Thom's blog - Monday December 27th, 2010

You need to know this. The mainstream media has been taken over by Conservative ideology. A new Pew Research Center Survey studied the media exposure of politicians during the recent midterm elections. What they found was – out of the ten most covered candidates during the election season – the top 3 were all Republicans. And most surprising – Sarah Palin – who essentially has no job and was not running for one – received three times more coverage to spew her talking points than the sitting Vice President Joe Biden. Also – conservative commentators like Glenn Beck received considerably more media coverage than their more liberal counterparts like Keith Olbermann. These findings from the Pew Research Center are similar to a study by MediaMatters back in 2006 that found that Republican talking heads appeared on Sunday morning news shows 58% of the time compared to Democratic commentators appearing only 42% of the time. And finally – reporter Sebastion Jones – with “The Nation” magazine – uncovered at least 75 corporate lobbyists or PR officials that now appear on television political talk shows with no disclosure of what business interests they actually work for. Their job? To do the bidding of their corporate overlords under the disguise of “expert political commentary”. So now can we finally put an end to the myth that there is a liberal bias in the mainstream media? And hopefully now start recognizing we need to create new media outlets that aren’t beholden to corporate interests or the talking points of their billionaire owners like Rupert Murdoch. Maybe then American will again hear the news they need to know.


Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 12 years 13 weeks ago

I think the media has largely been under conservative control for a long time, a fact that has only recently been brought to light by studying the content of the news -- something which could have been done long ago. Considering the dominance of conservative ideology in our so-called political news, it is actually remarkable and quite encouraging that Democrats and progressives are faring better than Republicans politically these past few years. Once we start getting real news again, we should really see some progress.

Arrgy's picture
Arrgy 12 years 13 weeks ago

Aren't the air time stats, 91% right wing to 9% Liberal?

Did every one see the new university study? This IS a 100% corporate fascist country. America is dead.

Study Confirms: Watching Fox News makes you stupid

Study Confirms That Fox News Makes You Stupid
A new survey of American voters shows that Fox News viewers are significantly more misinformed than consumers of news from other sources.
December 15, 2010 |

Yet another study has been released proving that watching Fox News is detrimental to your intelligence. World Public Opinion, a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, conducted a survey of American voters that shows that Fox News viewers are significantly more misinformed than consumers of news from other sources. What’s more, the study shows that greater exposure to Fox News increases misinformation.

So the more you watch, the less you know. Or to be precise, the more you think you know that is actually false. This study corroborates a previous PIPA study that focused on the Iraq war with similar results. And there was an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that demonstrated the break with reality on the part of Fox viewers with regard to health care. The body of evidence that Fox News is nothing but a propaganda machine dedicated to lies is growing by the day.

In eight of the nine questions below, Fox News placed first in the percentage of those who were misinformed (they placed second in the question on TARP). That’s a pretty high batting average for journalistic fraud. Here is a list of what Fox News viewers believe that just aint so:

* 91 percent believe the stimulus legislation lost jobs
* 72 percent believe the health reform law will increase the deficit
* 72 percent believe the economy is getting worse
* 60 percent believe climate change is not occurring
* 49 percent believe income taxes have gone up
* 63 percent believe the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts
* 56 percent believe Obama initiated the GM/Chrysler bailout
* 38 percent believe that most Republicans opposed TARP
* 63 percent believe Obama was not born in the U.S. (or that it is unclear)

The conclusion is inescapable. Fox News is deliberately misinforming its viewers and it is doing so for a reason. Every issue above is one in which the Republican Party had a vested interest. The GOP benefited from the ignorance that Fox News helped to proliferate. The results were apparent in the election last month as voters based their decisions on demonstrably false information fed to them by Fox News.

By the way, the rest of the media was not blameless. CNN and the broadcast network news operations fared only slightly better in many cases. Even MSNBC, which had the best record of accurately informing viewers, has a ways to go before it can brag about it.

The conclusions in this study need to be disseminated as broadly as possible. Fox’s competitors need to report these results and produce ad campaigns featuring them. Newspapers and magazines need to publish the study across the country. This is big news and it is critical that the nation be advised that a major news enterprise is poisoning their minds.

