The Cold War of Information

 

Western media have an endless supply of complaints against RT (formerly Russia Today, the main news network in Russia). Our journalists claim that RT is a propaganda machine, but the Russians just laugh at us. “There is no such thing as ‘objective reporting,’” an RT representative once responded.[1] A fair statement, you might think, but you should not underestimate the corrosive influence of unethical journalists. The source of this quotation and subsequent criticism of RT’s policies (Peter Pomerantsev) is a neoconservative journalist who is funded by “the Institute for Modern Russia (IMR), a Manhattan-based think tank funded by the exiled Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.”[2] According to James Carden, Khodorkovsky and other wealthy Russian expatriots are funding many journalists like Pomerantsev to spread counterpropaganda through the Western media to generate public support for the toppling of Putin’s regime in Russia.

It might sound counterintuitive for me to begin this report on the dysfunction of American mass media by focusing on Russian mass media, but the United States and Russia became interdependent during the Cold War, and as this case illustrates, American mass media tries to use the same tactics as Russian mass media to control public opinion. In the Pomerantsev article, the author disputes the claim that no reporting is objective by writing, “his argument justifies RT’s willingness to broadcast any fringe material, however ridiculous it may be.”1 He doesn’t have a logical argument against the claim made by the Russian media. He simply claims that Russian media is dominated by conspiracy theorists, to slander the integrity of the reporters. This is a simple example of the ad hominem fallacy, and Pomerantsev illuminates a pattern displayed in mass media, with pundits relying on fallacious reasoning to discredit the opponents of the system they are paid to support.

Pomerantsev clarifies exactly what he doesn’t like about RT: “Appealing to the conspiracy mind-set reinforces the Kremlin’s underlying message that the Western model of democratic capitalism is a failure and a sham.”1 I simply cannot understand how a journalist can be so blatant with his biases and still be taken seriously, but this reinforces my theory that American mass media has decided to focus the rhetoric of the news media on pathos, like they are using advertising tactics to sell a product: using irrelevant rhetoric designed to restrict the audience’s logical thinking. Mass media assumes that their audience isn’t especially skilled at thinking and that they have short attention spans, to justify why the pundits can use fallacious arguments to try to convince the audience to support the establishment agenda. They understand that they will be fact-checked, and they are prepared to retract the initial story if it’s proven wrong. But they know that millions of people who saw the article will not see the retraction, so they keep at this tactic because of the results.

This information-dissemination process actualizes in American politics in many ways, thanks to a lack of governmental oversight of establishment insiders.[3] I will return to this subject near the end of this report, but let me start with an example of this government-media corruption. During the campaign season, pundits and politicians base their actions on public polls, but if these polls can’t be trusted to be neutral then no polls can be trusted at face value, and the entire basis of the establishment is a lie. A national poll conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP)[4] after the second Democratic debate was sponsored by a Hillary Clinton Super PAC (Correct the Record) to ensure that the poll would select a favorable group of representatives. In order to poll a representative population, it is important for the process to be ad hoc, with all the participants chosen at random. But in this official poll, the participants were hand-picked and briefed before they voted. The worst aspect of this scandal is the good reputation of PPP; this poll was cited all through the mass media so that pundits could conclude that Hillary Clinton clearly won the debate. Fortunately, PPP’s reputation required that they specify how the poll was conducted:

PPP interviewed 510 Democratic primary voters nationally by telephone after the debate who had been pre-screened on Thursday and Friday as planning to watch the debate and willing to give their opinions about it afterward.4

And most damning of all, “This research was conducted on behalf of Correct The Record.” The rhetoric of “on behalf” does not bode well for the integrity of mass media, and this polling data clearly tells that this poll is not trustworthy. But when mass media cite this poll to prove how much people like Hillary Clinton, they don’t have to specify how the results were determined. Thus, American mass media operates on the belief that people are stupid and that they will take everything at face value without researching the veracity of the information. The establishment control of mass media in America must be as bad as Russian mass media, for the official establishment propaganda machine in the United States is actively trying to destroy the democratic process.

