A mythology about the relationship between American government and the news business has long been making is rounds, and it needs a corrective jolt. The myth is that the commercial press in this country stands wholly independent of governmental sustenance. Here’s the jolt: There’s never been a time in U.S. history when government dollars weren’t propping up the news business.
Media omissions, distortions, inaccuracies and bias in the US is something acknowledged by many outside the USA, and is slowly realized more and more inside the US. However, those problems have made it very difficult for the average American citizen to obtain an open, objective view on many of the issues that involve the United States (and since the United States is so influential culturally, economically, politically and militarily around the world, they are naturally involved in many issues).
Those with power and influence know that media control or influence is crucial. A free press is crucial for a functioning Free Society, but if not truly free, paves the way for manipulation and concentration of views, thus undermining Society itself.
It is normally thought — and expected — that US press freedom would rank top in the world. Yet, for many years, it has been a lot lower than the high expectation. For 2011, the US ranked just 47th. It has been around these low numbers for a number of years, especially since the Bush Administration’s War on Terror.
For a while, under the Obama Administration it was looking better, but recent events such as the various Occupy protest movements and how journalists have been treated has resulted in the recent drops in the rankings. As Josh Stearns from Free Press and the Free Press Action Fund worries, the cherished US First Amendment is being taken for granted.
There is no formal censorship in the USA, but there is what some call Market Censorship — that is, mainstream media do not want to run stories that will offend their advertisers and owners. In this way, the media end up censoring themselves and not reporting on many important issues, including corporate practices. For some examples of this, check out the Project Censored web site.
Another effect of these so-called market forces at work is that mainstream media will go for what will sell and news coverage becomes all about attracting viewers. Yet the fear of losing viewers from competition seems so high that many report the exact same story at the very same time! Objective coverage gets a back seat.
A friend of mine [of journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski] was working in Mexico for various US television channels. I met him in the street as he was filming clashes between students and police. I asked What’s happening here, John? Without stopping filming he replied: I don’t have the faintest idea. I just get the shots. I send them to the channel, and they do what they want with them.
Ryszard Kapuscinski, Media as mirror to the world, Le Monde Diplomatique, August 1999.
This highlights that market censorship isn’t always a natural process of the way the system works, but that corporate influences often affect what is reported, even in the supposedly freest press of all. Some journalists unwittingly go with the corporate influences while others who challenge such pressures often face difficulties. John Prestage is also worth quoting on this aspect too:
Even some mainstream journalists are sounding the alarm…. Henry Holcomb, who is president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia and a journalist for 40 years, said that newspapers had a clearer mission back when he began reporting. That mission was to report the truth and raise hell. But corporate pressures have blurred this vision, he said.
Janine Jackson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a news media watchdog group, told the American Free Press that 60 percent of journalists surveyed recently by FAIR admitted that advertisers try to change stories.
Some advertisers kill some stories and promote others, she said, asserting that there is an overwhelming influence of corporations and advertisers on broadcast and print news reporting.
The trends are all bad, worse and worse, Nichols said. Newspapers and broadcast journalists are under enormous pressures to replace civic values with commercial values.
He labeled local television news a cesspool. Local broadcasters are under pressure from big corporations to entertain rather than to inform, and people are more ignorant after viewing television news because of the misinformation they broadcast, he said.
Jon Prestage, Mainstream Journalism: Shredding the First Amendment, Online Journal, 7 November 2002
At a media conference in March 2007, Dan Rather reiterated his concerns regarding the state of journalism in the US. An article from CNET summarized some of Rather’s key points:
"So many journalists—there are notable exceptions—have adopted the go-along-to-get-along (attitude)", he said.
So, because of this access game, journalism has degenerated into a very perilous state,
… [Rather] thinks many people have lost faith in journalists [because] questioning power, especially at a time of war, can be perceived as unpatriotic or unsupportive of America’s fighting troops.
Daniel Terdiman, Dan Rather: Journalism has lost its guts, CNET News.com, March 12, 2007
Rather reiterated his feeling that many journalists today—and he repeated that he has fallen for this trap—are willing to get too cozy with people in positions of power, be it in government or corporate life.
The nexus between powerful journalists and people in government and corporate power, he said, has become far too close.
You can get so close to a source that you become part of the problem, he added. Some people say that these powerful people use journalists, and they do. And they will use them to the fullest extent possible, right up until the point where the journalist says, Whoa, that’s too far.
… [Journalists] shouldn’t be willing to water down the truth to protect their access to power.
