Monday, May 21, 2012

Study: The power of the press is the power to omit and shape public opinion

I never cease to be amazed by the things I find by digging around in old progressive-era publications. At one point, they examined themselves and their own newspaper establishments.(All 15 segments) I would be shocked if anything like this were published today, with this level of candor. But 100 years ago the progressives thought they owned America lock, stock, and barrel. The primary author of the study was Will Irwin, who is still remembered to this day for this series of news articles - it's significant enough to have it's own section within Irwin's Wikipedia entry. In reading part 1 of the study, "The Power of the Press", he goes into detail about how newspapers can abuse information to reach a desired end result:
As a matter of fact, a newspaper may, by iteration, create public opinion and public taste for almost anything-provided it has not some rival contradicting all its iterations. William R. Nelson, with the Kansas City "Star" and "Times" for years had his field almost to himself. He educated his public to a taste for a calm, conservative and well written kind of reporting. When Tammen and Bonfils broke into Kansas City with the yellow "Post" their hardest task was to overcome the taste for Nelson's kind of journalism. Harrison Gray Otis of the Los Angeles "Times" was for years nearly as great a dictator in his community as Nelson in Kansas City. He hated labor unionism. The fact that Los Angeles is a poor union town, while its neighbors have been dominated by labor unions, is attributed to Otis; and he did it not by editorial fulminations, but by publishing all the news that tended to injure the unions and suppressing all that tended to help them. So he created in the minds of readers originally unbiased a picture of a labor union as a grotesque, unfair tyrant.

And the reverse is true today. But this goes way beyond unions, how much reporting have you seen that's anti-tea party and pro-occupy? How much reporting have you seen lamenting the Mourdock primary challenge landslide? When will the LA Times release that Obama/Khalidi tape? When will any other media outlet call for the LA Times to release that tape? They won't. They're "wink wink, nod nod" in it together. The article continues:

When Lincoln Stcffens was city editor of the old New York "Commercial Advertiser" he decided to ram painting and the fine arts in general down the throats of his readers. A newspaper could hardly set for itself a harder task, since genuine appreciation of the fine arts is the last trimming of culture. However by publishing the best art criticism he could get, together with educative articles on the first principles, and by reporting intelligently all the exhibitions, he created such a demand among his readers that when pressure of "live matter" crowded out art for a few days, subscribers used to write protesting.

Irwin himself is guilty of unbias here, he doesn't use the word 'progressive' as he did earlier to say some newspapers were conservative. But the important point here is noting just how successful newspaper journalists are at actually shaping public opinion. The article continues:

On the other extreme, the yellow journals a few years ago, put some of their best cartoonists and cleverest writers into the sporting department. This created an artificial demand for "sporting stuff" far beyond the natural appetite of even an English-speaking people. That demand became so insistent that the other newspapers of all shades of opinion were forced to meet it; and now no newspaper is so conservative and intellectual as not to have a sporting page.

This is incredible. So because of propaganda efforts, that's why all modern newspapers have sports sections. Who knew? Here is how the article ends:

Directly to the point is an experience of that fighting independent journal, the Philadelphia "North American." It had declared for local option. A committee of brewers waited on the editor; they represented one of the biggest groups in their business. "This is an ultimatum" they said. "You must change your policy or lose our advertising. We'll be easy on you. We don't ask you to alter your editorial policy, but you must stop printing news of local option victories." So the deepest and shrewdest enemies of the body politic give practical testimony to the "power of the press" in its modern form.

The pedants are wrong; the American press has more influence than it ever had in any other time, in any other country. No other extrajudicial force, except religion, is half so powerful.

This explains why so many hours of talk radio by all these hosts are devoted to nothing more than refuting the media. The news pages aren't used to tell the truth, they don't even try. What the news pages are there for are to "regiment and guide the masses". It's no coincidence that he too(Bernays), used to be a journalist.

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