When propaganda is presented as “news”

The phrase “right wing media” is increasingly used to label talk radio and television that provides a conservative political spin on the news. Its entire premise, however, is based on the false assumption that the mainstream press is “left wing media”. This raises their act to hero status in taking on those who would drag Western culture into the chaotic abyss of socialism.

And certainly America doesn’t want THAT!

This is the exact justification we used in the early and mid 1980s at CBN when Pat Robertson declared that God had told him to run for President and that he would win. We needed to craft a way for us to justify a chair at the big media table, one that placed us to the right of everybody else. Naming the press as an existential threat to the culture, we not only reported “the news” but we often became the news, and this was no accident. It was one of the 20th Century’s most significant examples of propaganda-based marketing.

Propaganda doesn’t require balance, so our complaints about the right wing bias of Fox News are not only foolish but irrelevant. However, by labeling itself “news” and using the word “balance” in its slogan (“Fair and Balanced”), Fox permits itself to make the subliminal justification that they’re an alternative to the mainstream press, who are not balanced either. This seems to make all sorts of logical sense, unless you have eyes to recognize that such a claim cannot be true.

Fox relies on the 20th Century concept of objectivity, which, to them, “should” translate to a 50–50, “he said she said” paradigm. In practice, however, Fox only presents a conservative narrative, so it is decidedly neither fair nor balanced. Besides, objectivity in news has been largely discounted for journalism, which recognizes the idea only in that it creates a sterile environment in which to place advertising. Companies, the thinking goes, don’t want their political bias to be known, for it carries the threat of product rejection by about half of all consumers. It was their demand for a sterile platform that ultimately led us to the mess we have today. Such is the curse of mass marketing, which is, to say the least, a broken and inept concept for selling (remember John Wanamaker’s dilemma).

The cultural need for advertising is changing dramatically since the dawn of the network, because corporations can now make themselves function as media companies and speak directly to consumers instead of going through the filters of advertising.

Transparency is the new objectivity, wrote David Weinberger many years ago. We are currently experiencing an entirely new operating paradigm for news, one that permits a degree of subjectivity, as long as that subjectivity is made known up front. With Donald Trump, Fox News has dropped entirely its claims of balance and has become the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. That’s fine, but it cannot ever again make the claim of balanced. Balance no longer means considering all sides in reporting; today, it’s a given that Fox presents itself as the balance, so there’s no need for including other opinions.

I know this, because it’s precisely what we did in the early 80s with the rise of “CBN News” via The 700 Club television program. The first order of business was that we needed to make the case that the mainstream media was, in fact, biased towards liberalism. One of the ways we did this was to cite cultural ruin (a.k.a. rampant sin and iniquity) as being caused ultimately by the devil, who was working in league with an ignorant and compliant press. If we could make it so, then we — as an alternative — could make the claim that we were an alternative to a steady stream of liberalism as news. Like the plausible impossibility of Superman, we wore the hero’s cape in our pioneering efforts.

The logical problem, of course, is that this makes for an unknowable assumption, one that doesn’t require evidence, for no one can know for certain the motivations of others.

I was there at the beginning and worked my tail off in concert with talented others to write the rules for doing television news with a conservative (a.k.a. Bible-based) point-of-view. You can say what you want about Pat Robertson and The 700 Club, but the truth is that we were the innovators that Fox emulated ten years later. The time was the early 80s under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and the first rule was to present — as fact — a self-justification based on the certainty that all the rest of the press presented a liberal political perspective and not objectivity. We pressed that we were providing the balance left out of mainstream reporting. It was a very strong and sellable point-of-view, for Richard Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew wasn’t speaking in a vacuum when he labeled the press “nattering nabobs of negativism” in 1969.

This history is important, because Fox News will never admit to “borrowing” the tactics we pioneered. They simply copied the finished product, so foundational motives and representations are hard to pin down. This gives them ample wiggle room to deny certain allegations of bias while marching forward as the mouthpiece for conservatism. As earlier pioneers, we took the arrows that could’ve been destined for Fox, but I digress.

Pat Robertson supports the business side of culture, largely because it has the money for his vision — a world governed not only by laws but also by the internal governor of Christianity. Business executives argue that freedom is not possible in a world where it’s every man for himself. This would be fine, except the right more often espouses the ideals of license rather than those of liberty, which assumes the rights of others.

Fundamental to our premise at CBN was the position that the entirety of the press presents a product that supports Democratic (a.k.a. “socialist” or “liberal”) political positions. Moreover, we posited, the journalistic hegemony of objectivity required that media companies provide political “balance” in presenting the issues of the day. Since the press “wouldn’t” do that, according to us, we gave ourselves permission to present the balance ourselves. Fox News is not original, not in any sense.

Fox News doesn’t have the basic straw man of “sin” to define the enemy left, but it certainly makes the press out to be evil, especially in social matters like crime and especially abortion. At least we were honest in the religion-based spiritual claims we made.

Of necessity, it meant operating to the right of the press politically but on the same level of all who claimed to provide “news and information.” The problem with this position, of course, is that the assumption of mainstream press bias — on the same scale as what we practiced from a conservative perspective — is entirely false. Nearly every attempt to create a “left-wing radio” response to conservative talk radio has failed, because there’s no similar artificial cultural necessity. News isn’t propaganda, just because it reflects the progressive (new) in society. America wants to grow in every way and is generally approving of a more progressive life in these United States, so naturally the news would reflect that.

