Media Manipulation

propaganda 1“Impersonal forces over which we have almost no control seem to be pushing us all in the direction of the Brave New Worldian nightmare; and this impersonal pushing is being consciously accelerated by representatives of commercial and political organizations who have developed a number of new techniques for manipulating, in the interest of some minority, the thoughts and feelings of the masses.”
 – Aldous Huxley, Preface to A Brave New World 

Mass Media and Its influence on society

“It is the power that shapes and molds the mind of virtually every citizen, young or old, rich or poor, simple or sophisticated” (Sweet Liberty, 2000, 1). The media is a part of everyday life in America and the West. News and events outside of one’s home or neighborhood are brought to their area via the newspaper, magazines, radio, television, and the internet. As the quote above mentions mass media, and its components, are very powerful and are capable of influencing one’s mind, as well as their behavior. The images and stories introduced to children and young adults make it difficult for these viewers to distinguish between fact and fiction, thus stimulating confusion and blind emulation.


Who Owns the Media?

Over the last 500 years, the influence of mass media has grown exponentially with the advance of technology. First there were books, then newspapers, magazines, photography, sound recordings, films, radio, television, the so-called New Media of the Internet, and now social media. Today, just about everyone depends on information and communication to keep their lives moving through daily activities like work, education, health care, leisure activities, entertainment, traveling, personal relationships, and the other stuff with which we are involved.

It’s not unusual to wake up, check the cellphone for messages and notifications, look at the TV or newspaper for news, commute to work, read emails, take meetings and makes phone calls, eat meals with friends and family, and make decisions based on the information that we gather from those mass media and interpersonal media sources.

So what?

We need to be aware that the values we hold, the beliefs we harbor and the decisions we make are based on our assumptions, our experiences, our education and what we know for a fact. We rely on mass media for the current news and facts about what is important and what we should be aware of. We trust the media as an authority for news, information, education and entertainment. Considering that powerful influence, then, we should know how it really works.

How media Influence us

The degree of influence depends on the availability and pervasiveness of media.  All of the traditional mass media still have great influence over our lives. Books once were supremely influential because they came first before newspapers, magazines, radio or television. Newspapers and magazines became great influencers after they were developed. Sound recordings and film were and still are influential. Radio and then television were very influential.

As the 20th century closed, TV exposed us to untold numbers of images of advertising and marketing, suffering and relief, sexuality and violence, celebrity, and much more. New and influential media-distribution channels have appeared in the 21st century. Delivered via the World Wide Web across the Internet, we are influenced daily by blogs, wikis, social networks, virtual worlds and myriad forms of content sharing.

Who controls the message?

Who owns the media companies that shape our values, beliefs and decisions? A media conglomerate or media group is a company that owns many mass media businesses. According to a recent Fortune 500 list, the top five in terms of revenue are:

  • Walt Disney Company
  • News Corporation
  • Time Warner
  • CBS Corporation
  • Viacom

Other well-known major conglomerates include:

  • NBC Universal
  • Sony Corporation of America

As depicted in the graph above, the number of corporations owning the majority of U.S. media outlets went from 50 to 5 in less than 20 years. Here are the top corporations evolving around the world and the assets they own.

Together, these giants control 95% of all the traditional media we receive every day in America. These media conglomerates own the major television and radio broadcast stations and networks and programming, video news, sports entertainment, entertainment theme parks, movie studios, integrated telecommunications, wireless mobile entertainment and information distribution systems, video games software, electronic and print media, the music industry, and a whole lot more.

Back in the day, there was more diversity in companies, but they have merged over the decades so now they are few in number. Today’s huge merged companies have the power to shape our opinions and beliefs and influence our decisions. This is why it’s important to be aware of what we are exposed to every day, so we can look at things from different perspectives and not just from the perspective of a medium.



Why are audience ratings important?






A commercial medium wants to sell ad space or time to businesses with products or services for sale. To make that sale, they need to be able to tell potential advertisers that their messages on the air, in print, or on the monitor screen will be viewed and heard by large numbers of consumers. For example, here are Nielsen program ratings for cable news channels for April 2012:

