I caught my local news on a channel owned by Sinclair Broadcasting the other night and the very thing I feared would happen is happening. Giving Trump/Trump supporters a voice on local news, allowing them to air national news that sounds fair and balanced but that skews towards Trump, and skews right, is particularly dangerous when we are in an election cycle. Local people who insist that Fox is the best source for political news are the targets of Sinclair. They are already primed to believe this stuff. They are unaware of who Sinclair Broadcasting is and of the ways they are interfering in local news broadcasts. They find the skewed news to be perfectly acceptable because they have already been brainwashed to agree with it.
7,000 refugees walking from Honduras to the border between Mexico and the US two weeks before the midterms offers plenty of video footage to instill fear and anger in middle-class Trump supporters. These Trumpers are a percentage of Americans who already suspect, and riled by Trump, are now convinced, that immigrants steal our jobs, use benefits paid for and intended for use by citizens only, and are violent criminals who endanger American lives.
What I saw on my local news, pushed out in a must-run story from Sinclair Broadcasting was a graphic video about the MS-13 gang, resplendent in gang tattoos, ready to commit mayhem in a neighborhood near us. Such obvious fear-mongering two weeks before an election that could change the majority in the House of Representatives from Republican to Democratic could very well motivate more Republicans to go to the polls to prevent that from happening. That would be very bad for America. We have no checks on this President. We need some. A House of Representatives that skews left could give us at least minimal checks on an out-of-control President.
Local TV news used to try to give fairly balanced coverage of both candidates for a political office but Sinclair has put an end to that. This coverage does not look like it is even about the election but it is. It is wrong that Sinclair is allowed to own local stations when it is nothing but a one-sided political operative. It turns our news into propaganda. The wrongness of Sinclair is especially apparent during an election cycle. If we want news that is actual news we definitely need a blue wave. Trump is no fan of free speech unless the speech favors him.
Photo Credits: From Google Image Searches, Living Room Trends 2018, NPR
Sinclair Broadcasting, aka Sinclair Communications finds favor with Trump (our President who loves dictators) because Trump favors state media. He tells us almost every day that independent media providers are the “enemy of the people” when they are actually only trying to document the un-American tendencies in this administration by telling us what is really happening. Trump wants news sources to stroke his ego, to offer us hyperbole about the amazing performance of his unpopular policies. He wants a media that is unable to say anything about him that might be construed as negative. He is an enemy of the First Amendment.
Fox News already spews “state news” 24/7, but Trump’s little heart went pitter-pat when he found out that our local news is also becoming a propaganda arm of the Trump presidency. He thought that the FCC was in his pocket and would approve the merger between Sinclair and Tribune Media allowing Sinclair to gobble up more local markets. But the FCC did not stay with the program and recently offered a setback to the merger.
“President Donald Trump yesterday lashed out at the Federal Communications Commission over its vote to block Sinclair Broadcast Group’s acquisition of Tribune Media Company.
‘So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune,’ Trump tweeted.
A combination of Sinclair and Tribune ‘would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People,’ Trump wrote. Trump contrasted the Sinclair/Tribune denial with the FCC’s approval of Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal, which happened in 2011.
‘Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!’ Trump wrote.
The FCC voted unanimously to stop the Sinclair merger with Tribune Media. It would be nice for us if we could take a little victory lap and say “mischief managed,” but in a democracy decisions are rarely forever. We like to revisit things, especially in these days of policies divided along partisan lines. So you will notice that this article uses terms like this will “most likely” kill the merger. You would think a unanimous decision would represent an absolute end to this merger, but for some reason the outcome is not being celebrated as a done deal. We are told that only a court can make the decision stick. What will the court decide?
Why Should We Care
Sinclair, well over the limit in the number of news outlets considered acceptable according to FCC guidelines (laws), has offered to divest itself of a few large markets, one of them being Chicago. But, through leaking or the rumor mill, it became obvious that Sinclair was just setting up a new relationship with friendly companies where they would appear to be calving off a group of stations but the company buying the large market outlets would actually still allow Sinclair to have controlling input into broadcasting on those stations. When the FCC got wind of this they were not best pleased. Ajit Pai, current head of the FCC, who previously offered rulings favorable to Sinclair, has perhaps registered his pique through this FCC vote. But if Sinclair offers their divestiture deal again without the trickery the FCC could, perhaps, reverse its vote on this matter. Or the court could ignore the decision.
