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Media Influence and The Art of Deception

"They who have put out the peoples eyes, reproach them of their blindness."

– John Milton


News and Internet Media are considered important information gathering sources for most people. For this reason, a successful deception requires a fairl high degree of ‘priming’

According to the famous French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, the very ACT of putting a specific item on record in the public realm (such as televising a news story or event) asserts a narrative or construction of ‘reality’ can mobilize or demobilize the public by making them believe there is a trend in one direction rather than another (like stories about home invasion or illegal immigration) – or that more people are concerned about specific problems (like nuclear energy) rather than another (such as the spread of poverty). The very act of such reportage bars one from a balanced view of a situation and negates the possibility of deeper inquiry. By empowering anecdote and punditry over a more ‘grounded’ or ‘anthropological’ look at a situation – the possibility of ‘another side or point of view’ to the situation is extinguished. 1

Subversion: What it’s All About

Do you remember the Cold War – and talk of the term ‘subversion’ – relating to brainwashing by foreign agents? Soviet and Communist ‘propaganda perhaps? The term subversion can also be allied with the term persuasion too – the weapon of choice in the advertising industry. The line between subversion and persuasion can be very thin – if not completely invisible. Who’s to say where that line is drawn even? Does it depend on the intent of the person conveying or writing the relevant message? The Chinese philosopher Sun-Tzu said the following:

"To capture the enemy’s entire army is better than to destroy it; to take intact a regiment, a company, or a squad is better than to destroy them. For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence. Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy. Next best is to disrupt his alliances by diplomacy. The next best is to attack his army. And the worst policy is to attack cities."


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VIDEO: An Explanation of the Classical Use of Subversion by Intelligence Agencies and States

Yuri Bezmenov (alias Tomas Schuman), a Soviet KGB defector, explains in detail his scheme for the KGB process of subversion and takeover of target societies at a lecture in Los Angeles, 1983. He explains the importance of winning the hearts and minds of one’s opponent in order to achieve a miltary objective without engaging in actual combat. Though this was some time ago – the topic is especially relevant now in an age where all experiences are mediated by electronic media.

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A Closer Look at Various Media


If it can be said that most people look to socially dominant figures in these productions for role guidance (it can influence anything from aspects of one’s personality to the types of clothing and food one eats to the choices of product we consume) in order to be acceptable to one’s consumer peers – then our tastes and mores are clearly influenced by Hollywood constructs such as presented in motion pictures and television shows and other such spectacles. By employing attractive Hollywood actors we already have emotional ties to in an unconscious fantasy life, cognitive dissonance is the major player and reinforces narratives already presented to us by authority figures (newscasters and politicians). Obvious examples of this kind of film might be: ‘The Hurt Locker’, ‘United 93’, ‘Air Force One’, ‘True Lies’, ‘Patriot Games’, ‘Syriana’, ‘Munich’, ‘Schindler’s List’, ‘Black Sunday’, etc. The films suggested here were ‘at random’ and chosen simply because they portray a political situation in a specific way – clearly they differ from each other in terms of political perspective.


The primary ways that public opinion is formed through television are:

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through the ‘fabrication’ of news stories and innuendo – (even the television statons will cynically admit that the ‘news’ is really a form of entertainment – ultimately edited for the sole purpose of achiving higher ratings and therefore attracting more lucrative advertisers) – an example of this might be the seemingly uniform joyous reactions of Americans to Bin Laden’s death – or the obviously canned video of Palestinians cheering upon learning of the events of 9/11 (despite it’s logistic impossibility) Network News; NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, CNN, FOX, etc.
Narratives presented in dramatic television shows – Audience is expected to empathize with protagonists. Deceptive media news stories about world events are reinforced through emotional attachment with characters. The main character in the show ’24’ for example, fights terrorism by unorthodox means – often breaking laws (i.e. torture of victims) in order to ‘get his man’ – this reinforces and generates common consent for issues like torturing suspected insurgents held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for instance. ’24’, ‘Homeland’ etc.
Talk Show Commentary delivered in the form of stand-up comedy or commentary. ‘Correct’ political opinion is delivered by Host. The audience comiserates with Host. ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’, ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’, ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’ , daytime talk shows, etc.
distractive strategies: news reports about the lives of celebrities’ , advertising, ‘reality shows’ concerned with status and the struggle between intellectually vacant characters, etc. Network News, ‘Entertainment Tonight’, etc.
Sporting Events: distracting from the ‘political sphere’ and reinforces ‘team ideologies’ and victim/aggressor models and reinforces feelings of nationalism (another form of ‘team’), etc.  


Television: Means of Persuasion

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Highly analogous to social programming tactics employed by television with notable differences. One of the more interesting of these is the position taken by NPR, which positions itself as a ‘liberal’ ‘anticonservative’ non-commercial (and therefore responsible) media conglomerate. While towing what is clearly the ‘government/corporatist line’ through stunts like interviewing pundits from right wing think tanks like ‘The American Enterprise Institute’ or the Rand Corporation – or interviewing representatives only from one side of a conflict (i.e. Palestine vs Israel, etc.)

