The media is manipulated in all manners, for example through professional public relations (PR), and covert and overt government propaganda which disseminates propaganda as news. What are often deemed as credible news sources can often knowingly or unknowingly be pushing political agendas and propaganda.
Media management and public relations is very professional
The impacts of public relations cannot be underestimated. In the commercial world, marketing and advertising are typically needed to make people aware of products. There are many issues in that area alone (which is looked at in this site’s section on corporate media1.) When it comes to propaganda for purposes of war, for example, professional public relations firms can often be involved to help sell a war. In cases where a war is questionable, the PR firms are indirectly contributing to the eventual and therefore unavoidable casualties. Media management may also be used to promote certain political policies and ideologies. Where this is problematic for the citizenry is when media reports on various issues do not attribute their sources properly.
Some techniques used by governments and parties/people with hidden agendas include:
Paying journalists to promote certain issues2 without the journalist acknowledging this, or without the media mentioning the sources;
Governments and individuals contracting PR firms to sell a war3, or other important issues
Disinformation or partial information reported as news or fact without attributing sources that might be questionable
PR firms feeding stories to the press4 without revealing the nature of the information with the intention of creating a public opinion (for example, to support a war, as the previous link highlights where even human rights groups fell for some of the disinformation, thus creating an even more effective propaganda campaign)
The Gulf War in Iraq, 1991, highlighted a lot of PR work in action. Founder of the Washington PR firm, The Rendon Group, John Rendon told cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1996:
Such technical phrases like truth projection hide their true meanings and intent: propaganda. One can understand how these have been tactics of war. Churchill used such a technique to fool the Nazis regarding the Normandy landings, for example. Yet, in the Iraq example, PR is turned onto one’s own citizens to convince them to support a war or make it look more glorious and right, than could otherwise have been.
The 2003 war on Iraq saw similar amounts of public relations and media manipulation at work. A detailed account was given by Ahmed Chalabi who seemed to boast how he helped influence major politicians and countries into drumming the beats of war against Iraq. This is discussed in further detail on this site’s Iraq section6.
In March 2005, the New York Times revealed that there has been a large amount of fake and prepackaged news created by US government departments, such as the Pentagon, the State Department and others, and disseminated through the mainstream media. The New York Times noted a number of important issues including:
The US Bush administration has aggressively used public relations to prepackage news. Issues with this have included that:
A number of these government-made news segments are made to look like local news (either by the government department or by the receiving broadcaster);
Sometimes these reports have fake reporters such as when a reporter covering airport safety was actually a public relations professional working under a false name for the Transportation Security Administration;
Other times, there is no mention that a video segment is produced by the government;
Where there is some attribution, news stations simply rebroadcast them but sometimes without attributing the source.
These segments have reached millions;
This benefits both the government and the broadcaster;
This could amount to propaganda within the United States as well as internationally.
Effectively, American tax payers have paid to be subjected to propaganda disseminated through these massaged messaged.
Citing the New York Times at length:
(This all actually started with the Clinton administration, and has increased tremendously in breadth and scope with the Bush administration. The Bush administration spent $254 million in its first term on public relations contracts, nearly double what the last Clinton administration spent, the Time also notes.)
Government Propaganda through Prepackaged News
When some government officials were confronted about this problem by the Times a common response was that they didn’t believe it was propaganda or there was nothing wrong. When it was the case that the news stations didn’t source the segment correctly, this can be understood. But, when the segment itself has been used to pursue ideological or political agendas, then this response is more questionable. Furthermore, the Times also noted, that
When some station news directors were confronted with this,
In an example, to mark the one year anniversary of the September 11 2001 attacks on America, WHBQ, the Fox affiliate in Memphis had an uplifting report about Afghanistan and the improving situation for women. The report seemed to corroborate, however modestly, a central argument of the Bush foreign policy, that forceful American intervention abroad was spreading freedom, improving lives and winning friends.
Furthermore, what both the people of Memphis and the actual reporter from WHBQ herself were not told was that interviews used by WHBQ were actually conducted by State Department contractors. The contractors also selected the quotes used from those interviews and shot the video that went with the narration. They also wrote the narration, much of which [the reporter] repeated with only minor changes.
As another example, the Pentagon offers free satellite feeds. The Pentagon Channel, available only inside the Defense Department last year, is now being offered to every cable and satellite operator in the United States. A good news and positive image is being portrayed. 50 stories it filed last year were broadcast 236 times in all, reaching 41 million households in the United States. Reporters, for example, are never identified by their military titles making it easier for local stations to run reports unedited. Few stations acknowledge the military’s role in the segments. Stories are also tailored for local broadcast by highlighting local soldiers to help increase positive feelings.
Much of this sort of thing, the Time noted comes straight from the White House:
Illegal US Domestic Propaganda but Legal International Propaganda?
The above-mentioned strategy by the Bush administration to emphasize positive views of American efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq reveals some deeper issues hinted to, but not explored by the Times article:
While further above it was noted that domestic propaganda may be a problem here, so too is the admission that propaganda to foreign audiences is ok.
In the past the US has (rightly) criticized other governments for interfering with democratic processes in other countries (such as warning Russia about interfering in recent Ukraine elections.) Yet, the Voice of America is also disseminating US government views into other countries.
Benefits for Broadcaster
As the Times also noted, Many local stations are expanding their hours of news coverage without adding reporters. A video news release company, TVA Productions, said in a sales pitch to potential clients, 90 percent of TV newsrooms now rely on video news releases.
The pressure and desire to output more with less is increasing. Budgets and staff at news networks are shrinking, while there is continuing demand for news. Ready-to-run segments have at least two effects:
Broadcasters benefit as they get more reports without additional costs.
Propaganda is potentially allowed through, with less checks, and harder traceability as segments are fed through a vast network of broadcasters and redistributers.
The Times also noted that
In addition, The State Department typically distributes its segments via satellite to international news organizations like Reuters and Associated Press Television News, which in turn distribute them to the major United States networks, which then transmit them to local affiliates. In this way, a large audience is reached.
Media Channel30 looks into media issues in general
Administration Rejects Ruling on PR Videos
31, Washington Post, March 15, 2005, Page A21. This article is about how the GOP claiming fake news from the government amounts to propaganda, and how the Bush administration rejects that.