Should Local News Become Fox Lite
Meanwhile Sinclair continues to send local stations “must run” segments with news from Washington (Trump) using its own commentators, not local news people. In some markets people still see controversial commenters like Sebastian Gorka, but in most markets the Sinclair staff people used in these “must run” tapes are relatively unknown. If you catch the names and do an internet search for them you will find that they are all employees of Sinclair. When people identify one pundit as a Sinclair employee, Sinclair uses another. It should be a positive that the commenters are not as obviously Trump supporters as they once were, but it just makes the slant so subtle that many listeners will not realize their knowledge of events is being shifted to the right. Our own local news people are now also Sinclair employees. There are strict penalties if they leave the company. After the debacle of the reading of Sinclair’s dishonest disclaimer and the subsequent exposure by the Deadspin video, Sinclair might have decided that a bit of discretion would allow greater scope to their propaganda campaign as long as it is targeted right into the villages and towns where we live.
Will There Be a Do-Over
Let’s see if the unanimous decision of the FCC holds. If so there will be no merger between Sinclair Communications (Broadcasting) and Tribune Media and we the people will have won a small victory.
“The FCC last week voted unanimously against approving the Sinclair/Tribune deal. Sinclair needed to divest some stations in order to stay under federal ownership limits, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the company’s proposal to divest certain stations ‘would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law.’
The FCC didn’t block the merger outright, but it referred the deal to an administrative law judge. Mergers usually don’t survive that legal process.”
Sometimes when I listen to Republicans (especially Conservative Republicans) talk I find myself in the grip of Pretzel Brain Syndrome. Conservatives, for example, love to remind us all, ad infinitum, that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. It’s odd that they would be proud of this because they sometimes sound like a bunch of racists who keep sacred in their hearts the memories of the Old South and who never forgave the Yankees for winning the Civil War. They celebrate Abe but they are not quite sure that ending slavery was a good idea. It trashed a once thriving economy in the Southern states and even though the Southern economy has experienced spotty boom effects since the Great Migration of our factories, this has not benefited all Southern states equally. It’s easy to get the feeling, every time you hear a Congressman with a deeply Southern accent, that buried deep within that guy is a “gentleman” farmer who yearns for a Plantation culture to rise again. I know this is a prejudice, but I do not think it is always totally undeserved.
These Abe Lincoln Republicans (who got their info from Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly who have written books about this stuff) (in other words their sources are Talk Radio and Fox News) then mention that there were virulent racists who were members of the Democratic Party during the days when we finally were forced to deal with our continuing discrimination against Americans of African Descent by Martin Luther King and many other brave and peaceful demonstrators. We were presented by the evening news coverage, night after night, with the footage of peaceful people of color and their white supporters faced with violent dogs straining at their collars and policemen, with those now iconic and frightening mirror-finish sunglasses, and those fire hoses pushing peaceful people to the ground, sometimes with injuries. (You need to watch Eyes on the Prize.)
And this information is correct. There were racists, vocal nasty racists, who had been Southern Democrats for years, although Thurmond always claimed that his opposition to the Civil Rights Act was actually about his beliefs in States rights (This is still the argument Republicans use to this day.) Reading Strom Thurmond’s obituary from the New York Times is a good place to get an overview of the long career of this man.
“Mr. Thurmond first came to national attention in 1948 as the States’ Rights candidate after Southerners walked out of the Democratic convention to protest the party’s new commitment to civil rights. Mr. Thurmond finished a distant third to President Harry S. Truman that year, but his million votes cracked the once-solid Democratic South and helped set the stage for political realignment.
In 1964, Mr. Thurmond switched parties to back the Republican nominee for President, Senator Barry M. Goldwater….Despite the role of civil rights in his political evolution and his record-breaking filibuster of 24 hours and 18 minutes against the civil rights bill of 1957, Mr. Thurmond always insisted he had never been a racist, but was merely opposed to excessive federal authority.” (Echoes in the Cliven Bundy incident show many still claim such opposition.)
Really? Watch Strom Thurmond in action in this short clip.
So it is true that Strom Thurmond was a Democrat and then he was a Republican. I will say, however, in the interests of honesty, that George Wallace was a Democrat and did not leave the party although he was also registered to the American Independent Party. In case you don’t remember the man, get a load of George Wallace in this YouTube video.
