There is a movement that has been growing in this country for the past ten years, that I can see, where Leftists, or progressives, peddle propaganda in a coordinated way in an attempt to sway public opinion away from traditional notions of the relationship between the individual and the state in this country, and towards a more statist or socialist framework. The wrinkle is it appears to all be privately coordinated and financed. This is the sort of thing that, from my understanding of things ten years ago, had traditionally been sponsored by governments to promote a statist regime, or to support a war.
This first became apparent to me when Michael Moore released his so-called documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” in 2004. I could not bring myself to go see it, but the descriptions of it from those who had suggested to me that it was nothing more than a professional propaganda piece. The only difference being that people were paying money to see it, and from what I remember it made a good amount of money! At the time I could not reconcile how this could happen. How had propaganda been privatized? I thought that was something only states did. The movie contained a Marxist message of capitalist exploitation of the proletariat (working classes) as so much cannon fodder. Moore uses the expectation of many people that we should be a perfect nation where no one gets hurt, in order to validate a dystopian myth about America, all the while leaving himself smelling like a rose.
Why was it so successful? The best way I can rationalize it is that there were a lot of people on the Left who were disturbed by actions the U.S. was taking in the world, and they sought to find some reason(s) to justify their feelings of distress–a narrative. It’s been my experience that when people feel powerless against events that are out of their control we tend to generate our own myths (ie. conspiracy theories) about those events. Michael Moore perhaps said to himself, “If people are going to make up their own myths anyway, why shouldn’t I make one up for them?” Perhaps it was more thoughtless than that. Maybe it was a “fact-ion” essay (melting fact and fiction together) using real footage, and some doctored images and presentations. We could perhaps understand this in a McLuhanesque way–“the medium is the message”: It’s an opinion he believed in so strongly, he didn’t care if it was based in reality or not. He did not want to have an argument. He wanted his opinion accepted as reality, so he presented it as fact. Through this he could set himself up as the hero of the Left, “exposing the truth,” providing the salve, the validation for their feelings.
What other documentarians showed, after the release of his film, was that Moore had exploited the very people he seemed to sympathize with in his movies. This wasn’t revealed by clever selective editing, but by interviewing the “common people” who were profiled in Moore’s films. He was at least as dishonest towards these people as he accused the evil corporate captains of industry of being.
I should admit that there was a time when I really liked Michael Moore, and what he produced. Even when I became more conservative in my beliefs, I liked that he appeared to stand up to corporate and government corruption, and stuck it to the corporations for moving jobs out of the country, and to the government for promoting the same. That was before I became much more educated (through experience) about what goes on in the political world, and I became more educated (though I still have more to learn, I’m sure) about which government policies worked to promote the health of this country and its people, and which didn’t. I was once a liberal when I was young, until, as the saying goes, “I got mugged by reality.” The old saying goes, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative when you get older, you have no brain.” Pretty well sums it up.
I’ve read a summary of Marxist philosophy, and a few things stand out (quoting from the article in the bullet points (Update 12-23-2012: The link to the article broke.)):
- “…according to Marx, reality is governed by economic needs (historical materialism). Economic reality develops according to Hegel’s dialectical principles; that is, reality must deny itself in order to reach a higher degree of being.”
- “From the notion that all contents of our consciousness are determined by our economic needs it follows equally that each social class has its own science and its own philosophy. An independent, nonparty science is impossible; the truth is whatever leads to success, and practice alone constitutes the criterion of truth.”
The implications of this seem to explain what Michael Moore has done with his movies (though only to benefit himself–“the truth is whatever leads to success”), and what we’ve been seeing the Democrats do, to benefit themselves and their friends, though including the populace in a patronage framework.
During the election cycle of 2007 and 2008 the more observant could see that the press was becoming extreme. I had long known that the press was biased. I experienced it 18 years ago when I was supporting Ross Perot. Regardless of whether he would’ve been a good president or not (I have my doubts, in hindsight), the press still distorted his image and positions. It had long been known in conservative circles that the press preferred Democrats. That’s been true for as long as many people in politics can remember. In the most recent presidential election, though, they were practically swooning. I’ve heard some older newsmen compare it to the way the press treated John F. Kennedy, only they said it was worse.
