Archive for December, 2016

There are so many people questioning the mainstream news these days.  Especially since the present-day media has been throwing around the “fake news” moniker lately.  And, with the mainstream media defining “fake news” for us, maybe we should look into a bit of history.

While researching and writing Peddling Influence, the last project independent film maker William Lewis finished before he died, I read a LOT of stuff. Several things have stuck with me regarding the “news.” But one quote stands out. “There is no such thing, at this stage of the world’s history in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.” It was a fun piece of trivia I used when doing interviews about the project, mainly because, when asked to guess when it was said, people had no idea and considered that it referred to present day.

The quote is from John Swinton and was made some time around the 1880’s! He was giving a speech at a gathering honoring his body of work, but he became irritated and angry, because of the control, even back then.  Swinton went on to say “The Business of a New York Journalist is to distort the truth, to outright lie, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the foot of a Mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread.  We are the tools or vassals of the rich men behind the scenes…We are intellectual prostitutes.”  Swinton was angry.  He could not express his true opinions and he was calling out journalists everywhere for knowing this fact…their opinions, educated as they were, didn’t matter.

The notion of a non-partisan, neutral press was a foreign concept to our founding generation.  That generation applauded an opinionated free press, taking the liberty to protect it with the First Amendment.  The reason?  They felt, with a highly opinionated free press, all viewpoints could be heard.  All points could be freely written and the population could be given information from both sides to help inform them about the matters at hand so they could make educated decisions about their lives and the life of our country.  What our founding generation never took into account, and quite possibly never foresaw, was the manipulation of facts and outright lies the press would foist upon the people in order to control their minds.

But why, you might rightly ask?  Like everything, these days, it’s about control.  It’s about the all mighty dollar.  Elliot D Cohen had this to say about the news media, “What Americans see, hear, and read is now under the careful scrutiny of corporate headquarters and as a result, the public receives a homogenized, self-censored, self-serving version of reality.”

Your next question has got to be, “how did this come about?”  That might be the best question of all.  Providing news isn’t free.  It takes man hours and it takes hard work…but it also takes money.  The notion of paying at least part of the bill using advertising caught on.  In Hamilton Holt’s 1909 paper Commercialism and Journalism, Holt states the printing and publishing industry grew “thirty-fold” while all other industries at the time had grown only “fifteen-fold.”  At the time of his writing, the advertising industry supported the newspaper industry by forty-seven percent, while subscription supported the industry by only thirty-six percent.  According to Holt, advertising changed the media in ways we might not even realize. One New York paper admitted to Holt that ninety percent of its revenues came from advertisers. That’s a whole lot of revenue, but more than that, it’s a whole lot of control!

Look at the hard facts.  In 1880, advertisers spent around seventy-eight cents per person living in the United States. By 1905, the rate had gone up to $1.79 per person. That is a COLOSSAL increase!  Yet, fast forward to just a few years ago.  According to Folio Magazine Online, combined spending on advertising via newspapers, magazines and online in the US was around $68 billion in 2011.  Compared to our US population, advertisers spent an average of nearly $217 a year per man, woman and child in this country. And that doesn’t count television advertising.  Also in 2011, E-Marketer projected that television advertising would reach $60.5 billion. That’s another nearly $193 per person living in the US.  Money talks, and in big ways!

One more thing to take into account, when publishing, especially a paper, it was/is expensive to get journalists to the news.  By deciding just who could be considered an “official source” for news, outlets had a readily available pool of “experts” and information from which to draw “facts.”  These highly regarded “official sources” include government officials and  highly successful business men and women.  Even, actors, actresses and athletes are considered “official sources” for news.  And, the number of satirical sites of information are growing, as well.  Unknowing people read these as fact.

Now, with so many advertisers and “official sources” that have no actual interest in real facts, we have to ferret-out nearly everything we read.  It makes it hard to get the information we need to make positive and reasonable decisions.  Couple all this with the fact that so many people are working so hard just to make ends meet, that becomes a daunting task.  We look toward the news and have become lazy about searching out actual facts. Granted, it is hard to research facts from information from across the country, as well as across the world. But, by and large, the purpose of the free press was to bring in differing view points, not lies and cover-ups.

So, even though the population doesn’t trust our mainstream media, it has become the “truth” in a world rife with many differing opinions and angles.  Again, our founding generation protected opinion-based writing for a specific reason.  To shed light on differing sides of the same argument.  We, as a population, MUST search out alternative sources for the facts in order to be truly informed.  One source will hardly do, as there are a multitude of varied ideas to explore.  Only then are we likely to find true answers.  Only then will we have REAL news.

 

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