My point is that Republicans throw this information out as a simple fact when it is not at all a simple matter and they throw it out as an indictment of the Democratic Party and of liberals and they do it to destroy the credibility of any argument that the left might make that favors human rights by suggesting that the party is hypocritical and to claim a human rights stance for the GOP, even though we can see them opposing human rights every day in our media. And there it is, Pretzel Brain Syndrome. Even though you know they are deliberately telling history wrong, our brains are temporarily confused and some of our brains are happy to accept this simple explanation of party affiliations of racists as the only explanation, I know well-educated people who have read Glenn Beck’s and Bill O’Reilly’s books and who have a eureka moment and ask themselves, why didn’t I ever notice this before?
A More Modern Instance of attempted Pretzel Brain Syndrome
Now my Pretzel Brain Syndrome is being activated again by this whole issue of the Russian interference in the 2016 election and by the way 45 conducts himself in the White House. Donald Trump likes to tie our brains in knots. I don’t know if he does this as a conscious strategy or if it is just a pattern he found useful in his business negotiations and still uses. He does seem to be a sort of one trick pony. He does not have the same understanding of the word transparency as the rest of us do because he thinks that keeping his adversaries in the dark about his plans is the central feature of his that keeps them wrong-footed and gives him the all-important “win”.
Although Donald’s son Donald, Jr. apparently did take a meeting with Russians because he thought he would get some juicy information about the imagined crimes of Hillary Clinton we are told the following by our President:
Donald, Jr. is a good boy.
The meeting was unproductive (in other words, how can you collude if you don’t get any useful information). Of course taking the meeting at all is still collusion.
The meeting was about the ban on American adoptions of Russian babies (which sounds innocent enough until you realize that the issue of adoptions is tied to the issue of sanctions, i.e. they discussed sanctions against Russia in this meeting.)
The Democrats set this up. Hillary Clinton’s campaign laid this trap for Donald’s campaign so the Democrats are bad, Republicans are the victim, Republicans good.
*Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting a Democratic plot? Pro-Trump media wants you to think so
Oh my aching brain. Pretty soon there will be a new drug for this. Pharmaceutical companies love conditions that can be given 3 word titles. Of course treating Pretzel Brain Syndrome will be difficult as their will be some side effects that may change the way your brain is wired forever and in ways you might not like. Buyer beware!
Once you perceive the important role the media plays in our
society then it becomes clear, I would think, that those in the media bear a
heavy burden of responsibility. Journalists can try to be as truthful as
personal perceptions allow, they can twist and spin the facts by pretending
that commentary is news, or they can even lie.
Propaganda can be subtle or it can be obvious. Journalists can
pick a focus group of people, such as middle class white folks, figure out what
they think (profile them) and then feed them an interpretation of the news that
exploits their mindset. The propaganda can be organized on behalf of any group
that sponsors it, such as the GOP or the Tea Party. This is not necessarily
new, but, given a news cycle that repeats hour after hour, day after day, is
probably more effective at “brainwashing” a target audience in a more casual,
folksy way than ever before.
Is this wrong? Should people in the media, who are almost our
sole source of news and information, bear a moral responsibility to be as
objective and factual as possible? If someone in the media is actually offering
commentary on the news should there be a disclaimer? If people agree with the
way commentary is slanted are they always more likely to believe it is factual?
There are so many citizens commenting on mainstream media articles
and on social media websites who seem brainwashed, who parrot, almost word for
word the same nasty insults if anyone disagrees with them, who quote the same
right wing sources as if they were Bible verses. Does this signify that there
are propaganda strategies that are so effective that if might be immoral to use
them, even in a society that holds free speech as dear as we do? How could
people listen to blatantly skewed commentary and come to passionately defend
such information as straight-forward news?
The reason people mention Hitler so much these days is that
they believe that what I just described is exactly how a creepy little man like
Hitler was able to create a mass movement in Germany. He told a disillusioned
but proud group of people that if they joined him they could win back their
national pride. In America both sides have accused the opposition of leading
Americans astray in the manner of Hitler. Are our leaders acting in the twisted
manner of a master manipulator as the media often claims? The answer depends on
who you ask. The GOP accused Obama of acting like Hitler. FOX news has hinted
that Obama acts like Hitler. However it is a common tactic on the right to
accuse someone else of acting the way you are actually acting as a sort of
If the media will not act in a moral fashion and tell us when
we are getting news and when we are hearing opinions should we pass laws that
require them to label their content? I don’t think we would be happy doing that
because it would curtail freedom of speech. Obviously all we are left with is
appealing to the better instincts of our media outlets and their journalists. But
as long as money and profit play such large roles in our culture I suspect some
in the media do not feel their better instincts, not so much.
