I am often asked “where do you get your news?”1
While that is a simple question, it is difficult to answer without sounding like a jackass. I do not have a short list of news sources. The best answer would be “I don’t need news.” I do not need to be told what current events are important to me and the conclusions to draw. What I need is a way to obtain reliable information about current events that I determine to be important. The difference is in who is driving. When one gets news from a broadcast source they become a spectator, when they seek information they become a decision maker. Making decisions is necessary to gain liberty in one’s life. One decision I have made is that time is too precious to waste on information that is important to somebody else, but not to me. Another is to continue developing healthy skepticism and critical thinking skills.
Broadcast news media are transparently biased by a need to be entertaining, to sell advertising or underwriting, to protect the interests of their ownership, and to deliver propaganda. The assertion that news is more news-r-tainment and news-r-tisements than news is so obvious that I will not waste your time on providing a lot of background. This is especially true for television news. One may gather simple evidence by measuring the time devoted to explaining each news item, and compare that to the time used for advertising, teasers for up-coming news items, marketing the news outlet, etc. Some programs will examine fewer news items and do so in greater detail, but even those do not provide enough unbiased information to permit the consumer to draw their own conclusions. I not do believe that enough time is devoted to each story to do more than briefly describe an event and what conclusions one should draw. Look at the what passes for news. A chef explaining the exciting new menu available at a taco franchise is not news, it is advertising packaged as news. All news media has a purpose. The purpose commercial broadcast news it to make money. Advertising funded news is tainted not simply by the presence of a story, and bias of a story but also by omission. How often do you encounter a news piece critical of big pharma that is simultaneously running advertising for a pharmaceutical company? A handful of companies own the broadcast TV and radio stations. Do not expect to encounter stories critical of the parent companies either.
In addition to the news being diluted by entertainment, compromised by its underwriters, and biased by the owner’s agenda, it is also a common and effective conduit for propaganda. Some bias is transparent, such as a so called liberal or conservative bias. This transparency is likely one reason that people ask where I get my news. In a way they may be asking “what news bias do you prefer?” Propaganda works fine with any bias, one simply needs to select which propaganda is a good fit for a given conduit.
Lets suppose that a news story runs claiming that American students demonstrate poor math and science knowledge when compared with their foreign counterparts. A liberal bias might emphasize a reduction in education system funding, thus implying that a reasonable fix would be to increase funding. A conservative bias might emphasize a lack of alternative education system choices, such as charter schools, thus implying that a proper fix would be to provide charter school choices. In both cases the solution requires some kind of government intervention to fix the problem. Propaganda might be in play to convince the public that government is needed to resolve the alleged discrepancy, that people require a system in order to be educated, and that education is the responsibility of the government in the first place.
In April of 1917, President Woodrow Wilson created the Committee on Public Information3 and appointed George Creel as its chairman.
This propaganda committee was fascinatingly successful in turning American public opinion from peace to war. This is particularly interesting after Woodrow Wilson’s Peace without Victory speech4 in January of that same year. The archives of the Committee on Public Information, which can be obtained here are likely uninteresting when compared to George Creel’s own words. It is important to note that Walter Lippmann and Edward Bernays played important advisory roles.
Walter Lippmann was an interesting man. Given his writing, one can gather that he devoted much thought to journalism, media, liberty and the workings of government. Sadly, he saw the public as an ignorant herd without the capacity and perhaps the interest necessary to govern themselves. In modern times the people comfortable in this so-called herd are often refered to as sheeple.
Lippmann felt that the herd must be governed by a specialized class. The members of the specialized class, which I will call elites, would have the active role of governing and the herd would be safely kept in a spectator role. I see it as a play where the elite are the actors and the herd are the audience members. The elite have a script and a plan for how the production will play out. The audience is encouraged to applaud or boo at particular times but are discouraged from joining the actors on stage. The applause in my analogy represents the voting process, and the boos represent letters written to congress or other leaders. They make one feel involved without effecting real change.
