Archive for the ‘media manipulation’ Tag

Who is Influencing Whom?   Leave a comment

We live in an age that demands timeliness and instant access to information and the media play a crucial role in informing the public about politics, campaigns and elections. While the media fulfills this role, American culture is cynical about the media and politicians, perceiving a media bias. What is often overlooked is that government has a tremendous influence on the media at least equal to the influence the media exerts on government

Does the media report politics or does it shape political events?

The media helps influence what issues voters should care about in elections and what criteria they should use to evaluate candidates. There’s a belief that the media influences the voting behavior of people. It’s unlikely that someone who takes an active interest in politics is going to be redirected by the media. However, the media can sway people who are uncommitted to a clear position. Since these voters often decide election results, the power of the media can be substantial.

Because I read Barack Obama’s books and saw stances there that I could not support, it wouldn’t have mattered what the media reported in the run-up to the 2008 election. I was going to vote against him. But if you never read the books or you hadn’t met Sarah Palin personally or you thought John McCain was a little old, the media promoting Barack Obama at every turn probably had some influence in convincing you to vote for him.

Successful politicians learn that the media are the key to getting elected. FDR massaged American sentiments with his Fireside Chats. Ronald Reagan used his film skills to communicate very effectively with American voters. Government officials stage media events with the precision of wedding planners. Critics believe too much attention is focused on how politicians look and on the occasional soundbite than on how they have performed in office or the experience they bring to their first crack as a public servant. Media exerts a profound influence on the behavior of candidates and officials.

Most Americans learn about social issues from print or electronic media. Media focused on some issues and ignores others and that can help set what gets done in government. Media sources are often accused of emphasizing scandal and high-interest issues at the expense of duller, but more important political programs. The government’s priorities can be rearranged as a result.

On the other hand, a 2013 Pew report on the state of the media exposes one of the worst-kept secrets in politics: reporters are losing their power to frame presidential contests for the average citizen.

Technology has enables candidates/campaigns to more effectively end-run the mainstream media. President Obama’s campaign team has used everything from Twitter to images on Flickr to sell their preferred image of the nation’s chief executive.

This is exaserbated by their being fewer news reports than there were a decade or so ago. Magazines and newspapers are shrinking and these were the investigative reporters of the past. With fewer reporters and more to cover due to the 24-hour news cycle, there is a tendency to resort to paint-by-numbers reporting for those who are still in the business.

What does this mean for political coverage? Well, political media has less ability to play its traditional referee role at the same time that public distrust of the media is rampant among partisans of both parties. Without the negative influence of the media, some people say, the public can focus on the issues and where the two parties stand.

Or not….

Nearly three-quarters of all statements made about the two candidates’ characters in 2012 were negative, which was a significant rise over 2008, which was the most negative campaign I watched on television … and one reason I no longer use television for political news.

With the news organizations pushed out of the information pipeline, voters are alone in sorting through messages that are tested before focus groups and opposition attacks tailored with great specificity. Is that independence a good thing? Well, I like it, but it is a lot easier to campaign successfully if there’s no one checking a candidate’s facts and increasingly, there is no one checking the facts.

Campaigns have more power to frame both their positive narratives and their opponent’s negative one. If the Pew numbers are right, both sides are spending an inordinate amount of money on the negative side of the ledger.

This is where social media come in. I don’t buy that you can learn anything about a candidate or an issue in a Twitter or Instagram post, but social media does give folks an opportunity to talk about what’s important to them and how a candidate might or might not address those concerns. And, if the current debate on the Keystone Pipeline is any evidence, Facebook is filled with emotional rhetoric lacking the ability to fact-check.

More than that, the Internet has allowed a flood of non-tradition news sources — some with variable trustworthiness. Again it comes back to whether or not we the people should trust any media source on any subject.

Additionally, we should be aware that as much as the media influences government through influencing elections, our government influences us through its manipulation of the media.