All an educated citizenry can do is analyze what they hear and
try to consult sources that slant all different ways. It is interesting that
the same people who are trying to use media to exploit the downturns and disillusionment
of the white middle class are arguing against free public education and against
teaching things like critical thinking. You cannot hang on to freedom if you
are not educated to read, write, and understand all the language and the intent
of the language that is constantly being broadcast to your brain. We should be
learning a lot about propaganda and manipulation because we have been subject
to large doses of each. Hopefully we will be less susceptible in the future.
Perhaps, perhaps not. Seduction is powerful even when it uses only words.
Republicans accuse Democrats of any strategy or transgression it is safe to
assume that Republicans are doing that very thing; and vice versa, if the
Democrats accuse the Republicans of political misdeeds, the Republicans find a
way to throw the accusation back at the Democrats. Apparently they believe that
the best defense is a good offense. They also seem to think that if they lob
these shots into the Democrat’s court, the Dems will be so absorbed in the
audacity of the shot that they will forget to return it and will keep losing
points until they lose the game.
plan would never work if Americans paid careful attention to politics, but,
because many of us find politics too boring or too depressing to attend to,
Republicans are able to stick to political strategies that are barely more
sophisticated than those used by bullies on school playgrounds. How many times
has the GOP raised the specter of ACORN as a quasi-criminal organization for
committing Democratic dirty tricks while trying to distract us from their own
much more effective agency of political hocus pocus, ALEC.
way Republicans accuse Democrats of conducting class warfare (they mean war on
the wealthy) to deflect claims that Republicans are conducting class warfare
(war on the middle class and the poor). Republicans invented that claim that
there is a war on the wealthy. Has anyone threatened to take away all of the
money stockpiled by our wealthiest citizens? Has anyone threatened to do away
with the social safety net, federal government funding of public education, and
to get rid of the minimum wage altogether? (First answer, no; second answer,
yes) Do you see where I’m going with this? I haven’t seen any grassroots
demonstrations by wild-haired revolutionaries whipped into a frenzy against the
rich by the Democrats or the liberal media. The Democrats simply suggested
raising taxes on the wealthy and/or closing some tax loopholes. So Republicans
take that claim of class warfare which spoke to the fact that the wealthy are
looking to cut the poor loose and trample the middle class so that wages will
go down, and they co-opted that term, hoping to tap into middle class sympathy,
guilt, or possibly, confusion. Thus they accuse the Democrats of being
Socialists and assume we won’t want to touch that label with a ten-foot pole or
that it will give Dems a black eye and no one will know what class warfare even
means anymore. Are you one of the people who are falling for this?
Republicans say Democrats are trashing the Constitution you can bet your bottom
dollar that this is exactly what the Republicans are up to. The Republicans
will never forgive Obama for getting the ACA passed late at night with no
Republican votes. Of course Obama could see by then that this was the only way
he would get to pass any health care reform at all and he probably did not
realize how strong the backlash would be. It was a pre-emptive strike but it
was not unconstitutional. Republicans argue that all executive actions are
unconstitutional but the executive action power was used many times by
Republican President George W. Bush and you will perhaps note that the Supreme
Court upheld the ACA and, also, no impeachment proceeding have begun, although
the impeachment drumbeat is almost constant. Most likely Republicans are trying
to distract Americans from the way they have defied our Constitution by
blocking bills in the House, by being obstructionists, by refusing to debate and/or
compromise with Democrats and their allies, and by strong-arming the Speaker of
the House so that he will not bring any bills Republicans oppose, no matter how
popular with the people, to the floor for an up or down vote. Our forefathers
never foresaw a Congress that would refuse to act or engage, and they would
have considered these acts of sedition, if such a blockade had been applied
while they lived.
more examples. Just listen and you will hear Republicans do this all the time.
If Democrats try to expose what Republicans are up to then Republicans turn
these statements into accusations about Democrats. They have even tried to turn
around the war on women label and stick it on the Democrats, but their
rationale is so awkward that I doubt whether anyone, except FOX news buys it.