1. The O’Reilly Factor – Fox News — 2.87 million total viewers

2. Hannity – Fox News — 2.075 million total viewers

3. Special Report with Bret Baier – Fox News — 1.778 million total viewers

4. On the Record with Greta van Susteren – Fox News — 1.722 million total viewers

5. Fox Report with Shepard Smith – Fox News — 1.688 million total viewers

6. The Five – Fox News — 1.674 million total viewers

7. America’s Newsroom – Fox News — 1.272 million total viewers

8. Your World with Neil Cavuto – Fox News — 1.252 million total viewers

9. O’Reilly Factor (11PM) – Fox News — 1.22 million total viewers

10. America Live – Fox News — 1.191 million total viewers

11. Studio B – Fox News — 1.113 million total viewers

12. Fox & Friends – Fox News — 1.082 million total viewers

13. Happening Now – Fox News — 1.029 million total viewers

14. The Rachel Maddow Show – MSNBC — 985,000 total viewers

15. The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell – MSNBC — 931,000 total viewers

16. The Ed Show – MSNBC — 875,000 total viewers

17. Hardball with Chris Matthews – MSNBC — 744,000 total viewers

18. PoliticsNation – MSNBC — 712,000 total viewers

19. Piers Morgan Tonight – CNN — 567,000 total viewers

20. The Situation Room – CNN — 548,000

Notice that programs owned by News Corporation dominate the first 13.

Bill O’Reilly has five times as many viewers as Wolf Blitzer.


How do media influence public opinion?

Media shape public opinion in different ways depending on the content.

Here’s an example: Following the 9/11 terrorism, media coverage followed accusations by government authorities that pointed toward al Qaeda as the group that carried out the attack on the United States and Osama bin Laden as leader of that group. Those news reports on the attack and the aftermath shaped public opinion to support the war on terrorism.

Other ways to influence public opinion include political advertising. Trends for and against political candidates are measured by public opinion polls. Candidates raise money to pay for media exposure — political advertising — that influences public opinion so they will receive more votes on Election Day.


How do ads influence us?

The media altogether receive billions of dollars in revenue from the advertising they sell and that we are exposed to. Ads in print, on the air and on the Internet tell us what products and services are good. After seeing thousands of persuasive advertising messages, we make buying decisions based on what we saw in newspaper and magazine ads, saw and heard in television and radio ads, and saw and heard in ads on websites. Those ads tell us we can trust a product or service and that many people we know are buying the product or service and liking it.

  • We buy what we see on TV or in the newspaper or on a Web page.
  • We buy things to which our favorite celebrities testify.
  • We buy goods that media tell us are fashionable and acceptable to society.

Here’s an example: If a recreational sport gets a lot of attention from media and through that media exposure your friends begin to enjoy it, you will be more likely to engage in the sport.

Another example: Advertising can have a negative influence on teenagers through the depiction of celebrity movie stars using tobacco products, exposure to thousands of junk food ads, the constant excessive exposure of sexual and violent images, and endless beer ads. We all want to be accepted by our peers. We want to be loved. We want to be successful.

  • Media depict idealized images of handsome men and beautiful women.
  • Media depict idealized characteristics of a successful person.

If you are not like those beautiful, handsome and successful people, advertising tells you it’s time to buy the goods necessary to look like they look.

A sad example: Teenage obesity and anorexia have been identified in recent years as nationwide problems. Even while millions of adolescents presumably are fighting obesity, they are exposed to countless advertisements for fattening junk food juxtaposed against countless idealized images of successful people appearing thin. Many girls and women of average proportions have been influenced to want to look like the images of super-thin models and celebrities they see in media, so they allow themselves to acquire eating disorders, which lead to health issues and even death.



Television Programming

From a purely marketing standpoint, television programmers select titles that are catchy, provocative and attention grabbing. Naturally, like any mega-million dollar industry, corporate media competes for viewers and ratings. And while its common knowledge that various networks, and their advertisers, vie for audience dollars – when viewed with a critical eye – one must pose the question – is this free market mass media enterprise really as “free” as it seems?

Here is a video that shows how Television presenters/interviewers use Neuro Linguistic Programming to discredit or bamboozle interviewees whose message they want to crush; also to shape or influence public perception of certain issues and to prevent certain truths from being heard.


What Is Neuro-Linguistic Programming?

Neuro-linguistic programming (or NLP) is a controversial interpersonal communication model applied in psychotherapy and other contexts of communication and change. It was initially co-created by Richard Bandler and linguist John Grinder in the 1970s based on the communication and behavioral patterns acquired from gestalt therapist Fritz Perls, family systems therapist Virginia Satir and psychiatrist Milton H. Erickson. The originators emphasize modeling of excellence as the core methodology of NLP, that is, the methods they used to imitate and produce the models of exceptional communicators. They also claim that the basic assumptions of NLP draw from aspects of neurology (“neuro-”), transformational grammar (“linguistics”) and cybernetics (“programming”). It has often been promoted as an art and science of effective communication and defined as ‘the study of the structure of subjective experience’. Others put more emphasis on the tools, techniques and applications specific to contexts such as psychotherapy, business management and communications training, motivational seminars, personal development, and teaching.

