I've spent the last three days in the Dallas, Texas area. On this particular trip I've been struck by how many TV sets in public places are playing the Fox News Channel. TV sets in the airline terminals, in my hotel lobby, in the beer-and-peanuts burger joint where I ate -- it's damned near everywhere. But for these random exposures, I rarely watch TV news. So forgive me if my shocked impressions are "old news," but doesn't anybody care that Fox News is propaganda?
I had the chilling feeling that some dark conspiracy was pumping Fox News into public places to brainwash the uncritical. I remember from Psychology classes that a person who is exposed to false information in a situation that doesn't trigger skepticism will soon forget the source and circumstances and accept it without questioning it. In fact, they may attribute it to a more credible source when they do recall it and use it in conversation.
In the recent book "The Fox Effect", Brock and Rabin-Havt exhaustively document both the methods and the specific examples of the intentional distortion of reality, and the use of disinformation by Fox News. Still more disturbing is their assertion that the main-stream media can easily be stampeded into repeating the false information without fact checking. Thus, Fox news dupes others into repeating the propaganda.
Some journalists, in a misguided effort to present what they call a balanced view, give equal credibility to the propaganda and the carefully validated factual counter position. This is certainly not journalist balance. A journalist must be an honest broker of information, confronting the unsupported argument with the fact pattern that contradicts it. That sort of confrontation has integrity and balance.
A great example of such reporting is the BBC Hard Talk interview in which Stephen Sackur speaks to Bahrain's justice minister, Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Al Khalifa. The Bahrain monarchy asserts it has heeded the message of the Arab Spring. For about 20 minutes Sackur presents fact after fact that contradicts the justice minister's spin on the protests surrounding the F1 races. He's respectful but relentless and it is clear from the the minister's verbal deflection and posturing that he is presenting a propaganda line, not responding honestly or factually but obfuscating and evading. Unlike the common Fox News bullying interview, Sackur does not intimidate, insult, or shout down -- he just keeps bringing the minister back to the facts and demanding clarity.
There are many propaganda techniques that Fox News practices. The interview would have been a great clip to present to a class in critical thinking. The news anchor had just expressed a series of opinions on the motives of President Obama in running a political ad that showcased the killing of Osama Bin Laden. His interview guest was addressed as Doctor, implying that he was an authority. But the good Doctor simply echoed the opinions of the news anchor, confirming them. To a sophisticated listener this was all transparently speculation and conjecture. Its propaganda purpose was transparent -- to discredit an important political achievement and impugn the integrity and judgment of Obama and his campaign team. It sounded like a political rebuttal, but it was presented and news and commentary.
My wife has taken to very publicly and vocally demanding that the channel be changed on the TV's in public places that she visits. Often she gets the store manager involved. Regardless of political persuasion, most merchants, doctors, and dentists do not want their customers making a scene about the TV they play in a waiting room. I commend this approach to all of you who wish to strike a blow for truth and balance. Write to the sponsors. Grumman may ignore you, but consumer businesses care about offending large segments of their market.