October 08, 2010

Managing the media message

Many people may not realize how carefully scripted talk shows are. When we watch people even yell at each other in seemingly spontaneous ways, we are actually watching a carefully planned show. People are selected to appear on these shows based on positions that they will take. So if you want to have a career as a media commentator, it is best if you have a predictable response to the stock issues that the media covers. It is even better if you can say predictable things in unpredictable ways, like Ann Coulter. But woe to you if you are an original thinker or a thoughtful person who actually responds based on the specifics of the situation. You are of no use to the producers of these shows because you are simply too unpredictable. The best way to understand these shows is to think of them as plays in which the actors are allowed to improvise within the limits of the characters that they play.

John Amato provides a revealing look behind the scenes at how the 'news' shows set up the guests for their programs, selecting guests who will only say what the producers of the shows want them to say. For one show, the producers sent out an email to someone saying, "Wanted to see if you're available today at 4:05 for Neil's show today. The topic is on Obama and his cockiness. We're looking for someone who will say, yes, he's cocky and his cockiness will hurt him." Yes, they can be that specific.

Journalists often 'work the phones', as they like to call it, calling up lots of people on their Rolodexes until they have the quotes they need to flesh out the story that they have already written. I have been interviewed on occasion for some news story. When I read the story later, it is always the case that my comments have been selected to fit into a narrative that the writer seemed to have decided upon even before talking to me. The same is true for the 'person in the street' interviews. They may interview many, many people to get the quotes they need to drive the pre-ordained narrative.

But in order to ensure that the pre-ordained message gets transmitted, truly original or different or dissenting voices have to be marginalized. Glenn Greenwald describes how that is done:

[I]n our political discourse, the two party establishments typically define what is "sane," and anyone outside of those parameters is, by definition, "crazy." "Crazy" is the way that political orthodoxies are enforced and the leadership of the two political parties preserved as the only viable choices for Sane People to embrace. Anyone who tiptoes outside of those establishment parameters -- from Ron Paul on the right to Dennis Kucinich on the left, to say nothing of Further Left advocates -- is, more or less by definition, branded as "crazy" by all Serious, mainstream people.

The converse is even more perverse: the Washington establishment -- which has endorsed countless insane policies, wrought so much destruction on every level, and has provoked the intense hatred of the American citizenry across the ideological spectrum -- is the exclusive determinant for what is "sane."

While all of that is happening, those whom all Serious, Sane people agree are Crazy -- people like Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul and Alan Grayson -- vehemently oppose most if not all of that and try to find ways to expand the realm of legitimate debate and political alliances beyond the suffocating stranglehold of those responsible. So who exactly is Crazy?

You can read more by Greenwald on this topic.

The media is at its worst when it is implicated in wrongdoing. Then it closes ranks and stonewalls in exactly the same way that the government or businesses do. A classic case is when it was revealed that the so-called 'military analysts' who gave supposedly 'objective' views on the Iraq war were actually being briefed by the Pentagon and paid for promoting a particular view. The news networks knew this and did not reveal the information to their viewers. Even after their lack of forthrightness was revealed, the media did not cover it.

The US is governed by a corrupt and incestuous business (mostly finance sector)-politicians-media oligarchy that is slowly but surely diving the country into the ditch because of its relentless pursuit of private wealth at the expense of the public good. The only silver lining is that all oligarchs are inherently unstable and eventually collapse under the weight of their own greed, as the groups and individual members within it start attacking each other once the public treasury has been thoroughly looted. But while that is going on the general public will suffer.


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It's true that you can hardly trust what is shown in the media. And this is a global problem concerning Europe (where I come from) as well. But why is it so difficult to tell the truth and show facts as they are in reality? Is this due to a desire for power? Because this is what you mean, don't you?

Posted by Robert on October 12, 2010 01:55 PM

It is amazing how the media can get away with so much crap. For the most part they are supposed to be here for facts not entertainment. There be better laws on governing the material that is aired.

Posted by Lulu on October 13, 2010 10:02 PM

The media profits out of every situation no matter what. No wonder there are so many news channels. Selling false and inaccurate information seems to be one of the best business models around the world today.

Posted by Andy on October 14, 2010 05:27 PM