Updated: Jun 21, 2020
The modern American news industry has a lot of issues. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. And it's something we can all agree on, no matter what your political views are.
Just look at these headlines:
IT NEVER ENDS.
The modern news industry twists information. It polarizes its viewers. It manipulates emotions. It influences how people think. It sensationalizes, obfuscates, dramatizes, blames, and lies.
And all this twisting, polarization, manipulation, influence, sensationalism, obfuscation, dramatization, blaming, and lying leads to one thing: Your Attention.
Why does the modern news industry want Your Attention?
Because Your Attention is the world’s most desirable commodity. It’s what everyone wants.
Because if you can get people to pay attention, you can do anything. You can get people emotionally invested. You can shape people’s opinions. You can make people feel important. You can get people to do things.
But most importantly, you can make money.You can make a lot of money.
Money is the goal. Money is always the goal. Every industry follows the money, and they’ve followed the money since the start of, well…money!
Why do you think the Super Bowl charges so much for advertising? It’s because the Super Bowl has captured millions of people’s attentions. They know advertisers can capitalize on this attention and make millions of dollars.
However, the American news industry is a little different than the Super Bowl because the American news industry takes the process one step further.
You see, the American news industry doesn’t operate by itself. It needs another system to thrive. It needs our political system.
And our political system needs the American news industry in return...
Yeah, it's an unhealthy relationship.
The Political-Entertainment Loop
This unhealthy relationship between our news industry and our political system forms a process that I’ve termed the Political-Entertainment Loop.
The Political-Entertainment Loop is a vicious cycle of twisting, polarization, manipulation, influence, sensationalism, obfuscation, dramatization, blaming, and lying.
It's a cycle where our political system and our American news industry work together to get your attention.
And if they can get your attention, they can get your money.
And yes. The Political-Entertainment Loop is screwed up. It's unhealthy. It's corrupt.
But it wasn't always like this. There was actually a time when our political system was a lot healthier than it is today.
Once Upon a Time in Washington, DC...
For many of us, it’s hard to imagine a time when our political system wasn’t completely screwed up.
But, surprisingly, there was a time when our political system wasn't completely screwed up
In fact, there was a time when our political system was so un-screwed up, some people were actually worried about how moderate it was.
And now you’re probably wondering when this un-screwed up period took place.
This un-screwed up period took place in the 1950s.
This period was so moderate, they're considered the most moderate period of our country’s history. The majority of Americans didn’t know which party was liberal and which was conservative. And our political parties actually agreed on many issues.
Here’s something you might not believe:
Both parties supported gun rights until the 1970s. In fact, the National Rifle Association were the leading supporters behind nation-wide gun control at one point. Hell, even Ronald Reagan signed a gun-control act for California in 1967.
And here’s something more unbelievable:
The Republican Party strongly supported family planning and abortion rights until the 1970s. In fact, they supported it so much that political rivals nicknamed George H.W. Bush “Rubbers”. Yes, they called him Rubbers. As in condoms. Hell, Reagan was known for signing one of the most liberal abortion laws ever.
Why was our culture so moderate back then?
Well, it was a mixture of a few things:
First, a little war named World War II brought our country together. During WWII our country didn’t really have the capacity to worry about much else, so we kinda forgot about other issues for a moment. Plus, fighting the Nazis was something both political parties could agree on…
Second, mass communication was new. Radio had only just emerged a few decades before and television was only now emerging in the 1940s and 1950s. The opportunity to take advantage of the American people (and make a few bucks) just hadn’t been discovered yet! Corruption takes time to develop. Be patient!
Third, the Fairness Doctrine prevented overt bias and corruption in our media. The Fairness Doctrine was a law that required the media to report both sides of an issue (or in other words, unbiased news). Our culture under the Fairness Doctrine was completely different than the culture you see today. It had an enormous impact on the way we saw our world. Unfortunately the Fairness Doctrine was eventually repealed (we'll explore this in tomorrow's post).
And all three of these things created a normal, healthy political system!!
The American Brainwashing Experiment
So, what changed in our political system that led to the anger and vitriol we see today?
Again, it was money. People realized they could make a lot of money.
This realization began in 1933 with the creation of a little company called Campaigns, Inc.
Campaigns, Inc. was a political advertising agency designed to sway public opinion in a specific direction…for a small fee, of course.
The company ran ad campaigns for a number of conservative politicians and political causes. Some of these campaigns included Richard Nixon's presidential campaign, numerous state elections for California (one of which included author Upton Sinclair), and, most notably, a nation-wide campaign for privatized healthcare.
Here's the kicker: Campaigns, Inc. won nearly every election they campaigned for.
To see how they did it, let’s take a look at their healthcare campaign they ran in the 1940s.
Death, Taxes, and the Healthcare Debate
In the 1930s and 1940s, our country overwhelmingly supported the adoption of a universal healthcare system. America had just been through the Great Depression and many people depended on the federal government for all kinds of support.
The natural next step for our country seemed to be the adoption of a universal healthcare system. I guess you could say that universal healthcare was almost...uh...universally... supported!
