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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Thought Control in American Society

    In the traditional Jeffersonian model, the media is considered confrontational to authority and rather obstinate. In countries where the state has near absolute control over most facets of society elementary logic would imply that the media will adhere to state doctrine. Propaganda, however, is harder to recognize in a society with privately controlled media and a press that occasionally exposes corporate scandals and government mismanagement. The author Noam Chomsky has done exceptional work on this topic, and the majority of this article will be relying on his scholarship; particularly from his books, ‘Necessary Illusions,’ and ‘Manufacturing Consent.’

    In the larger media outlets they have some essential features in common. Fox, CNN, NBC, the New York Times, and the other major players are enormous corporations. They’re highly profitable, and they are tied to even larger conglomerates. Like all businesses, they have a product to sell to a specific market, the product being the audience and the market is the advertisers. In essence, they are selling their audiences to other businesses. The larger media institutions, like the NYT, particularly focus on the privileged, decision making classes in American society. With huge corporations selling the decision makers in society to other businesses one would expect to find perspectives in that medium that satisfy the needs of the market, the consumers, and the retailer. One would expect any institution to operate in their interests.

    What these institutions do, in fact, is create a set of assumptions which already adhere to the propaganda system in this country, then present a debate within that very framework. Occasionally the debates can even be harsh and passionate but these ‘debates’ rarely exceed the accepted framework. The debates only strengthen the previous assumptions and are presented as the complete range of discussion. The media may discuss the right-wing and the left-wing but it is only within acceptable bounds; for instance, CNN is the left and Fox is the right, but there is a huge spectrum of opinion that is simply not permitted. As previously stated, these institutions act in their own interests, and no corporation works to undermine itself.

    David Hume wrote ‘force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion’hellip;this extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular.’ Once Western societies realized that they cannot simply control their populations by force the elites realized that peoples ‘opinion’ had to be controlled.

    The Founding Fathers had realized this rather early. John Jay had believed that ‘The people who own the country ought to govern it,’ while James Madison felt the U.S. system should be designed to ‘protect the minority of the opulent from the majority.’ In the early 20th Century, Woodrow Wilson’s advisor, Walter Lippman, believed ‘The public must be put in its place,’ so the elite ‘may live free of the trampling and roar of a bewildered herd.’ He wrote that there was a ‘revolution’ in ‘the practice of democracy,’ which was the ‘manufacture of consent.’ He further stated that ‘persuasion has become a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government,’ since ‘the common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality.’

    Edward Bernays, one of the fathers of public relations, believed ‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.’ He defined this as ‘the engineering of consent,’ with the goal of creating the ‘arm of [an] invisible government.’ Harold Lasswell, a leading political scientist in the early 20th Century, held ‘no democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests,’ since even education could ‘not release the masses from ignorance.’ After the 1960’s Samuel Huntington, in the Trilateral Commission, believed ‘the problems of governance in the United States stem from an excess of democracy.’

    Across a wide spectrum of elite opinion we hear that the population should not be heard, and if they are they should say the right things. The media accepts correspondents who will engage in ‘responsible debate.’ In a totalitarian system force is used, people’s minds aren’t important; in ‘democracies’ they attack the root of the problem. The boundaries of expressible dialogue are firmly set and within those boundaries there is harsh debate that adheres to elite presuppositions.

    For example, if a journalist were to write ‘Iran is a terrorist nation,’ that is generally accepted truth. Or if one were to write ‘the terrorist organization Hezbollah is a threat to world peace,’ there needs to be no clarification. The statement can stand as fact. But if a reporter were to say ‘the United States is the greatest threat to world peace, and the largest terrorist state on Earth,’ that reporter would have to find another job, even though there is colossal evidence to back this notion. Until the media can have a substantial level of independence we will be plagued with indoctrination for years to come.

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