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General News    H4'ed 6/1/15

American Propaganda and the Mass Media

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[blockquote] With the Air Hygiene Foundation, industry had found an effective propaganda formula: a combination of partial reforms with reassuring "scientific" rhetoric, under the aegis of an organization with a benevolent, independent-sounding name....By 1940, the AHF had 225 member companies, representing such major polluters of the day as American Smelting and Refining, Johns-Manville, United Steel Company, Union Carbide, and PPG Industries....In 1941, it changed its name to the Industrial Hygiene Foundation, broadening its agenda beyond dust-related diseases to encompass other industrial health issues. By the 1970's, it had more than 400 corporate sponsors, including Gulf Oil, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Kawecki Berylco Industries, British Beryllium, Consolidated Coal, Boeing, General Electric, General Mills, Goodyear, Western Electric, Owens-Corning Fiberglass, Mobil Oil and Dow Chemical. (p. 79) [/blockquote]

Similar campaigns were run by industry with regard to asbestos and leaded gasoline and, more recently, with genetically modified foods and pesticides. In each case, industry knew full well the serious dangers associated with their products and practices.

In addition to the use of astroturf groups, PR firms often provide a range of services with the goal of using various tools in the art of deception to protect and/or further the interests of their corporate clients. These include advising clients how to evade substantive interaction with the public and questioning by journalists or activists, and how to mislead based on the avoidance of words that the public reacts unfavorably to - in other words, obfuscating to the point of rendering the truth irrelevant. Some firms even conduct spying operations on genuine public interest groups and advocates with the goal of blackmailing them or attacking their credibility.

But one shouldn't underestimate the mileage PR firms get out of more mundane methods, such as inundating media outlets with press releases that portray their corporate clients in the best possible light. Instead of being treated with sufficient skepticism, corporate and PR press releases are often used as the basis of articles and reports as newsrooms cut back their staff and budget for investigative reporting. As a 2014 survey by Business Wire revealed, the vast majority of journalists rely on press releases to provide them with breaking news (77%) and factual support for articles (70%).

There is even a term now for this kind of press release-based reporting, "churnalism." In fact, it was recognized as a serious enough problem by the Media Standards Trust to motivate the creation of a website, churnalism.com, which provides a "churn engine" that viewers can paste press releases into and find articles in the database that quote directly from or heavily rely upon "reproduced publicity material," receiving a high score on the churnalism meter.

As Chomsky and Herman point out, all of this reliance upon elite sources and "experts" is cost-effective, not only in terms of newsrooms starved of staff and resources to perform due diligence and provide a truthful and balanced journalism, but also in terms of the media protecting themselves from powerful moneyed interests who can afford to punish media outlets through libel litigation or government agencies that can suspend licenses and permits for broadcasters to operate. All of the aforementioned mechanisms contribute to perverting what journalistic "objectivity" means in practice.

Americans' Growing Distrust of the Mass Media

Ironically, those bombarded constantly with propaganda, especially when it becomes more and more obvious as reflected in numerous reports over the past 18 months originating from official government sources that Russia had invaded Ukraine only to have the photographic evidence debunked within days or even hours, are bound to reach a point of distrust. According to a September 2014 Gallup poll, Americans' trust in the mass media is at an all time low of 40%. Moreover, British studies requested by Sputnik News reveal that most westerners, including Americans, are suspicious of mass media's coverage of the Ukraine war and would like to be provided with alternative media sources. This probably explains why RT's YouTube channel was leaving Al Jazeera, CNN, and BBC in the dust by 2012 and by the end of 2014 had been viewed over 2 billion times -- triple that of CNN or Euronews, even though it has a smaller budget than the Western international media outlets, despite histrionic claims to the contrary.

This sentiment no doubt reaches beyond foreign policy as more Americans recognize that the narrative being pushed on them by the mass media doesn't resemble what they see and experience on a daily basis: increasing economic insecurity, a degraded environment, spending on more wars than they can keep up with, and the social and cultural decay that inevitably emerges with rule by a militarist oligarchy.

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Natylie Baldwin is co-author of Ukraine: Zbig's Grand Chessboard & How the West Was Checkmated, available from Tayen Lane Publishing. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various publications including Sun Monthly, Dissident Voice, (more...)
 

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