I have been thinking about the propaganda system in the United States for a while now. This article, adapted from a talk I did for the environmental club at the college I’m going to. This system is multifaceted, including movies, board games, music, radio, “educational” textbooks, reality shows, comedy shows, all the media networks and the Pentagon. To explain this simply, there are three aspects of this system: Big Business, corrupted educational system, the Pentagon system, corporate or government advertising, the Public Relations Industry and the “business community” policy groups which depend on each other. What Ziauddin Sardar’s and Merryl Wyn Davies wrote in Why Do People Hate America? about the media in the United States could be applied to other areas as well, that the aspects of this system promote “consumerism, business…the interests of the government and…power elite.”
Diagram of the system itself (simply)
Dead Prez’s song tells us about this system through the lyrics of their aptly named song titled “Propaganda”: “You can’t fool all the people all of the time, but if you fool the right ones the rest will fall behind. Tell me who’s got control of your mind, your world, the news or the movie, you’re bringing your girl to? Uncle Sam got a plan…what they planting in the seeds of the next generation, feeding our children mis-education…The news that you’re seeing is propaganda…they feed us all this half-ass minutia…the TV screen is telling lies to your vision…Can you tell you me whose greedier: the Big Corporations, the Pigs or the Media?…The news that you’re seeing is motherfuckin’ propaganda!…lies for the millions. What are they teaching our kids in these school buildings?…Controlling our lives”
That song gives quick overview of the propaganda system itself. I’ll start off by explaining the term “Big Business,” a term that is defined again and again. Basically it means large profit-making corporations that have massive influence on social and political policy. This includes, if you base it on Forbes lists of “America’s largest private companies,” and “the world’s biggest public companies” big business includes corporations like Monsanto, Exxon Mobil, JPMorgan Chase, General Electric, and so on. Of those companies, Walt Disney Company, News Corp., Time Warner, Viviendi, and Viacom are involved in the main parts of this system, reality shows, comedy shows, infotainment, spectator sports, and commercial/public radio. Board games, video games, and more are included as well.
I’ll start with the mainstream media, which I call the “Imperial Press” like Gore Vidal in Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta because the United States is an empire. This includes the New York Times, the Washington Post, the corporate TV channels of ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CNN, the obvious business channels (CNBC, and Fox Business), MSNBC, the Public Broadcasting Network (PBS), National “Public” Radio (NPR) with massive corporate sponsorship, the Associated Press (AP), Reuters, other publications like the Washington Times, Time Magazine, Newsweek, the voice of Wall Street (The Wall Street Journal), and so on. Still, it must be recognized that of these outlets, the mainstay of them is controlled by “Comcast, Walt Disney, News Corp, Time Warner, Viacom, and CBS” which are “the six largest television media companies” along with General Electric, the world’s third largest company, and the investment firm Bain Capital which is “a major contender in radio” which allows for a full bias of all “news,” spreading disinformation. Ziauddin Sardar’s and Merryl Wyn Davies’s write in Why Do People Hate America? that the media in the United States filters out “diverse and dissenting voices,” while “promoting consumerism, business and the interests of the government and the power elite” because much of what the media shows is commercial or political propaganda. This is why Gil-Scott Heron penned a song titled “the revolution will not be televised” about how the media will not follow political movements. In short, these outlets do not expose the crimes of the state; work against the public interest, and in the service of the state.
Instead of going into a drawn out discussion about the specifics of what corporations show reality shows, comedy shows, infotainment, and spectator sports I believe it is better to use a speech by Howard Beale in the 1976 film, Network: “So, listen to me! Television is not the truth! Television is a goddamned amusement park, that’s what television is! Television is a circus, a carnival, a travelling troupe of acrobats and story-tellers, singers and dancers, jugglers, side-show freaks, liontamers and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business! If you want truth, go to God, go to your guru, go to yourself because that’s the only place you’ll ever find any real truth! But, man, you’re never going to get any truth from us. We’ll tell you anything you want to hear. We lie like hell!…We’ll tell you any shit you want to hear! We deal in illusion, man! None of it’s true! But you people sit there– all of you — day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds– we’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe this illusion we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think the tube is reality and your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing! We’re the illusions!”