This is not an isolated review of Fox’s performance. It has been corroborated time and time again. The fact that Fox News is so blatantly dishonest, and the effects of that dishonesty have become ingrained in an electorate that has been been purposefully deceived, needs to be made known to every American. Our democracy cannot function if voters are making choices based on lies. We have the evidence that Fox is tilting the scales and we must now make certain its corporate owners do not get away with it.

Al Kelly's picture
Al Kelly 12 years 13 weeks ago

C'mon Tom, you and we knew this for all the years of the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush years. The corporates have owned the ads on all the media and thus, control the news--which is allllll conservative, backward, war-mongering, uninformed, guns and weapons, CIA-Corporate-Military Industrial-Media Complex so-called news. Kelly

DRichards's picture
DRichards 12 years 13 weeks ago

Has everyone read "Death of the Liberal Class" by Chris Hedges?

It is a scathing commentary regarding the Democratic Party (which no longer represents the working class).

Arrgy's picture
Arrgy 12 years 13 weeks ago

Chris Hedges .. lol

Death of a "class" of people? Liberals are a class? We have to be thee most diverse class of all time then.

Wicked's picture
Wicked 12 years 13 weeks ago

Thom, et al.:

Duh. This is because RepubliCorp has won the entire playing field in that no matter what the issue, they control the framing. And because progressives are reacting to that framing, all their actions do is reinforce the RepubliCorp take on the issues. Check it out:

FYI, George Lakoff's "Untellable Truths." This article explains both how to reframe the discourse and why it must be done. I believe that reframing the discourse is one of if not the most important thing that we can do.
The only thing with which I disagree are Lakoff's comments on illegal immigrants. Mr. Lakoff asserts that the middle class, what is left of it, benefits from illegal immigration as much and is as dependent upon it to maintain their lifestyle as the rich. I disagree. It's the rich who benefit from and whose lifestyle is built on the labor of illegal workers -- the middle class is being squeezed and is hurt almost as much as the lower class by illegal immigration.I am sharing these reframing memes with every progressive activist, policy maker and spokesperson, every reasonable news commentator of which I know. And I implore you to help reframe the discourse away from the talking points and memes of the right and toward the reality of conditions for the vast majority of American citizens, toward the framing described by Mr. Lakoff.
Please help reframe the discourse in a way that helps the other 98% of America. Please encourage all of the members of your organization, your staff, etc. to do the same. If we start the reframing now, we can hope for a shift in the future. The Republicans have been playing the long game and are very good at it. We need to get to be as good at the long game, and we need to do so with all deliberate speed.

# # # # #

From George Lakoff, in "Untellable Truths," The Huffington Post, Friday 10 December 2010. If you have the time, please follow the link and read the entire article -- though my editing of the content has been minimal, all of the bold font in the text (as opposed to the headings) is mine, not the author's.

Materialist Perspectives

The differences between Democratic progressives and the president over the tax deal the president has made with Republicans is being argued from a materialist perspective. That perspective is real. It matters who gets how much money and how our money is spent.

But what is being ignored is that the answer to material policy questions depends on how Americans understand the issues, that is, on how the issues are realized in the brains of our citizens. Such understanding is what determines political support or lack of it in all its forms, from voting to donations to political pressure to what is said in the media.

What policies are proposed and adopted depend on how Americans understand policy and politics. That understanding depends on communication. And it is in that the Democrats -- both the president and his progressive critics -- have surrendered. The Democrats have left effective communication to the conservatives, who have taken advantage of their superior communications all too well.

From the progressive viewpoint, the president keeps surrendering in advance -- giving in to conservatives before he has to and hence betraying Democratic principles. From the president's perspective he is not surrendering at all; instead he is a pragmatic incrementalist -- getting the best deal he can for the poor and middle class one step at a time.

Progressives differ on the reasons for the president's behavior. Either he has no backbone to stand up for what he believes in, or his actions define his beliefs and he is more conservative than those who voted for him thought.

The progressives' economic policy arguments are sound: continuing reduced tax payments for the wealthy will not work as a serious economic stimulus and will greatly increase the deficit and make the economic picture worse. From a progressive moral perspective, it isn't fair; it increases an economic disparity that is already much too large.

