Propaganda in the news is not subtle. Propaganda about minorities in America today, for example, is still blatant. However, the language has changed. In the 1920s it was not uncommon for racial slurs to appear in newspapers, whereas modern corporate news pundits today condemn entire ethnicities in more subtle ways. Conservative pundit, Lou Dobbs, for example, has talked repeatedly about the “threat of the illegal alien,” instead of using more outright slurs, (which is surely what he would like to do). But his choice of words is still hateful and it alienates millions of residents of the US. Similarly, black victims of police brutality in the US are often called “thugs” or “gang members” in the news, even when they have no gang affiliations whatsoever. Neo-Nazis like the Proud Boys and Richard Spencer are now called a part of the “alternative right,” a euphemism used in an attempt to legitimize their fascism. Although propaganda has become slightly more “politically correct”, the covert hate and bigotry in it is just as dangerous, if not more so because many people do not realize it is biased. Thus, it becomes the “new normal.”
The corporate news and other media programs have also become far more obtuse and reductive in many ways, mainly because this is what governments and large corporations want. TV stations overrun the airwaves with mindless programming, films, music, and advertisements that are meant to keep us simple, ignorant, uninformed, biased, statist, and consistent consumers of products and the government’s propaganda. Reality shows that glamorize the lives of some the most ignorant people imaginable can also make us value intelligence less. “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” should not need to be asked to adults. (At the very least, education beyond a fifth grade level seems like a reasonable prerequisite to be an adult allowed on a game show. But it’s not because the mean-spirited purpose is to humiliate and laugh at the uneducated and those who lack certain talents.)
These shows also make contestants debase themselves for money. They often reward thoughtless acts performed purely for shock value with money and fame. NBC’s Survivor and the Fear Factor are extreme examples. Young children are exploited and exposed in many reality TV shows as well, altering their lives forever in some cases.
The entertainment “news” industry has also turned celebrities into “gods.” People no longer have to be talented or intelligent to become or remain famous. They just have to exist and be broadcast repeatedly until they are cemented in the zeitgeist. There are, of course, people who become famous for good reasons. But very talented, thoughtful, compassionate, intelligent famous people with a great deal to say do not generally dominate the airwaves. Author Jaron Lanier wrote “If you want to know what’s really going on in a society or ideology, follow the money. If money is flowing to advertising instead of to musicians, journalists, and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than with truth or beauty. If content is worthless, then people will start to become empty-headed and contentless…Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.”
The advertising industry itself has also sunk to new lows. They appeal to consumers’ baser instincts and encourage sameness and apathy for the benefit of the few. They also market some of the most socially and environmentally useless and deceptive products and services imaginable. If major advertisers actually had the intention of helping anyone, they would not make enough money to be able to afford prime-time slots on major networks.
Major television networks and advertisers also monitor their consumer’s habits. They know who is watching and when and they advertise accordingly. They will broadcast commercials for online colleges, school loans, “easy” jobs, debt consolidation, and quick loans with heavy interest rates usually between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm and very late at night because they know unemployed individuals not in school are more likely to be watching television during these periods than those with very time-consuming jobs or academic obligations. After midnight, phone sex lines, soft-core porn, and expensive dating services are often advertised because they know some lonely people will be watching. Again, this is not to benefit consumers but rather to exploit specific demographics. (I personally cannot imagine “phone sex” is very satisfying.) Advertisements often prey on people’s weaknesses and take advantage of their insecurities. Isolated people are especially vulnerable to this because corporations claim many products must be owned to be socially involved and liked.
Advertisers also aren’t above targeting children (children and teenagers, in fact, consume more media than they any other age group) and this can have very harmful effects. The identities of children are very malleable and vulnerable, especially during what psychologists call the“critical period” because they are still developing every day. Therefore, if advertisers make children superficial, materialistic, statist, or gullible, they may remain this way for the rest of their lives.