Media and Advertising   2 comments

“Advertising is the art of arresting human intelligence just long enough to get money from it.” (Chuck Blore of advertising firm Chuck Blroe & Don Ruchman, Inc., quoted in The Media Monopoly, by Ben H. Bagdikian, p. 185)

Mass media is a natural way for companies to let a large number of people know about their products. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that idea of reaching large groups of people with products they might want or need. I do have some concerns with the influence exerted by advertising methods and techniques that entice, shape and even create consumerism, turning luxuries into necessities and distorting our view of reality.

Media companies (at least in the US, but to a smaller extent in countries that subsidize their media) are heavily dependent upon advertising to keep the doors open. It’s their primary revenue source. Yes, there are audience-supported media that do not utilize advertising, but the influence there is similar. The revenue source largely controls the medium. If something is reported that the advertiser (or paying subscriber) doesn’t like the medium risks the loss of revenue. If a television network is heavily reliant on advertising by Monsanto, they’re going to shy away from covering a story about bad practices by Monsanto.

As a result, the mainstream media is largely driven by market forces.

But it’s also important to realize that a medium must sell advertising to an audience in order for that advertising to be effective. So the medium must sell the audience to the corporations in order to sell advertising. So you have a situation where the audience is both a product and the consumer of a product. There is tremendous pressure on media companies to change content and to shape content based on the demographics of the audience. The content of media is less important than the type of person being targeted by the ads that support the media.

In Bagdikian’s book The Media Monopoly, he looked at magazine advertising and news content in several countries. He noted:

“The influence of advertising on magazines reached a point where editors began selecting articles not only on the basis of their expected interest for readers but for their influence on advertisements. Serious articles were not always the best support for ads. An article that put the reader in an analytical frame of mind did not encourage the reader to take seriously an ad that depended on fantasy or promoted a trivial product. An article on genuine social suffering might interrupt the “buying” mood on which most ads for luxuries depend. The next step, seen often in mid-twentieth century magazines, was commissioning articles solely to attract readers who were good prospects to buy products advertised in the magazine. After that came the magazine phenomenon of the 1970s — creating magazines for an identifiable special audience and selling them to particular advertisers.” (page 138)

There is also the known manipulation of media images to promote certain mindsets to consumerism. I grew up when Saturday morning cartoons were funded by Mattel, where huge Transformers destroyed toy houses on the screen and when you ordered them, they turned out to be smaller than the houses. Models are manipulated to look prettier, sexier and skinnier. This leads to unrealistic expectations for reality that can have profound effects on our national psyche.

There are areas for concern however. Advertorials do exist. This is where news stories or editorials are often thinly-disguised product advertisements. Disney owns ABC and there have been allegations of hyping a movie under the guise of news coverage. Over the weekend, Brad and I watched a “news” story that covered the refurbishment of a local gym that sure seemed like an advertisement to us. Is it First Amendment protected speech when it comes from a public relations press release? Of course, we also must realize that special interests from the Sierra Club to the National Education Association also issue these press releases that become, in many cases, unfiltered “news” at the 6 o’clock hour.

I am not suggesting regulation of advertising, however. We are only as stupid and easily led as we allow ourselves to be.  The risk of regulating advertising for the “good” of the public is that regulators never stop where they were originally asked to regulate. First it’s advertising, then its news and why not the editorial segment as well? We’ll address the unfairness of the “Fairness” Doctrine later in the series. What is needed is more consumer skepticism and the willingness to talk about media manipulation with our kids combined with the chutpah of the audience to realize that as the third leg of the advertiser-media-audience relationship, we have the power to demand truth in advertising and that advertising be separated from news coverage.

The problem is that we don’t even recognize when we’re being manipulated and we deny it when it’s pointed out. This is true whether it is corporate advertising influence news coverage on network and cable news channels or on PBS, where corporate sponsors exert a powerful influence on coverage, but because PBS is “commercial free” supporters will insist it is neutral and balanced.

Ha! That’s what I have to say about that. HA! And, no, this is not a rant against Bonnie Erbe. It’s a rant against people who thing she is a journalist or that her show presents news. It is an opinion program that presents a very narrow view of the world and the people in it. Okay, guys, take your eyes off her knees and the other chick’s cleavage.

Media manipulation is everywhere! And that’s why the idea of PBS presenting unbias news — HA!

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