“Men are like sheep, of which a flock is more easily driven than a single one.”
– -Richard Whately
The mainstream News Media – with long held authority as the primary source of information for most Americans – has long been losing viewer confidence. Even so, when asked the source of their disenchantment, most cannot provide specific answers, and continue to accept material the Media puts forth without much thought. Lack of readily available, direct examples of misinformation aids in America’s continued consumption of, and belief in media material – after all, reports of News Media abuses aren’t a regular front page topic – publishing negative stories about themselves would be quite the counterproductive business move. Though lack of reporting on such events effectively convinces the majority of their nonexistence, instances of misinformation, misdirection and manipulation in media content are countless (Kroth). The media uses its growing number of platforms to influence public opinion using morally problematic, ethically questionable methods. Driven by political demand and elite interests, mainstream media broadcasts messages intended to promote the objectives of these interests and to entice public support of action taken to solidify their goals (Engelhardt). Often separate from actual intentions, goals presented to the public are often intended to disguise yet abet the genuine motives of those in power.
This shouldn’t be new news to Americans; World War One advertisement and media coverage was thick with propaganda, absolutely teeming with messages intended to produce fear and hate for the bloodthirsty Enemy, convincing the public of the Wars necessity (Koft). The blatant propaganda – clear in hindsight – was, at the time, accepted as truth, and effectively persuaded the public to go to war, even when most opposed it before the onset of the government’s media driven propaganda campaign. Those citizens still in opposition of the war were silenced by quickly passed laws criminalizing anti-war protesting and speech (Congress). Further, the advertisements of the time were, to us, absurd; doctors promoting smoking, alcohol and sugar as healthy; Women, shown as too stupid to open a bottle of ketchup. Looking back, we can easily see the blatant ridiculousness and falsities present in these advertisements and wartime propaganda techniques – that the public believed such things seems crazy to modern society, but emotions and distraction can cause the public to overlook what would otherwise be obvious. Even with overwhelming historical evidence and proven instances of the media being used to distort and manipulate public opinion, many believe that in this day and age, propaganda is extinct (Carry). Whether or not they trust or distrust the media and/or politicians, many assert that they, unlike their parents or grandparents, wouldn’t fall for the same techniques of manipulation, or insist that our government wouldn’t mislead us. For this portion of society, any mention of private interest driven media manipulation is quickly dismissed as nothing but invalid, anti-government, tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist nonsense. Quite contrary to these beliefs, propaganda is most definitely alive and well in mainstream media, employing methods so sophisticated, subtle and refined that they go unnoticed despite their abundance and similarity in principal to techniques used during WW1 and 2 that society now finds glaringly obvious (Kroth). After all, if fish could talk, when asked to define the most obvious part of its environment one would the logical answer – water. However, in this hypothetical situation, water is most likely the last thing a fish would notice and think to mention; What may seem logical and obvious to an outsider, is easily overlooked by the those ‘swimming in the water’.
Like the hypothetical talking fish, and the people of 100 years ago, some, if not most members of western society simply fail to notice media manipulation tactics due to the mechanical acceptance that comes with life-long exposure; dodgy reporting and questionable advertising techniques go unrecognised, their truth and benign nature taken for granted. Information challenging these unconsciously preconceived truths is often rejected or ignored; People – who by nature don’t like being wrong – typically prefer to stick with what they know rather than ponder complex, often puzzling paradoxes due to sheer laziness or the informations potential to challenge their perception (Carry).
Growing up in England, my father witnessed and participated in a relatively small – compared to those in London at the time – NHS health workers march in protest of low wages for nurses. A few thousand people showed up; nurses, other healthcare workers, and the elderly making up the majority, the minority being punks and vagrants. Due to the rowdy and disruptive nature and unpopularity of the minority, police arrived and arrested offending individuals. On returning home, he recounted his experience to his family who had seen the event on television – it made the news, but his account was much different to the story his family heard. Mentioned in the broadcast were the punks and their violent activity; the number of people involved was reported to be hundreds, not thousands and the peaceful majority – along with the message they were trying to convey – weren’t acknowledged. When my dad’s account didn’t line up with the way the media portrayed the event, his brother simply didn’t believe him: ‘Why would they lie?’ – a valid question, despite the sarcastic mode of its delivery in this case.
Truthful and unbiased coverage of world – and local – events is disadvantageous to wealthy corporate and political forces, for if the public knew the whole truth, heightened opposition to certain political moves or action would threaten to derail their plans, and their desired results (Herman)(Koft). Manipulating or even completely fabricating events for television and news serves a dual purpose of keeping the public in the dark about the entirety and scope of real issues, and allowing power figures to highlight only those parts of events – real or fictitious – that serve their interests and goals, whatever they may be. Though goals and objectives must change with time and situation, methods of influencing public opinion to support these goals remain essentially unchanged, only refined to fit new, modern platforms.
