I was inspired to write about the influence of the mainstream media (MSM) earlier than anticipated; recently I have been shocked regarding the biased reporting from the MSM relating to the democratic primaries. They have plummeted to new depths, delivering an echo chamber of lies and misrepresentation to keep the masses ignorant of the world we live in. During the cold war the west was rightfully scathing in their assessment of news agencies such as TASS (soviet state news agency) and newspapers such as Pravda, regarding the use of their services to convey propaganda throughout the state. Having watched, read and listened to coverage of the ‘primaries’, there really isn’t much difference regarding the overall goal. The US networks are slightly more subtle in their delivery (debatably), and the overall message is arguably more nuanced. However, the objective is the same, to deliver a narrative that serves the ruling elite, which comprises of establishment politicians and corporate CEO’s.
I was born in the UK and currently live in New Zealand so I have had exposure to two nations mainstream media; to a certain extent you could argue with some vigor that news channels in these countries do have some political leanings. At certain times they may appear to espouse a certain ideology; such as the UK’s mainstream media’s harsh coverage of Jeremy Corbyn during the Labour leadership campaign. Most of the time, however, you could argue that they appear to be relatively objective or certainly more subtle with their reporting compared to the US. In the UK in particular, biased reporting tends to be more obvious and unabashed in what would once be described as the print media, but that’s a blog for another day. In the US, mainstream media seem less concerned about reporting the news and more interested in championing ideological opinion.
The creation of an ‘echo chamber’ of lies and deception is a vital component of the ruling elite to keep the proletariat anesthetized, misinformed and in check. Powerful organisations such as the World Economic Forum meet annually in an ‘ivory tower’ in Davos, Switzerland to decide what is good for the masses and which direction the world should go. The elite club consists of 2500 people considered top of the game in business, politics, selected academia (no Noam Chomsky I’m afraid) and journalism; just so they’re on the same page from the outset when the plutocracy write the script. Even the WEF’s mission statement, begs the question; for who? Who are they trying to improve the world for? If it’s the masses, they’ve failed miserably; more wars than ever, nothing seriously has been done about climate change, inequality is ever-increasing and still we have masses of people throughout the world in abject poverty. However, if we turn our attention to the 1%, they’re doing very nicely thank you. Between corporations and governments, they dictate policy and then use the media to hypnotize us into believing we’ve never had it so good. Sadly for a large portion of the population it works remarkably well and it’s not a new phenomenon.
As mentioned previously in my blog, one of the first protagonists of propaganda was Edward Bernays, he worked during the first world war for Woodrow Wilson’s government, influencing public opinion towards participation in the war. Bernays wrote a book called Propaganda in 1928, this and other books such as ‘crystallising public opinion’ were enthusiastically read amongst other people by Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebels . Bernays described his techniques as engineering consent, he concluded that what he did was an important, legitimate tool in a democratic society. The works undertook by Bernays went on to be called ‘public relations’. This a quote from Propaganda, this encapsulates not only what Bernays was about, but how this is relevant to what is happening today;
‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country’.
Although we know through countless events in history that this attempt at control is widespread throughout so-called democracies, it is still unnerving when you read how clinically callous these people are. What is equally incredible is the justification for these actions as stated in the second paragraph;
‘We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society’.
Bernays had incredible success in his field including; increasing smoking rates in woman during the 1920’s and helping with the overthrow of democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz of Guatemala. The downfall of Árbenz was in the interest of the United Fruit Company who possessed a lot of the land that Jacobo Árbenz was intending to democratize. Due to early contributions to his craft Bernays was generally described as the ‘father of public relations’.
The operation behind the overthrow of Árbenz was what became popularly known as Operation Mockingbird. This was a CIA attempt to infiltrate mainstream media, which started in 1948 by Frank Wisner. By 1953 ‘Operation Mockingbird’ had influence on over 25 newspapers and wire agencies, which were run by people with well know right-wing views. The operation was investigated in 1976 by the ‘Church Committee’ who stated that there were several hundred individuals who were providing information to the CIA, who attempted to influence opinion through the use of propaganda. It concluded by proposing that these individuals provided access for the CIA to numerous newspapers, news agencies, book publishers, TV and radio stations. These practices have continued today, albeit in a slightly less transparent guise, but the goal is the same, control of the people to create a conformist, apathetic electorate. In 2013 a press freedom index rated the US at 32 in the world (a jump from 47 the previous year), the UK 29 and my adopted country New Zealand a very commendable 8th. It’s generally thought in the US that the press is relatively free, however, this index suggests otherwise, likewise for the UK, in particular the print media.