The president's pragmatic incrementalist arguments seem reasonable from his perspective: He got more immediate money for the poor and middle class than he gave to the rich, and the poor and middle class need as much as possible now (pragmatism) and further incremental steps can be taken later (incrementalism).

Those are the materialist arguments among Democrats. I want to shift the frame to the major causal factor that is being ignored on both sides: the role of communication in shaping what Americans understand.

Helping the Other Side

As someone who studies how brains work and how language affects politics, I see things somewhat differently. From my perspective, there is a form of surrender in advance on both sides -- a major communications surrender.

Let's start with an example, the slogan "No tax cuts for millionaires." First, "no." As I have repeatedly pointed out, negating a frame activates the frame in the brains of listeners, as when Christine O'Donnell said "I am not a witch" or Nixon said "I am not a crook." Putting "no" first activates the idea "Tax cuts for millionaires."

Next, "millionaires." Think of the tv show, "So you want to be a millionaire" or the movies "Slumdog Millionaire" and "How to Marry a Millionaire." To most Americans, being a millionaire is a good thing to aspire to.

Then, there is "tax." To progressives, taxes are forms of revenue allowing the government to do what is necessary for Americans as a whole -- unemployment insurance, social security, health care, education, food safety, environmental improvements, infrastructure building and maintenance, and so on.

But the conservative message machine, over the past 30 years, has come to own the word "tax." They have changed its meaning to most Americans. They have been able to make "tax" mean "money the government takes out of the pockets of people who have earned it in order to give it to people who haven't earned it and don't deserve it." Thus, "tax relief" assumes that taxation is an affliction to be cured, and a "tax cut" is a good thing in general. Hence, conservatives make the argument, "No one should have their taxes raised."

The conservative slogan activates the conservative view of taxes. But the progressive slogan "No tax cuts for millionaires" also activates the conservative view of taxes! The progressives are helping the conservatives.

The conservatives have a superior message machine: Dozens of think tanks with communications facilities, framing experts, training institutes, a national roster of speakers, booking agents to books their speakers in the media and civic groups, and owned medias like Fox News and a great deal of talk radio. Their audience will hear, over and over, "No one should have their taxes raised."

There is no comparable progressive message machine. But even if one were to be built, the Democrats might still be using messages that are either ineffective or that help the conservatives. Why?

Language, The Brain, and Politics

[P]olitical science, economics, law, and public policy... use a scientifically false theory of human reason [which] posits that reason is conscious, that it can fit the world directly, that it is logical (in the sense of mathematical logic), that emotion gets in the way of reason, that reason is there to serve self-interest, and that language is neutral and applies directly to the world. ...[E]very part of this is false.

The brain and cognitive sciences have shown that Reason is physical, it does not fit the world directly but only through the brain and body, it uses frames and conceptual metaphors (which are neural circuits grounded in the body), it requires emotion, it serves empathic connections and moral values as well as self-interest, and language fits frames in the brain not the external world in any direct way.

Conservatives... are ...up on how the brain and language work. And over the past three decades they have not just built an effective message machine, but they repeated messages that have changed the brains of a great many Americans. [emphasis mine]

Democrats can do effective messaging while being sincere and factual. But this takes insight into the nature of unconscious reason and the role of language.

It's Complicated


• Democrats need to unite behind a simple set of moral principles and to create an effective language to express them. President Obama in his campaign expressed those principles simply, as the basis of American democracy. (1) Empathy -- Americans care about each other. (2) Responsibility, both personal and social. We have to act on that care. (3) The ethic of excellence. We have to make ourselves better so we can make our families, our communities, our country and the world better. Government has special missions: to protect and empower our citizens to have at least the necessities. I don't know any Democrats who don't believe in these principles. They need to be said out loud and repeated over and over.

• Leaders need a movement to get out in front of. Not a coalition, a movement. We have the simple principles. Those of us outside of government have to organize that unified movement, and not be limited by specific issue areas. The movement is about progressivism, not just about environmentalism, or social justice, or labor, or education, or health, or peace. The general principles govern them all.