Transnational advertising groups that most people have never heard of make billions of dollars doing this. One example is Publicis Groupe’s Starcom MediaVest, which made $5.418 billion in 2011. WWP Group had revenue of $10 billion in 2011. OnicomGroup, which may sound equally unfamiliar, made $13.9 billion in revenue in 2011. These companies have no legal commitment to social or environmental utility. They exist solely to make a profit through advertising and will advertise anything that will make a profit.
We ought to be careful not to rely on telecommunication too much to stay connected and informed because it is so often manipulated. There is no substitute for interacting, learning, connecting, and building bonds in real life. The Apple Corporation, Microsoft, and similar mega-corporations are truly essential to no one’s existence or at least they don’t have to be. People who become overly reliant on their phones and their computers may begin to feel more alienated from those close to them and appear as apathetic when they are actually just absorbed with their own pursuits and difficulties.
Telecommunication, of course, has positive aspects as well as negative ones. The internet can be an amazing source of information and it is one of the last venues for real free speech. Many websites allow individuals to post whatever they like, and many are uncorrupted by political or corporate influence. However, the internet can also be a misleading source of information if the wrong voices are amplified and trusted, so we should be very mindful about whom we decide to trust and why. A framework of understanding is vital before navigating and learning from the internet. We can benefit from telecommunication as long as we do not use it passively, endlessly, or without much thought.
Since most corporations rely on political powers, they do not want to do anything to disturb their relationship with them. However, the internet, the newest form of communication, has managed to be less corrupted by corporate and political influence. The internet has greatly increased many people’s awareness of social and environmental issues and government corruption because the internet gives so many people a voice. There are too many people voicing their opinion for the government to silence or ignore them all. But now the state and the “elite” want to take away the internet as well, and they have in many countries to silence political dissidents. (In 2013 according to a Gallup survey, only 3% of the population of Afghanistan had internet-access.1) In America, PIPA (Protect IP Act) and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) legislation threatened internet freedom. Fortunately, due to online protests on January 18th and 19th of 2012 (some popular websites like Wikipedia were taken down in protest) both Acts were suspended.
However, fresh attacks still threaten free speech on the internet. For example, net neutrality, which requires internet service providers (ISPs) treat all content as the same, is currently under attack, threatening free speech on the internet. Without net neutrality, companies can favor some websites or users over others, slow (or “throttle”) connections to certain websites, charge more for using others, and completely censor some websites at their own discretion. Telecom giants AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon Wireless have already been caught violating net neutrality, even with the rules in place. Title II (common carrier) of the Communications Act of 1934, which created the FCC essentially makes net neutrality law in America. It wasn’t until February 26 2015, however, that the FCC ruled to reclassify broadband internet as a telecommunications service, allowing it fall under the purview of Title II. Trump’s FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai, a shill for the telecommunications industry is attempting to reclassify broadband as a private luxury instead of a public utility, essentially killing net neutrality and allowing the industry to “regulate” itself. If he succeeds this would be disastrous.
Another way that ISPs censor information and monopolize on the service is by entering into exclusive broadband contracts with landlords that prevent their tenants from using any other internet service provider. These types of contracts were outlawed in 2008 by the FCC but they are still common due to the fact that landlords can prevent competing ISPs from installing their equipment in their tenants apartments.2 This has an especially deleterious effect on the poor, as poor people more often rent since they can’t afford to buy property. This means the most vulnerable people of society are being charged the most for their internet access and exposed to the most censorship, thereby limiting their access to information that would enable them to help themselves.
In 2006 there were four billion cell phone and ground-line subscribers and over one billion internet users worldwide. However, most people on Earth still do not have internet access, so the potential social and environmental value of the internet is not as wide-reaching as it could be. Everyone on Earth could feasibly have internet access for a fraction of what is spent on the military, and this could be a very important step forward. The internet could enable worldwide communication, collaboration, and assistance, and people, nonprofit organizations, and communities in the world could become autonomous and far happier as a result. To this end, since telecommunication giants can’t be trusted, we must make our own small, nonprofit, employee-owned or community owned internet service providers that respect net neutrality, free speech, and privacy, giving everyone a voice and the opportunity to be heard. Alternatively, existing ISPs could be “expropriated” by common people and their employees, occupied, and taken over with the same principles in mind. This would have a lower carbon footprint than establishing new ISPs from scratch.