Daniel Terdiman, Dan Rather: Journalism has lost its guts, CNET News.com, March 12, 2007
Rather also said that the consolidation of power in a small number of media companies has hurt the search for the truth in newsrooms across the country. As media conglomerates get bigger, the gap between newsrooms and boardrooms grows, and the goal becomes satisfying shareholders, not citizens, he said.
Therefore, Rather supports increased competition between media companies and between journalists.
Daniel Terdiman, Dan Rather: Journalism has lost its guts, CNET News.com, March 12, 2007
The state, specific governments, or the public, own a large proportion of the world's media - especially radio and television. The term “public media” is often used to refer to these forms of media ownership. There are important distinctions between these forms however.
- Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) uses public money to broadcast in the interests of the public as a whole. They are often established by law, but they are non-partisan, not supporting a particular party including the incumbent ruling party. PSBs are not-for-profit.
- State and government media are owned by the state or the government of the day (and financed out of public money) and directly controlled by it. It may perform a public service function or it may be a propaganda instrument of the state or government. State and government media is also generally not-for-profit.
- A license fee paid by television viewers
- The government budget
- A programming fee paid by partner stations
- Public subscriptions and grants
- Commercial advertising
UNESCO defines Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) as “broadcasting made, financed and controlled by the public, for the public. PSBs are neither commercial nor state-owned; they are free from political interference and pressure from commercial forces. Through PSBs, citizens are informed, educated and also entertained. When guaranteed with pluralism, programming diversity, editorial independence, appropriate funding, accountability and transparency, public service broadcasting can serve as a cornerstone of democracy.”
Widely-accepted principles for PSBs include:
- Universal accessibility (geographic)
- Universal appeal (general tastes and interests)
- Particular attention to minorities
- Contribution to sense of national identity and community
- Distance from vested interests
- Direct funding and universality of payment
- Competition in good programming rather than numbers
- Guidelines that liberate rather than restrict programme-makers
PSBs are often established by government through acts of parliament, and while some are subject to broad oversight by the state, most also have strict guarantees of independence written into their constitutions. The Swedish PSB for example, SvT, is kept at arms-length from the state by being owned by a foundation, not the state, and by directly collecting license fees from the public, not via the government. However it is subject to broad oversight by a parliamentary committee as a check-and-balance mechanism.
In transitional democracies there have been some bold attempts to rapidly retrieve and modernize the public service ideal, after a history of heavy-handed state control. In South Africa since 1993 the public broadcaster has statutory independence and even, at one stage, had its board members appointed after public hearings.
However others struggle to achieve true public service broadcasting. In the former Soviet Union, “PSB development…is still affected by local transitional challenges [as well as] coping with global challenges of [the] media environment.” In Latvia in 2011 for example, “PSB policy making is still oriented to the value for officials or elite rather than for the public,” with PSBs still operating as “paternalistic broadcasters that tend to function as public educators “from above.”
State- and government-owned broadcasters, directly controlled by the state, were a common model in the Soviet Union (and later in many countries that followed its lead). In the post-Soviet era, these broadcasters have often proven difficult and slow to reform. In Latvia for example, two decades since independence the distinction between public service broadcasting and state broadcasting remains unclear to many parliamentarians.
French and British colonisers took their public broadcasting model overseas, but it did not travel well, and colonial broadcasters enjoyed little independence. After independence, many post-colonial governments continued with the same tradition of broadcaster-as-government-propagandist.
Public service broadcasting was founded on a belief that still holds true in most of the world: the private sector alone cannot guarantee pluralism in broadcasting. The trouble is that public media have largely failed to do that too. In many countries, the advent of private broadcasting has made governments even more determined to cling onto editorial control of the public broadcaster.
Public, state or government media are usually broadcasters. But there are still some government- and state-owned newspapers in existence. They do not enjoy the same economic rationale as public broadcasters and often function as little more than government propaganda sheets. There are exceptions, and Uganda is an interesting example. The largest newspaper in the country is New Vision, in which the state holds a controlling stake. The paper is known to have a level of editorial independence, professionalism, and for publishing a range of views – though this independence was questioned when New Vision was accused of pro-government bias in the 2011 elections. Fortunately, there is also a range of independent private media in Uganda that voice alternative views.
World War I
Further information: Committee on Public Information
The first large-scale use of propaganda by the U.S. government came during World War I. The government enlisted the help of citizens and children to help promote war bonds and stamps to help stimulate the economy. To keep the prices of war supplies down (guns, gunpowder, cannons, steel, etc.), the U.S. government produced posters that encouraged people to reduce waste and grow their own vegetables in "victory gardens". The public skepticism that was generated by the heavy-handed tactics of the Committee on Public Information would lead the postwar government to officially abandon the use of propaganda.