Here is a example of Fox News using this technique on the audience.


The Standardization of Human Thought

im0393_zp2-e1272830190333The merger of media companies in the last decades generated a small oligarchy of media conglomerates. The TV shows we follow, the music we listen to, the movies we watch and the newspapers we read are all produced by FIVE corporations. The owners of those conglomerates have close ties with the world’s elite and, in many ways, they ARE the elite. By owning all of the possible outlets having the potential to reach the masses, these conglomerates have the power to create in the minds of the people a single and cohesive world view, engendering a “standardization of human thought”.

Even movements or styles that are considered marginal are, in fact, extensions of mainstream thinking. Mass medias produce their own rebels who definitely look the part but are still part of the establishment and do not question any of it. Artists, creations and ideas that do not fit the mainstream way of thinking are mercilessly rejected and forgotten by the conglomerates, which in turn makes them virtually disappear from society itself. However, ideas that are deemed to be valid and desirable to be accepted by society are skillfully marketed to the masses in order to make them become self-evident norm.

In 1928, Edward Bernays already saw the immense potential of motion pictures to standardize thought:

“The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world today. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions. The motion picture can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation. Because pictures are made to meet market demands, they reflect, emphasize and even exaggerate broad popular tendencies, rather than stimulate new ideas and opinions. The motion picture avails itself only of ideas and facts which are in vogue. As the newspaper seeks to purvey news, it seeks to purvey entertainment.”
– Edward Bernays, Propaganda

These facts were flagged as dangers to human freedom in the 1930′s by thinkers of the school of Frankfurt such as Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse. They identified three main problems with the cultural industry. The industry can:

  1. reduce human beings to the state of mass by hindering the development of emancipated individuals, who are capable of making rational decisions;
  2. replace the legitimate drive for autonomy and self-awareness by the safe laziness of conformism and passivity; and
  3. validate the idea that men actually seek to escape the absurd and cruel world in which they live by losing themselves in a hypnotic state self-satisfaction.

The notion of escapism is even more relevant today with advent of online video games, 3D movies and home theaters. The masses, constantly seeking state-of-the-art entertainment, will resort to high-budget products that can only be produced by the biggest media corporations of the world. These products contain carefully calculated messages and symbols which are nothing more and nothing less than entertaining propaganda. The public have been trained to LOVE its propaganda to the extent that it spends its hard-earned money to be exposed to it. Propaganda (used in both political, cultural and commercial sense) is no longer the coercive or authoritative communication form found in dictatorships: it has become the synonym of entertainment and pleasure.

“In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies — the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”
– Aldous Huxley, Preface to A Brave New World

A single piece of media often does not have a lasting effect on the human psyche. Mass media, however, by its omnipresent nature, creates a living environment we evolve in on a daily basis. It defines the norm and excludes the undesirable. The same way carriage horses wear blinders so they can only see what is right in front of them, the masses can only see where they are supposed to go.

“It is the emergence of mass media which makes possible the use of propaganda techniques on a societal scale. The orchestration of press, radio and television to create a continuous, lasting and total environment renders the influence of propaganda virtually unnoticed precisely because it creates a constant environment. Mass media provides the essential link between the individual and the demands of the technological society.”
– Jacques Ellul

One of the reasons mass media successfully influences society is due to the extensive amount of research on cognitive sciences and human nature that has been applied to it.


Manipulation Techniques

“Publicity is the deliberate attempt to manage the public’s perception of a subject. The subjects of publicity include people (for example, politicians and performing artists), goods and services, organizations of all kinds, and works of art or entertainment.”

The drive to sell products and ideas to the masses has lead to an unprecedented amount of research on human behavior and on the human psyche. Cognitive sciences, psychology, sociology, semiotics, linguistics and other related fields were and still are extensively researched through well-funded studies.

“No group of sociologists can approximate the ad teams in the gathering and processing of exploitable social data. The ad teams have billions to spend annually on research and testing of reactions, and their products are magnificent accumulations of material about the shared experience and feelings of the entire community.”

– Marshal McLuhan, The Extensions of Man


Strange old 7up ad using the cuteness of babies. Sex is ubiquitous in mass media, as it draws and keeps the viewer’s attention. It directly connects to our animal need to breed and to reproduce, and, when triggered, this instinct can instantly overshadow any other rational thoughts in our brain.

