Sunday, April 04, 2010

E. McCarson: Media is Propaganda!

Media is Propaganda!
by E. McCarson
Indypendent Reader (Baltimore)

Even before the spike in popularity of online news sites, blogs, Facebook, and other social networking tools, print media in this country was already in a state of crisis, despite the fact that the prevalence of major newspapers and magazines might have indicated otherwise. While print media (newspapers in particular) seem to be slightly more substantive than television, even before the “crisis” the media was overwhelmingly narrow, limited in scope, monolithic in perspective, hollow, and dangerously propagandistic. In other words, it doesn’t much matter to most Americans (or independent journalists, for that matter) that corporate-funded print media is declining since it was mostly propaganda anyway.1

“Propaganda for whom?” you might ask. It should come as no surprise that corporate-funded media acts as propaganda for the continued existence and dominance of corporations, in the form of pro-State and pro-industrial-economy premises. No matter how varied the articles are, nor how many of them “expose” City Hall, the aggregate message of every major newspaper and magazine is that whatever helps the industrial economy is good and whatever doesn’t is bad. Even “liberal” newspapers start with the premise that the State should exist, especially in its current late-capitalist form, and that all arguments should be concerned with how to make the economy “grow.” All arguments about whether or not the economy should grow, or whether it should even exist at all, are either omitted or roundly rejected.

Furthermore, this slant holds true not just for editorial sections of newspapers and magazines but for their entire content. In fact, the propaganda is even heavier in the “news” sections because in these sections the premises are more covert. The primary goal of truly effective propaganda, it must be pointed out, is not to hit people over the head with messages, but rather to slip them by in the form of hidden premises that people come to take for granted as true.

Think about every article about the police that you've ever read in a major newspaper. The article may include views that question the actions of the police department in a certain community, or the tactics of a particular officer in one situation or another, but the underlying premise is always that the police department should exist, and should enforce certain laws, and should be involved in every community, everywhere. Thus, even a question such as “What kind of policing is working best to lower Baltimore’s homicide rate?” contains the following hidden premises: one, the police department should exist; two, the police department is the only entity that can lower the homicide rate; three, the police department has been responsible for lowering the homicide rate in the past; and four, people in power want the homicide rate to decrease.2

By hiding these premises as givens, the editors of major papers and magazines are allowed to shape the framework so that even when allowing for so-called “dissent,” the same pro-State, pro-economy message resounds. The more variance the opinions have while still remaining in this box, the more effective the propaganda becomes. The goal of the propagandist is to have the receiver perceive choice—to have her perceive that a wide range of topics is being covered—while she eventually comes to adopt the major premises, hidden in all of the “varied” topics as givens.

Joseph Goebbels, Propaganda Minister for the Third Reich, understood completely the use of subtlety to indoctrinate a mass of people with ideological messages. He disliked the portrayal of Hitler in movies, for example, because he thought the glorification of the führer was too obvious and blunt. His preferred tactic was to bury premises in lighter, more entertaining, more seemingly “moderate” scenes and situations. He justified this technique to other members of the Nazi high command by insisting that “even entertainment can be politically of special value, because the moment a person is conscious of propaganda, propaganda becomes ineffective. However, as soon as propaganda as a tendency, as an attitude, remains in the background … then propaganda becomes effective in every respect.”3

Goebbels also believed that propaganda should, when possible, reinforce what people already think so that the messages seem natural or self-evident to the viewer.

To Read the Rest of the Essay and See Examples of Media Headlines

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