4.6 Media Manipulation, Censorship, and Patenting Life
As discussed the corporate, mass news media is not democratic or autonomous. It is run by just a few major owners who censor their own newscasters and writers when what they are discussing about is opposed to their business interests. Most mainstream talking heads do not discuss the massive socioeconomic inequities that exist the world over or their real causes for this reason. They will also broadcast gratuitous, emotionally-charged coverage of national tragedies and mass shootings, but they often ignore the biggest atrocities committed by the state and tragedies in other countries like the war in the Congo that killed five million people or the fact that 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and 4.5 billion lack access to safe sanitation services,
Other 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 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 mentioned in part one of this book, Monsanto was responsible for about 500,000 deaths (and even more birth defects) when they created 19 million gallons of Agent Orange infected with dioxins for the US Air Force. In the 1930s Monsanto’s chemical plants began producing carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) until they were banned in 1976. Monsanto produced DDT, an extremely toxic insecticide that devastated wildlife and increased cancer rates in humans 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. The company has had its hands in so many evil endeavors, it sounds like something out of a Marvel comic book.
Monsanto is best known today for its “Roundup” weed killer, which is just the herbicide glyphosate invented in 1970. (Glyphosate was actually patented in 1964 as a chemical chelator by Stauffer Chemical as it binds and removes calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper, and zinc, which makes it even more damaging to soils3.) In 1982 Monsanto began buying seed companies and patenting genetics to further its way into the agricultural industry. In 1996 Monsanto created genetically modified “Roundup Ready” soybeans, which were immune to Roundup. The company then genetically engineered and patented all kinds of crops (like maize) resistant to Roundup. It is certainly possible this company sprays Roundup via crop dusting planes on US crops that do not belong to them to encourage farmers to buy round-up resistant crops. This has been documented in Argentina and has increased the rates of cancer and congenital illnesses in the country. A report by the National Health Commission found that “31 percent of those interviewed in Avia Terai reported a relative with cancer in the last decade. The figure was three percent in another village called Charadai, far from [sprayed GM] soybean crops.”4 In some areas of Argentina, planes can legally spray their poison within 50 meters of schools.5 Monsanto has also made millions of farmers sign contracts that prohibit them from saving or storing the seeds from their own plants, and thousands of poor farmers who have bred and reused their seed have been sued for “copyright infringement.” This is nothing short of misanthropic insanity because it means less people can eat and sustain themselves. No one individual, corporation, or any entity should be able to patent life. Thousands of poor farmers in India have killed themselves because they faced lawsuits from Monsanto they couldn’t possibly defend themselves from and yet this continues. There have been more than 300,000 farmer suicides in India since 1995 (when the WTO came into force), most of which were concentrated in the cotton belt.6 95% of that cotton is controlled by Monsanto. Out of India’s 29 states, those with Monsanto’s cotton genetically engineered to resist Bacillus thuringiensis have the highest suicide rates according to Dr. Vandana Shiva.7
Glyphosate can cause not only cancer8, but autism, birth defects, and it replaces glycine in our DNA, resulting in a myriad of genetic mutations, organ failure, interstitial lung diseases, and many other diseases. It also stays with us for generations according to Dr. Anthony Samsel. Monsanto and the “experts” it pays off tell us we “need” these chemicals to feed the world but this is an egregious lie. Food has been grown by humans organically since the Neolithic Revolution. These pesticides, on the other hand, were produced just decades ago. We already produce enough food to feed 9 billion people but there are starving people because it is not distributed by need and a large portion is wasted. Agrochemical corporations like Monsanto are in part to blame for this. Government agencies are also highly complicit in the proliferation of GMOs and toxic foods, including agencies that certify organic foods. For example, according to Dave Henson, an organic farmer for 25 years presently with Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, “the USDA considered a National Organic Legislation that would include genetically modified food, irradiated foods, and use of toxic sludge and that would be considered as bio-fertilisers.”9