There is no doubt that the left will claim that the media has a general conservative bias, as the right would suggest that the mainstream media is very liberal and this argument predictably would go nowhere. Personally I find this is a difficult topic to write about, it’s relatively subjective and we all look through our respective political lenses. Being from a more scientific persuasion, I like to support my views and opinions with facts, however, obtaining these illusive nuggets in an industry which is alleged to be providing them is difficult. However, the recent terrible treatment of Bernie Sanders in the mainstream media may help us focus in on what is going on and why.
It is first important to recognize that due to years of mergers 6 huge corporations own 90% of the media in the US, this has been reduced from 50 back in 1983. This gives enormous influence and responsibility to a select few in providing news and information to the citizens. It’s also worth noting that this blatant monopoly of information control does not stop at news channels, it also rife in newspapers, magazines, movies and TV shows. So here are the big 6 who control the 90%;
- General electric – this group includes; NBC in its varying guises, the History Channels and Universal among many others.
- Time Warner – which includes CNN and HBO.
- Walt Disney Company – ESPN, ABC and Disney Channel amongst others.
- New Corporation – Fox and its varying spin offs, National Geographic Channel, Sky TV and Asia’s Star TV network.
- CBS – CBS and spin offs, Showtime and Flix.
- Viacom – Includes MTV, Comedy Central and Paramount.
It is no secret that Bernie Sanders is openly campaigning against the 1% in society who use their status and power to obtain more control over society at the expense of the masses. Are the billionaires really going to publicise somebody who is going to challenge their way of life, to question the morality of the status quo? Of course not. On the 6th March the Washington Post set a some kind of journalistic world record by writing 16 negative post in 16 hours, these reports are no more than opinion pieces and blatant lies, which range from Sanders being clueless to unelectable. One such claim, suggested that Sanders is incapable of appealing to people of ethnic minorities or woman. When you actually analyse these issues in detail you will notice that Bernie Sanders has an impeccable record in these areas and was there at varying civil rights marches back in the 60’s. It’s important to note that the Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, billionaire CEO of Amazon and a committed Libertarian. The Washington Post are not on their own regarding bias towards Sanders; on the 14th March the New York Times ran a moderately positive story for Sanders, stating ‘Bernie Sanders scored victories for years via legislative side doors’. This was later changed to “Via Legislative Side Doors, Bernie Sanders Won Modest Victories.” Although this may appear initially subtle, the general content that showed Bernie Sanders in a favourable light was also removed and replaced with a more critical tone.
The US TV networks are as equally blatant regarding their biases, as an example; ABC World News Tonight from January 2015 to November 2015 aired 81 minutes of footage from Donald Trump’s campaign, compared to a miniscule 20 seconds for the Sanders campaign, even though both men’s popularity at the time were remarkably similar. Another example of ‘Sanders-phobia’ occurred on the 16th March after the latest round of primaries, neither MSNBC, CNN or Fox News covered Bernie Sanders’ speech, rather they cut to an empty podium awaiting Trump. The reasoning was that Sanders was just delivering his standard speech. Oh, do they mean the one about policies, the one that would improve healthcare and decrease inequality, in which case, move along there’s clearly nothing to see here. Anyway, as a little light relief, here is an indication of media coverage up to the 15th March. The ‘earned’ section is the amount of ‘free media’ the candidates have received thus far.
The disparity between Clinton, Sanders and Trump regarding TV time is incredible. There is no real data to indicate why, so from here on in this is my opinion. I strongly suggest that there are some important things to consider regarding the role of mainstream media and how this plays out on the general public in manufacturing consent.
