Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them — and then, the opportunity to choose — C. Wright Mills
Who gave us our values prior to the multimedia 24-hour per day sensory circus that is the state of current television programming? It seemed to fall upon the shoulders of those who’s burden it really was: our parents, teachers, and religious leaders. This group of three met us as we emerged from the womb, and they served as our educators and shepherds throughout our formative years. Their power was such that they remained role models well into adulthood. There could be no mistaking the influence the aforementioned had on our worldview as we actually knew these individuals. If we were lucky, we had well-intentioned educators who encouraged our questions, sparked lively debate, and gave us the tools and opinions to help us form our own opinions. But where are we now? We have been given surrogate guidance counselors on every facet of our lives, and they beam their “opinions” to us nearly every second of every waking day. They are the media and they have supplanted our traditional means of communicating with one another for information and guidance. Instead, they dictate, chastise, set trends, and increasingly offer dissent only within pre-proscribed boundaries.
OUR MEDIA SURROGATES
We don’t even personally know the people whose opinions we now accept to direct our lives. The family unit has been virtually cast aside as our families have less and less time to spend with one another. But our surrogate media is there for us 24 hours per day providing a wealth of entertainment options. And so much choice! Yet, one of the most insidious aspects to what is being offered by our media sources is the illusion of growing choice. Despite an increasing number of television channels and 1,600 newspapers in the U.S., we are down to 6 companies that own media outlets, from 50 as recently as 1985. This consolidation allows all news and entertainment ultimately to arrive as though spoken by one unified voice. There is no real dissent left, with many topics (like 9-11, for instance) considered so toxic that anyone, whether “news” anchor, late-night entertainment, or some of our well-regarded dissenters, is committing career suicide for seriously considering such a very serious issue.
At its worst, the media has been used covertly by intelligence agencies. They admit this. Operation Mockingbird was created by Frank Wisner in 1948 to introduce propaganda to American media. Wisner recruited Philip Graham from The Washington Post, and from there Graham took over recruiting within the industry to nearly every major news source. There is also much evidence to suggest that the messaging was sent out to Hollywood as well. This is the main concern about the increasing concentration of power: it would be nearly impossible to control the news and messaging people receive if there are thousands upon thousands of individuals to control. But with a mere handful in control of newspapers, magazines, movie studios, and radio, the implementation is a walk in the park.
Operation Mockingbird was theoretically shut down by George Bush senior in 1976, but if we are supposed to believe that a former head of the CIA would shut down a program intended to strengthen it, then we all should be buying bridges in Brooklyn. Then there was the suspicious death of researcher Steve Kangas in 1999 outside an office of the owner of The Pittsburgh Tribune, Richard Mellon Scaife. Since then, discussion of Mockingbird-type programs has been predictably quiet. However, it would be profoundly naive to conclude that since media has only become more slick, more polished, and more entertainment-driven in its news features that there isn’t still some level of covert control happening. But, no matter, corporate money guarantees that media policy does not have to be spoken aloud; it is well understood what topics should be discussed, and in what way they should be spoken. If one tunes their attention to major media, it seems obvious that when the same exact talking points occur across seemingly disparate sources (in effect behaving like a Mockingbird), it throws up a red flag.
Those in control know that information is knowledge, and knowledge is power. Proper and diverse information is essential for people to make well-considered decisions — like electing a president, for instance, or calling a president to task for failed policy. And if there is going to be dissent, our media controllers know that it can be allowed — but only with the smaller issues. War is not one of those issues. In a recent FOX News broadcast, I literally could not tell Democrat and Republican apart in the panel discussion about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Just the opposite: not only did they agree, they positively fawned over one another’s statements as if they themselves should have made the exact same statement earlier. Of course, these four panelists were hand-selected by the program to offer their slanted view. And this became “fair and balanced” coverage for that segment. Hooray! Bi-partisanship finally! Sickening.
As a result, public opinion is not only being molded, it is molding. Without the fresh air of new ideas, dissent, and informed questions, the body politic is rotting like a mushroom in the cellar.
And hand-in-hand with the media presentation of acceptable ideas is the reinforcement provided by advertising, which will be the subject of the next article. Because it is through advertising where the media has a chance to remind us of how inadequate we really are. In the news we are given the problems, cable news is there to fan the flames of reaction, but it is the role of the advertising department to sell us the proper solutions for our growing discontent.