That movie is one of my favorite movies of all time and it’s always relevant. Anyway, the 1958 speech Edward Murrow gave to the Radio-Television News Directors Association is reactionary in another way, as he said that television can teach and illuminate, but if it isn’t used for those purposes, then “it is merely wires and lights and a box.” On a similar note, Immortal Technique says that we should “stop letting corporate news tell lies” to us and that we should “turn off the news and read.” Gangsta Rap and Hip-hop Group Public Enemy says that we should “never believe the hype” while Brian Botkiller sings his song Wake Up Call that “the television tells you who to blame. It’s all to keep your entertained.” This is evident with spectator sports, which include football, ice hockey, baseball, NASCAR, the Preakness, and the Olympics, among others. Noam Chomsky in Secrets, Lies and Democracy describes this phenomenon. What Chomsky writes I fully agree with: “I have nothing against sports. I like to watch a good basketball game and that sort of thing. On the other hand, we have to recognize that the mass hysteria about spectator sports plays a significant role. First of all, spectator sports make people more passive, because you’re not doing them—you’re watching somebody doing them. Secondly, they endanger jingoist and chauvinist attitudes, sometimes to quite an extreme degree…spectator sports…[cause antagonistic and violent thoughts making them]…very dangerous…interactive technology for men [and women in spectator sports makes one]…forget about all this business of deciding what ought to happen with health care [or other important political issues]…interactive technology reflects an understanding of the stupefying effect spectator sports have in making people passive, atomized, obedient non participants—nonquestioning, easily controlled and easily disciplined…If you can personalized events of the world…you’ve succeeded in directing people away from what really matters and is important.” This is the problem I have with these sports and it is why I try to shy away from watching them on TV. There is one other area I’d like to focus on: commercial public radio. Simply put, the big outlets of NPR and PBS are basically “elite institutions” that reflect “the points of view and interests of wealthy professionals who are close to business circles” who “happen to be liberal by certain criteria.” NPR, which should rightly be called National Pentagon Radio has taken sides in the Syrian Civil war by putting a bias in their articles which results in the reinforcing “of who the good guys are and who the bad guys are” which one could argue “molds opinions…and is preparation for war and conflict.” In addition, on NPR’s board of directors, there is a direct connection to the elite Council on Foreign Relations (I’ll talk about them later), a multi-billion dollar energy company named FirstEnergy Corp, the 24th biggest bank in the country, KeyCorp. and an independent investment bank named Lincoln International. PBS, on the other hand, which should rightly be called the Petroleum Broadcasting Service, has had major oil companies as sponsors of FRONTLINE like Shell Oil and BP, which makes it no surprise that investigative journalist Greg Palast would call PBS’s special on the BP Oil Spill, “a tale that could have been written by the PR department at BP’s competitor, Chevron.” Also, NOVA, which is a show loved in science classes (at least to my knowledge) is funded by Lockheed Martin and the Koch Brothers while the big funder of PBS, the Macarthur Foundation has connections to the biggest education company in the world and the Council on Foreign Relations. This isn’t even looking into the funding behind these two news outlets, which would no doubt have connections to corporate outlets. Now, the education system as I hinted a sense earlier is tied into this system as well.
The corrupted nature of education system brings in propaganda. Noam Chomsky explains in What Uncle Sam Really Wants that “the media are only one part of the larger doctrinal system; the other parts are journals of opinion, the schools and universities, academic scholarship and so on…the larger system hasn’t been studied as much because it’s harder to investigate systematically.” In the elite institutions in this country, mainly including ones like Harvard, Cornell University, Stanford, Columbia University, Ohio State, MIT, University of Chicago, Yale, along with those of the other high-ranking institutions (including top contributors in education), it’s easiest to put corporate propaganda into the minds of people. Those in high positions of business schools are also those who caused the economic crisis creating an academic conflict of interest, as discussed in Inside Job, which makes economics in these institutions corrupted. This makes the people in these schools servants for corporations. The “textbook four” as one could call them are Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Reed Elsevier, and Houghton Mifflin, which offer “textbooks in all major subjects and at all grade levels for states, districts, and teachers to choose from” according to the American Textbook Institute. In order for these companies to get big, smaller independent companies have been swallowed up and unlike the smaller companies, since three of the four (McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Reed Elsevier) are publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the textbook four don’t have “have deep convictions about what their books contain, how “hard” they are, or even if they are “printed.”” In addition, since these products are in place, its “almost unthinkable that major textbook publishers would undercut or tamper with their established products.” This is no surprise because those on the board of Pearson McGraw-Hill, Reed Elsevier, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have connections to the Financial Times, Nokia Corp., Standard and Poors, Textron, Inc., Chamber of Commerce, Blackstone Group and Business Insider. There are many more economic connections, as Pearson is the world’s largest education company, McGraw-Hill owns Standard and Poors Index while they publish a magazine on the aerospace industry and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is owned by Blackstone Group, Thomas H. Lee Partners and yes, Bain Capital. These connections and many others shape the content that goes into the textbooks which the basis of the line Dead Prez’s song, Propaganda, which asks: “What are they teaching our kids in these school buildings?”