The results of those studies are applied to advertisements, movies, music videos and other media in order to make them as influential as possible. The art of marketing is highly calculated and scientific because it must reach both the individual and the collective consciousness. In high-budget cultural products, a video is never “just a video,” Images, symbols and meanings are strategically placed in order to generate a desired effect.

“It is with knowledge of the human being, his tendencies, his desires, his needs, his psychic mechanisms, his automatisms as well as knowledge of social psychology and analytical psychology that propaganda refines its techniques.”
– Propagandes, Jacques Ellul (free translation)

Today’s propaganda almost never uses rational or logical arguments. It directly taps into a human’s most primal needs and instincts in order to generate an emotional and irrational response. If we always thought rationally, we probably wouldn’t buy 50% of what we own. Babies and children are constantly found in advertisements targeting women for a specific reason: studies have shown that images of children trigger in women an instinctual need to nurture, to care and to protect, ultimately leading to a sympathetic bias towards the advertisement.


Subliminal Perception

What if the messages described above were able to reach directly the viewers’ subconscious mind, without the viewers even realizing what is happening? That is the goal of subliminal perception. The phrase subliminal advertising was coined in 1957 by the US market researcher James Vicary, who said he could get moviegoers to “drink Coca-Cola” and “eat popcorn” by flashing those messages onscreen for such a short time that viewers were unaware.

“Subliminal perception is a deliberate process created by communications technicians, by which you receive and respond to information and instructions without being consciously aware of the instructions”
– Steve Jacobson, Mind Control in the United States

This technique is often used in marketing and we all know that sex sells.




Although some sources claim that subliminal advertising is ineffective or even an urban myth, the documented usage of this technique in mass media proves that creators believe in its powers. Recent studies have also proven its effectiveness, especially when the message is negative.

” A team from University College London, funded by the Wellcome Trust, found that it [subliminal perception] was particularly good at instilling negative thoughts. There has been much speculation about whether people can process emotional information unconsciously, for example pictures, faces and words,” said Professor Nilli Lavie, who led the research. We have shown that people can perceive the emotional value of subliminal messages and have demonstrated conclusively that people are much more attuned to negative words.”



In the past, when changes were imposed on populations, they would take to the streets, protest and even riot. The main reason for this clash was due to the fact that the change was clearly announced by the rulers and understood by the population. It was sudden and its effects could clearly be analyzed and evaluated. Today, when the elite needs a part of its agenda to be accepted by the public, it is done through desensitization. The agenda, which might go against the public best interests,  is slowly, gradually and repetitively introduced to the world through movies (by involving it within the plot), music videos (who make it cool and sexy) or the news (who present it as a solution to today’s problems). After several years of exposing the masses to a particular agenda, the elite openly presents the concept the world and, due to mental programming, it is greeted with general indifference and is passively accepted. This technique originates from psychotherapy.

“The techniques of psychotherapy, widely practiced and accepted as a means of curing psychological disorders, are also methods of controlling people. They can be used systematically to influence attitudes and behavior. Systematic desensitization is a method used to dissolve anxiety so the the patient (public) is no longer troubled by a specific fear, a fear of violence for example. […] People adapt to frightening situations if they are exposed to them enough”.
– Steven Jacobson, Mind Control in the United States

Predictive programming is often found in the science fiction genre. It presents a specific image of the future – the one that is desired by the elite – and ultimately becomes in the minds of men an inevitability. A decade ago, the public was being desensitized to war against the Arab world. Today, the population is gradually being exposed to the existence of mind control, of transhumanism and of an Illuminati elite. Emerging from the shadows, those concepts are now everywhere in popular culture. This is what Alice Bailey describes as the “externalization of the hierarchy”: the hidden rulers slowly revealing themselves.


Orwell Rolls in His Grave

Directed by Robert Kane Pappas, Orwell Rolls in His Grave questions whether the bleak, feverishly regulated world of author George Orwell’s 1984 is no longer a dire fictional account of government power gone wrong but a creeping reality of recent American media trends. The film focuses on the media’s least covered topic — itself — in an effort to trace the process by which newsworthy stories are either dismissed entirely or distorted into something more politically suitable for the heads of various media conglomerates. It also studies how influential politicos became responsible for an industry that was largely created in order to keep political abuse in check. Among the interviewees include legal scholar and former L.A. prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, film director and author Michael Moore, and Danny Schechter, a former producer for ABC and CNN. Pappas also covers the expansion of the news media and examines whether the onset of competitive 24-hour news stations has actually led to a nationally less informed public.



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