But the private healthcare and insurance industries didn’t like this because they made a lot of money from the privatize industry.
So the private healthcare and insurance industries hired Campaigns, Inc. to create an advertising campaign to sway public perception of universal healthcare.
Why did they want to sway public perception? Because the public are the ones voting politicians into office. If the public supports something and a politician doesn’t, the public won’t vote that politician into office.
And you might say to yourself, “Sure, but this really only works with big elections. People don't really care about local elections..."
You're right. People don't care about local elections.
And that's how political parties realized that it's very important to act as a unified group.
Because if your entire political party supports private healthcare and you convince voters to support private healthcare you can get voters to support your party down the entire ballot.
And when an entire party supports a specific issue across the board, it breeds trust in voters. That way, if a voter doesn't recognize a Republican's name on a ballot, they'll still vote Republican simply BECAUSE they support the private healthcare industry.
Side note: In case you're wondering, Democrats certainly weren't innocent here. But the Republicans were the first to really breed partisanship in American voters. It's a long story that has to do with government mistrust, communism, religion, and an efficient approach to retaining voters that we don't have time to get into here - but I promise we will soon!)
The campaign against universal healthcare was an overwhelming success for the private healthcare industry. It was so successful that people are still campaigning for universal healthcare TO THIS DAY.
And that’s only one example.
Campaigns, Inc. ran a ton of campaigns.
And they ended up changing the face of politics forever.
Psychology of the Masses
After the multiple successes of Campaigns, Inc., a flip switched in politics.
Because here’s what Campaigns, Inc. taught us: politicians don't have to represent the people. Instead, politicians could influence people's opinions so that people would vote a certain way.
And all they had to do was turn politics into its own advertising agency. And this advertising agency boiled down to a few tried-and-true tactics:
1) Keep your campaign simple. Focus on a phrase or an idea. If people have to think about it, simplify it even more.
2) Repeat this phrase or idea again and again. Then repeat it again. Then again. And again. If you think you’ve repeated it too much, you haven’t. Repeat it again.
3) Make it personal (and emotional). Make them feel like this is a personal issue for them.
4) Always have an enemy. And if you don’t have one, create one.
5) Make it entertaining. People don't want to think, they want to be entertained. Make it a fight if you have to.
Think about every successful campaign you've seen. They all use these five campaign techniques.
Hell, even Mucinex created a face for their enemy:
The goal of these campaigns is to drill the idea into people’s heads. To really make them feel something. And if they feel something, then they'll do something about it.
Let's drive this point home with one more example.
So, You're a Political Party and You've Managed to Influence Millions of Americans to Support Private Healthcare. What Next?
Let's role-play for a moment.
Let's pretend you're a political party and you just ran a campaign to promote the private healthcare industry.
You've painted universal healthcare as the enemy. Universal healthcare is communist. It's anti-American.
The other political party supports universal healthcare. Therefore they're the enemy. This makes them communist and anti-American.
Your campaign was a smashing success and you managed to convince millions of Americans to support the private healthcare industry.
You've got an amazing opportunity here. It's important to take advantage of the situation.
What do you do next?
First, you take advantage of the people who already support the private healthcare industry. And there are a ton of people who have a personal interest in the private healthcare industry. For example, those who run private insurance companies and hospital systems make a lot of money in the private healthcare industry. These people will financially support your party as long as you support the private healthcare industry.
Second, you double down on the group of people you've successfully convinced that private healthcare is good. You'll want them to continue to believe that private healthcare is good and that universal healthcare is bad. This way, you maintain your hold over them and they will continue to vote for you in the future.
And there you go! Now you're rich. You're on easy street. Just sit back and let the money roll in.
This Ain't a Scene, It's An Arms Race
Your rival political-party is watching you closely. Remember those guys? They're the ones who lost the healthcare campaign from earlier.
Your rival is angry they lost. And they've been taking notes on the money and power you've been gaining recently.
The best way for your rival to keep up with you is to copy everything you've done. Otherwise your rival will continue to fall behind...
So your rival starts to run campaigns like the one you ran. They paint the private-healthcare and your political party as evil and heartless. They start to gain money and power.
They also get people to vote for their party down the entire ballot.
Soon, it becomes an arms race. Every time your rival does something successful, you copy it. Every time you do something successful, your rival copies it.
And if you continue this arms race for long enough, you push people to their natural extremes.
You'll get something like what you saw in Charlottesville a few years back:
Or like what you saw in 2016 during Trump's presidential campaign:
Or like what you saw during the social-distancing protests in Michigan recently:
EVERYTHING becomes a partisan issue.
However, we're still missing half of the story. Because without the modern American news industry the entertainment side of the Political-Entertainment Loop doesn't exist.
But, unfortunately, the entertainment side of the Political-Entertainment Loop does exist. And the entertainment side all 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.
Television introduced catchphrases like "sock it to me" and "dy-no-mite".
Advertisers quickly realized the power television had over the American people.
Remember those five political tactics we talked about earlier? 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 Have an Enemy
5) Make it Entertaining
Well, these five 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-stormthat 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 four 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 four 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!