Some time ago I asked a friend what she thought of the 3000 migrants who for several days had been moving in a caravan toward our southern border. She replied, “Caravan of migrants? I haven’t heard anything about that.” I then said, “I don’t know what network you watch, but it can’t be Fox because they are the only major news channel that reported the story and showed the video.” She retorted, “I never watch Fox because it’s filled with fake news.”
I then asked, “Have you ever watched Fox?” As I expected, she said no, she hadn’t. I stifled the urge to ask whether she really believed ignorance is a sufficient basis for judgment.
That strange experience calls to mind a favorite passage of mine from G. K. Chesterton’s essay, “A Meditation in Broadway.”
“If you had said to a man in the Stone Age, ‘Ugg says Ugg makes the best stone hatchets,’ he would have perceived a lack of detachment and disinterestedness about the testimonial. If you had said to a medieval peasant, ‘Robert the Bowyer proclaims, with three blasts of a horn, that he makes good bows,’ the peasant would have said, ‘Well, of course he does,’ and thought about something more important. It is only among people whose minds have been weakened by a sort of mesmerism that so transparent a trick as that of advertisement could ever have been tried at all.” [Emphasis added]
Chesterton was speaking about advertising, of course, so you may be wondering what that has to do with reporting the news. The truth is, these days quite a bit!
The major news agencies have tricked us by transforming their reporting into a form of advertising. Here’s how this works. Instead of scanning what happened or is still happening and presenting it to readers/viewers as their predecessors did—straight up with no embellishment—many contemporary news agencies report news that flatters their viewpoints and ignore all the rest. In other words, they report news that supports the preconceived ideas that they wish to plant in our minds.
The result of this kind of reporting—and planting—is that what we the public receive as news is narratives artfully crafted to shape our views. In the case I described in my first paragraph, the mainstream media realized that the fact of 3000 migrants preparing to crash our southern border challenged their narrative of “Biden is doing a wonderful job at the border—all is well,” so they pretended it didn’t exist! Accordingly, the people who read or watch those media received only the information the media wanted them to have. Thus, they were deliberately deprived of vital information, which is another way of saying they were propagandized, brainwashed. What is scarier is that this occurred without their realizing what was happening.
Such brainwashing is being performed on millions of Americans on thousand of subjects, such as what is being taught in the nation’s schools, how stable the economy is, whether people should be required to get the Covid vaccine, whether the 2020 election was in any sense “stolen,” whether there was an “insurrection” on January 6, 2021, and so on. Name a controversy and the chances are that a few news sources are reporting it honestly, others are twisting it to fit their preferred narratives, and some are ignoring it altogether.
Before considering the impact of dishonest reporting, it’s important to realize that we all tend to become attached to those who report the news to us. We are comfortable with them, like their personalities, and regard them with the same warmth we feel toward our favorite athletes, or even toward our friends and family members. As a result, we are likely to assume that those reporters are honest people telling us the truth. This assumption is a matter of feeling and emotion rather than reasoned judgment, and that makes it difficult to examine critically and even more difficult to change. Adding to that difficulty is our natural fear of finding out we have been duped, which would mean admitting that our sister or brother or best friend was right and we were wrong! Such an admission would threaten the self-esteem many of us were taught to value even above self-respect.
The impact of media manipulation of the news is thus by no means trivial. It continues to thwart one of the most important of human activities—searching for the truth about government, economics, religion, health, history, society, culture—indeed, the truth about life itself. It also creates and disseminates innumerable partial-truths and falsehoods that lead millions of people, including those in positions of influence, to embrace erroneous ideas harmful to individuals and society. And it establishes a culture of anger, division and alienation that not only prevents problems from being solved, but in time can cause them to expand beyond the possibility of solution.
There is no easy way to eliminate media brainwashing, but there is a way to lessen, and even avoid, its impact on us:
The first step is to acknowledge that it exists and that you, like everyone else, can be influenced by it without realizing that fact.
The second step is to find out how reliable your news sources are. Do this by taping one news program as you watch it and, at the same time, tape another program with a different perspective. For example, if you normally watch CNN or MSNBC, make the other program FOX or NEWSMAX. (Or vice versa.) Later, when you have time, review both programs noting what news was covered and asking these questions: Did either one omit any important details of a story or present a one-sided view of it? Worse, did one source completely ignore information that deserved to be covered? (If you never watch the news on TV but instead depend on a social media source like Twitter for your information, watch the two TV shows and compare their treatments with what you found on social media.)
These simple steps will enable you to make a thoughtful judgment of your news source’s reliability. If you decide both sources are flawed, but in different ways, you may decide to extend your reliability test by watching one channel regularly but visiting the website of the other every day or two and determine which is more consistentlycomprehensive and fair.
The rewards for examining your news sources critically will make doing so worth the effort. You will gain assurance that the opinions you consider your own are in fact really yours. You will also be better able to understand both sides of issues and as a result have more meaningful discussions with others, especially those who do not share your views.
Copyright © 2021 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved