Here’s to the Power of the People to Demand Truth and Fairness from Media

We live in a time of great change. We’re starting to awaken from our slumber.

I’m reminded of a quote, that has been attributed to James Garfield, the 20th president of the U.S. “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”

Donald Trump’s populist rhetoric has gotten his supporters thinking about populism. His actions, however, have not been about power for ordinary citizens. That has gotten the rest of us thinking about populism and the power of the people.

The truth has finally made us miserable enough to become politically active. We’re more aware of our semi-powerful government in Washington D.C. We protest some of its actions in the streets. And we’re even becoming politically active toward our more powerful government — the one that has even more control over our lives. You know. The corporations — including media corporations and social media corporations. In some social media spaces, it appears that bots are in abundance, heavily nfluencing real people by their role models e.g. of painting Hillary Clinton and centrist Democrats as irredeemably evil and corrupt.

The “government” in Washington D.C., is simply one of the many tools used by corporations which govern our lives. In many senses, the media and other corporations are our real “government.”

Some media outlets, pundits, and writers spread lies. Some encourage verbal rage, scapegoating, and even violence. We need to wake up and find ways to reverse this. Perhaps having a fake news believer in the White House will help us to awaken. Media influences all of us — politicians, government employees, academics and everyday people. Writers, TV show anchors, and pundits also influence each other. No one is immune to the media atmosphere in which we are immersed.

There are some new successes that have recently been achieved here. Citizens recently got Bill O’Reilly fired from Fox News by pressuring the corporate government — that is, the corporate advertisers on his show.

Now, some people are giving this a try with New York Times, either cancelling their subscriptions and/or complaining to the paper’s advertisers, after New York Times hired a climate science denier.

Others are fooled by the fact that the new hire is only an equivocator, not a total denier of climate change. However, the sowing of doubt, rather than absolute denial, is the standard method of propaganda that environmental polluters have successfully used, as described in this excellent book here:

Years ago, New York Times could have hired a climate science denier, without getting much flak for it. In those bygone times, people didn’t realize how much influence the mainstream media has on who gets elected to the presidency, and to Congress. Roger Ailes said that the reason he left political consulting for media is that media is more powerful. He was right. Social media is also very powerful.

Due to their roles in determining who gets elected, mainstream media and social media have an outsized influence on whether and how soon the earth gets destroyed. Now, citizens know this. We are realizing that it hasn’t been a positive influence recently.

Media’s influence on elections is sometimes a disaster — for example, six hundred consecutive days of Hillary Clinton email coverage before the 2016 election. If mainstream media hadn’t done that, Hillary Clinton might be president today. There were also fake news campaigns on social media that were at least as harmful, perhaps even moreso.

This has been enough to motivate some social media users to give social media companies feedback on what users want from them and do not want from them. It’s motivated many people to cancel subscriptions to mainstream newspapers. However, this impulse is often moderated by the fact that, despite generally negative coverage of Hillary Clinton in mainstream media during the campaign, the New York Times and Washington Post also publish essential information that citizens need. Right now, there is no alternative mainstream U.S. source that does as well as these two sources do, at covering important political information. Until a new and better mainstream media newspaper arrives in the U.S., many people who desire at least some excellent news coverage, and at least some verified facts in their news, are continuing to subscribe to one of these two papers.

In the case of social media platforms, some of them seem, so far, to feel so convenient for users, that most users are unwilling to give up on them, even if they may be saturated with propaganda that destructively influences elections.

Karl Marx can shed some light on our current situation. He was a great thinker. His downfall was that Communism turned out to be not just a failure, but a series of hellish catastrophes. However, his critiques of capitalism hit their target precisely.

For those of you who don’t want to read his ancient writings, here is the TLDR (too long, didn’t read, summary) of Marx’s works: Everything in a society is about economics. We’re rediscovering that now. The most powerful players in economics right now are corporations.

Some astute people are aware of that and are aiming their messages directly at corporations. For example, here’s a mobile billboard that displays a request to to stop funding media bigotry.

Being realistic about the particular campaign described above, it probably won’t be effective unless Amazon is afraid of losing money because of it. Corporations, on the average, are money making machines, that respond positively to people and circumstances that help them in making money, and respond negatively to people and circumstances that keep them from making money. How many people are giving up their Amazon Prime memberships, and discontinuing their shopping at Amazon, as a protest against the company advertising on Breitbart? Probably not very many.

This area of looking to influence the organizations that control our lives, is a new and wide open area, where creative people can come up with different ways to bypass government and go directly to the media and to other corporations that govern our lives more than the government in Washington does.

For example, creative citizens might come up with mobile billboards to directly advertise news that is skipped over and not covered by many mainstream media outlets. Also, there are already web sites that help people to use their wallets, or spending habits, to affect corporations that influence our political sphere. For example, and @slpng_giants on Twitter are both working in this ares.

As I write this, there is a GOP health care bill in Congress that has not yet passed, that would drastically cuts Medicaid funding. Yet news media, especially Right Wing media, are not giving the basic facts of the bill as much coverage as they should. Citizens who are in favor of truth could create mobile billboards describing the degree of the Medicaid cuts and their effects on our society.

For those of us who are politically active, we are going to be blind and stumbling around in the dark, if we are not aware of the effects of media and other corporations on politics.

Media have been shrinking, in our Internet age, and finding it hard to make money. So they’ve been doing whatever they can to make money — often ignoring the effects on our earth, on economic inequality, on elections, and on everything else that is decided in politics and government.

Most media has turned into entertainment. It’s not really news any more. Since it’s not news any more anyway, maybe media should make their money by starting hit man organizations or selling hard drugs.

Okay, I‘m just kidding there. But if media companies turned into hit man and drug dealer organizations, then that would probably kill and harm fewer people than media are killing and harming now. News media end up harming a lot of people when they ignore climate change, access to medical care and health insurance, economic inequality etc. Convincing voters that these are not real issues, or persuading them to vote against their own best interests through deception, does immeasurable harm to our society and the earth.

Bret Stephens, the climate science denier recently hired by The New York Times, had his words quoted by Scott Pruitt, to justify Trump’s exit from the Paris Agreement. So will this finally wake you up, New York Times owners and managers? Please stop ignoring the fact that you are acting in ways that will result in more people killed, than you would if you were a hit-man-for-hire company.

Part of the problem is that mainstream media feel compelled to “cover both sides”, even if one side is lies. Another factor is media’s reaction to the GOP rage machine, which screams at mainstream media about its supposed Left Wing bias. In reaction, mainstream media bends over Rightward to include Right Wing views. Then many news consumers “find the truth somewhere in the middle.” For example, some news consumers believed only about half of the lies about Hillary Clinton. Or they felt just enough suspicion about her character or her possible corruption to result in their staying away from the polls on election day.

The Right Wing rage machine is very active and powerful. Here’s an article about how James Comey of the FBI might have been influenced by that rage machine. He exposed, in the final days before the election, that Hillary Clinton was under investigation. Of course there was no Democratic outrage machine that he had to fear. So that may be why he didn’t expose the fact that Donald Trump’s campaign was also was under investigation at the same time.

Mainstream media is also scared of the Right Wing rage machine. Here’s an article about some of the Clinton coverage in the New York Times. Apparently a lot of it relied on anonymous sources. That is one more danger in mainstream media. If more anonymous sources come to the NYT with stories that help the Right than with stories that help the Left, maybe mainstream media doesn’t even notice that. But they should notice. The story below also makes clear that the Times is indeed afraid of being “punished” by political camps who say, correctly or not, that they got things wrong. The punishments are, of course, always worse when coming from the Right, with its highly active rage machine, than when coming from the Left.

What can we do? We need to demand truth and fairness from mainstream media, from social meida, and from government, in every reasonable way that we can. Some people cancel subscriptions. Some complain to advertisers. Some people demand that their social media company get rid of the bot accounts and stop spreading fake news. One artist protested against Trump’s actions in government by projecting hashtags on Trump’s Washington D.C. hotel.

