Manipulating the Public Mind
By Charles Sullivan
-- -- A sea of humanity descended upon the nation’s capital yesterday to voice its opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. My wife and I, along with a sizable contingent from West Virginia, were among the teeming throngs that flowed through the streets of the District of Columbia like a raging river in the aftermath of a storm. The rally was about more than the shameful events orchestrated by our government in the Middle East, it was equally about U.S. imperialism on a global scale. It was also about the Bush regime’s appalling lack of concern for the Gulf Coast’s poor—particularly the inhabitants of New Orleans. It was about the complicity of Congress in the criminality of what passes for government in America these days. Demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience will continue throughout the weekend.
The turnout was immense. Trying to estimate its size from within was like standing in the midst of a forest and trying to gage its extent. You have to wade through the crowd and take contingency samples; or get above it to gain an appreciation of its size and scale. I spoke to a friend on a cell phone while marching by the White House who was watching coverage of the event on C-span. He informed me that C-span estimated the size of the crowd at between two hundred thousand to a quarter million. When I got home I looked at coverage of the event on NBC and CBS which estimated the turnout as about half that of C-span.
The major television networks will determine how most Americans view of the event will be shaped. This is what interested me--how coverage of the event would be presented to the world. The manipulation of images and information is frequently subtle but its effect on the public mind is often profound.
None of the networks even carried excerpts from the many excellent speeches being given by the likes of Cynthia McKinney, Cindy Sheehan, Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader and other social justice luminaries. Those speeches—an important component of the rally—laid bare the callous disregard the nation’s power brokers have for life and habitat, especially the poor; and particularly the black poor. By choosing to omit them the corporate media once again failed to provide viewers with the information they need to make them free. They carefully steered the public mind away from any harsh criticism of the Bush regime and its corporate looters.
The major networks have consistently underestimated the size of anti war protests. This has been the case with every march on Washington that I have participated in. By deliberately under estimating its size the media gives the impression that opposition to U.S. militarism and America’s war on the poor and the working class is significantly smaller than they really are.
CBS chose to highlight the three arrests that occurred at the anti war rally on Saturday, rather than the non violent protesters. The decision is disingenuous in that it plants the seeds of thought in the public mind that peaceful demonstrators are purveyors of violence. This is in fact rarely the case. When violence erupts in otherwise peaceful demonstrations it is virtually always the police and FBI plants in the crowd that causes the violence. Remember cointellpro? It remains with us today.
Although I heard that there would be small pro Bush, pro war, counter demonstrations occurring simultaneously against the tide of the main event, I did not see any of them. However, CBS chose to play up these tiny, insignificant counter demonstrations by interviewing Bush supporters but not the Bush detractors. This is especially troubling because it gives the impression that the counter demonstration, which was virtually invisible to those of us in the streets, was much larger than it really was. By deliberately under reporting the anti war turnout and playing up the pro war side, reality was once again distorted into unrecognizable, fantastic, miasmic forms in the public mind.
The vast majority of American citizens have their world view shaped by the corporate news media. Can there by any doubt why the public mind is so distorted—so disconnected from reality?
More totalitarian nations control the masses through the use of brute force. We are seeing more and more of that in the cities of America, as witnessed in the streets of New Orleans recently. However, in comparatively free societies propaganda is the weapon of choice; and it is no less intimidating and effective than brute force.
No one is more effectively enslaved by the power brokers in government than those who wear the chains of servitude but think they are free. Unfortunately, the average American has no conception of how effectively their perceptions are shaped and manipulated by the media propaganda they unwittingly feed into their unsuspecting minds.
Indeed, so superb are the propagandists who control the flow of information in America that the average American enthusiastically supports polices that are detrimental to him. Thus we witness families that espouse political and fiscal conservatism supporting huge tax cuts for the wealthy, rampant corporate welfare, and the writing of blank checks for endless war waged against the world’s working poor—and they are themselves the cannon fodder for those wars. We are witnessing a bizarre psychic phenomenon that is the physical and spiritual equivalent of mass hypnosis. We seem almost incapable of waking ourselves up; or looking away from the shining pendant that swings before our glazed, vacuous eyes. Better not drink the kool aid.
Charles Sullivan is a furniture maker, photographer, and free lance writer living in geopolitical West Virginia. He welcomes your comments at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Only the civil need respond.
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