Baby steps

The first major issue that must be addressed in the reform of American mass media is that the establishment’s conception of their audience is completely wrong. According to Ellen Mickiewicz, a professor at Duke University and an authority on Russian mass media, “the hypodermic model of media effects (in which messages are ‘injected’ into the audience simply by virtue of being disseminated) was scientifically disproved decades ago.”2 The assumption that the audience for broadcast journalism is the same as the audience for advertisements—in how they react to an absence of logic—is the center of the dysfunction in the American mass media. The pundits still believe that they are telling the one objective truth (as opposed to Russia’s blatant relativist propaganda). I believe there is a simple explanation for how journalists, who were taught ethics, can behave unethically in their work.

Various scholars of mass media have argued “that journalists are limited by their unconscious internalization of the institutional constraints necessary to uphold the interests of corporate ownership.”[5] And these low-level journalists are the first victims to the system’s immorality, being made to betray all they learned in school to satisfy those who sign their checks. The cynic would say that’s just how the world works, and I agree: understanding this is the first step toward changing the system.

Models of mass media

The article written by Andrew Kennis offers a comprehensive analysis of existing theories of mass media. Two models were first posited in the mid-twentieth century with the rise of broadcast journalism: the Propaganda Model (PM) and the Indexing Model (IM). These models attempt to predict how mass media will depict events of national importance, and in his article, Kennis attempts to unify these two models into a new model he terms the Media Dependence Model (MDM), and he argues that this synthesis will generate,

A more robust model of news analysis than its previous counterparts on which it is partially based, in an attempt to address its relevance to the 21st-century realities of a globalized news media system owned by corporate conglomerates.5

Essentially, Kennis argues that the dominance of digital media in our times has altered the purpose of mass media. During the heyday of broadcast journalism, when the code of ethics was law, mass media had the responsibility of disseminating relevant and important information to the public so people could be aware of world events that could impact their lives. The situation is very different today, with the internet being the global source of information. The public has the ability to directly access the sources that mass media reports on, so people can interpret reality for themselves.

As I have already argued, mass media’s conception of their audience is based on the old world, their nostalgia for bygone days when they held the public in rapture with their authority over the Truth. In the Pomerantsev article, the author builds his argument (that the Russian propaganda machine is spinning reality to make Russia look better) on the claim that “Russia is relatively weak compared to the Soviet Union, to which its current leader looks back with nostalgia.”1 My theory is that the American propaganda machine uses pathetic arguments to counter the Russian propaganda machine’s logical arguments, and that this is standard practice in American broadcast journalism. Pomerantsev offers no logical base to build an argument, but rather relies on unsubstantiatable rhetoric to make Russia look weak. This is precisely the behavior that that author is condemning in Russian mass media. I have always told people that the flaws we point out most harshly in others are those we see most clearly in ourselves[6] and this concept is proven accurate throughout Pomerantsev’s article.

Because Pomerantsev is such a prominent voice in the media with “expertise” on Russian media, he received his share of criticism despite having influential supporters. The article by James Carden2 references Pomerantsev and other journalists who report on Russian affairs to illustrate how the state of American mass media can be described as “Neo-McCarthyism.” This article sounds the alarm on the state of mass media, warning that people like Pomerantsev are being used by governmental officials as official sources on Russian relations. This means that these journalists, who are working for expat Russian oligarchs, are working to convince the American government (and, by extent, the Western world) that we need to fight Russia at every turn, and their ultimate goal is for the West to go to war with Russia to overthrow Putin’s regime. The problem with this is Russia has a nuclear stockpile.

Despite understanding that escalating tensions between Russia and the US carries the threat of nuclear warfare, these journalists keep to the official storyline that is dictated by their Russian sponsors and they argue that the US should counter Russian propaganda with more propaganda, without seeming to understand the nature of this argument. This means that any powerful organization, like governments and corporations, can buy unethical journalists by the dozen to promote their own realities, and that it is possible that broadcast journalists merely read scripts that are approved by the CEO of the media conglomerate they work for, that aren’t written by journalists.

