’s retweet alone has had 12 million views.

Twitter’s man-child owner Elon Musk also spread the conspiracy theory that Brand is being targeted because of his views. At a time when Musk cannot possibly have read and considered the Times investigation, he tweeted his support for Brand to his own 157 million followers – backing he has since reaffirmed.

Musk’s current pinned tweet is a claim that readership of long-form posts on his platform “is roughly on par with all newspaper article views on Earth”. This is as dubious as almost everything else Musk says, but it is surely true that far more people got the Brand story first from these conspiratorial sources than from newspapers, TV or other so-called mainstream media.

And first impressions last. People who read newspapers or watch and listen to radio and TV may think about this story from the point of view of the alleged victims. Those who got it directly from social media were primed to think about those women as puppets of a vast global conspiracy that is targeting an innocent man because, as he claims, he is getting “too close to the truth”.

We moved with extraordinary alacrity from ‘it must be true because it’s in the news’ to ‘it must be a lie because the MSM tell you it’s true’. The first was foolishly naive; the second is madness

Such people are, increasingly, the norm. In the Reuters Institute 2023 global survey of media consumption, only around a fifth of respondents (22 per cent) said they prefer to “start their news journeys” with a media website or app. Thirty per cent start from a social media platform.

Twenty per cent of people worldwide get their “news” from YouTube videos like the ones Brand made a fortune from posting. More people (30 per cent) say they prefer to have an algorithm decide which news stories to show them than to have professional journalists or editors do it (27 per cent).

Users of TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat say that, when it comes to news, “they pay more attention to celebrities, influencers, and social media personalities than journalists”. In this world, Brand is much more obviously MSM than anyone who works for a newspaper or a broadcaster.

The term MSM came into use in the 1990s as contemptuous shorthand for professional journalism. It was never particularly useful, since it lumped together The Sun and Le Monde, the BBC and Fox News, The Irish Times and the National Enquirer. But it had some validity – legacy publishers and broadcasters, rooted in the old technologies of print and airwaves, utterly dominated the public arena.

Being anti-MSM therefore had a certain maverick elan. So much so that much of the right-wing old media elite (Murdoch being only the most ludicrous example) tried to mimic its appeal by railing against old media elites, which is to say themselves.

Being anti-MSM became its own validation. Instead of stimulating scepticism and critical engagement with media messaging, it merely encouraged extreme gullibility.

Every kind of pernicious nonsense now comes gift-wrapped in the promise that it is “not what the MSM want you to hear”. We moved with extraordinary alacrity from “it must be true because it’s in the news” to “it must be a lie because the MSM tell you it’s true”. The first was foolishly naive; the second is madness.

Hence, a charlatan such as Brand can introduce his apologia on his YouTube channel by reminding his fans that it is the place “where we critique, attack and undermine the news in all its corruption”. Never mind that, for millions of people, Brand and his allies are the news.

Which leaves the legacy media as the outsiders. We – both the journalists and all those who continue to read, watch and listen to us – are the counterculture. We are the ones who have to swim against the tide of disinformation and distortion. It is evidence-based reporting and argument that now has to be the feisty alternative to the heavily polluted mainstream.