Again, no one should be allowed to patent life. Patents in general ought to be abolished. Corporations cannot restrict nature’s very mechanism for propagation or claim it as their own, and synthetic insecticides, pesticides, and fungicides are unnecessary anyway. (It is not very difficult to pull weeds. I have pulled many.) There are also many natural insecticides and fungicides that are benign when diluted like neem oil and natural biological controls like ladybugs, which eat pests like aphids. Buying Monsanto’s weed killer and their glyphosate immune crops is much 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 done a very good job of managing public opinion about his sordid company. For example, 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 or rBGH. Three major pharmaceutical companies developed products using it, including American Cyanamid, UpJohn, and Eli Lilly. When Monsanto began injecting their cows with rBGH to increase their milk production, their scientists did the same with lab rats in a 90-day toxicity study on the milk they produced. In this report it was shown that consumption of milk contaminated with rBGH can cause cancer and other severe health problems, but the FDA ignored these serious health implications likely because they were 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 when they refused again he fired them. The reporters then sued Fox for wrongful termination. Fox appealed the verdict and five major news organizations rallied in defense of Fox because major news outlets all want to continue to make up the news as they see fit with no accountability to further their own socioeconomic agendas. Belo Corp, Cox, Gannet, Media General, and Post-Newsweek stations all filed briefs in the suit. Wilson and Akre originally sued Fox under the whistle blower statute, which aims 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 remains in US milk across the country while many other nations like Canada have banned it. This story was shown prominently in the documentary, The Corporation. The solution for this problem is simple. So long as governments and laws exist, it is common sense to criminalize the falsification of news. There are also independent organizations that verify the veracity of claims made by the news media and these ought to be watched more closely.
Because the corporate news media is so controlled by corporate executives and the state, they can use it to justify or manufacture essentially whatever they like. Corporate news media platforms also receive most of their information from sources in the government out of convenience because they often have the most information about state affairs. Higher ups in government ensure agents of the state know the most about what the state is doing, so that they can profit from the selective dissemination of information. Independent sources outside of the government are often harder to find, more difficult to interview, and perceived as less credible, which is why sources within the government are preferred by the corporate news media. And if news providers promote an agenda that goes against the government, 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. Therefore, it’s not just cronyism and greed that further this alliance between corporate media and the state; it’s also self-preservation in some cases.
Films and works of art are also often censored but usually for different reasons. In America, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the FCC are responsible for most of the censorship of American media, and they often censor sex and controversial topics much more than fictional violence. (The MPAA is not surprisingly run by religious fundamentalists, for the most part.) The FCC censors radio and television heavily as well.
Violence is less censored in America likely because of America’s already violent culture. 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 and much media reflects that. The effects this has on young children and teenagers is probably devastating. Censorship is not the answer. Media should be treated as the same regardless of its content but the content also ought to reflect that sex is far more natural and better for the world than mindless violence. Government censorship agencies often censor political messages more than anything else. Most governments do not censor films directly, (though some do) but an adult rating will translate into far less viewership, and some theaters won’t even play adult-rated films.
The mainstream, corporate news media also often attempts to justify class and culture wars. The drug war, for example, is very rarely questioned by the corporate media. Reporters talk about the so-called “heroic” DEA agents and cops who have made the latest drug bust and they report egregious misinformation about drugs and their effects. Users, sellers, drug cultures, and more are vilified. Reporters will also discuss rises in drug crime, but they almost never identify or question the laws that are truly responsible or seriously consider legalization and regulation. Many pundits also talk about the “sin” of drug use, but this is obviously reductive and silly.
Like religious superstition drugs are often used as another diversion from reality that help us forget what we do not know or cannot change or accept, and this makes drugs incredibly useful to governments and other power structures. The worst drugs can make many individuals complacent in terrible circumstances and blind to alternatives. But unlike religion, drug use 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, which the next part of the book will discuss, is the easiest way to prosecute, control, and profit from them.