Instead of going into more detail about propaganda in the school system I feel that I should talk about the propaganda that comes out of the Pentagon. As Anti-Flag explains that the propaganda of the Pentagon causes the media to be state run, their song, the whole song that is from, “Anatomy of an Enemy” ought to shown: “…Have the media broadcast only the ruling party’s information. This can be done through state run media. Remember, in times of conflict all for-profit media repeats the ruling party’s information. Therefore all for-profit media becomes state-run…Use nationalistic and/or religious symbols and rhetoric to define all actions. This can be achieved by slogans such as “freedom loving people versus those who hate freedom.” This can also be achieved by the use of flags…Design propaganda to show that your soldiers have feelings, hopes, families, and loved ones. Make it clear that your soldiers are doing a duty; they do not want or like to kill.”
While this song is a good overview of the propaganda, there is more to it. There are tactics used to keep military spending at a high. Late Gore Vidal wrote in his famed book, The American Presidency about the propaganda President Truman put out the convince Americans “communists” were the enemies. Such a tactic worked and military spending was hiked up which led to the creation of the National Security State with the passing of the National Security Act of 1947. In a secret government order called National Security Directive No. 68, part of the plan was to “mobilize the whole of America to fight the [supposedly] terrible specter of communism.” In reality, the scare of communism was good for business, leading to a totally militarized economy. Later, Noam Chomsky wrote in his book The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many says that in the early 1990s, the Pentagon used propaganda to whip “up hysteria about taxation…and bureaucracies that interfere with profits” but that the population is individualistic and “doesn’t take orders very well.” However, with the advent of video games and the continued use of board games, an aggressive and angry approach to problems is often sought after, creating the ideas of jingoist attitudes in people. Some of these games support violence, death and destruction and usually the ones bought most often. Along with the fear mongering of the news media, often these games create more crime in a sense as people use them sometimes in order to kill actual people, not people in a game. This is part of the continuation of the propaganda including those in the Pentagon decrying supposedly disastrous cuts created by the debt deal while diverting people’s attention with the “deficit” while the economy is not doing well for the majority of the population.
While the Pentagon is spinning the news, at the same time, there is a more prevalent form of propaganda in a sense. That is advertising by corporate and government entities. One of the main entities is the AdCouncil which is the main force behind corporate and government ads. There are numerous types of this propaganda: television commercials (sometimes with jingles), “infomercials,” radio advertising, online advertising, covert or guerrilla advertising, press advertising, billboard advertising, mobile billboard advertising, in-store advertising, coffee cup advertising, street advertising, sheltered Outdoor Advertising and finally celebrity branding. Celebrity branding is often tied in with the media, because this type advertising focuses on celebrity power, fame, money, popularity to gain recognition for their products and promote specific stores or products. There is one type of advertising that I wish to highlight a bit. That is covert or guerrilla advertising, also called product placement or when a product or brand is embedded in some sort of media is when a product or brand is embedded in entertainment and media. Between the ads on the side of the road, in the movies, on TV, on the side of cups and on the side of trains, all of this is really just the placing of propaganda to change your mind, which really controls your life in a sense.
Public relations are interesting subjects which include something even more prevalent than Ads. In the aftermath of WWI, after the Committee of Public Information had convinced the public that the Germans were the enemy and that it was time for war, the people who engineered it went into the shadows. The term “propaganda” got a bad name, so instead it was called public relations. If you think about that words in and of itself it sounds like the people are different, alien in a sense. That’s just what I think. Anyway, in 1928, Edward Bernays, one of the people who crafted the public relations campaign in World War I wrote in his book Propaganda that “If we accept public relations as a profession, we must also expect it to have both ideals and ethics. The ideal of the profession is a pragmatic one. It is to make the producer, whether that producer be a legislature making laws or a manufacturer making a commercial product, understand what the public wants and to make the public understand the objectives of the producer. In relation to industry, the ideal of the profession is to eliminate the waste and the friction that result when industry does things or makes things which its public does not want, or when the public does not understand what is being offered it.”
Bernays even remarked in the book that “The United States Government should create a Secretary of Public Relations as member of the President’s Cabinet…to interpret America’s aims and ideals throughout the world, and to keep the citizens of this country in touch with governmental activities and the reasons which prompt them. He would, in short, interpret the people to the government and the government to the people.”
