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<