World War II
Further information: Office of War Information, Why We Fight, and American propaganda during World War II
During World War II, the United States officially had no propaganda, but the Roosevelt government used means to circumvent this official line. One such propaganda tool was the publicly owned but government-funded Writers' War Board (WWB). The activities of the WWB were so extensive that it has been called the "greatest propaganda machine in history".Why We Fight is a famous series of US government propaganda films made to justify US involvement in World War II.
From 1944–48, prominent US policy makers promoted a domestic propaganda campaign aimed at convincing the U.S. public to agree to a harsh peace for the German people, for example by removing the common view of the German people and the Nazi Party as separate entities.The core of this campaign was the Writers' War Board, which was closely associated with the Roosevelt administration.
Another means was the United States Office of War Information that Roosevelt established in June 1942, whose mandate was to promote understanding of the war policies under the director Elmer Davis. It dealt with posters, press, movies, exhibitions, and produced often slanted material conforming to US wartime purposes. Other large and influential non-governmental organizations during the war and immediate post-war period were the Society for the Prevention of World War III and the Council on Books in Wartime.
Further information: COINTELPRO
During the Cold War, the U.S. government produced vast amounts of propaganda against communism and the Soviet bloc. This propaganda was mainly intended to distort and discredit Communism as a political and economic ideology, and to paint the Soviets and the Soviet Union in an evil light. Much of this propaganda was directed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation under J. Edgar Hoover, who himself wrote the anti-communist tract Masters of Deceit. The FBI's COINTELPRO arm solicited journalists to produce fake news items discrediting communists and affiliated groups, such as H. Bruce Franklin and the Venceremos organization.
War on Drugs
Further information: National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign
The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, originally established by the National Narcotics Leadership Act of 1988, but now conducted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy under the Drug-Free Media Campaign Act of 1998, is a domestic propaganda campaign designed to "influence the attitudes of the public and the news media with respect to drug abuse" and for "reducing and preventing drug abuse among young people in the United States". The Media Campaign cooperates with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and other government and non-government organizations.
Further information: Pentagon military analyst program
In early 2002, the U.S. Department of Defense launched an information operation, colloquially referred to as the Pentagon military analyst program. The goal of the operation is "to spread the administrations's talking points on Iraq by briefing ... retired commanders for network and cable television appearances," where they have been presented as independent analysts. On 22 May 2008, after this program was revealed in The New York Times, the House passed an amendment that would make permanent a domestic propaganda ban that until now has been enacted annually in the military authorization bill.
The Shared Values Initiative was a public relations campaign that was intended to sell a "new" America to Muslims around the world by showing that American Muslims were living happily and freely, without persecution, in post-9/11 America. Funded by the United States Department of State, the campaign created a public relations front group known as the Council of American Muslims for Understanding (CAMU). The campaign was divided in phases; the first of which consisted of five mini-documentaries for television, radio, and print with shared values messages for key Muslim countries.
The Ad Council, an American non-profit organization that distributes public service announcements on behalf of various private and federal government agency sponsors, has been labeled as "little more than a domestic propaganda arm of the federal government" given the Ad Council's historically close collaboration with the President of the United States and the federal government.
Through several international broadcasting operations, the US disseminates American cultural information, official positions on international affairs, and daily summaries of international news. These operations fall under the International Broadcasting Bureau, the successor of the United States Information Agency, established in 1953. IBB's operations include Voice of America, Radio Liberty, Alhurra and other programs. They broadcast mainly to countries where the United States finds that information about international events is limited, either due to poor infrastructure or government censorship. The Smith-Mundt Act prohibits the Voice of America from disseminating information to US citizens that were produced specifically for a foreign audience.
During the Cold War, the United States ran covert propaganda campaigns in countries that appeared likely to become Soviet satellites, such as Italy, Afghanistan, and Chile.
The Pentagon has announced the creation of a new unit aimed at spreading propaganda about supposedly "inaccurate" stories being spread about the Iraq War. These "inaccuracies" have been blamed on the enemy trying to decrease support for the war. Donald Rumsfeld has been quoted as saying these stories are something that keeps him up at night.
Further information: Psychological Operations (United States) and Psychological warfare
The US military defines psychological operations, or PSYOP, as:
Planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence the emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.
