Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Don't Get Fooled Again

Part of my schoolwork in the late 1960s was to make myself immune from media bias. I distinctly remember doing a report about the various ways to slant a news story. I turned the assignment into a set of "Wanted" posters, with descriptions of each technique for manipulating minds. The teacher thought it was very creative, but looking back, I believe I was simply reflecting the attitude of the time. People much older than me were reading Marshall McLuhan and Vance Packard and worrying about "the hidden persuaders." Our minds were under attack, and the enemies were in the advertising industry.

Soon, government got caught spinning the news as well. Instead of a "missile gap" between the U.S. and the Soviet Union (itself a storyline that fit the interests of the Kennedy campaign and the military industries but essentially propaganda), we were talking about a "credibility gap" between what the Johnson administration was saying about the Vietnam War and what the cameras were showing on the evening news. A few years later, the Nixon election campaign concerted its advertising in a way that would be immortalized in The Selling of the President 1968, and then the Nixon administration revealed its own mendacity with the press secretary having to tell reporters, "This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative."

I wonder how the schools I attended knew I would need the skills of media criticism--how democracy would need those skills to be shared broadly among the voting public. A recent article by In These Times senior editor David Sirota says those educators had witnessed a revolution in advertising epitomized by the current TV hit Mad Men, and, he implies, they decided to fight back. But Sirota says we are now in the midst of a new assault. The technique is not the advertising jingle, the purveyance of half-truths, or even the hip use of irony. Now, we are being manipulated by what he calls "outraged denial."

No, of course universal health care is not a viable option. You say different? Socialist!

No, of course Iraq was not a distraction and a terrible waste of money. You say different? Traitor!

No, of course the U.S. never tortures people. Pay no attention to that man beneath the curtain, getting electric shocks to his genitals. It was "enhanced interrogation," not torture, and it saved lives--never mind where or how, that is secret.

The idea is that if people just lie and deny, it will take us the public aback. Surely, we will say, they couldn’t be that cynical. They could never put on those faces of injured innocence and lie to our faces.

Except they have. They still do.

No, of course, the withdrawal of the opposition candidate
doesn’t mean that the Karzai government in Afghanistan (which committed fraud in the first round of the election and was poised to do so again) lacks all legitimacy. You say differently? Don't you believe in hope, and change?

Don't get fooled again!