Voters can sort this out, I believe. They know who deserves a label and whose
position is just being distorted by bad actors on the contemporary Washington stage.
I have included a link to a great article that lists all the propaganda
techniques favored by Fox News on behalf of the Republicans. The technique we
are discussing here is called projection or flipping in the linked article.
But I have
to say it as plainly as I am able just in case people have not happened to
notice what Republicans have been up to. There is only one cure for this
sophomoric attempt to provide cover for political misdeeds; elect Democrats in
2014, and again in 2016.
I am very disappointed that the American people are so susceptible to political propaganda. The Republicans have played us like violins. They have supported the most strident pundits on the FOX network for most of the past 4 years. They also have bombarded radio audiences and the internet with every kind of technique ever invented to sway public opinion and they have done it endlessly and unrelentingly.
Name calling has been one of their favorite devices. They have called Obama a “Socialist”, Hitler, a Nazi, a Muslim, a terrorist, an alien (not the space kind, the non-citizen kind). They have used repetition as a sledge hammer. Say the same thing, say it over and over again, repeat it at every interview, in every newspaper and magazine article, and it will start to ring true. It will create a self-fulfilling prophecy and sweep their party into office on rhetoric alone. They have used the “I’m rubber, you’re glue; everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you” technique over and over with issues like women’s rights and the issue of divisiveness. They turn what we thought we knew inside out and upside down and people are buying this.
It makes me sad to see people being “brainwashed” by those who know what strings to pull. They prey on people’s fears of terrorism which are relatively new to us and they prey on our fear that white people are losing control of America and that America will become a nation in which white people, as the new minority will have little or no say about what will happen in America. Of course they do not state it so baldly but they want to make us believe that America will become a Spanish nation or a nation of color and the Constitution will no longer call the shots in America even though all of these groups are proud American citizens. They remind people that their hard-earned dollars are paying for people who have been institutionalized by government handouts and people start bellyaching about that until it makes them almost physically ill or so angry they start oiling their guns.
The pundits are whipping up these frightened white guys and even some white women who have perhaps already been displaced at their jobs by a new policy that favored diversity in the work place and which replaced expensive workers with seniority and no college with college educated and perhaps minority “youngsters” who could be offered starting salaries. The pundits are using the residual anger of middle-aged white men who were forced out of their jobs during their peak earning years to elect the Republicans, who are laying claim to the Conservative grounds of a fundamentalist Constitutional interpretation. They insist over and over that America is on the wrong path without specifying exactly what the wrong path is beyond saying that government is too big and too invasive because if they spelled it all out they would be properly identified as bigots. They try to distract us from noticing that they have actually come to espouse some even nuttier ideas on science and social issues.
We have let these fear-mongers pull our chains and blow air up our skirts and any other invasive clichés we can think up. They have treated us like puppets by finding our fears and playing on them. They have identified the buried anger in displaced workers and have been happy to subtly kick it up a notch or two. They have blamed other Americans for simply going after the American Dream and they have diverted anger from the real culprits who shipped the jobs overseas. Those new workers often did not get to enjoy their promotions for very long. None of us realized that we were going to be caught up in a global economic tsunami. We should feel embarrassed that we are so easily led by stirring speeches that are oh so wrong in content and intent. Drama may be fun; it may wake us up and make us feel alive, but it is not necessarily true or real.
What people think they long for is no longer possible. The world is changing and the changes cannot be stopped and they cannot be reversed without genocide, environmental disaster, or divine intervention. We can try to build a wall all around America to keep out the future but I hate to think about what we will become if we take this path. We will be living in a global world unless all engines cease working and people can no longer travel long distances quickly. Diversity is unavoidable. Dealing with the baggage of other nations is unavoidable. The fears that these tricky talkers are riling up are dinosaurs from a past to which we no longer have access. The future will find us no matter how hard we try to regress. Will we like the future? I think the chances are greater if we stay in the game and try to help design a future we can accept than if we wail and moan and go to the trenches to escape the changes that are already in process. One way we can keep ourselves present in inventing the future is to refuse to elect the party of propaganda, the party of sleight of speech, those carnival shills, the Republicans. Elect Democrats to disperse the cloud of obfuscation. They have a more understanding approach to the future.