Updated: Jun 21, 2020
An Introduction (and Recap)
Welcome back! Long time no see.
I’m glad you’ve made it to the second half of our two-part saga on the modern American news industry (phew, that’s a mouthful).
If you didn’t get a chance to read yesterday’s post, here’s a quick, three-bullet summary below:
The main focus of Part 1 was a little process through which our modern news industry and our political system rely on each other for power and money. Yes, it’s very corrupt. I call it the Political-Entertainment Loop.
More specifically we focused on the political side of this loop. Our political system didn’t start out corrupt. No, the corruption started about 90 years ago with an advertising agency called Campaigns, Inc. who injected the art of advertising into politics, which eventually turned our political system into its own corrupt advertising agency.
This corrupt approach that Campaigns, Inc created eventually led to a more divided and partisan American public. And it dragged both of our major political parties down with it.
So that’s it – you’re all caught up.
Today we’ll be looking at the entertainment side of the Political-Entertainment Loop.
And the entertainment side of the Political-Entertainment Loop began with the production of the television.
Television, the Great Communicator
In the 1940s television entered the American household and it spread like wildfire across the nation.
Seriously, just look at this shit.
In 1948, less than 3% of Americans had a television. A decade later nearly 90% of Americans had a television. That’s ASTOUNDING.
America was more connected than it had ever been before.
Sure, the radio certainly had an impact on the American people in its own way, but television was on an ENTIRELY different level.
Television offered the ultimate opportunity for companies to pour thoughts into people’s heads. Remember when your parents told you that tv makes you dumb? Well…the jury is still out on that. But heres what television does do: it makes you more susceptible to influence.
People have the tv on ALL day. Just letting the information pour into their heads.
And the issue with television is there is no interaction. You can’t talk to the people on the tv. You can only listen. And in the 1950s there were only, like, three channels. Three channels with ALL the power.
But it took some time for the corruption to really develop.
The Fairness Doctrine
One of the reasons television didn’t immediately become a brainwashing tool was because of a little thing called the Fairness Doctrine.
The Fairness Doctrine was a doctrine established by the FCC that required all media to present both sides of an issue. And if they didn’t follow this rule, they got an old kick in the behind.
The Fairness Doctrine didn't last forever, though. It was eventually repealed in 1987...to the surprise of no-one.
And they’d been advocating for its repeal because they saw the enormous power television had in influencing the American people.
Advertising is Everywhere
You see, television was already doing a great job in influencing the American people.
Television made the Beatles famous on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Television made cowboys cool again through shows like the Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke.
Advertisers quickly realized the power television had over the American people.
Remember those four political tactics we talked about yesterday? Here, I'll remind you:
1) Keep It Simple
2) Repeat Your Catch-Phrase Again and Again
3) Make It Personal (and Emotional)
4) Always Give a Face to the Enemy
Well, these four tactics weren't just political tactics. They were advertising tactics. And they were used EVERYWHERE.
These tactics captured people's attentions. It brought people back for more. It kept people engaged. It made people emotionally attached.
Sitcoms used these tactics. Sports games used these tactics. Talk-shows used these tactics.
And yes, even balanced news channels used these tactics.
It's unavoidable, really. Advertising techniques are used in everything we do! When we tell stories. When we make a speech in front of an audience. When we type passive aggressive comments on Facebook. Hell, you're reading an advertising technique RIGHT NOW.
So yes, even balanced news channels used these tactics.
However, before 1987, the Fairness Doctrine prevented the complete surrender of our news industry to advertising and bias.
And that's why the Fairness Doctrine got repealed. Because certain politicians saw the potential of a de-regulated news industry in shaping people's views.
Really, it was only a matter of time before the news industry and the political world united.
It was also a great way to make money.
It's Not Biased If It's Fact
I try to stay nonpartisan where I can. But sometimes facts are facts.
And here’s a fact for you: the Republican Party was the first party to adopt these corrupt practices.
