Media Sellout

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Dear Bewildered Herd,

I just read an excerpt from the magazine, Atlantic, (January-February 2004, page 46) on a poll conducted by University of Maryland just after the Iraq War ended. I thought you should know about this.

Love, Bill

          In this poll, people were given three statements to respond to as true or false.

    1. Saddam Hussein was actively supporting Al Quaeda.
    2. Saddam Hussein was deploying weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
    3. The U.S. invaded Iraq with the full support of the international community.

          At the time of the poll there was ample evidence that all three statements were known to be false. More than half of those polled believed statement number one. At least a third believed number two and number three.

          The study revealed that while only 23% of those who relied on NPR or PBS for news believed one or more of the propositions, 55% of those who relied on CNN did and 80% of those who relied on Fox News did.

          Back in early November when I was in DC I saw a small piece in the Washington Post that related to this poll. It was not headline news, but buried somewhere in section A of the paper. The focus of the article was not the poll results, but that a Fox News vice president was upset because the poll made Fox look bad. As I recall, more than 50% of the ABC, NBC and CBS news viewers polled accepted one or two of the statements as true. They didn't do that much better than Fox viewers.

          This strikes me as an outstanding and distressingly blatant example of the corporate media, in bed with the current Bush administration "manufacturing consent".

          The term ‘manufacturing consent' was first used by Walter Lippmann (one of the deans of American journalism) who argued that what he called ‘a revolution in the art of democracy' could be used to ‘manufacture consent,' that is to bring about agreement on the part of the public for things that they didn't want by the new techniques of propaganda. He also stated that this was a good idea, in fact, necessary because, as he put it, "the common interests elude public opinion entirely" and can only be understood and managed by a ‘specialized class' of ‘responsible men' who are smart enough to figure things out.

          Lippmann further argued that in a properly functioning democracy there are classes of citizens. There is first of all the class of citizens who have to take some active role in running general affairs. That's the specialized class. They are people who analyze, execute, make decisions, and run things in the political, economic, and ideological systems (currently this is our Cheneys, Rumsfelds, and Ridges). That's a small percentage of the population. The others, who are out of the small group, the big majority of the population (you and me) are what Lippmann called "the bewildered herd."¹

          What I find most disconcerting about these poll results is that after they were published no media outlet, not CNN, not NPR, or CBS or ABC or NBC or Fox, no major newspaper like the Washington Post or the New York Times took the poll results and accepted the responsibility of informing the public that it was laboring under false beliefs. Why wasn't every network and every major newspaper in the country blaring headlines in huge print to point out that these beliefs were verifiably wrong? Just where does the media's responsibility to the public lie? The only direct statement that I saw published was a Doonesbury cartoon in which its author, Gary Trudeau, skipped the usual daily sequence and used the cartoon space to announce in big bold print that there were no WMDs.

          My principal distress with the publication of these poll results is not that more than half the nation was misinformed by the propaganda machine, but that when the poll made it irrefutably obvious that the majority of the public was misinformed the media saw absolutely no obligation to rectify the situation with accurate factual information that was readily available and thereby failed to respond. I acknowledge that the absence of any significant response to that poll from the corporate media was a sin of omission, not of commission. (Yes, I did see the child drowning in the pool, but I didn't want to get my good clothes wet, so there was nothing I could do.) The corporate media reneged on its principal responsibility to the public it alleges to serve.

¹ Quoted from Lippmann's collected essays in Media Control, The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, Noam Chomsky, Seven Stories Press © 1991, 1997, 2002.


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This page was last modified on August 9, 2009

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February 24, 2004
by Bill Dillon