The Power Of The Media

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Power of the Media

" … the criminalization of certain substances is a technique of social control. The economic policies of the last 20 years are a rich man's version of structural adjustment. You create a superfluous population, which in the US context is largely poor, black, and Hispanic, and a much wider population that is economically dissatisfied. You read all the headlines about the great economy, but the facts are quite different. For the vast majority, these neoliberal policies have had a negative effect. With regard to wages, we have only now regained the wage levels of 30 years ago. Incomes are maintained only by working longer and harder, or with both adults in a family working."– Noam Chomsky. The Week Online with DRCNet. Feb 8, 2002.

This is recycled from a post I did back in 2005, but in honor of 4/20, a psuedo-national holiday for many Americans I thought it would be a good idea to post it again. It's not just that it deals with marijuana. It deals with a much more important concern of mine: how the media manipulates public opinion. And here, in this post, I give a great example of just how influential a media mogul–William Randolph Hearst–can be.

Just how powerful is the media? Most of us scoff at the idea that the media holds any sway over us, but the facts convey a different story. If we look back we can see that again and again we have been duped by the media. Noam Chomsky calls it manufacturing consent. Others call it mind control, but basically it amounts to manipulating public opinion through the use of mass media. In an interview with Tucker Carlson, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now gave a good example:

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the media watch group, did a study of the week before and after Colin Powell gave his push for war at the U.N., that was February 5, 2003, right before the invasion. Of the four major nightly newscasts, and that's CBS, NBC, ABC, and PBS, there were 393 interviews done around war. Only three were with anti-war representatives. That's three of almost 400. That's not even mainstream media anymore. That is an extreme media that's beating the drums for war.

At this point I think it's a forgone conclusion that our media outlets failed us in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. There was no debate. We were not given the facts. The people of the United States and our congress were lied to by our President. And the mainstream press in this country went right along with it all, beating the drums for war. This is not what democracy looks like.

To see just how powerful the media can be, we'll take a look back in the past and see some examples of how the media was used to criminilize marijuana. It's a prime example of how propaganda was used to cut off serious debate, influence public opinion, and set policy that would benefit the elite at the cost of trillions to the average tax payer. This is not an argument that marijuana should be legalized, but rather a look at how the media in our country have and are used to mold public opinion.

The story of just how marijuana was made illegal is a fascinating tale that few people seem to know much about. It is assumed by most people that marijuana was made illegal due to public health concerns that rested on valid scientific data: Nothing could be further from the truth. Ultimately it is a prime example of how a media beholden to corporate interests can sway and manipulate public opinion.

The cultivation of marijuana goes back 10,000 years. Then suddenly in 1937 it was outlawed in America. Why did it take 10,000 years for humans to make a plant illegal? Was it due to some breakthrough in science that allowed us to understand the dangers of marijuana? No. In fact, it had nothing whatsoever to do with public health concerns. It was a direct conspiracy of William Randolph Hearst, Dupont, and America's first drug czar: Henry Anslinger. But before we get into the dirty stuff, let's remind ourselves of just what an important role hemp has played in our society:

Washington and Jefferson grew it.Our first flags were likely made of hemp cloth.

The first and second drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on paper made from Dutch hemp.

When the pioneers went West, their wagons were covered with hemp canvas (the word "canvas" comes from canabacius, hemp cloth).

The first Levi's sold to prospectors were sturdy hemp overalls. Abraham Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd, came from the richest hemp-growing family in Kentucky.

That's just the tip of the ice-berg, really.One more interesting tidbit regarding the importance of hemp in our country:

While U.S. hemp was temporarily legal, it saved the life of a young pilot named George Bush, who was forced to bail out of his burning airplane after a battle over the Pacific. At the time he didn't know that:

Parts of his aircraft engine were lubricated with hemp-seed oil.

His life-saving parachute webbing was made entirely from U.S. grown cannabis hemp.

Virtually all the rigging and ropes of the ship that rescued him were made of cannabis hemp.

The fire hoses on the ship were woven from cannabis hemp.

So what happened? More importantly, why did it happen? This is where the media conspiracy comes into play. Media mogul William Randolph Hearst owned enormous timber acreage and stood lose a fortune as new technology was making it possible to produce hemp paper far cheaper than wood-pulp paper. Popular Mechanics, for instance, predicted that hemp would become America's first "billion-dollar crop." The magazine pointed out that "10,000 acres devoted to hemp will produce as much paper as 40,000 acres of average forest land." (The Emperor Wears no Clothes)

Hearst began a deliberate campaign to demonize marijuana through his vast chain of newspapers. He linked it to Mexican immigrants and jazz musicians (mostly people of color), and he ran story after story telling of the debauchery that users would engage in. Some quotes from Hearst papers:

"Marihuana makes fiends of boys in thirty days — Hashish goads users to bloodlust." "By the tons it is coming into this country — the deadly, dreadful poison that racks and tears not only the body, but the very heart and soul of every human being who once becomes a slave to it in any of its cruel and devastating forms…. Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him…."