Famous right wing talk radio personalities such as Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck seem to have their own dedicated followers – there’s something about the radio that bonds people a little more tightly with their on-air idols. The ‘lone pundit’ such as either of these gentlemen represent an altogether different model. Here, opinion and consent are unanimous by necessity. Dissenting voices are never heard and the Hosts make no claims to impartiality or integrity. The very same men voice specious praises of their paid advertisers’ goods on the air in exchange for money. The listener can like it or lump it.

Other radio based entities fall somewhere in between these two – dominated by the commercial music station model, with standardized and syndicated newscasts piped in from one of Rupert Murdoch’s affiliates. The only challenge to these voices are genuine public radio (i.e. Radio Pacifica in California or WNYC in New York) whose reach is small but significant – but whose professionalism and production are somewhat spotty.

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Noam Chomsky: Manufacturing Consent

Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky show that, contrary to the usual image of the news media as cantankerous, obstinate, and ubiquitous in their search for truth and defense of justice, in their actual practice they defend the economic, social, and political agendas of the privileged groups that dominate domestic society, the state, and the global order.

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While still a very new medium – very strong inroads are being made to control public perception of events over the internet – as it becomes more solidly commericalized, preference for commercial, for-profit news and entertainment sources is being solidified. The internet market is one of the fastest growing sectors of the commercial world – much like the early days of William Randolph Hearst’s Empire at the turn of the century. While the internet started out as what seeemed like the ultimate egalitarian medium, the balance has been slowly tipping towards commercial domination with the emergence of programs like Web 2.0™ and the SOPA Act, etc. which are privately penned and funded proposals to force the Web into the hands of a media monopoly.

Social media such as Facebook are also redefining human communities – corralling them into a neo-tribal structure not at all unlke the fictional community given to us by William Golding in ‘The Lord of the Flies‘. Communities vote on posted news stories with approval given via the click of a ‘like’ button with no requirement for any sort of understanding or fact checking. Falsely attributed photographs pass unscathed into the world view of members of the social community. By controlling the mode and architecture of interaction between people, such social media PHYSICALLY reinvent the architecture of community. This cannot directly affect what people think – but it can force them to seek approval from peers as well as form allegiances with peer subgroups and engage in time honored rituals of ‘punish and reward’. This way, a consensus lowest-common-denominator ‘groupthink’ opinion can be formed, undermining what was gained from the Age of Reason and falling perfectly into the clutches of advertising concerns.


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arpanet 15 node diagram 1971  

How it Works:

Control is asserted by money / power consoidators through their intellectual resources (read: advisors – ideologues and think tanks, whose interests are not the interests ‘of the people’) and through government and corporate bodies (trilateral commission, etc.) – ulitmately through media channels. We call this, ultimately, ‘The Free Market’.

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CIA Admits to Television and Newspaper Media Manipulation

A clip from 1975 showing admittance of the CIA that they use the mainstream media to manipulate the thoughts and ideas of American citizens in the USA. This has not changed obviously and is good to know happened in the past due to our reality today.

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Empire: Hollywood and the War Machine

Empire examines the quasi-symbiotic relationship between the movie industry and the military-industrial complex. That is – if the message being communicated in the film is to the benefit of the US Government Department of Defense. Experts comment on how this violates free speech rights and a limiting of ‘freedom’ by the Government. Arguments are also made for this training the population to be more aggressive and ‘pro-war’.

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An Interview with Noam Chomsky on his Book Manufacturing Consent

QUESTION: You write in Manufacturing Consent [(Pantheon, 1988)] that it’s the primary function of the mass media in the United States to mobilize public support for the special interests that dominate the government and the private sector. What are those interests?
CHOMSKY: Well, if you want to understand the way any society works, ours or any other, the first place to look is who is in a position to make the decisions that determine the way the society functions. Societies differ, but in ours, the major decisions over what happens in the society — decisions over investment and production and distribution and so on — are in the hands of a relatively concentrated network of major corporations and conglomerates and investment firms. They are also the ones who staff the major executive positions in the government. They’re the ones who own the media and they’re the ones who have to be in a position to make the decisions. They have an overwhelmingly dominant role in the way life happens. You know, what’s done in the society. Within the economic system, by law and in principle, they dominate. The control over resources and the need to satisfy their interests imposes very sharp constraints on the political system and on the ideological system.

QUESTION: When we talk about manufacturing of consent, whose consent is being manufactured?

CHOMSKY: To start with, there are two different groups, we can get into more detail, but at the first level of approximation, there’s two targets for propaganda. One is what’s sometimes called the political class. There’s maybe twenty percent of the population which is relatively educated, more or less articulate, plays some kind of role in decision-making. They’re supposed to sort of participate in social life — either as managers, or cultural managers like teachers and writers and so on. They’re supposed to vote, they’re supposed to play some role in the way economic and political and cultural life goes on. Now their consent is crucial. So that’s one group that has to be deeply indoctrinated. Then there’s maybe eighty percent of the population whose main function is to follow orders and not think, and not to pay attention to anything — and they’re the ones who usually pay the costs.

QUESTION: … You outlined a model — filters that propaganda is sent through, on its way to the public. Can you briefly outline those?