Media handling of the first World War and later of the ‘War on Terror’ in the Middle East are for all intents and purposes identical in their use the press to create and reinforce the public’s belief of an imminent threat to the nation, and subsequent need for military involvement to destroy that threat (Lang). Using multiple methods – laid out neatly and explain beautifully by Psychologist Jerry Kroth – government leaders from Hitler to George Bush Jr. and mass media members are able to effectively convince the masses to which they lead of falsities that prevail in the minds of citizens even after later being successfully debunked: “Reframing”, the first of the four mentioned methods, involves the use of rhetoric and euphemistic language to soften words and phrases, replacing statements such as ‘death of innocent civilians’ with ‘collateral damage’ and kidnap and transport of suspected terrorists to ‘extraordinary rendition’; In addition to reframing, the method of “Repeated Affirmations” is employed to convince the public of an erroneous statement presented as fact through consistent repetition and backing by trusted authority figures. Used by the Bush Administration after the 9-11 attacks, the ‘Repeated Affirmations’ technique convinced over 70% of Americans – including the military sent to Iraq as a result – that Saddam Hussein was behind the bloodshed, and that Iraq was a threat to the nation – a falsity still widely believed today. George Bush himself legitimized use of repetition in 2005 with this illuminating quote: “See in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” (White House); Next comes “Distraction and Denial” which employs various media sources to divert public attention from unsavory political, environmental and humanitarian issues – when events are happening, or are going to happen that the public ‘shouldn’t know about’, or when issues are so gruesome that public knowledge would invite protest, the media fabricates a separate event that preys on public emotion to and attention using sensational yet relatively unimportant news to move attention and watchful eyes away from real, important issues. Last in line in the artillery of propaganda methods used against us by the media is “Vicarious” or “Imitative Learning” which uses popular culture to influence behaviour – the music industry and hollywood blatantly glamorize violence, drug use, and illegal activity, particularly in rap and hip hop music directed towards black and latino communities and cultures – the image of the black man that mainstream hip hop artists present through their personas is one akin to the racist assumptions of non-blacks before the civil rights movement (Van Dijk). This music both promotes violent crime in all who listen – particularly members of black and latino cultures – and propagates racism in non ‘minority’ audiences.
These methods have effectively enabled the initiation and exacerbation countless wars leading to the death of over 20 million people since WW2 (Lukas). In the War on Terror alone, over 174,000 Iraqis were reported dead from the actions taken by the United States Military from 2003 to 2013, with between 112,000-123,000 of those killed being innocent civilians. The death and destruction of innocent people on foreign soil attributed to our nation’s involvement is devastating – that we, as a country could cause this amount of pain to countless individuals through the wielding of our nation’s heavy club of power is hard to believe, yet even harder to stomach for our society is the possibility that this lack of regard for human life from those in control of our nation could extend to the lives of us – the American people. The same people who, without remorse or care have coerced us into war on countless occasions, taking countless lives of both American soldiers and opponents, control the media we consume. History shows that the press dictates public behavior and thought process; in this age of concentrated media presence in almost every aspect of life, unaware citizens minds are left altogether powerless against the infiltration of media-manufactured thoughts and opinions productive to the U.S. regime.
The reasoning behind the corporate and political elites use of media and the press to employ these highly refined techniques of propaganda and manipulation is obvious: these platforms reach every single person with access to a computer, television, newspaper, smartphone, or tablet – in other words, almost every member of western society. Also obvious is their motivation for doing so: monetary gain. Left to speculation is just how far those in power are willing to extend their control and the amount of weight the good of the public, and the world holds in pursuit of their monetary gain.
Bush, George W. “President Participates in Social Security Conversation in New York.” President Participates in Social Security Conversation in New York. May 2005.
Carey, Alex, and Andrew Lohrey. Taking the Risk out of Democracy Propaganda in the US and Australia. Sydney: U of New South Wales, 1995. Print.
Congress, “SIXTY-FIFTH CONGRESS. SESSION. I . CHs. 29,30. 1917.”
Engelhardt, Tom. “How Sensational News Stories Distract Us From Real Crises.” How Sensational News Stories Distract Us From Real Crises. The Nation, 2014.
Herman, Edward S. and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon, 2002.
Kroth, Jerry. Duped: Delusion, Denial, and the End of the American Dream. Jerry Kroth, 2012. Print.
Lang, Kurt and Gladys Engel Lang. “Noam Chomsky and the Manufacture of Consent for American Foreign Policy.” Political Communication 21.93 (2004): 94.
Lucas, James. “Study: U.S. Regime Has Killed 20-30 Million People since World War Two — Sott.net.” SOTT.net. 24 Apr. 2007. Web.
Van Dijk, T.A. Elite Discourse and Racism. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1993.