Firstly Trump is great for ratings for the main TV channels, he provides at times brilliant sound bites, he’s fantastic value and practically writes the script for them. Trump’s rhetoric, buffoonery and schoolyard personal attacks sadly inspire people to watch, even if it is just to witness the ridiculousness of his performance. He doesn’t complicate matters for his supporters such as discussing policies, or how he will get things done, he simply states he will and his supporters love him for it. Trump is feeding off a very angry, group, upset by perceived failures, tired of not being heard and he simply reflects their anger. He normalizes bullying and harassment at his rallies, he fuels the bigots by declaring that he would build a wall on the Mexican/US border and he has also indicated that he would ban Muslims from entering the US. This is all music to the ears not only of his misguided followers, but to the mainstream media CEO’s as the ratings rack up. Make no mistake MSM does not want Trump to be President, as he is a maverick and would be impossible for the elite to control. Right now, however, it’s about money and ‘The Don’ is money in the rather corrupt bank. It will be interesting if Trump’s popularity persists and at what point the MSM will turn on Trump, there are already early signs on the horizon, but this will intensify as he starts to be perceived more of a threat.
Hillary on the other hand is non of the above, she is not charismatic, you certainly don’t get fired up listening to her and her followers are pretty well-behaved (if not brainwashed), so what’s the deal? Why does she get the coverage? It’s quite simple, (I’ll whisper it) if you didn’t know already, she’s one of them, Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t really matter to the guys really pulling the strings, they bet on both teams anyway. She’s bought and paid for by the corporations, particularly on Wall Street, she will do exactly what she needs to get into power, at which point she will be controlled by the establishment, just like Obama. Effectively, a vote for Hillary is a vote for absolutely no real change whatsoever at home, but perpetual war globally and this status quo suits the ruling elite just fine. Hillary like Obama confuses the electorate; on the surface particularly regarding social issues she sounds like a liberal, she acts like a liberal, but in reality she is absolutely enmeshed in the establishment and with the GOP in disarray, Hillary is the ruling elites safe wager.
Then we come to Bernie Sanders, a rather elderly, pleasant, Jewish gentlemen born in Brooklyn and resides in Vermont, who is beholden to nobody, speaks with unwavering passion and subsequently scares the crap out of the establishment. A self-described Democratic Socialist, who is desperate to reduce inequality, tackle the Wall Street gambling addiction, force corruption out of politics, improve healthcare and increase wages; as for the establishment he is a self-proclaimed ‘danger’ to the plutocracy. It’s not remotely surprising that mainstream media initially tried to ignore Sanders even existed. They then progressed to phase two; mocking Mr. Sanders once he became a factor, now the MSM have resorted to blatant attacks, using pro-establishment political speakers from both sides of the aisle. Bernie is challenging everything the ruling elite hold so dearly, he is questioning their very being and does not conform to the usual political playbook. Even more worrying for the establishment, he is exceptionally popular, especially with the under 40’s, who are disillusioned with the same old empty promises and who are not afraid of the dreaded ‘S’ word like their parents before them. They have seen capitalism favour the few, watched corruption grow, witnessed perpetual war, felt the wrath of the recession and they’ve concluded it’s time for a change. The millennials have inoculated themselves from the virus of mainstream media, by obtaining their information from the internet.
After ranting I really need to learn to breathe: Here’s a delightful; summary of Bernie’s mainstream media coverage.
You could argue that by the millennials seeking their own source of media it is a form of confirmation bias, that these internet channels are reaffirming what they want to hear. This is partially true, however, you could say the same for people who regularly tune in to Fox News (you know that ‘fair and balanced’ place). Although, I would argue that the ‘progressive media’ which can only be found on the internet is infinitely more impartial than the conservative juggernaut that is the Rupert Murdoch owned Fox News. The term ‘News’ quite frankly is a misnomer, Fox is a blatant propaganda outlet that dumbs down a certain section of the US population, whilst trumpeting right-wing ideology. Fox’s views for most of its existence in the current incarnation has been under the steely stewardship of Roger Ailes; who amongst other things appears to be a deeply conservative, paranoid, control freak. His politics are reflected in extreme bigotry, stoking the fires of a perceived white oppression, whilst appealing to a right wing, evangelical audience. Perpetuating a permanent state of anxiety in the viewer from such as things as lambasting so-called amoral atheists to suggesting Muslims are waiting in the darkest alleyways, ready to take your life in the blink of an eye. In reality these potential terrorists are inhabiting the darkest recesses of the average Fox viewers amygdala, the part of the brain that initiates fight or flight responses. Conveniently Fox News are selling fear at every bigoted street corner as they aid the military-industrial complex by trying to preserve the public’s consent for war. All the while the government continues to impose increasingly, draconian, invasive security measures, all in the name of ‘Homeland Security’. A whole host of conservative lunatics get a spot on Fox from presenters such as Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, to ‘special guests’ such as the despicable Ann Coulter spouting racist bile at every given opportunity. Here’s a little taste of the type of stupidity that you may encounter on Fox News, a quote from the ‘fair and balanced’ Sean Hannity;
“Here you are, you’re a liberal, probably define peace as the absence of conflict. I define peace as the ability to defend yourself and blow your enemies into smithereens.” —Fox News host Sean Hannity (October 2009)
Delightful! In contrast the female presenters appear to be all polished teeth, perfect hair and short skirts; and although they may be relatively intelligent (this is arguable) they are there to do a job; which is to convey an exceptionally small-minded, distorted view of the world and present it to their receptive but experientially deficient audience. It’s a calculated deliberate plan by Fox that appeals to a certain market and it works remarkably well. I guess for some people vitriol and hatred doesn’t seem quite so bad coming from an attractive woman.
