Newspapers, Media and Advertising
Clever rhetoric, but is there anything to it? You’d better believe it! Once again, let me refer you to Wade Frazier. His essay Lies I Was Raised With brilliantly covers the distortions of history books as well as the media. Also, Tim O’Shea (see www.thedoctorwithin.com) has a must-read chapter on public relations, advertising, and the media entitled “The Doors of Perception.” After reading these two essays, and maybe following up on some of the references cited, can you really believe that we are not being lied to and brainwashed on a massive scale?1 It’s not only that the news is presented from a limited, perhaps distorted perspective, as we will see below; a lot of important news does not even get reported. There is a website called www.projectcensored.org that specializes in stories, many dealing with health and environment, that simply fail to make the mainstream media. Do stories about alternative energy or cancer cures get much space in the New York Times? Who decides what’s “fit to print”?
Dubious? Let me offer a few examples. You may remember a flap about “cold fusion” some years ago. Two scientists claimed they had discovered it, but pretty soon it was found to be all a hoax or an error, right? That’s what the media would have you believe. Alternative science websites I found (for example, What If Cold Fusion Is Real?) make it clear that these results have been replicated numerous times all over the world! Why don’t we hear about this potentially earthshaking research on an alternative energy source?2
Another: When the FDA illegally raided chiropractor Gary Glum’s office and took over $100,000 worth of material relating to a Native American herbal formula for cancer known as “Essiac,” did it make the news? Hardly. And speaking of unconstitutional FDA raids, check out Stevia Book Burning—Article by Julian Whitaker, M.D. for a story about how the FDA not only confiscated stevia, a harmless herbal sweetener, it even attempted burning books that contained stevia recipes! I thought the Nazis had cornered the market on book burning! This should have made headlines, but did it?
Yet another: I always thought actor Steve McQueen died of cancer, proving that the laetrile treatment he had received was worthless. I was stunned to read later that, in fact, he did not die from cancer, but as a result of surgery. Why were we misled about McQueen’s death—and about laetrile?
And finally, from the mainstream media you would assume that it’s been clearly established for years that HIV causes AIDS and that there is not a dissenting voice out there. But check out this website—www.virusmyth.net—for a totally opposite view. I’m not talking about an opinion being put forth by wild-eyed conspiracy theorists. Many of the people quoted are world-class scientists, including Nobel Prize winners! You would hope that scientists of this stature could get the attention of the press, but apparently not.
There are at least three other aspects of the news media that disturb many of us. First, the depth of the news that is covered, especially on television, is extremely shallow. We get “sound bites” or scenes of politicos arguing, but without a real opportunity to expand on their ideas. Watching Bernie Sanders, Congress’ only independent representative, trying to get his ideas across on The O’Reilly Factor was an exercise in frustration!
The issues we are facing today are highly complex and cannot be reduced to sound bites or simplistic notions. Some years ago the NH gubernatorial race was between an old-time, “ax the tax” candidate (meaning no broad based taxes, like sales or income taxes), and an opponent who favored some taxation, but had a complex system of checks and balances to try to make the system work. It took at least an hour of dialogue to get a grasp on her ideas. You had to be able to think systemically to appreciate her approach. Guess who won, with 55% of the vote? Of course the simplistic approach, aided and abetted by our state’s leading newspaper, won the day—except that all the underlying problems, like unfairly funded school systems, did not go away and are now coming back to bite us! Gee, this sounds a lot like the problems with allopathic “kill the tumor” cancer treatments that ignore the underlying systemic imbalances that allow the tumor to form and grow in the first place! In short, we need systemic thinking in our media—as well as in our healing modalities—and we rarely get it.
Second, even when media plumb’s issues “in depth,” we are typically exposed to only a limited range of perspectives. I know the “consensus” view is that the Republican Party leans somewhat to the right of center and the Democrats somewhat to the left of center, but many critics3 argue that, when examined in the light of the Social Democratic systems of Canada, Australia, and Western Europe, both of America’s major parties lean to the right, although the Democrats less so. As a result, there is a large area—from the center to the left—that is hardly represented in the media. Ralph Nader, who received 3% of the vote in the last election—and who would have probably received at least double that under a Parliamentary system—was not even allowed to take part in the presidential debates in 2000! Why not? Where did we get the idea, in a country that prides itself on political freedom, that only two parties “count?” My opinion (and I’m not alone here; check out www.culturalcreatives.org) is that many people are disenchanted with the two major parties, because of the strong conviction that neither major party’s platform is workable anymore. According to the website just cited, more people than you may realize believe that only some sort of “green” approach will ensure a viable future. This may partly explain our extremely low voter turnout; we really don’t have much of a choice, so voters become apathetic. Maybe I’m way off base on what the electorate is feeling, but how can people seriously consider an alternative political economic perspective which the media considers dangerous or unworthy of consideration?
Speaking of voting, I recently came a cross a rather chilling quote: “If voting could really change things, it would not be allowed.” A seemingly paranoid notion, but when you consider our limited range of viable choices, and the dearth of candidates pushing for real, necessary changes, it does make you wonder…
Third, too much of what goes on in the media is a distraction from really important issues that frequently get under-reported or are not covered at all. While the Savings and Loan Scandal (see Wade Frazier’s essay on this: The Savings and Loan Scandal and Public Accounting) was bilking American taxpayers out of hundreds of billions of dollars, the media focused instead on the OJ Simpson trial and the President’s personal life. Seventy years earlier, President Warren Harding had a mistress and nobody cared. This is progress?
Aside from all the omissions and distortions in the media, deeper down what bothers me the most about the media is that, as a result of constant exposure to our history book mythology and media-induced vision of reality from day one, the average American develops the sense that, despite some flaws here and there, the system, i.e., “business as usual” works. In other words, we gradually construct a “consensus reality” that we and everyone else around us subscribe to, thinking that the way things operate is all basically reasonable, normal, sensible, etc. What if it’s not? What if it’s dangerously destructive instead? What if some of the underlying premises, like never ending growth,4 are insane? The mindset we emerge with makes real change extremely difficult.
Indeed, naturopaths, homeopaths, herbalists, acupuncturists, etc. have to deal with this problem all the time, because part of the consensus reality we absorb is that allopathic medicine is the only “real” scientific means of healing. Fortunately, more and more Americans, like Thomas Edison (see the banner quote on this website’s home page), are seeing through this bit of “reality” and embracing alternatives such as naturopathy.
Another part of “reality” we learn is that food “comes from” supermarkets—although in rural NH many of us do have some experience in growing our own food or buying from local farm stands. How much does the average supermarket consumer really know about where their food comes from, what kind of soil or feed was used, what was done with the food during processing, and so on? We’d probably be horrified! When the “mad cow” story broke in England, weren’t you disgusted to learn that cows and other livestock were being fed, in effect, recycled animal waste? I thought cows ate grass! Maybe we need a “mad consumer” syndrome!
Another major problem related to the media is that we see tens of thousands of commercials and advertisements by the time we grow up. Now, there is informational value here—we do need to know what’s out there. And organizations like Consumer Reports can do a fairly objective job of evaluating the products offered. Information and objective appraisal are rational functions of advertising, but advertising as it now exists has a very different agenda. There are two less-than-rational functions of advertising, it seems to me, one obvious, one more subtle.
The obvious purpose of advertising is to get you to buy a particular product, whether you really “need” it or not, using whatever psychologically manipulative techniques are available—sex, fear of being unpopular, snob appeal, “good old folks” appeal, pleasant associations, jingles, catch phrases—all the usual tools of propaganda.5 Years ago I heard someone say that, with a few exceptions, the more something is advertised, the worse it is for you (or for the environment or both). I’ve been watching TV ads with this in mind of late and it’s amazing how many ads there are for fast food, candy, milk, cookies, doughnuts, coffee, high fat snacks, soft drinks, beer, and so on, as opposed to foods that are actually good for you.6 Catch that clever commercial for organic spinach? I didn’t think so! There are also lot's of ads for gas guzzling automobiles and trucks, but none for public transportation (unless you count airline ads) or for non-polluting means of individual transportation, the hybrid car being a partial exception.