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.” - Edward Bernays
Propaganda, as I understand Bernays description, is a process of delivering ideas that appeal to the sometimes irrational desires of people in order that they may be manipulated into believing something. Media is and was one of many conduits for delivering propaganda. In future articles I expect to address some of the others, as well as explain some of the techniques used. Some of those available to broadcast media are truly remarkable. The following photo is of the Bellamy Salute used in some form in the United States between 1892 and 1942 while performing the Pledge of Allegiance.7 What emotions and messages do you think this ceremony promoted?
The history of the use propaganda in media and elsewhere to alter public opinion in the United States is well documented by experts such as Noam Chomsky. Media Control8 by Noam Chomsky is a great introduction.
Later, Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda in the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (Nazi party), followed the astounding success of Edward Bernays and his books. Goebbels adopted methods that were proven successful and that included the work of Bernays. Goebbels did many terrible things to effect his control over the population and the consequences are infamous.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” - Joseph Goebbels
It is difficult to conceptualize the consequences of lies propagated by Goebbels.
So let’s get back to the question… If I were to chart news, I would describe it with a line chart with how active my thinking brain must be on the Y-axis, and how targeted the news is to me personally on the X-axis.
I would expect the place where I would be lest susceptible to manipulation would be the top left, that is my brain must be the most active, and the messages are the least targeted. When I say targeted I mean how well is the news crafted to meet my expected desires. To get an idea what I am talking about, watch broadcast television news at the time that is most convenient for you and pay special attention to the advertisements shown during the program. Compare these advertisements to those shown during Saturday morning children’s programming. How well has the market research targeted you during the news program? I would venture to guess that the advertisements shown during the news program were better targeted to you than those shown during the children’s programming. Now if the advertising is targeted to you, don’t you think the same market research is used to target the rest of the program? Knowing the market is important for identifying what desires to play on for both the advertising and the program its self. Finding a source that provides only the facts9 is unrealistic, but I would expect something like the Congressional Record, court transcripts or CSPAN would be closer than your typical broadcast news program.
I find that the Internet is wonderful for finding information from both dubious and more reliable sources. Many sources are available, and I can control how I go about finding information. I hear people say things all the time like “Oh the Internet, you can’t trust what you see/read on the Internet.” That is so true, and it is just as true for the other sources of information, such as broadcast television news. You must always use your head. Not all news is what it seems on the surface. Sometimes tricks are used to improve the experience. Here is an example where audio was faked or enhanced in order to improve the viewing experience. I have to laugh when I see a story on broadcast television news where the studio commentator talks with a foreign correspondent with faked footage. The give-aways are things like the following, and the more of these the more obviously fake.
- The studio commentator makes a point to identify credentials for the foreign correspondent, but the correspondent and the credentials can not be corroborated.
- The “story” contains words like “un-confirmed reports” or the video has not been validated. Hey this is broadcast news, you folks have both a reputation and a budget. Why on earth would you air un-confirmed anything?
- The audio does not fit the situation. A conversation from the studio with somebody that is in the field, i.e. not in the studio with the commentator, will always have latency (a delay). If the latency is absent then the audio has been faked, dramatically altered, or the foreign correspondent is also in the studio, perhaps in front of a green-screen. Another audio give-away is background noise that does not suffer the same imperfections as the foreign correspondent. Example: The foreign correspondent’s voice and static cuts in an and out, but background noise of gunfire or crowd noise continues uninterrupted.
There are many of these that I expect to examine in future articles. There is a good podcast called the No Agenda Show10, created by John C. Dvorak (of PC Magazine and Dow Jones Marketwatch fame) and Adam Curry (an outspoken media man of MTV VJ fame) found here. These guys have a great time taking apart the media and presenting it in a fun way. They provide their own interesting conclusions. One need not agree with their conclusions to enjoy the show.
The BPC is a group the claims to exist to expose propaganda of the BBC. They might, but they likely also have their own agenda too.
One might expect that the way to get quality information is to always focus on the most reliable sources. This is not true. Biased sources are useful because they can make the agenda of the source visible, especially when the same story is compared across multiple sources. No source be it dubious or reliable can be taken at face value. One must always examine content for inaccuracies, omissions, fallacies and other flaws. Finding the fallacies and flaws can become really entertaining. Critical thinking skills allow you to think smarter not harder. I plan to address critical thinking skill more in future articles. The following is a video showing some advertisements and news footage that points out logical fallacies in play.
