America’s media industrial complex is one that receives fervorous attacks from both the left and the right. President Donald Trump’s criticism of “fake news” played a crucial role in his campaign and time in office for a good reason. Prior to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Americans already held a shockingly low trust in news media, with only 40% of Americans trusting the information coming from their news providers. It should be no surprise that trust in news media in America fell by another 8% following Donald Trump’s election, and that his “fake news” rhetoric resonated well with a majority of Americans who did not hold a favorable view of the media.
However, there is another presidential candidate that is also known for his critical view of the media: Progressive Bernard Sanders. This often confuses many voters, and reasonably so. How can the media be against Trump, an unorthodox, radical Republican, and Sanders, one Congress’ most progressive members? The answer lies in a deep, statistical analysis of America’s media industrial complex, which has been used for decades to sway public opinion and influence politics.
To understand the motives of the media, it is important to take a look at who owns and controls it. All of the top media organizations, such as the New York Times, CBS, CNN, and Fox are all directly or indirectly owned by corporations. Today, media ownership has become so concentrated that only six companies control 90% of all media. This may be obvious to some, but few truly comprehend how monopolistic control over the media has rotted American democracy, making it dangerously similar to state-controlled media in authoritarian countries.
Propaganda is a term usually associated with authoritarian countries such as North Korea, China, or Iran, which strictly enforce what is published in the media. Complete state-controlled media is rightfully looked down upon, but corporate media does not receive nearly the same level of attention or criticism, even when it behaves similarly to propaganda found in authoritarian countries.
One may protest that America is a free country and that everyone is free to say, think, and publish what they like. While this line of reasoning is somewhat true, it is also misleading. America is, in fact, a country with fairly strong civil liberties that protect most of its citizens from government oppression (at least in recent history), but America’s corporate media consistently suppresses or discredits ideas similar to how state-controlled propaganda would in order to serve the interest of those in power. Is a society really free if its media blatantly misleads a vast majority of its public?
One does not have to be a political scientist to understand America’s unusually extreme opposition to communism, and how it was the result of the massive propaganda campaign that began in the 1920s. Many today still associate communism (or socialism) with brutal dictatorships from the Soviet Union or with countries such as Venezuela or Cuba, which have faced devastating socio-economic crises.
Attributing the failure of these states to their political ideology alone, as the media so often does, is downright misleading, if not blatantly lying. The same media rarely mentions the many free-market, capitalist dictatorships that were enthusiastically supported by the United States through military aid which was often used to murder various ethnic groups, indigenous people, political dissents, and civilians. As for Venezuela or Cuba, few are familiar with the sanctions placed upon them by the United States, which have made economic growth almost impossible while also causing significant suffering amongst their people.
This system of indoctrination led by a media entirely in control of its corporate bosses was investigated by professors Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their book Manufacturing Consent. Throughout the book, Herman and Chomsky employ enormous amounts of data gathered from the archives of various media outlets to ultimately prove the media’s general bias against certain ideas and its suppression of state-sponsored crimes. They also studied the very dialogue and placement of these articles, where they discovered that authors that strayed away from the general consensus made their way towards the back of the newspapers, while authors that stuck to the status quo were consistently rewarded with lengthy, front-page stories.
Manufacturing Consent dives deep and provides a rare, scholarly analysis of the mass media system instead of the frequent, cherry-picked examples often found online to prove bias. But most importantly, it provides a fundamental hypothesis that can be applied and built upon on a day-to-day basis by simply observing the media.
One may ask: Why does the media do this? What does it have to gain from this system of mass indoctrination?
The answer is simple: Corporate interest. As implied throughout this article, corporate interest is almost never in the interest of the general population, or to put it in more modern terms, the 99%. In order to prevent a class conflict between the 99% and 1%, corporations rely on a complex organization of media outlets to guide the public away from the disturbing reality of crippling wealth inequality and state violence. Ideas such as wealth redistribution, medicare for all, and ending corporate welfare directly threaten the power of the elite, and will, therefore, face utmost criticism through the media industrial complex.
When going back to Donald Trump and Bernard Sanders, it now becomes clear who abused America’s distrust in the media for political gain, and who actually faced well-documented, systematic media suppression because of their ideas for a more just America. While it is true that liberal (not leftist) media outlets such as CNN and MSNBC will often tear through Donald Trump, it only provides the illusion of a difference of opinion. In reality, they too serve the same corporate class by distracting the public from the issues that truly matter such as the United State’s role in the vicious violence in Yemen, corporate welfare, and unfathomable inequality that is responsible for incredible amounts of human misery. It is also important to note that these “left” media outlets routinely tear into Sanders as well, although they focus more on not mentioning him at all.
Despite the cards being stacked against a functioning democracy, there is still hope. Democracy, although strangled by a malicious, crooked system of corporate manipulation, can still survive through the will and determination of the people, who are becoming increasingly resistant to old falsehoods established over decades of misleading media.