More subliminally, however, the underlying message of those thousands of commercials and ads is that buying for its own sake is good. The Western credo is fast becoming “I consume, therefore I am.” Never mind the ever escalating waste, the planned obsolescence, the depletion of resources, and the pollution of the environment; never mind the social envy and “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality generated; never mind the tremendous waste of manpower and creativity squandered on advertising that could be put to better use; never mind that much of our money could be used for far better purposes than accumulating more “stuff” in George Carlin’s brilliant phrase (like, well, providing food and shelter for the homeless or helping the Native Americans emerge from the genocide and discrimination they have been subjected to for centuries);7 never mind that possessing material goods beyond a modest level is not required for spiritual growth or even happiness (think, say, of Buddha, or St. Francis; now think Howard Hughes); never mind the animals sacrificed for product testing; never mind the Third World sweatshops that produce many of the goods—just buy!
So, if you are getting fed up with the version of reality fed to you in newspapers, media, and advertising, do yourself a favor and expand your horizons by reading the alternative press. And while you’re sitting at your computer, check out some of the many good alternative websites available, some of which are listed above and in the website link section of Dr. David’s website. It may take some work, but, to paraphrase an advertising slogan, “You’re worth it!”
Although there are certainly useful functions to newspapers and other media, many critics have decried the biased coverage of news by the media in America. First, four huge conglomerates control about 90% of the media. These conglomerates are owned by the rich and powerful and serve the vested interests of the rich and powerful; how fair can they be? People complain about how liberal the media are, but this is a smokescreen. I once saw a bumper sticker that read: “The media are as liberal as their conservative owners allow them to be.”
1Here’s a quote from Wade Frazier, summarizing his position:
“The notion of a “free press” is one the biggest fabrications in American history—a myth concocted by the media itself. The biggest lie that our media serves up is the self-serving pretense that it is objective, merely seeking the truth. All the first amendment says is that the government cannot tell the media what to write or not write.
“America has never really had true freedom of speech. It is the world's freest in significant ways, but it still is not that free…The American media is also the most manipulative of its consumers. We may have relative freedom to speak, but it does not mean that anybody will hear us. Ever since the Sedition Act was passed in the 1700's, free speech has had a rough ride in America. During World War I, the Espionage Act was passed, making it illegal to speak out against the war, and the U.S. imprisoned hundreds of Americans for the crime of speaking out.
“If the same interests that run the government also own the media, how free can the media truly be? They are stenographers to power.”
2Well, you are hearing about it here—and I read it on the Web myself. One of the great things about the Internet is that it is a truly democratic form of media. For better or for worse, you don’t need the approval of a newspaper editor or publishing company to get your ideas out there. The dissemination of non-mainstream positions is now far easier than in the past, thanks to the Internet.
3Regarding this point, and in fact, everything in this essay, I highly recommend a small but insightful book entitled Social Problems, written by my colleague, sociologist Robert Heiner. I am indebted to Dr. Heiner for reading and commenting on earlier drafts of this essay.
4See Commandment #12 in my Five Missing Commandments essay.
5Few people realize that the founding theorist of capitalism, Adam Smith, disdained advertising, because it subverted the basic ground plan of the capitalist market place. For Smith, the beauty behind capitalism is that products and services competed with one another on the basis of quality and price. Today instead, thanks to modern advertising, they compete based on the appearance of quality. Image overlays substance while manipulation subverts rational choice.
6Selling or even advertising junk food violates Commandment #13 in my “Five Missing Commandments” essay.
7Lest the reader think that genocide against the Native Americans is a thing of the past, consider that the average life expectancy of Native Americans is 10 years below the national average. One contributing factor is alcoholism, with an alcohol abuse death rate five times average. Another factor, especially on reservations, is poverty—do I need to point out the positive correlation between income and longevity? A Native American student of mine reported that she knew of several attempted and “successful” suicides, usually brought on by despair about one’s seemingly hopeless conditions.
Joel Funk, Ph.D.
|About the Author:
Joel Funk, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. A certifiable health nut, Dr. Funk holds a BA in Chemistry from Rutgers U. and MA and PhD from Clark University (in Psychology). At 57, Joel is married and has three children. Hobbies include reading whodunits, baseball lore, music (including writing musical comedies, piano playing, and choral singing), and sometimes gardening.
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