This argument contradicts the earlier argument I cited from the Kennis article5 that claimed the corporate influence over the production of news stories happens unconsciously through the enculturation process wherein journalists adopt institutional beliefs that spin every story to paint reality positively for the corporate shareholders. I don’t think the arguments are contradictory, and I think that the claims can be melded together like Kennis combined the Indexing Model with the Propaganda Model of mass media. We must be bold in our search for the truth, and the possibility remains that some news stories in mass media may be written by members of the political or corporate establishment to serve their own interests. If this is the case just once then every journalist must be put under review so that all unethical journalists, who would say anything for money, can be eliminated from mass media. These authority figures cannot be allowed to continue peddling their harmful fictions. As Kennis eloquently stated,

Given the widely agreed upon view that journalism independent from governmental positioning is essential to having a functioning democracy, nothing less than the question of democracy is at stake.5

This is a grave concern, but the solution is simple, as Occam’s Razor posits. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) needs to review all journalists in mass media to guarantee that they maintain a code of ethics that will allow them to refuse establishment requests to promote propaganda. Many people will lose their jobs, but the review process will create many more jobs and the FCC will require a permanent increase in staff.

The struggle

I have already mentioned the poll that was funded by Hillary Clinton’s Super PAC to give her favorable numbers, but this establishment collusion with mass media has a long history. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), thousands of Clinton’s emails are being released to the public, and journalists are looking for any information that will discredit other journalists. One such email that was discovered by Slate’s Jim Newell[7] proved that Hillary Clinton’s aide, Philippe Reines, had consulted with Politico’s chief White House correspondent, Mike Allen, prior to an interview with Chelsea Clinton. Allen promised Reines that he would be the only journalist who “would ask [Chelsea Clinton] a question, and you and I would agree on them precisely in advance.” This establishment collusion in the mass media has resulted in conditions where interviews are not conducted to unearth new information, but only to promote carefully manufactured positions through the illusion of journalism.

Newell calls this collusion between government and mass media “inexcusable” and “a clear violation of the rule that one should not share questions with a subject or her handlers prior to an interview.”7 I think that before we can start working to correct the deep problem in American mass media, we need to fully understand the problem, and my proposed term for our current system is the “government-media establishment.” You need look no further than the difference between Abraham Lincoln’s rhetoric and George W Bush’s rhetoric. Lincoln won the election because his rhetoric was the most logical, and the spectators actively listened to the debates because they were happening in front of them. Once the debates were televised, people became detached from the rhetoric of the politicians, and the politicians immediately began scheming about how they could use mass media to control the public’s perceptions. The result is that George W Bush was elected President because he was a guy the average voter would enjoy having a beer with, which was the unofficial line of the Bush campaign spread across mass media. “‘What happens now is that these channels somehow resonate with people’s feelings and emotions and exploit it,’ says Viktors Makarovs, an adviser to the Latvian Foreign Ministry. ‘Our population has been influenced by this.’”[8] Makarovs was talking about Russian mass media, but he offered a general description that can be applied to any mass media. However, the fact that American mass media is working in opposition to Russian mass media suggests a possible outcome of this conflict over the public’s access to the truth.

As Pomerantsev stated in “Yes, Russia Matters,” the Russian propaganda machine has been reporting on issues of corruption in the US, about how American mass media covers up incidents that would hurt the establishment.1 Pomerantsev argues for a solution to the problem that Makarovs spelled out: that people have their own opinions and their own sense of the truth and that they’re hard to control. Pomerantsev’s solution, of course, is an American counterpropaganda program. The chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Ed Royce, took up Pomerantsev’s fight and supported a “bill to reform the Voice of America, which fell into disarray following the collapse of the Soviet Union.”2 The Voice of America is the official propaganda machine of the US government that is broadcast to the world (but not domestically), and it was one of the main weapons in the Cold War. The request to reform this propaganda machine shows that establishment insiders want to use old Cold War propaganda to encourage the public to think of Russia as the enemy, that they want to take us back to the good old days of the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

Fortunately, the people who are urging us toward World War III do not have logic on their side. Royce says that the only way to fight propaganda is with propaganda, but there are “some critics” who have fought against this bill, saying it would “turn the federal government’s international broadcasting service into ‘something fundamentally not American.’”2 The rhetoric of “some critics” is highly disturbing, implying that this initiative to counter Russian propaganda has establishment support if only “some critics” would oppose the argument. Perhaps the reason this initiative received establishment support is because the American broadcasting service turned into something “fundamentally not American” a long time ago, so that the current staff of journalists, editors, producers and advertisers think that the American broadcasting service has always been this way.

