Media manipulation: How Big News is messing with your mind

Many (many) years ago, an English teacher explained to our 9th grade class that journalism was supposed to be about objectivity. After reading any news article, we should not know the journalist’s personal perspective on the story. Ditto their political beliefs. The journalist’s role is to report the various sides of any given story and then leave it to the reader to judge for themselves. That English teacher also stressed that we should not rely on a single source for our news. Read different newspapers. Regularly switch between watching the nightly news bulletins of each TV network.

Like I said, that was many (many) years ago.

Of course, journalism has never really been completely objective. Objectivity in reporting was at best, an ideal to strive for. Some journalists, and some news organisations, were more successful in their attempts at attaining that ideal than others.

But at least it was an ideal.

Today, Big News has pretty much consigned that ideal to the cutting room floor of history.

Now, the mainstream news media is all about manipulating you into a certain way of thinking … their way of thinking. In short, Big News is messing with your mind.

Big News

The fact that most of the news media we’re exposed to today comes from a dwindling pool of different sources isn’t really news at all.

Rupert Murdoch is a global media mogul.

Entertainment conglomerate Disney owns ABC News and ESPN.

And among its financial, military-industrial, aviation, oil and gas, healthcare and household appliance businesses, GE also owns NBC and its affiliated TV network.

Media consolidation

In Great Britain, the Beeb is the big cheese while in Australia, two companies control the nation’s newspapers: News Limited (Mogul Murdoch) and Fairfax Media.

There are three major Australian commercial free-to-air TV networks offering lightweight news at best. Examples: the schizophrenic The Project (am I Walter Cronkite or Billy Crystal?), the unbearable A Current Affair (diets and foot-in-the-door bovver boy confrontations)… and 10 Eyewitness News.

And then there’s Our ABC. The public-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The ABC, publicly-funded, no commercials, no pressure from advertisers, no agenda, right?

Not quite. The ABC is as much a part of Big News as any other media outlet. Heresy! you scream. Well, check this out.

Over at ABC Online’s World News section for Saturday, 7 May 2016, of the top eight stories posted, three were from AFP and/or Reuters, 2 were collaborations with the ICIJ and AFP/Reuters and a whole two stories were written by ABC journos all by themselves. No-one, apparently, was willing to own up to authoring the final story on the snubbing of Boaty McBoatface.

In order of appearance:

1. Panama Papers source breaks silence, explains intentions behind Mossack Fonseca data leak
By ABC reporter Elise Worthington and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

2. Kim Jong-un hails ‘great nuclear success’ at North Korean party congress
Attributed to AFP/Reuters.

3.‘This is not a reality show’: Barack Obama takes swipe at Donald Trump as White House race continues
Attributed to Reuters.

4. Fort McMurray fires: Security camera captures inferno ripping through Canadian house
Attributed to AFP/Reuters.

5. Cocos Islander ‘heartbroken’ after women, children board plane with blacked out windows
By Joseph Dunstan (ABC).

6. UK elections: Sadiq Khan becomes first Muslim mayor of London after bitter campaign
Attributed to ABC/Reuters/AFP.

7. Philippines poised to elect hardliner Rodrigo Duterte as country’s next president
By ABC South East Asia correspondent Adam Harvey.

8. Boaty McBoatface snubbed as name for UK research vessel
No attribution.

A quick click across to the World section of Fairfax Media’s The Sydney Morning Herald or The Age reveals a similar trend with it’s headline world news articles attributed to Reuters, The New York Times, Washington Post and Telegraph UK in addition to those actually written by Fairfax Media’s forever dwindling stable of journos.

So, we know Big News controls what we read in the papers, online and what we watch on the 24-hour news cycle.

How do we tell then when Big News is messing with our minds?

That’s a tough question to answer because they’re just so damned good at it.

Just start to watch out for the warning signs. Here are a couple.

Warning sign No. 1: Trying to scare the crap out of you

Beware of any news reporting that attempts to scare you into a certain way of thinking.

Whatever your views on the great climate change debate, few could argue that the following “news articles” amount to a fair dose of scaremongering, and not much else:

Eight foods you’re about to lose due to climate change
The Guardian, published 30 April 2014.

What climate change will do to your loaf of bread
The Sydney Morning Herald, published 22 June 2015.