• Many people... have both conservative and progressive moral systems and apply them in different issue areas. ... They are the crucial segment of the electorate to address. Each moral system is represented by a circuit in their brains. The more one circuit is activated and strengthened the more the other is weakened. Conservatives have moved them to the right by repeating conservative moral messages 24/7. The Democrats need to activate and strengthen the progressive moral circuitry in their brains. That means using only progressive language and progressive arguments, and not moving to the right or using the right's language. This is the opposite of "moving to the center." There is no ideology of the center, just combinations of progressive and conservative views.

• Don't use conservative language, since it will activate their moral system in the brains of listeners. Don't try to negate their arguments. That will only make their arguments more prominent. Use your own language and your own arguments. Truth squads and wonk rooms are insufficient.

• Remember that in the conservative moral system, the highest moral principle is to preserve, defend, and extend the conservative moral system itself. For example, from their perspective, individual responsibility is moral; social responsibility is not.

• Learn the difference between framing and spin/propaganda. Framing is normal; we think in frames. If you want to formulate a policy that is understandable, the policy must be framed so it came be readily communicated. Framing precedes effective policy. When you use framing to express what you really believe and what the truth is, you are just being an effective communicator. Framing can also be misused for the sake of propaganda. I strongly recommend against it.

• Educate the press and the pollsters to all of these matters.

• Find a part to play in getting an effective communications system going!

For a detailed background, take a look at my book, The Political Mind.

Untellable Truths

The conservative message machine has so dominated political discourse that they have changed the meaning of words and made some truths untellable by political leaders in present discourse. It takes a major communication effort to change that.

Here are just a few examples of presently untellable truths:

• There is a Principle of Conservation of Government: If conservatives succeed in cutting government by the people for the public good, our lives will still be governed, but now by corporations. We will have government by corporations for corporate profit. It will not be a kind government. It will be a cruel government, a government of foreclosures, outsourcing, union busting, outrageous payments for every little thing, and pension eliminations.

• The moral missions of government include the protection and empowerment of citizens. Protection includes health care, social security, safe food, consumer protection, environmental protection, job protection, etc. Empowerment is what makes a decent life possible -- roads and infrastructure, communication and energy systems, education, etc. No business can function without them. This has not been discussed adequately. Government serving those moral missions is what makes freedom, fairness, and prosperity possible. Conservatives do not believe in those moral missions of government, and when in power, they subvert the ability of government to carry out those moral missions.

• The moral missions of government impose a distinction between necessities and services. Government has a moral mission to provide necessities: Adequate food, water, housing, transportation, education, infrastructure (roads and bridges, sewers, public buildings), medical care, care for elders, the disabled, environmental protection, food safety, clean air, and so on. Necessities should never be subordinated to private profit. The public should never be put at the mercy of private profit. Public funds for necessities should never be diverted to private profit.

• Services are very different; they start where necessities end. Private service industries exist to provide services -- car rentals, parking lots, hair salons, gardening, painting, plumbing, fast food, auto repair, clothes cleaning, and so on. It is time to stop speaking of government "services" and speak instead of government providing necessities. Similarly, "spending" does not suggest providing necessities. "Spending" suggests services that could just as well be eliminated or provided by private industry. Economists should drop the term "spending" when discussing necessities.

The market is supposed to be "efficient" at distributing goods and services, and sometimes, with appropriate competition, it is. But the market is most often inefficient at proving necessities, because every dollar that goes to profit is a dollar that does not go to necessities. Health care is a perfect example.

Public servant pensions have been earned. Public servants have taken lower salaries in return for better benefits later in life. They have earned those pensions through years of hard work at low salaries. Pensions were ways for both corporations and governments to pay lower salaries. Responsible institutions, public and private, took the money saved by committing to pensions and invested it so that the money would be there later. Those corporation and governments that took the money and ran are now going broke. Those institutions (both companies and governments) are now blaming the unions who negotiated deferred earnings in the form of pensions or benefits for the lack of money to pay pensions. But the institutions themselves (e.g., general motors) are to blame for not putting those deferred salary payments aside and investing them safely.

• Education is a public good, not a private good. It benefits all of us to live in a country with educated people. It benefits corporations to have educated employees. It benefits democracy to have educated citizens. But conservatives are only considering education as a means to make money and hence as a private good. This leads them to eliminate the public funding of education, which is a major disaster for all of us, not just those who will either be denied an education or who will be forced into unconscionable debt.