This analysis has taken a considerable Orwellian turn, and it turns out it’s the American mass media that approves of Orwell. One of Pomerantsev’s frequent co-writers, Michael Weiss, claimed that “Any effective response to the virus of Russian propaganda. . . must combine ‘the wisdom of Orwell…with the savvy of Don Draper.’”2 James Carden doesn’t blunt any of the ideas that are held by members of the government-media establishment. While this is a neoconservative belief, the neoconservatives have overwhelming power in our country, and we have to assume that Weiss had talked about Orwell—how wise his idea to control the public was!—with someone he knew before he was interviewed publicly. For Weiss to mention “the wisdom of Orwell” in private and then for him to come out and say it in public proves that whoever Weiss has been talking with agrees with this interpretation of 1984. Not a critique of a dystopian civilization but a how-to guide! (The novel was a direct critique of the Nazi party, so it did not generate any new wisdom, merely representing the “wisdom” of the Nazis). After the ellipsis, Don Draper is thrown into the mix… And these “journalists” keep claiming that it’s the Russians who are nostalgic for the old days of the Soviet Union.

Take a deep breath

This proposed report aims to discover a methodology that could be used to uncover the deep-seated problems in American mass media. Let’s move past the Russian-American interdependence and focus squarely on the results of American mass media. Andrew Kennis5 conducted a case study to experiment with how the Propaganda Model and Indexing Model of mass media worked in the present day, with the new norms of mass media; one of the characteristics of journalism he tested for was how mass media outlets tailor their news coverage to their audiences. The article looked at how two different broadcast networks operating under the same parent company—CNN and CNN en Español—covered the events in Fallujah, Iraq between Spring 2003 and Winter 2004. The hypothesis Kennis began with was rather cynical (he thought that US Soldiers would be treated as Unworthy Victims [according to the Propaganda Model]), so it hurts doubly so to discover that he was too optimistic about the situation in mass media:

While Latin American governmental sourcing was expected to be minimal, there was not one Latin American governmental official sourced in any of CNN en Español’s coverage and, in fact, not one instance of even a Latin American person ever appearing in the coverage of Fallujah.5

It would be comforting to argue that the audience of the Latin American broadcast network simply didn’t care about Iraq so there were no sources from Latin America to use. But we all know this is the temptation of naivety. During the Cold War, the United States actively fought against leftist revolutionaries in Latin America and supported fascist regimes, such as the military coup in Chile which overthrew a democratically elected president who believed that the government should be socialist[9]. This is simply the definition of government—to work for the people—but the Cold War propaganda of American mass media claimed that the Soviet Union was socialist and that socialists were the enemy. Again, the strength of American propaganda is the complete absence of logic. The propaganda campaign’s strategy was to prevent the American public from learning the definition of socialism so that they wouldn’t see that the United States government is socialist. If this campaign was pulled off successfully, it would have strengthened the right-wing movement to destroy the socialist elements of the US government that everybody loves so much, and every year they keep trying to slash Medicare and Food Stamps and Social Security. We are the only developed nation in the country without a federal Paid Family and Medical Leave, as Bernie Sanders often says. This right-wing movement, which must be labeled a fascist movement, was built on the cult of ignorance that was developed through mass media, by the American political establishment during the Cold War. The American establishment adopted Nazi propaganda tactics during this period, manipulating mass media and destroying the ethos of broadcast journalism.