CHOMSKY: It’s basically an institutional analysis of the major media, what we call a propaganda model. We’re talking primarily about the national media, those media that sort of set a general agenda that others more or less adhere to, to the extent that they even pay much attention to national or international affairs.

Now the elite media are sort of the agenda-setting media. That means The New York Times, The Washington Post, the major television channels, and so on. They set the general framework. Local media more or less adapt to their structure.

And they do this in all sorts of ways: by selection of topics, by distribution of concerns, by emphasis and framing of issues, by filtering of information, by bounding of debate within certain limits. They determine, they select, they shape, they control, they restrict — in order to serve the interests of dominant, elite groups in the society.

The New York Times is certainly the most important newspaper in the United States, and one could argue the most important newspaper in the world. The New York Times plays an enormous role in shaping the perception of the current world on the part of the politically active, educated classes. Also The New York Times has a special role, and I believe its editors probably feel that they bear a heavy burden, in the sense that The New York Times creates history.

That is, history is what appears in The New York Times archives; the place where people will go to find out what happened is The New York Times. Therefore it’s extremely important if history is going to be shaped in an appropriate way, that certain things appear, certain things not appear, certain questions be asked, other questions be ignored, and that issues be framed in a particular fashion. Now in whose interests is history being so shaped? Well, I think that’s not very difficult to answer.

Now, to eliminate confusion, all of this has nothing to do with liberal or conservative bias. According to the propaganda model, both liberal and conservative wings of the media — whatever those terms are supposed to mean — fall within the same framework of assumptions.

In fact, if the system functions well, it ought to have a liberal bias, or at least appear to. Because if it appears to have a liberal bias, that will serve to bound thought even more effectively.

In other words, if the press is indeed adversarial and liberal and all these bad things, then how can I go beyond it? They’re already so extreme in their opposition to power that to go beyond it would be to take off from the planet. So therefore it must be that the presuppositions that are accepted in the liberal media are sacrosanct — can’t go beyond them. And a well-functioning system would in fact have a bias of that kind. The media would then serve to say in effect: Thus far and no further.

We ask what would you expect of those media on just relatively uncontroversial, guided-free market assumptions? And when you look at them you find a number of major factors determining what their products are. These are what we call the filters, so one of them, for example, is ownership. Who owns them?

The major agenda-setting media — after all, what are they? As institutions in the society, what are they? Well, in the first place they are major corporations, in fact huge corporations. Furthermore, they are integrated with and sometimes owned by even larger corporations, conglomerates — so, for example, by Westinghouse and G.E. and so on.

So what we have in the first place is major corporations which are parts of even bigger conglomerates. Now, like any other corporation, they have a product which they sell to a market. The market is advertisers — that is, other businesses. What keeps the media functioning is not the audience. They make money from their advertisers. And remember, we’re talking about the elite media. So they’re trying to sell a good product, a product which raises advertising rates. And ask your friends in the advertising industry. That means that they want to adjust their audience to the more elite and affluent audience. That raises advertising rates. So what you have is institutions, corporations, big corporations, that are selling relatively privileged audiences to other businesses.

Well, what point of view would you expect to come out of this? I mean without any further assumptions, what you’d predict is that what comes out is a picture of the world, a perception of the world, that satisfies the needs and the interests and the perceptions of the sellers, the buyers and the product.

Now there are many other factors that press in the same direction. If people try to enter the system who don’t have that point of view they’re likely to be excluded somewhere along the way. After all, no institution is going to happily design a mechanism to self-destruct. It’s not the way institutions function. So they’ll work to exclude or marginalize or eliminate dissenting voices or alternative perspectives and so on because they’re dysfunctional, they’re dysfunctional to the institution itself.

Now there are other media too whose basic social role is quite different: it’s diversion. There’s the real mass media-the kinds that are aimed at, you know, Joe Six Pack — that kind. The purpose of those media is just to dull people’s brains.

This is an oversimplification, but for the eighty percent or whatever they are, the main thing is to divert them. To get them to watch National Football League. And to worry about "Mother With Child With Six Heads," or whatever you pick up on the supermarket stands and so on. Or look at astrology. Or get involved in fundamentalist stuff or something or other. Just get them away. Get them away from things that matter. And for that it’s important to reduce their capacity to think.

Take, say, sports — that’s another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it — you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance. [audience laughs] That keeps them from worrying about — [applause] keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in [discussions of] sports [as opposed to political and social issues]. I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in — they have the most exotic information [more laughter] and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.

You know, I remember in high school, already I was pretty old. I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high school team wins the football game? [laughter] I mean, I don’t know anybody on the team, you know? [audience roars] I mean, they have nothing to do with me, I mean, why I am cheering for my team? It doesn’t mean any — it doesn’t make sense. But the point is, it does make sense: it’s a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements — in fact, it’s training in irrational jingoism. That’s also a feature of competitive sports. I think if you look closely at these things, I think, typically, they do have functions, and that’s why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them and advertisers are willing to pay for them and so on.




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On Television, Pierre Bourdieu, The New York Times Book Review

Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, 1992



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