Media manipulation

Media manipulation

Media manipulation is an aspect of public relations in which partisans create an image or argument that favours their particular interests.[1][2] Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or points of view by crowding them out, by inducing other people or groups of people to stop listening to certain arguments, or by simply diverting attention elsewhere.[1][2]

As illustrated below, many of the more modern mass media manipulation methods are types of distraction, on the assumption that the public has a limited attention span.


Distraction types

Distraction by nationalism

This is a variant on the traditional ad hominem and bandwagon fallacies applied to entire countries. The method is to discredit opposing arguments by appealing to nationalistic pride or memory of past accomplishments, or appealing to fear or dislike of a specific country, or of foreigners in general. It can be very powerful as it discredits foreign journalists (the ones that are least easily manipulated by domestic political or corporate interests).[citation needed]

  • Example: "You want to know what I really think of the Europeans?" asked the senior United States State Department official. "I think they have been wrong on just about every major international issue for the past 20 years.".[3]
  • Example: "Your idea sounds similar to what they are proposing in Turkey. Are you saying the Turks have a better country than us?"
  • Example: "The only criticisms of this proposed treaty come from the United States. But we all know that Americans are arrogant and uneducated, so their complaints are irrelevant."
  • Example: The "Support Our Troops" campaign created by the Republican party during the War on Terror implies that opposing the war effort detracts support away from the individual soldiers fighting the war. Thus patriotic support of the troops becomes a form of support for the war in general.

Straw man fallacy

The "straw man fallacy" is the lumping of a strong opposition argument together with one or many weak ones to create a simplistic weak argument that can easily be refuted.

  • Example: Grouping all opposed to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as "pacifists", so they can be refuted by arguments for war in general. As with most persuasion methods, it can easily be applied in reverse, in this case, to group all those who supported the invasion together and label them as "warmongers" or "lackeys of the United States".

Distraction by scapegoat

A combination of straw man and ad hominem, in which your weakest opponent (or easiest to discredit) is considered as your only important opponent.

  • Example: if many people oppose the new law, but one of them, say Tsutomu Miyazaki, is obviously acting out of self-interest, mention mostly Tsutomu Miyazaki.
  • Example: if many countries oppose an action, but one of them, say Andorra, is obviously acting out of self-interest, mention mostly Andorra.

Distraction by phenomenon

A risky but effective strategy summarized best, perhaps, by David Mamet's 1997 movie Wag the Dog, by which the public can be distracted, for long periods of time, from an important issue, by one which occupies more news time. When the strategy works, you have a war or other media event taking attention away from misbehaving or crooked leaders. When the strategy does not work, the leader's misbehavior remains in the press, and the war is derided as an attempted distraction.

Distraction by semantics

This involves using euphemistically pleasing terms to obscure the truth. For example saying "reproductive rights", "pro-choice", or "pro-life" instead of referring to the medical term "abortion". The concept of "states' rights" was invoked to defend the continuation of slavery in the United States on the eve of the American Civil War, and again to fight against the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The work of Frank Luntz is a notable example when focus groups are convened and the favorable or unfavorable characterizations are used in the selection of special code wording. The more favorable characterization of politicized concepts is thus chosen for future political campaign repetition.

Distraction by regression

This method uses the previous state of the opponent propaganda to prevent the negotiation of actual issues.

Distraction by misleading

This method injects false issues into the opponent's propaganda or attempts to create connections with falsities. Repetition of falsehoods from numerous outlets, nearly simultaneously, is one of the most effective means to mislead by distraction.

Distraction by horror

This method tries to create a connection between an opponent's propaganda and horrific events. (For example when a minority is being arrested by the police and one attempts to create a connection with past unjust actions)

Other types

Appeals to consensus

By appealing to a real or fictional "consensus" the media manipulator attempts to create the perception that his opinion is the only opinion, so that alternative ideas are dismissed from public consideration. Michael Crichton explains:

Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus.

Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.[6]

Fear mongering

Fear mongering (or scaremongering) is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. The feared object or subject is sometimes exaggerated, and the pattern of fear mongering is usually one of repetition, in order to continuously reinforce the intended effects of this tactic to frighten citizens and influence their political views. It often states that if something is or is not done, a disastrous event will occur, and that by voting for or against it this can be prevented. The end result is the voter being scared into changing their vote or opinion to one more favorable to the person that is fear mongering. In a good marginalization, there is reason to believe the claim because the professional says the claim is true. This is because a person who is a legitimate expert is more likely to be right than wrong when making considered claims within his area of expertise.

  • Example: "If we don't approve the McCarran Internal Security Act the Soviets will take over America."
  • Example: "We cannot wait for the final proof – the smoking gun – that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." (US President George W. Bush, making the case for declaring war on Iraq)[7][8]
  • Example: "If we don't get rid of Workchoices, your employer will sack you or cut your pay in half."

Demonisation of the opposition

This is a more general case of distraction by nationalism. Opposing views are ascribed to an out-group or hated group, and thus dismissed out of hand. This approach, carried to extremes, becomes a form of suppression, as in McCarthyism, where anyone disapproving of the government was considered "un-American" and "Communist" and was likely to be denounced.

  • Example: The consignment of almost all dissent to the "International Jewish conspiracy" by Nazi Germany.
  • Example: Labelling those with any sort of right-wing views as "Nazis", or those with left-wing views as "commies", etc.
  • Example: Dismissing attendees of tea-party protests opposing government spending as racists.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b May 17, 2006. Media Manipulation. Author: Anup Shah. Global Retrieved May 2009.
  2. ^ a b Leading Journalists Expose Major Media Manipulations. Retrieved May 2009.
  3. ^ [1] New York Times article
  4. ^ [2] Daily Telegraph, "Clinton strikes terrorist bases", Friday 21 August 1998
  5. ^ [3], "Thousands stage anti-U.S. protest in Sudan", August 22, 1998
  6. ^ Michael Crichton, from the speech "Aliens Cause Global Warming", given at Caltech, Pasadena, CA, January 17, 2003, reprinted here:
  7. ^
  8. ^

Further reading

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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