The answer to this massive corruption is again quite simple. Although mass media seems a lost cause, Kennis found that,

Independent news media. . . were far less subservient to governmental sourcing domination, while Kellner (2008) found that war correspondents within emergent and digital media tended to outperform their mainstream counterparts in delivering more independent news and information from the frontlines.5

This brings us back to a root cause of the state of mass media. The internet deprived mass media of the privilege of source exclusivity, and it allowed the sources jump to the surface and interact directly with the public without mass media as the go-between. While the American mass media establishment complains about how RT has the most Youtube viewers of any broadcast news network8, they ignore that the second largest audience on Youtube is for the independent broadcast news network, Vice.

The establishment loves the free market so much until it starts working against them and then the cognitive dissonance sets in. The reason people choose to watch specific broadcast networks is because they like these specific broadcast networks. The broadcast networks that have the largest audiences make the most money and succeed, and the broadcast networks that don’t appeal to a sizeable audience fail. That is how the free market is meant to work, but the conglomeration of mass media corporations as documented by Kennis5 has allowed for unprofitable media subsidiaries to continue functioning without a large audience, so that views that don’t appeal to any mass audience can be spewed across the airwaves and used by extremists to justify their beliefs and to prove that they are in the majority.

The new norm

The simple fact is people are getting rid of cable and switching to Netflix, which means that most people do primarily obtain the information which they deem relevant on the internet. We cannot discount the people who still rely on mass media as their primary source of information, and we need to enforce real mass media reform so that we can use mass media as the democratic tool it is thought to be. Many argue that freedom of the press is the most important of all freedoms, because media organizations can use the skills of journalists to discover the truth of our nation and our world, to combat the immoral or misguided actions of the US government. This issue seems even more urgent in the wake of the recent Planned Parenthood shooting.

The truth of the matter is the rhetoric of neoconservative politicians and pundits has incited pockets of right-wing extremists to commit acts of domestic terrorism. When the church in Charleston was shot up, mass media claimed it was a lone gunman and no one would use the word “terrorism.” Mass media is showing similar reticence to speak plainly about this recent act of domestic terrorism in Colorado Springs. The final line of a Washington Post article about the attack revealed that “the medical facility had been the scene of protests most weekends but that there had never been any violence until Friday.”[10] Anyone who is familiar with the forms of journalistic writing knows about the inverted pyramid organization scheme, where the least important information is mentioned last so that it can be deleted if the publication needs more space. Because this is a qualitative judgment, the Washington Post would argue that this information isn’t particularly relevant to the story because it’s about a crazed gunman and not Planned Parenthood protestors. This argument could then be used to justify why this shooting wasn’t done as a protest against Planned Parenthood, to protect all the right-wing pundits and politicians from culpability in the rise of domestic right-wing terrorism.

As the literature on mass media boldly states, we should expect mass media to try to cover up the truth to protect the establishment insiders. The only glimmer of hope is the truths that can be discovered in independent and digital media. The solution to the problem of corruption in the mass media is for independent and digital media to be empowered by a socialist government so that the infrastructure can be laid for these new media to assume full responsibility for generating social reality, so that the old order of the news media can be put out of commission. Something will emerge in mass media to take the place of the news media, and I assume it will be very much like The Daily Show where independent shows will select important information from the news and delivery it in an entertaining way, but these shows will be understood to be entertainment and the notion of twenty-four-hours news networks will be rejected as absurd.

Bob Dylan identified the issue in his song Tombstone Blues: “Now I wish I could write you a melody so plain / that could hold you dear lady from going insane / that could ease you and cool you and cease the pain / of your useless and pointless knowledge.”[11] I have often been grateful for having found Bob Dylan when I was young enough, because my personal relationship with the news media has been greatly influenced by this quote. We are living in the next phase of the Information Age, in the Digital Age, and the amount of information we are being exposed to would drown anyone in confusion if they didn’t learn how to ignore all the “useless and pointless knowledge.” I cannot stomach any news stories about human suffering, so I only participate in the news media during the election season. There are far too many tragedies I wish I had never heard about, but mass media knows that if they overwhelm the public with these tragedies then they will be torn apart by conflicting emotions and they will be easy to manipulate.