• Huge discrepancies in wealth are a danger to democracy and a cause for major public alarm. The enormous accumulation of wealth at the top of American society means unfair access to scarce resources, a restriction on access to necessities for many, and a grossly unfair distribution of power -- power over the media and political power.

• Tax "cuts," "breaks," and "loopholes" sound good... What they really mean is that money is being transferred from poorer people to richer people: The poor and middle are giving money to the rich! Why? Money that would otherwise go to their necessities: food, education, health, housing, safety, and so on is instead going into the pockets of super-wealthy people who don't need it.

• Markets in a democracy have a fundamentally moral as well as economic function. Working people who produce goods and services are necessary for businesses and should be paid in line with profits and productivity. Salary scales in private industry are a matter of public, not just private concern. Middle-class salaries have not gone up in 30 years, while the income of the top 1 percent has zoomed upward astronomically. This is a moral issue.

• Carbon-based fuels -- oil, coal, natural gas -- are deadly. They bring death to people and animals and destruction to nature. We are not paying for their true cost because they are being subsidized... Death comes from the poisoning of air and water through pollution and natural gas frakking. And global warming pollution destroys nature itself... [O]il and coal companies... are profiting hugely from our payouts... And with the money ordinary citizens are giving to them in subsidies, they are corrupting the political process...

• What is called "school failure" is actually a failure of citizens to pay for and do what is needed for excellent schools: early childhood education, better training and pay for teachers, a culture of learning in place a culture of entertainment, a poverty-free economy.

• Taxpayers pay for business perks. Because business can deduct the costs of doing business, taxpayers wind up paying a significant percentage of business write-offs... Businesses regularly rip off taxpayers through tax deductions.

The economic crisis and the ecological crisis are the same crisis. It has been caused by short-term greed. Thomas Friedman has described it well. The causes of both are the same: Underestimation of risk. Privatization of profit. Socialization of Loss. But that truth lies outside of public discourse.

• Low-paid immigrant workers make the lifestyles of the middle and upper classes possible. Those workers deserve gratitude -- as well as health care, education for their kids, and decent housing.

Notice that it takes a paragraph to tell each of these truths. Each paragraph creates a frame required for the truth to be told. Words are defined in terms of such conceptual frames. Without the frames in common understanding, there are presently no simple commonplace words to express the frames. Such words have to be invented and will only come into common use when these presently untellable truths become commonplace truths. Try to imagine how public understanding would have to be enhanced for expressions like the following to come into normal public discourse:

• greed crisis in place of economic crisis

• blessed immigrants in place of illegal immigrants

• government for profit in place of privatization

• public theft in place of tax breaks

• failing citizens in place of failing schools

• corporate cruelty in place of profit maximization

• deadly coal in place of clean coal

Presidents can have a discourse-changing power if they know how to use it and care to use it. But they cannot do it alone.

If there is a teachable communication moment for President Obama, this is it. Bring back "empathy" -- "the most important thing my mother taught me." Speak of "empathy" for "people who are hurting." Say again how empathy is basis of democracy ("caring for your fellow citizens"), how we have a responsibility to act on that empathy: social as well as personal responsibility. Bring the central role of empathy in democracy to the media. And make it clear that personal responsibility alone is anti-patriotic, the opposite of what America is fundamentally about. That is the first step in telling our most important untellable truths. And it is a necessary step in loosening the conservative grip on public discourse.

For videos of the president speaking about empathy, Google: Obama Empathy Youtube, and Obama Empathy Speeches.

George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of The Political Mind and Don't Think of an Elephant!

[The emphasis, ie bold font, in the text is mine, not the author's.]

mrdana's picture
mrdana 12 years 13 weeks ago

Where is the FCC in all this? Doesn't the Obama administration have the opportunity to replace the corporate shills now on the FCC board with a panel that will more reasonably respect the honest dialogue required? How about we break up these media monopolies.


P.S. If I have to hear one more story about the "improving economy" when I know millions are suffering in poverty I think I'll puke. So much for the liberal media.

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