"Users of marijuana become STIMULATED as they inhale the drug and are LIKELY TO DO ANYTHING. Most crimes of violence in this section, especially in country districts are laid to users of that drug." "Was it marijuana, the new Mexican drug, that nerved the murderous arm of Clara Phillips when she hammered out her victim's life in Los Angeles?… THREE-FOURTHS OF THE CRIMES of violence in this country today are committed by DOPE SLAVES — that is a matter of cold record."

In the Emperor Wears No Clothes, Herer says:

From 1916 to 1937, as an example, the story of a car accidet in which a marijuana cigarette was found would dominate the headlines for weeks, while alcohol-related accidents (which outnumbered marijuana-related accidents by more than a 1000 to 1) made only the back pages."

Hearst is also recognized as the person who brought the term marijuana to popular usage. This was the first part of the plan: introduce a strange word that nobody had ever heard of before and utilize it to strike fear in people and mobilize them against it.

Hearst also utilized the words of Henry Anslinger who was essentially the front man for the Dupont Corporation. Anslinger was appointed commissioner of the FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics) by Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, who was chairman of the Mellon Bank, Du Pont's chief financial backer. Hold on, the plot gets thicker still. Anslinger was also married to Mellon's niece.

Are you following this? The Treasury Secretary who just so happens to be the chairman of Dupont's chief financial backer, hires his niece's husband to head the federal bureau of narcotics. This post gives anslinger the needed podium to spew his fear-mongering rhetoric to the public, and William Randolph Hearst was only more than happy to print his nonsense for the greater public. Here are a few of Anslinger's noted quotes:

"There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others."

"…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races."

"Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death."

"Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men."

"Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing"

"You smoke a joint and you're likely to kill your brother."

"Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind."

So at this point you may be wondering what the Du Pont connection is to all of this. The Du Pont company was also involved in the pulp industry. According to the company's own records "wood-pulp products ultimately accounted for more than 80% of all of Du Pont's railroad car loadings for the next 50 years "(ibid). A few more facts from the Emperor Wears No Clothes:

Two years before the prohibitive hemp tax, Du Pont developed a new synthetic fiber, nylon, that was an ideal substitute for hemp rope.

The year after the hemp tax, Du Pont was able to bring other "miracle" synthetic fabric onto the marke–rayon. Rayon which became widely used for clothing, was a direct competitor to hemp cloth.

Congress and the Treasury Department were assured, through secret testimony given by Du Pont, that hemp-seed oil could be replaced with synthetic petrochemical oils made principally by Du Pont.

Did William Randolph Hearst, Du Pont, and Henry Anslinger really conspire to outlaw hemp? The answer is clearly yes. In Peter Guither's piece for Salon, he includes the testimony of Dr. William C. Woodward, Legislative Council for the American Medical Association. It is clear from Woodward's testimony that there was not a shred of scientific evidence to support the wild claims made by Anslinger, Hearst, and their band of yellow journalists. Click the link to read his testimony. What is clear is that he was not at all supportive of the measure to outlaw marijuana. Guither provides the entire discussion on the floor of the house below:

Member from upstate New York: "Mr. Speaker, what is this bill about?"

Speaker Rayburn: "I don't know. It has something to do with a thing called marihuana. I think it's a narcotic of some kind."

"Mr. Speaker, does the American Medical Association support this bill?"

Member on the committee jumps up and says: "Their Doctor Wentworth[sic] came down here. They support this bill 100 percent."

And on the basis of that lie, on August 2, 1937, marijuana became illegal at the federal level.

That's the power of media moguls. This is not about the the relative merits of marijuana or hemp; but it is about the very real fact that a media mogul–William Randolph Hearst–along with Du Pont and their front man Henry Anslinger were able to scare the American people into fearing marijuana. Ultimately it protected their pockets, but the long term effects have been disasterous for the American people. Thanks to the War on Drugs we now incarcerate more people than any nation on earth.

This is more than just some abstract history lesson. It is all the more relevant today when just 118 people comprise the membership of the ten big media giants. As our media become more and more concentrated it is that much easier for them to contrive and conspire to manipulate public opinion. We saw it with the war in Iraq. We've seen it with the way the mainstream media handled the Downing Street Memo case. And we've seen it again and again, the way the mainstream media in this country plays softball with those in power.

We need a vibrant and dynamic media that is willing to go after those in power and expose the deceit and cronyism that is plaguing our country. We need a diverse media that is not beholden to any particular ideology, but one that is devoted to exposing the truth. We cannot hope to have any real discussions in this country when so many of our fellow citizens are so misinformed. The time for media reform is now!

Published in: on April 19, 2006 at 10:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

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