This is exactly why the Democrats immediately start talking about gun control after any mass shooting. The root causes of gun violence are awfully complex and the establishment politicians and pundits think that the American public doesn’t want to worry about all these complicated issues. However, whenever someone says that mental health is a much bigger concern, the Democrats argue that they are trying to ignore the issue. Another clear case of psychological projection in mass media, as was discovered in the analysis of critiques against Russian mass media. Mental health is a leading cause of violence, and guns are just a specific method of violence. These establishment tactics to suppress the public’s access to information have been developed over the decades, and I fear that these processes that were set into motion by the government-media establishment are out of control. Broadcast journalism very well may be dead, and we need to work to eliminate the system of the government-media establishment as quickly as possible if we want to ensure democracy in America.

The fascists and authoritarians have a natural gift for using mass media as propaganda, because they are unconcerned about the human factor. They see people as numbers to be controlled, and they worship “Orwell’s wisdom.”2 But these are terrible people, and the public needs to learn to work for their own best interests, by using digital media to focus only on relevant information. Laws need to be written to guide the reformation of mass media, and it’s important that every journalist be primarily focused on the public good. All the current methods the establishment uses to determine the public good are complete and utter bullshit, and the public needs to learn to use digital media to channel their frustration with mass media, so that major media networks can no longer pretend that they represent reality while digital media is full of lies. The research is in, and news broadcasting is absolutely worthless. With the internet being the ideal method for the public to gather information, mass media no longer will be concerned with the dissemination of information.

Once a consensus has been reached about the definition of mass media in the Digital Age, no time must be wasted in enacting the reforms. The destruction of democracy by elected officials is an unforgiveable sin, but The Federal Election Commission (FEC), which is tasked with seeing that campaign finance laws are adhered to, was purposefully designed to be ineffective.3 The FEC was established in the wake of the Watergate scandal, and its organization will show how much the establishment insiders care about corruption:

They set up the commission as a six-member body. Because that’s an even number, no ruling can go into effect unless it gets at least 4 votes — which is often impossible because the FEC six members consist of three Democrats and three Republicans, nominated by their respective parties.3

If you’ve been paying attention, you would have guessed that the politicians thought that this desire to combat corruption was a joke, even while Nixon was forced to resign. I guarantee you they were all thinking “but it won’t happen to me.” We have seen how terrible the government-media establishment is, and we have to consider people like Rupert Murdoch to be the real monsters that our children should be terrified of. Pomerantsev and Weiss would have Europe, America and Russia embroiled in World War III because their sponsors want to overthrow Putin’s regime. These people have no connection left to humanity because they have insulated themselves behind walls of money and the only thing they care about any more is TV ratings.

These mass media organizations are causing severe damage to our nation and we cannot allow the democratic process to be subverted by moneyed interests anymore. The fourth estate is facing extinction, and I think that people who profited from this government-media establishment system should be held accountable for their crimes, and they need to be separated from most of their wealth so that this money can be put into the FCC’s expansion and the creation of a new governmental organization that will use the internet as a tool of democracy. The Digital Communications Commission could be complementary to the FCC, and the two could work together to determine the proper balance between mass, independent and digital media. If we work towards this goal, real change can happen

 

[1] Pomerantsev, Peter. “Yes, Russia Matters.”

[2] Carden, James. “Neo-McCarthyism and the US Media.”

[3] “Enforcement of Campaign Laws is Weak.” Open Secrets.

[4] Public Policy Polling. http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2015/11/democratic-voters-overwhelmingly-think-clinton-won-debate-particularly-strong-on-national-security-i.html

[5] Kennis, Andrew. “Indexing state–corporate propaganda?”

[6] Dr. Susan Volentine, Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. My mom.

[7] Newell, Jim. “Politico’s Shady Offer. . .”

[8] Shuster, Simon, and Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson. “Putin’s On-Air Army.”

[9] “7 Fascist Regimes Enthusiastically Supported by America.” Alternet.

[10] Somashekhar, Bever and Markon. “Gunman kills officer, two others at Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.”

[11] Zimmerman, Robert. “Tombstone Blues.”

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