Sometimes the value of biased sources are not in the lies, but rather in the whys. What is there to be gained by the lie and who will benefit? Understanding the agenda of a source and seeing how it is used to color a story gives great insight into the why of events, and helps one see how these events fit together. It can even help one predict what the events one may expect in the future. My approach would be to find something that is important to me and seek the current information from a variety of sources. The following is an example.
One news source may report that a company has chosen to move all of its cash reserves into executive retirement funds. A different news source may report that the same company expects to file bankruptcy soon and by moving the cash reserves into executive retirement funds the funds would be protected from creditors in the event of a bankruptcy. Finally one may learn from a third source that the company executives were fighting a long battle with a labor union and by filing bankruptcy, all union contracts could be voided. One may be able to validate that all the facts listed above are accurate according to the company’s annual reports but one would likely never do so without first encountering each of the pieces of the puzzle from the difference sources.
So to net it out I “get my news from many sources and take an active role in researching information important to me.” The Internet is a valuable research tool. CSPAN is one way to get good information from the Internet. The CSPAN video archives contain synchronized transcripts and can be searched by keywords. The matching videos are then queued to the place in the video where the keywords match. It is a beautiful piece of technology. Here is a friendly video to explain how this works in more detail. As an example, you might search for senate cybersecurity bill and encounter the following video. http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/307351-5
I believe that large corporate media companies and the Government have a strong desire to continue to tightly control the message. They continue to manipulate the people through propaganda and other means but find this more difficult on the Internet where information is more free from their corruption. There has been and will continue to be a push by these entities to establish an Internet governance mechanism to eliminate unadulterated information, expand surveillance and silence political dissent.
Most recently we have seen:
- United States Senate Bill House Bill S.3261, Stop Online Piracy Act
- United States Senate Bill S.968, PROTECT IP Act
- U.S. Senate Bill S.2029, Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act and Enforcement of Digital Trade
- U.S. Senate Bill S. 2111, Cyber Crime Protection Security Act
- SECURE IT
- U.S. Senate Bill S. 2151, SECURE IT and H.R. 4263, SECURE IT Act of 2012
- Cyber Security Act of 2012
- H.R. 2096, Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2012
- H.R. 3523, Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act
There are many more, sometimes multiple variations of the same bill. One could spend hours simply following links on govtrack.us. Don’t be fooled into thinking that these steps are designed to fight piracy, cyber-crime, terrorism, identity theft or to protect the children. It is not the stated intentions that are important, but rather the results. These bills would get nowhere if they were named things like “Critical Thinking Smackdown: CTS”, or “Silencing Political Dissent on the Internet: SPDI”, or “Psychological Operations for the American Homeland: POAH.” Don’t take my word for it, check out the results of bills that become law, then compare that to the intentions identified in congress.
I hope we will all take a more active role in getting to the truth of our current events. Please take time to fight censorship of the Internet.
I am making an effort to take an active role in finding information. I am also continuing to expand my critical thinking skills. The Internet is a great tool for finding information, but its freedom is under attack. It is going to take efforts by all of us to protect it. I hope you will join me in these efforts.
- You can guess why I chose the tiltle, right? ↩
- Photo credit for TV news graphic (Aug 2012): Nadia Meslem ↩
- President Woodrow Wilson created the Committee On Public Information ↩
- The text of the Peace without Victory speech can be found here, and thoughtful analysis here. ↩
- Crystallizing Public OpinionUsing this affiliate link will help support our efforts to serve you. ↩
- PropagandaUsing this affiliate link will help support our efforts to serve you. or the text online here ↩
- Why would the people of the United States need to make a pledge of allegiance to the government that serves them? Should it not be the other way around? Perhaps if elected officials gave a pledge each morning to the people they work for, they would be more inclined to keep the promises they made during their election campaign. ↩
- Media Control 2nd EditionUsing this affiliate link will help support our efforts to serve you. ↩
- I am reminded of Dragnet ↩
- Parents should be advised that most shows contain language that might be inappropriate for children. ↩