We Live in a Democracy- Of Course the Press Is Free!
There is one article of faith upon which the whole propaganda foundation must be built: that the media while perhaps slightly biased (right perspective versus left perspective) are for the most part still free and independent.
During the 20th century the prevailing opinion was “that the media are independent and committed to discovering and reporting the truth and that they do not merely reflect the world as powerful groups wish it to be perceived. Leaders of the media claim that their news choices rest on unbiased professional and objective criteria…” (Chomsky, Noam, Manufacturing Consent, p.l)
After all, we live in a democracy with a storied history of a free and independent press!
“If however, the powerful are able to fix the premises of discourse, to decide what the general populace is allowed to see, hear, and think about, and to “manage” public opinion by regular propaganda campaigns, the standard view of how the system works is at serious odds with reality.” (Chomsky, Noam, Manufacturing Consent, p.l)
Propaganda More Effective In a “PRIVATE” System
A propaganda system that operates through the news media within a democracy would be much preferred to a state run system for under the guise of independence the propaganda becomes phenomenally more effective. Ask yourself, “Is it impossible to protect yourself from a threat you do not know exists.
So the question remains, does the press in America operate as the powerful wish it to operate, managing and manipulating public opinion?
Walter Lippmann holds an important key to answering this question. You remember Walter Lippmann (1889-1974), hailed as the greatest journalist of his age and who for more than sixty years exerted unprecedented influence on American public opinion through his writing.
Lippmann, in describing how the French would repeatedly magnify German casualties by constant repetition of certain formulaic phrases without regard to the battlefield realities (‘according to prisoners the German losses in the course of the attack have been considerable’…‘it is proved that the losses’…‘the enemy exhausted by his losses has not renewed the attack’) remarked that “We have learned to call this propaganda. A group of men, who can prevent access to the event, arrange the news of it to suit their purpose.” p. 26
He explains that by putting dead Germans in the focus of the picture, and by omitting to mention the French dead, a very special view of the battle was built up.
He also goes on to say, “Without some form of censorship, propaganda in the strict sense of the word is impossible. In order to conduct propaganda there must be some barrier between the public and the event. Access to the real environment must be limited, before anyone can create a pseudo-environment that he thinks wise or desirable.” p. 27
Creating Pictures of a Pseudo Environment
“The way the world is imagined determines at any particular moment what men will do…. But what is propaganda, if not the effort to alter the picture to which men respond?” p.19
The meaning of intricate, perplexing and veiled modern events could be condensed and summed up into simple pictures: Muslims are bad; Russia is always bad; China is getting bad; bombing Syria is good; corrupt banks are good; corrupt debt is good; war is normal; government dependence is good: tolerance is good etc. etc.
To the extent that the powers that be shape these attitudes they have unlimited power to arrange public sentiments on their behalf.
Who creates the pictures of an event? The news media of course
Representative Government Does Not Work?
In 1922, he wrote the book Public Opinion, in which he argued that the modern world had become so complex and the issues so distant from the common man, that it was impossible for the masses to have an accurate opinion on most public issues.
With neither the time, nor the inclination to research the facts, the average citizen was encumbered by local biases and prejudices that made him a poor prospect to render fair and impartial conclusions affecting the future of the nation.
Lippmann’s conclusion was that “representative government, either in what is ordinarily called politics, or in industry, cannot be worked successfully, no matter what the basis of election, unless there is an independent, expert organization for making the unseen facts intelligible to those who have to make the decisions.”
Who Organizes The Opinions?
Later he argues “the real sequence should be one where the disinterested expert first finds and formulates the facts for the man of action, and later makes what wisdom he can out of comparison between the decision, which he understands and the facts, which he organized.” p. 201
Who will be responsible for organizing public opinions for the press? Who is this disinterested expert? Lippmann’s thesis demands answers.
The Revolution Has Already Taken Place
In Lippmann’s own words…
The creation of consent is not a new art. It is a very old one that was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy. But it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technic, because it is now based on analysis rather than on rule of thumb. And so, as a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power. p. 138
Within the life of the generation now in control of affairs , persuasion has become a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government. None of us begins to understand the consequences, but it is no daring prophecy to say that the knowledge of how to create consent will alter every political calculation and modify every political premise… p. 138
It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy… p. 138
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