After numerous sexual harassment allegations against Bill O’Reilly, individuals and groups complained to the advertisers on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show, causing 50 of them to abandon the show, and ultimately causing O’Reilly to be fired from Fox News.

In another example of confronting media for doing wrong, Seth Rich’s family sent a cease and desist order to Fox News, to get them to stop spreading conspiracy stories without evidence, about Rich’s murder.

Please feel free to think up a dozen more ways to demand truth from mainstream media. Or put your head together with your friends’ heads, and brainstorm some new solutions.

We all need to be watching and noticing how media are covering the news, and if that coverage is true and fair. If not, we need to decide what we want instead. Are they doing false equivalence? Dramatizing to extremes? Giving equal weight to lies vs. the truth? Then we need to think about what kind of news coverage citizens need in order for our democracy to survive and thrive. We need to push media in that direction.

Right Wing fake news media is a whole different ball of wax that also needs to be addressed. I’m always grateful when I meet people who have moved to the U.S. from Central America or Europe. They tell me “Your country is absolutely immersed in Right Wing propaganda.” Most people I know in the U.S. either don’t see this, or else don’t consider it a problem. They can’t imagine why I’m concerned about it.

We’re pretty blind to the power of propaganda in the U.S. Bill Maher, whom I admire greatly in other areas, calls people who believe propaganda “stupid.” But anyone can be vulnerable to con artists in one way or another. Propaganda is con artistry.

This is the next issue that Americans need to wake up to. We have pretty much ignored propaganda from the Right Wing for decades. Now that we’re finding out that a lot of the propaganda in the news may be from Russia, perhaps that will be enough to shake us into awareness. Russia would never have found it so easy to distribute pro-GOP anti-Democrat propaganda to our population, if we weren’t already so saturated with it that it sounds normal to many people.

Political scientist Norm Ornstein has described the history of this political atmosphere of bashing that has gone on for decades.

What really needs to be done to combat Right Wing fake news and propaganda, is for someone to start a large well funded non-profit news organization that could become mainstream— one that is targeted to the current audience of Right Wing fake news and conspiracy media. There could be a progressive outlet of this kind. There is certainly room for a conservative but truthful media network too. There could be a politically neutral but truth-oriented media network also.

Cognitive scientist George Lakoff is probably the best person Democrats have, for explaining how to craft messages that might work. President Obama gave one of Lakoff’s books to his speechwriter during his presidential campaign, and it sure seems to have worked there. Here are a transcript of one recent interview of Lakoff, a recent podcast he did, and a description of his most recent book.

Lakoff is in segment 3 of this podcast below.

Here’s the book.

Before looking at work by Lakoff and others on political messaging, we might have to first get past a mistaken idea though — the idea that truth sells itself. It doesn’t. This reminds me of the quote, attributed to Charles Spurgeon: “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

In addition to looking at the works of Lakoff, Democrats also need some more practical political people who specialize in political marketing and focus groups. We need a Democratic version of Frank Luntz to test which messages communicate progressive ideas most clearly. Here’s a description of Frank Luntz’s book Words That Work.

We also need people who can analyze social media patterns — perhaps a Democratic version of Cambridge Analytica, the big data analysis company that is credited with doing the social media marketing for Trump.

Reader, whatever you do to deal with political problems in our society, I suggest you not spend much time trying to convert Trump supporters to progressivism — unless you see signs that this is actually working. For most progressives, trying to convert Trump supporters turns out to be a giant waste of time, and a big energy drain, as I explain in this essay here.

For more analysis of how media affects politics, and how media can act more responsibly and save itself from being devoured by partisan politics, see my previous article about this here:

With regard to demanding truth and fairness in social media, here’s an article by Roger Sollenberger that everyone should read, about the spread of fake news using Google. We have a lot of work to do here, to stem the tide of fake news in which we are immersed.