You still may be a bit confused as to what this means. Take the slogan, “Support Our Troops.” That slogan is a part of a PR campaign. It is mean to be a slogan that according to Noam Chomsky, “nobody is going to be against and I suppose everybody will be for, because nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything. But it’s crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something, do you support our policy? And that’s the one you’re not allowed to talk about.” Basically, the slogan over-generalizes complex issues, like support or opposition to the invasion of Iraq, Operation Iraqi Liberation as it was called for some time. In a Democracy Now interview, Noam Chomsky elaborates on this concept, noting that “for many years…election campaigns, have been run by the public relations industry and each time it’s with increasing sophistication. And quite naturally, the industry uses the same technique to sell candidates that it uses to sell toothpaste or lifestyle drugs.” He even later argues that the invasion of Somalia in the 1990s, in the movie Black Hawk Down, was “the best public relations operation of the Pentagon” because according what he heard from Colin Powell “there was a problem about raising the Pentagon budget, and they needed something that would be, look like a kind of a cakewalk, which would give a lot of prestige to the Pentagon.” Nowadays, public relations campaigns are everywhere, but not everyone realizes it, thanks to the Public Relations Society of America, which represents this industry. Even Occupy Wall Street has its own PR twitter account.
The original idea of this article was loosely based on the idea of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting which had a webpage talking about “interlocking directorates,” showing that “media corporations share members of the board of directors with a variety of other large corporations.” I then decided that was too boring to talk about and it was too much research to look into the interlocking directorates that are present across the national and world economy. Instead, I feel it is better to point out policy groups that are geared toward business that exist in America. David DeGraw wrote in February 2010 a report that would spread across the internet, titled The Economic Elite vs. The People of the United States. While the report outlined the crimes the “economic elite” had committed and called for a 99% movement, it also outlined what business community policy groups had developed. These institutions include the Financial Services Roundtable (FSR), created in 2000, which Charles Ferguson’s movie, Inside Job, noted was “”one of the most powerful groups in Washington, which represents nearly all of the world’s largest financial companies” which spent about $7.5 million each year on lobbying and gave over $600,000 in the 2010 election cycle, mostly to Republicans; the Business Roundtable (BRT) which represents numerous Fortune 500 CEOs that is “the most influential and powerful Economic Elite organization” in America, which has found “common ground” with President Obama resulting in industry-friendly financial and healthcare “reform” bills, its partner group, the Business Council also has a deep interest in similar members. There are a number of other groups that are policy groups for these elite, including:
- the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which creates model laws to help corporations in U.S.
- the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics
- the Conference Board
- the Center for Strategic and International Studies
- the Committee for Economic Development (CED)
- the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
- the American Bankers Association
- the Brookings Institution
- the Council on Competitiveness
- the National Association of Manufacturers
- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- the Heritage Foundation
- Council of Foreign Relations (CFR)
- the American Petroleum Institute
- the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)
- the American Psychological Association (APA)
- the Project for a New American Century (PNAC)
- the Carnegie Foundation
- the Ford Foundation
- and the Rockefeller Foundation
These groups are “conservative” and “liberal,” in the distorted sense of both words, but pursue business-friendly agendas. This phenomenon is explained by David DeGraw who writes that the command and conquer strategy of the media is to divide people into warring camps of Dems and Reps, is furthered by “independent” progressive and conservative outlets alike which use divisive rhetoric and demonstrate “a closed-minded groupthink approach that further obstructs an effective and broader mass movement,” which help maintain the status quo. The business policy groups use this to their advantage, and they even at times go further, co-opting movements.