SNL lampoons CNN’s Democratic Debate (follow link to view)
It was rare if Obama was seriously challenged by the press, and there’s a reason for that. For one thing, Obama didn’t have much of a record to run on. This was part of the strategy from the beginning. Obama was advised by Democrats to run for president as soon as he could, because if he waited, he could be called on the carpet for his legislative record. The other part of it, as has recently been revealed, is that there were many members of the press who were rooting for Obama, some overtly.
TheDailyCaller.com has posted a series of articles about disclosures from a list server called “Journolist,” which was subscribed to by liberal journalists. The first of these articles has set the stage. Others have followed from this same source. What the first article revealed is that these list members were practically coordinating a unified “theme” message with each other, for public consumption, which supported Obama and disparaged his opposition, and independently carrying out political advocacy and strategy for the Obama campaign through their news and opinion coverage. Astute members of the media, who were not part of this cabal, figured this out in 2008 just from looking at press behavior, but here for the first time is evidence of this coordination. Some messages from Journolist reveal a proclivity on the part of a few journalists to just outright lie, acting as independent political hacks.
A few commentators on Fox News declared that 2008 was “the year the news died.” I would have to agree with that assessment. We can look at the above quotes about Marxist philosophy to get an idea of what happened as well. In effect, journalists had become their own self-styled state propagandists. What’s odd is they did this totally without state control. They chose to engage in it, exalting statist or socialist philosophy, and rejecting other points of view. I was confused. Why would they do this? Why would they advocate for a belief system that could someday put them out of business, costing them their careers in journalism, or put them under the thumb of an autocrat? TheDailyCaller has also revealed that some journalists and academics on Journolist have discussed in all seriousness why and how Fox News should be shut down. Fortunately a couple people on the list tried to make everyone aware of the serious implications this would have for the journalistic profession. Will these people look upon their advocacy years from now and wonder if it all was a mistake, because they will have lost their power to speak their minds, regardless of what the First Amendment says? I wonder.
I saw a BBC mini-series on the internet a few years ago, called “The Century of the Self,” which talked about the history of the field of public relations, and the profound impact it’s had on our society. It was produced in 2002. It provides, I think, a good background on how we got to this point, though it does not tell the whole story. It’s more about the techniques that have been employed, and some about the motivation to use them. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to put this in my blog, but I’ve lacked the context. I think it also provides a good background into how Obama got elected, though it of course does not talk about him.
Edward Bernays was the inventor of privatized propaganda, called “public relations” or “PR.” The practice of public relations is used regularly in our society. Corporations use it. The media uses it, typically to burnish its image of legitimacy. Politicians use it. Political action groups and interests groups definitely use it. Celebrities and “common people” who are thrust into the spotlight definitely use it (if they don’t, their public reputation may be ruined, or the message they want to convey may lose legitimacy among the media, and in public opinion). The press is definitely influenced by the practice of public relations. I’ve seen again and again how they don’t consider people or events relevant without some sort of public relations treatment of them.
Bernays was inspired by the propaganda operation that President Woodrow Wilson had developed and used to pump up allied support at home and abroad for World War I. Bernays had the idea, “If propaganda works in times of war, maybe it will work in peacetime as well.” Bernays was a nephew of the famed Sigmund Freud. He used Freud’s theories of the psyche, and the practices of the developing field of psychoanalysis, to create the field of public relations. He became a consultant who developed PR programs for both business and government. Public relations and psychoanalysis seem to have evolved together. The idea of the focus group, used by marketers and political consultants alike, was developed out of the practice of group psychotherapy, though the goals were changed somewhat to suit the purposes of these fields (marketers and political consultants)–It wasn’t directed at healing the psyche, but at selling products and candidates, making people feel like they need them, even if they don’t. Sometimes these practices worked as expected by their practitioners. Other times they failed disastrously.
Public relations, employed by industry and government, has single-handedly transformed our country from a nation of citizens into a nation of consumers, which does not think much, but instead feels, and makes decisions based on how we feel about things. That was the goal, and it’s accomplished it. Along with that comes certain expectations that are destructive to a civil society in the world, a legitimate point that this documentary makes. It’s one I hope people will pay special attention to, because it has implications for our future. The public’s decisions about our society are heavily influenced by the mass-emotion-altering techniques of public relations.
I found this series to be very revealing and informative about the history of the U.S. during the 20th century, and beyond. Keep in mind, though, as you watch it that it has a social democratic bias.
The Century of the Self: