The Propaganda Machine

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Propaganda Machine

In my post on Propaganda Puppets I ripped on CNN's Anderson Cooper for admitting that if those in power say it's true, what's he to do? Afterall, he's merely a puppet of the propaganda machine. What more do you want from him? A frequent guest here at the TBV felt I was a bit aggressive, and he's right to an extent. But the mainstream media happens to be one of those subjects that fascinates me. On that note let's begin with a quote from Dan Rather on BBC Newsnight on May 16, 2002. In this segment Rather talked candidly about how he and other journalists censor themselves.

"There was a time in South Africa that people would put flaming tires around people's necks if they dissented," he said. "And in some ways the fear is that you will be necklaced here, you will have a flaming tired of lack of patriotism put around your neck. Now it is that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest questions so often. And again, I am humbled to say, I do not except myself from this criticism."

Journalists do admit to self-censorship. Journalists routinely avoided quoting Ronald Reagan or the first Bush because they were such incoherant public speakers that nobody would be able to understand what the hell they were saying; the irony, of course, is that Reagan is remembered by some kool aid drinkers as the Great Communicator. Ha. That's a funny one. So what I'd like to do now is take a moment to mention some of the works that have influenced my understanding of the media.If you want to understand how the media manipulates public opinion these are the books to check out. The media didn't fail to do its job in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The mainstream media fulfilled its function as the purveyor of state truth, i.e, propaganda.

Starting at the beginning would be Michael Parenti's "Inventing Reality". The first edition was, I believe, one of the first studies of its kind. I don't have the newer one, but here's a blurb about it:

In this thoroughly revised and updated edition, Parenti dissects news coverage of the most recent world events–including the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Gulf War, the U.S. invasion of Panama, and the contra war in Nicaragua–and demonstrates how the media shape public awareness and attitudes through distortion or suppression of specific information. His argument will reeducate and enrage a public that has come to believe in an impartial, free press.

Perhaps more widely known is Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky's book Manufacturing Consent , which was also made into a documentary about Noam Chomsky. Herman and Chomsky develop the Propaganda Model and then put it to the test. In their words,

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill
this role requires systematic propaganda.

Another great companion to these books is "Trust Us–We're the Experts" by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. It gives you a rather frightening look into the world of the public relations industry. You'll find examples of public relations firms filming what is essentially a commercial for a large pharmecutical company and then passing it off to the networks as news. Or another example where scientific evidence is supressed because of the potential economic fall-out. Other examples:

You think that you're witnessing a spontaneous public debate over a national issue? When the Justice Department began antitrust investigations of the Microsoft Corporation in 1998, Microsoft's public relations firm countered with a plan to plant pro-Microsoft articles, letters to the editor, and opinion pieces all across the nation, crafted by professional media handlers but meant to be perceived as off-the-cuff, heart-felt testimonials by "people out there."

You think that a study out of a prestigious university is completely unbiased? In 1997, Georgetown University's Credit Research Center issued a study which concluded that many debtors are using bankruptcy as an excuse to wriggle out of their obligations to creditors. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lloyd
Bentsen cited the study in a Washington Times column and advocated for changes in federal law to make it harder for consumers to file for bankruptcy relief. What Bentsen failed to mention was that the Credit Research Center is funded in
its entirety by credit card companies, banks, retailers, and others in the credit industry; that the study itself was produced with a $100,000 grant from Visa USA and MasterCard International Inc.; and that Bentsen himself had been
hired to work as a credit-industry lobbyist.

You think that all grassroots organizations are truly grassroots? In 1993, a group called Mothers Opposing Pollution (MOP) appeared, calling itself "the largest women's environmental group in Australia, with thousands of supporters across the country." Their cause: A campaign against plastic milk bottles. It turned out that the group's spokesperson, Alana Maloney, was in truth a woman named Janet Rundle, the business partner of a man who did P.R. for the Association of Liquidpaperboard Carton Manufacturers-the makers of paper milk cartons.

You think that if a scientist says so, it must be true? In the early 1990s, tobacco companies secretly paid thirteen scientists a total of $156,000 to write a few letters to influential medical journals. One biostatistician received $10,000 for writing a single, eight-paragraph letter that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. A cancer researcher received
$20,137 for writing four letters and an opinion piece to the Lancet, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and the Wall Street Journal. Nice work if you can get it, especially since the scientists didn't even have to write the letters themselves. Two tobacco-industry law firms were available to do the
actual drafting and editing.

And finally, I'd be remiss to not mention Amy Goodman's wonderful book, The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media that Love Them. Amy and her brother, David Goodman, do a wonderful job of showing the biases of the mainstream news media. In one section, Pysops Comes Home, Goodman details what Colonel Sam Gardiner calls

a Psychological warfare–psyops, to those in the business–is the millitary way of winning the hearts and minds of a population. According to the Department of Defense, pysops is intended to "induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to the U.S….by planning and conducting operations to convey
information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals" (Exception to the Rulers p. 52).

Published in: on April 19, 2006 at 11:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

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