Sorry, bro. Facts are facts.
For any major political issue - healthcare, abortion, gun-control, religion - you'll find that the Republican Party were the first ones to adopt these advertising tactics for their political campaigns.
Side note: The evolution of the Republican Party from the 1950s to today deserves its own post. It's suuuuuper interesting and I just don't have time to get into it here.
And since the Republican Party were the first ones to adopt these advertising tactics for their political campaigns, it's not surprising that they were also the first ones to unite the political world and the entertainment world.
Fox News and the Cable TVs
The story of Fox News really is the perfect metaphor for the whole shit-storm that is the Political-Entertainment Loop.
And before you tell me that this is biased and that both sides are corrupt, just listen to the story.
Okay, here’s the story.
This is Roger Ailes.
He’s a piece of shit.
Why is he a piece of shit?
He's a piece of shit for many reasons (twenty-three accusations of sexual assault, overt racism and sexism, and general corruption).
But today he's a piece of shit for another reason.
You see, Mr. Ailes's career up until the mid-1990s was as a political campaigner and advertiser for a number of Republican politicians: Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and even Donald Trump. Roger Ailes was the embodiment of the five advertising tactics we discussed earlier.
But then Ailes took it one step further and decided to unite the political world and the entertainment world using these five advertising tactics.
Roger Ailes created Fox News.
And before you tell me that CNN and MSNBC are just as bad...
I know they are. That’s not my point.
My point is that Fox News represents the ultimate union between two separate industries.
Seventy years of twisting, polarization, manipulation, influence, sensationalism, obfuscation, dramatization, blaming, and lying had finally been united.
Fox News had created the Political-Entertainment Loop.
Yes, I know CNN was founded in 1980. But they weren't the mess they are today. That didn't happen until Fox News introduced them to the Political-Entertainment Loop.
Fox News dragged the rest of cable news down with it.
And the issue with cable news was that it was an ENTIRE 24-HOUR NEWS CHANNEL based one point of view.
With the creation of cable news and the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine people were no longer presented with balanced news. They no longer saw two sides of an issue.
Now people had one point of view drilled into their head 24 hours a day.
And when you have one point of view drilled into your head 24 hours a day, you start to agree with headlines like this:
And Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Worse...
Enter: the Internet.
The internet has been the most influential achievement of the past thirty years. It's changed the way we see the world. It's changed the way we live our lives. It's changed the way we interact with each other. It's changed the way we engage in politics. The internet does a lot of good.
But it also does a lot of bad.
Because the Political-Entertainment Loop that began with Fox News didn't end with Fox News. No, the Political-Entertainment Loop spread. And it spread quickly.
With the creation of the internet came the opportunity for many news websites to find a voice. And many of these sites were born into a world of twisting, polarization, manipulation, influence, sensationalism, obfuscation, dramatization, blaming, and lying.
You might recognize some of the children of this movement:
The internet magnified all the twisting, polarization, manipulation, influence, sensationalism, obfuscation, dramatization, blaming, and lying that cable news had begun.
Except the internet has one big weapon that cable news doesn't have.
The internet has algorithms.
Imagine you are on Facebook scrolling through your timeline. You click on a link from Vice. You spend 15 minutes on the Vice website reading an article. Facebook notes this.
The next time you go onto your Facebook timeline you see another article from Vice. Facebook has placed this on your timeline because it knows Vice grabbed your attention last time.
And then it gets worse. The next time you go on Facebook you see articles from other sources that are kinda similar to Vice. They're liberal clickbait articles - but they grab your attention.
Facebook's algorithm has decided you like liberal news, so it continues to give you liberal news over and over again.
Here's a simplified version of this process at work:
Eventually, you stop seeing ANY conservative information. You ONLY see liberal clickbait articles. You get trapped in a web of bias.