Latest victim of global warming: loaves of bread will be smaller in future, warn scientists
Telegraph UK, published 22 June 2015.

And if scaring you through your stomach won’t work. How about scaring you through a more sensitive part of your anatomy?

How climate change could ruin your sex life
The Sydney Morning Herald, published 5 November 2015.

Here’s how this Pulitzer Prize-worthy piece of journalism begins …

If ever there was a way to get mankind more interested in combating climate change, here it is. A new study by three economists has found hotter temperatures lead to less sex.

Stop climate change; get laid more.

If the threat of much less action between the sheets in the bedroom isn’t going to do it for you, other scare-worthy subjects to be wary of include the never-ending threat of terrorism (both international and home grown), deadly virus outbreaks (such as the recent zika non-event), and wild card, loose cannon, antiestablishment presidential candidates.

Warning sign No. 2: Demonising someone they don’t like very much (and neither should you)

When MH17 was shot down over the Ukraine in July 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin became the western media’s favourite new bogey man. Australian PM Tony Abbott even vowed to shirtfront Putin over the tragedy.

Then there was this in The Biden Agenda published in The New Yorker on 28 July 2014, not long after MH17 was shot down: 

Biden recalled visiting Putin at the Kremlin in 2011: “I had an interpreter, and when he was showing me his office I said, ‘It’s amazing what capitalism will do, won’t it? A magnificent office!’ And he laughed. As I turned, I was this close to him.” Biden held his hand a few inches from his nose. “I said, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.’ ”

“You said that?” I asked. It sounded like a movie line.

“Absolutely, positively,” Biden said, and continued, “And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘We understand one another.’ ” Biden sat back, and said, “This is who this guy is!”

We’ll just have to take Biden on his word on that one.

And on 6 December 2015, hairstylists’ nightmare the world over, Boris Johnston, penned the following impartial piece for The Telegraph in an obvious effort to absolve himself of any responsibility for voting in favour of dropping British bombs on sovereign Syrian soil:

Let’s deal with the Devil: we should work with Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad in Syria

Two devils for the price of one headline. Bravo Boris!

In Let’s deal with the devil, he described Putin thusly:

As for his reign in Moscow, he is allegedly the linchpin of a vast post-Soviet gangster kleptocracy, and is personally said to be the richest man on the planet. Journalists who oppose him get shot. His rivals find themselves locked up. Despite looking a bit like Dobby the House Elf, he is a ruthless and manipulative tyrant.

Don’t hold back there Boris.

Boris Johnson

Trust me … Putin is the devil!

More recently, the Panama Papers scandal attempted to finger Putin as the main conspirator and benefactor of those shonky off-shore accounts.

Next time the mainstream media is working overtime to demonise a leader or any other person of prominence, ask yourself why?

Other warning signs & the myth of journalistic objectivity 

There are many other warning signs. Use of language and images to shape your thinking, quoting sources that sound far more official and credible than they actually are (more about this in a future article) and just as importantly as what the media does report, pay close attention to what they do not report.

On this last point, I’ll leave it to James Corbett of the highly-respected The Corbett Report to explain. The following is quoted from his podcast on The myth of journalistic objectivity.

… when you watch a news report on TV whatever that report might be about it is coming from an ideological viewpoint insofar as some editor somewhere along the line has decided that this story should be reported on and not another story. So the idea of news itself is an ideological construction, that, for example, we sitting in our homes need to know about the intimate details of a political scandal happening in Italy, or wherever, if we see that on the news then that is obviously something someone thinks we need to know about. 

That in and of itself comes from a certain political ideology. And, for example, when someone does a random act of kindness for another person, well that’s not news. We don’t talk about that on the news. Again, everything comes from an ideological perspective, everything is ideologically informed in that matter so even deciding what to cover and what not to cover is in of itself an example of how journalism is not and can never be objective.

Of course, within the story itself what is covered, who is talked to, who is not talked to, what viewpoints are not covered, again is that type of background decision that the viewer never sees on the screen. They never see that decision process but it is there behind every single story.

So this idea that some objective journalist is going to come along and present the truth, wholesale and 100 per cent exactly as it exists in reality in some sort of edited news package is not only an ideal, but it’s a myth that completely cannot exist.

James Corbett, The myth of journalistic objectivity.

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