Once you perceive the important role the media plays in our society then it becomes clear, I would think, that those in the media bear a heavy burden of responsibility. Journalists can try to be as truthful as personal perceptions allow, they can twist and spin the facts by pretending that commentary is news, or they can even lie.
Propaganda can be subtle or it can be obvious. Journalists can pick a focus group of people, such as middle class white folks, figure out what they think (profile them) and then feed them an interpretation of the news that exploits their mindset. The propaganda can be organized on behalf of any group that sponsors it, such as the GOP or the Tea Party. This is not necessarily new, but, given a news cycle that repeats hour after hour, day after day, is probably more effective at “brainwashing” a target audience in a more casual, folksy way than ever before.
Is this wrong? Should people in the media, who are almost our sole source of news and information, bear a moral responsibility to be as objective and factual as possible? If someone in the media is actually offering commentary on the news should there be a disclaimer? If people agree with the way commentary is slanted are they always more likely to believe it is factual?
There are so many citizens commenting on mainstream media articles and on social media websites who seem brainwashed, who parrot, almost word for word the same nasty insults if anyone disagrees with them, who quote the same right wing sources as if they were Bible verses. Does this signify that there are propaganda strategies that are so effective that if might be immoral to use them, even in a society that holds free speech as dear as we do? How could people listen to blatantly skewed commentary and come to passionately defend such information as straight-forward news?
The reason people mention Hitler so much these days is that they believe that what I just described is exactly how a creepy little man like Hitler was able to create a mass movement in Germany. He told a disillusioned but proud group of people that if they joined him they could win back their national pride. In America both sides have accused the opposition of leading Americans astray in the manner of Hitler. Are our leaders acting in the twisted manner of a master manipulator as the media often claims? The answer depends on who you ask. The GOP accused Obama of acting like Hitler. FOX news has hinted that Obama acts like Hitler. However it is a common tactic on the right to accuse someone else of acting the way you are actually acting as a sort of deflection.
If the media will not act in a moral fashion and tell us when we are getting news and when we are hearing opinions should we pass laws that require them to label their content? I don’t think we would be happy doing that because it would curtail freedom of speech. Obviously all we are left with is appealing to the better instincts of our media outlets and their journalists. But as long as money and profit play such large roles in our culture I suspect some in the media do not feel their better instincts, not so much.
All an educated citizenry can do is analyze what they hear and try to consult sources that slant all different ways. It is interesting that the same people who are trying to use media to exploit the downturns and disillusionment of the white middle class are arguing against free public education and against teaching things like critical thinking. You cannot hang on to freedom if you are not educated to read, write, and understand all the language and the intent of the language that is constantly being broadcast to your brain. We should be learning a lot about propaganda and manipulation because we have been subject to large doses of each. Hopefully we will be less susceptible in the future. Perhaps, perhaps not. Seduction is powerful even when it uses only words.
By Nancy Brisson