And if you're conservative and saying to yourself, "The liberals are definitely trapped in a bubble. They don't understand the real world," then boy, do I have a response for you: conservative media is even more screwed up.
With liberal media it's obvious which sources are more fringe than another. But with the conservative media it's much less obvious. The conservative political spectrum has been pushed so far right that its media is just one big screwed up mess.
And that's it! There you have it.
Hopefully now you understand how all this twisting, polarization, manipulation, influence, sensationalism, obfuscation, dramatization, blaming, and lying leads to events like...
Charlottesville in 2017
The Election of Donald Trump
And the Coronavirus Social-Distancing Protests.
What Can We Do to Address the Issue?
Luckily there are a couple of things you can do to address the issue.
1) Decide on the world YOU want to see. Take some time to think about this. Do you imagine a peaceful world with open borders? Do you imagine a society without government? Or maybe you imagine a society with complete government control. Once you settle on your ideal world it becomes infinitely easier to see through the bullshit you see on the news. Because once you settle on your ideal world you began to identify social movements that will and will not work for your ideal world. You don't like borders? Well then obviously increased border protection will not work for you.
2) Question everything, but know when to stop. You should read and watch everything with a skeptical mind. Whenever you read a statistic ask yourself, "What is being left out here? Is there a bias?". Usually there is a bias. But beware! Don't question so much that you become a conspiracy theorist. Know when to trust professionals. Look for peer- reviewed sources and other people who question everything. If you see a professional questioning things, that's someone you don't have to question.
3) Learn how to filter. You don't need to know about EVERYTHING that is going on. How many times do you really need to read about Trump? Yes, most of the stuff he does is awful. But will reading about him every day going to change your view of him? Is it going to prevent you from voting him out in November? No. So stop reading about him and just vote him the fuck out in November.
4) Finally, just CARE about politics. Stop making excuses. Get past this wall where you think politics isn’t interesting or that it doesn't effect you. It IS interesting. And it DOES effect you. And it effects other people too. So find some empathy and start caring.
Is This All a Conscious, Malicious Effort?
I'd like to conclude this post by addressing a lingering thought of mine: I often wonder if all of this twisting, polarization, manipulation, influence, sensationalism, obfuscation, dramatization, blaming, and lying is all a conscious, malicious effort.
And I think the answer is both yes and no.
I've come to the conclusion that it's a conscious, selfish effort. People want power and money. And they do this by putting themselves first. But this doesn't mean it's malicious.
Many of the clickbait articles you see on the internet aren't malicious:
No. It's just people trying to get more clicks. Hell, I do it too! I'm not being malicious, I just want people to read my blog posts! (Click here to read the Five Points To Understanding The World Around You. You won't believe Number 4!!)
It only becomes malicious when you knowingly deceive and divide the public for personal gain. Like this piece of shit:
So, in conclusion, that’s how the modern news industry got to now.
While I tried to present things as accurately as possible, I’m sure I got a few facts wrong. The entire Political-Entertainment Loop is complicated. It also isn’t an exact science. So if I’ve made any mistakes, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.
Additionally, if today’s topic interested you AT ALL, I want to point you to three places for additional information:
1) These Truths by Jill Lepore is a nonfiction book about the history of the United States. It’s also where I got the MAJORITY of my information for this post. Seriously, I cannot talk this book enough up enough. Jill Lepore is such an engaging writer and is so skilled at understanding why people do what they do and why things happen.
2) Mrs. America on Hulu is a new series about Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly was one of the leaders of political division in the 1970s and 1980s. She rallied against the Equal Rights Amendment, Feminism, and Abortion and she promoted religion, sexism, and racism. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to talk about this in this post, but if you’re at all interested in learning about it, I urge you to watch Mrs. America.
3) Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath is a nonfiction book that covers advertising techniques made to stick in your mind. You'll come away from this book realizing that EVERYTHING is one big advertising campaign. It will also help you see our world a little more clearly.
Thank so much for reading. See you soon!