Now, you may ask: what does this have to do with the environment? The fact that as we speak “Congress is dismantling [environmental] legislation instituted by Richard Nixon,” gives some clue. The propaganda system I described is connected to this dismantling, because as Noam Chomsky describes in his book, Occupy, it is big business “proudly and openly…try[ing] to convince people that climate change is just a liberal hoax.” This is the same propaganda system that Ronald Reagan used to “demonize the concept of welfare” which was used later by Bill Clinton to basically obliterate the welfare system for the most part, hurting the poor who were struggling. But this isn’t all. One gets a sense at the propaganda system at work when ones read Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair’s article that argues “the mainstream environmental movement was elitist, highly paid, detached from the people, indifferent to the working class, and a firm ally of big government.…The environmental movement is now accurately perceived as just another well-financed and cynical special interest group, its rancid infrastructure supported by Democratic Party operatives and millions in grants from corporate foundations.” I looked into this to see if this was even accurate. Starting with the World Wildlife Foundation, I found that on their board of trustees sat people on the boards of BP, Coca-Cola, a multi-billion dollar Swiss healthcare company (Roche Holdings AG), a multi-billion dollar Dutch chemical and paints company (AkzoNobel), a billion-dollar Brazilian airline (GOL Airlines), a multi-billion dollar electrical power company (AES Corporation) As for the National Resources Defense Council, the people on their Board of Trustees are even worse. They have people on the board of trustees which consist of a billion-dollar construction company that is rebuilding the World Trade Center (AECOM), Gap, Inc., the Walt Disney Studios, the Sony Corporation of America, Sony Pictures Entertainment, a huge investment firm (Henry Crown and Company) that has stakes in companies like JPMorgan Chase and General Dynamics, a Silicon Valley-based multi-million dollar investment services company for technology firms like Cisco, Intel, and Bechtel, (TeleSoft Partners), among others. Another environmental group, which I had actually grown to liken, Friends of the Earth has a number of shady partners on their board of directors, including a company that seeks to use the power of cloud computing and it is funded by a number of investment firms and Verizon, Bluestein & Associates, LLC, which works on corporate development, recently with companies like Disney, Jitterbug and Payfone, a full service insurance brokerage firm, a firm that sells “precision abrasive products” that works with “leading companies within the engineering, woodworking, automotive and aerospace industries,” a company that specializes in “high…quality silicone coated release liners” the Woodstock Film Festival and an communications agency that delivers effective advertising. Another environmental group, the Audubon Society has some troubling connections. On its board of directors, it has connections to Switzerland-based UBS AG, one of the biggest banks in the world, the international real estate and development company, RE/MAX, the multi-million dollar Eugene McDermott Foundation, the England-based “medium size accountancy firm” named DBF Associates, a private investment firm, the investment advisory firm that serves “high net worth families and mid-sized institutions” (Gatemore Capital Management, LLC), and Mooreland Partners, a global investment banking firm. There is one more group I wish to look into, the Environmental Defense Fund, another part of the mainstream environmental movement. Sadly, the board of trustees has connections to CNET Networks, owned by National Amusements ultimately, DreamWorks Animation, SKG, a Boston-based private equity firm named Berkshire Partners, LLC, the supposedly “nonprofit” that manages internet protocol numbers or ICANN, a venture capital investment firm that has invested $2.7 billion into SanDisk, Ask Jeeves, Sun Microsystems, PetSmart, among others (U.S. Venture Partners), a multibillion dollar healthcare philanthropy (the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), and one of the largest real estate firms in the country, Shorenstein Company, LLC. I don’t wish to talk about the National Wildlife Federation which has ties to Home Depot, the Wilderness Society governing council or the Defenders of Wildlife’s board of directors. Instead, I feel that it is important to reveal these connections, because they are often overlooked and everyone assumes the mainstream environmental movement has its own spirit, when it reality it has been co-opted by Big Business.
I keep thinking of the words of Edward Bernays at the close of Propaganda: “Propaganda will never die out. Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos.” I think he is wrong. As Kevin Martin sang in his song TV news “I refuse to believe this is how we’re meant to be.” It is possible to have light in a time of darkness, a time of a powerful propaganda system. The system is meant to make the public do things without thinking, to make them the bewildered herd and not challenge the power elite that run the corporate-imperial state of America. Professor Faber in Fahrenheit 451 summed it up well, especially if you put in the word television in place of televisor: “You can’t argue with the four-wall televisor. Why? The televisor is ‘real.’ It is immediate, it has dimension. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be right. It seems so right. It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn’t time to protest.” This is what I am trying to prevent with this talk, to educate, to inform of the propaganda system that exists. You may ask: what can I do? Instead of watching the TV, do something outside, something active. Be the change you want to be in the world. Simply don’t ingest anything from the TV. Take the TV out of your room if you have one there and just live without it. Read alternative media like Democracy Now!, Counterpunch, The Real News Network, Zero Hedge, Truthdig, Firedoglake, and Truthout. Encourage your friends to join in and tell others about this propaganda system that is trying to deceive them. Support alternative media, maybe even work for one. Do your own research on issues, and become more knowledgeable than the pundits on the flawed corporate media. And participate in direct action for the causes you believe, don’t just sit around and think things will get better. If one does all this and more, then they can help change the country and maybe the world.
By Burkely Hermann