Book Excerpt 4.5: Media Manipulation, Censorship, and Patenting Life

528733_507121355964587_625101841_nAs I have discussed, the mass news media is not democratic. It is run a by just a few owners who will censor their own newscasters and writers if what they are writing about is opposed to their business interests. Most mainstream talking heads do not talk about massive socioeconomic inequalities or their real causes for this reason. They also will broadcast gratuitous, emotionally-charged coverage of national tragedies, but they often ignore the biggest tragedies in other countries like the war in the Second Congo War that killed 5.2 million people or the fact that more than three billion people currently live in poverty.

Large corporations also manipulate the media by paying news organizations to run positive stories about them and to avoid negative ones. Money is not always the single motivation for major news pundits, but it is for almost all of the corporate executives who employ them, so quality, honest journalism is very often stifled.

Good journalism about Monsanto’s scandals, for example, has been buried many times. This chemical company only still exists because of its ability to manipulate the media. As I mentioned in the introduction, this company was responsible for about half a million deaths when they created about 19 million gallons of Agent Orange infected with dioxins for the US Air Force for use in Vietnam. Their chemical plants also began producing carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the 1930s until they were banned in 1976. Monsanto also produced DDT, an extremely toxic insecticide from 1946 to 1972 when it was banned. Monsanto even helped extract plutonium for the first nuclear weapons in the Dayton Project for the US government.

Today, this company is best known for its “Roundup” weed killer, which is just glyphosate invented in 1970. In 1982 Monsanto began buying seed companies and patenting genetics to further its way into the agricultural industry. In 1996 Monsanto made “Roundup Ready” soybeans, which were immune to Roundup. Then, the company genetically engineered and patented all kinds of crops (like maize) resistant to Roundup. It is certainly possible this company sprays Roundup on US crops that do not belong to them to force farmers to buy round-up resistant crops. They have also made millions of farmers sign contracts that prohibit them from saving or storing their seeds, and thousands of poor farmers” who have bred and reused their seed have been sued for “copyright infringement” by Monsanto. This is nothing short of misanthropic because it means less people can eat and sustain themselves. Only those who have the money to buy more seeds get to eat.

Plant life should not be allowed to be patented. Corporations cannot restrict nature’s very mechanism for propagation, and insecticides are also unnecessary in the first place. (It is not very difficult to pull weeds. I have pulled thousands. There are also many natural insecticides that are not harmful to crops or animals like neem oil.) Buying Monsanto’s weed killer and their insecticide-immune crops is like buying medicine from the person who is making you sick.

Throughout Monsanto’s existence, it has effectively controlled coverage about these many scandals. The current CEO, Hugh Grant, (not the actor) has very expertly managed public opinion about his sordid company to ensure it stays so profitable. He has called his critics “elitist,” which is ironic coming from a guy who is literally a member of the elite. From 2005-2010, he made $157.17 million and he owned $30 million in Monsanto stock in 2010 according to Forbes.


In 1970 when Genentech first discovered and patented the gene for bovine somatotropin, a peptide hormone produced in cows, they synthesized the gene, creating recombinant bovine growth hormone, (rBGH). Four major pharmaceutical companies developed products using it, including Monsanto, American Cyanamid, UpJohn, and Eli Lilly. When Monsanto began injecting their cows with to increase their milk production, their scientists did a 90-day toxicity study with rats on the milk they produced. In this report, it was shown that consumption of the milk contaminated with rBGH can cause cancer and other health problems, but the FDA ignored these serious health implications because they were likely paid off by Monsanto. (The FDA regularly takes money to approve unsafe drugs.)

WTVT-TV, Florida, Fox news affiliate investigative reporters, Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, were going to report on this issue, but before they could Monsanto’s lawyers faxed Fox News, explaining that there would be “dire consequences for Fox News” if they did not pull the story. The general manager of WTVT, David Boylan, then told Wilson and Akre to pull the story because he explained, “We paid $3 billion for these television stations. We will decide what the news is. The news is what we say it is.”

When the reporters refused to cooperate with Boylan, he tried to bribe them, but they refused again, and he eventually fired them for not agreeing to lie in the report. They then sued Fox for wrongful termination, but Fox appealed the verdict. Five major news organizations rallied in defense of Fox. Belo Corp, Cox, Gannet, Media General, Post-Newsweek all filed briefs in the suit. Wilson and Akre originally sued Fox under the whistle blower statute, which tries to protect those who accuse their employers of wrongdoing. However, the court found that falsifying news is not against the law, so Fox’s appeal was successful. RBGH still remains in US milk across the country while many other nations like Canada have banned it. This story was shown prominently in documentary, The Corporation.

Because the news media is so controlled by corporations and governments, they can use it to justify or manufacture whatever they want. News media corporations also receive most of their information from sources in the government out of convenience because they have the most information. The government ensures its employees know the most, so that they can profit from the selective dissemination of information. Independent sources outside of the government are often harder to find and more difficult to interview, which is why sources within the government are preferred. And if news providers promote an agenda that criticizes their own source or the individual’s colleagues, they are often no longer allowed access to information from the same sources. In some countries, reporters are also killed for opposing the government’s agenda and exposing corruption.

Films and art are also often censored, but usually for different reasons. In America, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are responsible for most of the censorship of American media, and they often censor sex and controversial topics much more than violence. (The MPAA is not surprisingly run by religious people, for the most part.)

The fact that violence is usually uncensored has little to do with the prevalence of violence in America. It is likely more of a reflection of America’s already violent culture. But discerning what is censored and why can be significant. By censoring sex disproportionately, these groups are conveying that violence is more appropriate and acceptable than sex. Pornography is also controlled more tightly in some regions of the world for similar reasons. In Japan it is illegal to show a fully nude woman uncensored in any media, including graphic pornography, which is allowed. But there are no laws about violence in their media. These censorship groups and governments often perceive acts of violence as more “natural” than sex.

Government censorship agencies often censor political messages more than anything else. Most governments do not censor films directly, (some do) but an adult rating will translate into far less viewership, and some theatres won’t even play adult-rated movies. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) censors radio and television heavily as well.

The mainstream news media also often justifies class and culture wars. The drug war, for example, is very rarely questioned by the media. Reporters talk about the “heroic” DEA agents who have made the latest drug bust; they report misinformation about drugs and their effects. Reporters will also discuss the rise in drug crime, but they almost never identify or question the laws that are actually responsible for it or seriously consider legalization and regulation. Many pundits also talk about the “sin” of drug use, which is an idea perpetuated by religions and their leaders.

Like religions drugs are often used as another diversion from reality to help people forget what they do not know or cannot change or accept, and this makes drugs incredibly useful to governments and other power structures. Drugs can make people complacent in terrible circumstances and unaware of the alternatives. But unlike religion, drug use as a diversion has become a more accepted excuse to put people in prison. So everyone who is given the least and exploited the most; the people who most need to escape their painful lives are often the ones who turn to drugs, and the war on drugs is just a convenient way to prosecute, control and profit from them.

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