Growing pains don’t have to be political.

The culture — which we presented as corrupt — had long ago decided issues we’re again debating today due in part to our efforts to keep those issues alive. The only “new” in the thinking of the right is ways for the rich to get richer, while increasing the burdens on the poor and the afflicted. And it is quite sad in America that a great many poor and rural actually side with the business interests of Republicans, because they’ve been convinced of the moral righteousness of those who “provide jobs”. Big corporate interests don’t hire people, because they’re concerned about the culture; they only do so to the extent that such an action will produce greater profits for themselves.

However, the rural poor are largely Christian evangelicals who are driven by issues other than what will pad the pockets of the rich.

The role of abortion, sexual preference, and school prayer — issues the Supreme Court long ago declared resolved for the culture — play a huge role in the folly that we have for political debate today, because the claim can be made that they are important to God. These issues brought some pro-life Catholics into the fold by convincing them that capitalists have their best interests at heart. Pro-Life became the clarion call, even though it did not extend to those who’d already been born.

Once again, the core argument for conservative news in 2019 is that the media as a whole better represents a liberal point of view more than one of political balance, which is required, they say, by the hegemonistic concept of objectivity. We need to fully unpack this before we’ll ever find the antidote to attacks on journalism and acts of journalism, such as the press being labeled “the enemy of the people” by our current President. Today, in simply doing their jobs, the press appears biased when it reacts normally to Donald Trump’s antics and misrepresentations, reporting that the right wing propagandists use to support their case to the public.

A good way to look at it is to understand that to qualify as “news,” there must be an element of something “new” in order to be recognized as a practitioner of the profession. There must be something “new” to qualify as “news”. Conservative “news,” however, can only present “old” as its core, as in “Make America Great Again.” It attempts to reach back into history and claim that the culture got it wrong back then, that things have changed so much that we have to go back and revisit cultural decisions that they opposed back then and still do today. This would be fine if the discussion took place on a level playing field, which it can’t, because propaganda doesn’t work that way.

So powerfully driven are the Republicans by big business that Trump is turning our military into a protection racket involving other countries. He’s extorting other countries in the name of profit, for our military won’t protect you now unless you pay for it. The Kurds obviously couldn’t pay, and now we have that on the record as our response to those who don’t or won’t pay. The Republicans see only a bottom line when examining every issue, whether foreign or domestic, although government is supposed to represent everyone, not just the one percent who form a shadow government under the GOP.

Today — and to further confuse things — Republicans are calling Democrats “socialists” so they can make references to capitalism as being the proven better way. Again, this would be fine, if it were true. It’s not, however, and we’re entering a season now where the reference will sooner or later become communism. The word “socialism” strikes fear in the hearts of those its designed to ping, but true fear mongering always reaches for the worst possible alternative to the status quo.

There are two important arguments that need to be on the table:

One, the idea that objectivity is the goal of professional journalism is only about 100 years old and stems from the efforts of Walter Lippmann and his cronies to accommodate two factions of American culture: to create a sterile environment in which to sell advertising, and to bring about the social engineering of American elites through Edward Bernays’ “public relations,” better known as the deliberate manipulation of citizens according to the values and beliefs of those who could pay for it. More than any other two people in history, Lippmann and Bernays created what Lippmann called “The Manufacture of Consent” and Bernays’ “Propaganda”. This knowledge is critical in sorting things out today, for when Bernays put cigarettes in the mouths of Suffragette marchers in New York knowing they would be photographed and presented in newspapers everywhere, he did so on behalf of his client, the American Tobacco Company.

Cigarette sales to women skyrocketed, having been elevated to political protest status by Bernays’ clever manipulation. Bernays was keenly aware of what he was doing, as he wrote in his seminal book Propaganda:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

Two, the press represents the people, and news coverage follows the ebbs and flows of the culture. Those publishers who consider first the best interests of the business community, are more inclined to both espouse and represent a conservative position. The Wall Street Journal comes to mind. The same is true for publishers, such as the New York Times, who don’t believe that capitalism should be the default determiner in all matters involving what’s best for our citizens. Both are considered “first writers” of history, which means they follow the ups and downs of the culture.

America is uniquely governed in such a way that there is necessary tension built into the relationships between branches of government, but that is also the case with journalism, because it covers current events as the people’s representatives, and human beings don’t always come with built-in bullshit detectors. The discovery that they are being manipulated may be the determining factor in how long this sham will continue to dominate the grand narrative of life in these United States.

Donald Trump is not under attack in the press because he’s different. He’s not under attack for taking on the system. He’s not under attack, because foreign countries don’t pay us protection money. And he’s most certainly not under attack for pressing a white evangelical Christian agenda. He’s under attack because he’s a liar, a business cheat, and a manipulator of people. He is a salesman and ought never to be in charge of product development, because he actually believes his own hyperbole. He’s simply not fit for public service, because the only public that he serves is himself and his mob-like underlings.

And, you simply do not withhold security aid to a foreign government until they provide you with dirt on political opponents. This is against our law, as stated in the Constitution of the United States of America.

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