What appears abundantly obvious regarding presenters and so-called experts is; no matter how far right you are on the political spectrum, regardless of how much of an uncultured, narrow-minded, bigot you may be, you will always find a warm cozy home at Fox News, providing you fit in with the channel’s modus operandi and follow the script. On the flip side, if you are remotely ‘progressive’ or even left of centre you are banished to the confines of internet media. Great progressive thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Cornel West and Richard D Wolff, rarely see the light of day on mainstream media, they are found eventually, hidden in the bowels of the internet. However, this castigation of the ‘progressive’ is starting to wane, the left are starting to create excellent, insightful, fresh broadcasting on many internet channels. More importantly people are actively looking for alternatives to mainstream media. There is a shift regarding how people attain news and information, particularly amongst millennials; therefore, the internet is no longer considered the dark, dusty corner of marginalized media. People are bored with the same old prosaic way the mainstream media deliver information and are drawn to the highly informed but laid back presenters who may debate with each other and disagree like adults no less.
So where do we find such ‘oases of political sanity and rational discussion’? Funny you should ask. I am sure there are countless of gems out there; but I have a few particular favourites which I have on my Facebook feed and my subscribed YouTube channel list. I find Alternet extremely good for general news and information, the Real News Network has some excellent interviews and series, such as Days of Revolt with Chris Hedges, who also appears on the informative website Truthdig. Democracy Now is a long-established outpost for the sane and inquisitive, hosted by the brilliant Amy Goodman. Regarding specialist features associated to the perils of US policy, the wonderful Abby Martin is doing some outstanding work on the Empire Files attracting some of the worlds greatest thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, Cornell West, Richard Wolff and the aforementioned Chris Hedges amongst many others. If you are looking for passion, Kyle Kulinski rants with the best, with brilliant shards of incisive commentary on Secular Talk. Finally, I am a complete convert to The Young Turks (TYT), or ‘rebel headquarters’ as host Cenk Uygur likes to refer to the channel. Some fantastic hosts are to be found on TYT such as the full on (slightly unhinged) Cenk, the political geek/goddess Ana Kasparian, the calm voice of reason with a splash of measured passion from Jon Iadarola and not to mention the liberal whirlwind that is comedian Jimmy Dore. It has been a delight during ‘US primary season’ to encounter hosts who are impassioned; they enthusiastically debate (which is fun) and are fully engaged with providing news and information to their audience. TYT currently have roughly 2.8 millions subscribers on Youtube with varying options to be members on their website, which helps to keep it rolling along, providing you with a sanctuary of sanity amidst the chaos of neoliberalism.
I am acutely aware that this article is biased towards a breakdown of US mainstream media issues, which is odd being a Brit, however, the US primaries are in full swing and democracy in the US has huge implications for the rest of the world (imagine President Trump). Knowing how the media manipulates the narrative is a vitally important tool for staying out of the ‘matrix’ and is applicable all over the world. I have really just highlighted the US as a relevant, recent example of how we are all potentially subjected to the ‘Ministry of Truth’. Don’t worry I will be back to decimate the UK tabloid bias at some point, using the medium of the UK’s #1 hot topic immigration.
To finish I will leave you with the outstanding Amy Goodman from Democracy Now, questioning recent mainstream bias on CNN.