Some argue that the Smith-Mundt Act, adopted in 1948, explicitly forbids information and psychological operations aimed at the US public. However, Emma L Briant points out that this is a common confusion - The Smith-Mundt Act only ever applied to the State Department, not the Department of Defense and military PSYOP, which are governed by Article 10 of the US Code. Rumsfeld's Roadmap to Propaganda - Secret Pentagon "roadmap" calls for "boundaries" between "information operations" abroad and at home but provides no actual limits as long as the US does not "target" Americans by National Security Archive, January 26, 2006. Nevertheless, the current easy access to news and information from around the globe, makes it difficult to guarantee PSYOP programs do not reach the US public. Or, in the words of Army Col. James A. Treadwell, who commanded the U.S. military psyops unit in Iraq in 2003, in The Washington Post:
There's always going to be a certain amount of bleed-over with the global information environment.
Agence France Presse reported on U.S. propaganda campaigns that:
The Pentagon acknowledged in a newly declassified document that the US public is increasingly exposed to propaganda disseminated overseas in psychological operations.
Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved the document referred to, which is titled "Information Operations Roadmap." The document acknowledges restrictions on targeting domestic audience, but fails to offer any way of limiting the effect PSYOP programs have on domestic audiences. A recent book by Emma L. Briant brings this up to date, detailing the big changes in practice following 9/11 and especially after the Iraq War as US defense adapted to a more fluid media environment and brought in new internet policies.
Several incidents in 2003 were documented by Sam Gardiner, a retired Air Force colonel, which he saw as information-warfare campaigns that were intended for "foreign populations and the American public." Truth from These Podia, as the treatise was called, reported that the way the Iraq War was fought resembled a political campaign, stressing the message instead of the truth.
- ^ Jump up to:a b Thomas Howell, The Writers' War Board: U.S. Domestic Propaganda in World War II, Historian, Volume 59 Issue 4, pp. 795–813
- ^ Jump up to:a b Steven Casey, (2005), The Campaign to sell a harsh peace for Germany to the American public, 1944 - 1948, [online]. London: LSE Research Online. [Available online at http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/archive/00000736] Originally published in History, 90 (297). pp. 62-92 (2005) Blackwell Publishing
- Jump up^ National Narcotics Leadership Act of 1988 of the Anti–Drug Abuse Act of 1988, Pub.L. 100–690, 102 Stat. 4181, enacted November 18, 1988
- Jump up^ Gamboa, Anthony H. (January 4, 2005), B-303495, Office of National Drug Control Policy — Video News Release (PDF), Government Accountability Office, footnote 6, page 3
- Jump up^ Drug-Free Media Campaign Act of 1998 (Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 1999), Pub.L. 105–277, 112 Stat. 268, enacted October 21, 1998
- Jump up^ Gamboa, Anthony H. (January 4, 2005), B-303495, Office of National Drug Control Policy — Video News Release (PDF), Government Accountability Office, pp. 9–10
- Jump up^ Drug-Free Media Campaign Act of 1998 of the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 1999, Pub.L. 105–277, 112 Stat. 268, enacted October 21, 1998
- Jump up^ Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 2006, Pub.L. 109–469, 120 Stat. 3501, enacted December 29, 2006, codified at 21 U.S.C. § 1708
- Jump up^ Barstow, David (2008-04-20). "Message Machine: Behind Analysts, the Pentagon's Hidden Hand". The New York Times.
- Jump up^ Sessions, David (2008-04-20). "Onward T.V. Soldiers: The New York Times exposes a multi-armed Pentagon message machine". Slate.
- Jump up^ Barstow, David (2008-05-24). "2 Inquiries Set on Pentagon Publicity Effort". The New York Times.
- Jump up^ Rampton, Sheldon (October 17, 2007). "Shared Values Revisited". Center for Media and Democracy.
- Jump up^ "U.S. Reaches Out to Muslim World with Shared Values Initiative". America.gov. January 16, 2003. Archived from the original on October 18, 2011.
- Jump up^ Barnhart, Megan (2009). "Selling the International Control of Atomic Energy: The Scientists Movement, the Advertising Council, and the Problem of the Public". In Mariner, Rosemary B.; Piehler, G. Kurt. The Atomic Bomb and American Society: New Perspectives. University of Tennessee Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-1-57233-648-3.
- Jump up^ BBC NEWS | Americas | Pentagon boosts 'media war' unit
- Jump up^ Doctrine for Joint Psychological Operations Joint Publication 3-53, 5 September 2003 PDF
- ^ Jump up to:a b http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB177/index.htm
- Jump up^ Briant, Emma L (2015) Propaganda and Counter-terrorism: Strategies for Global Change, Manchester: Manchester University Press: 41
- ^ Jump up to:a b Operations as a core competency by Christopher J. Lamb, senior fellow in the Institute for National Security Studies at the National Defense University and has been Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Resources and Plans.HTML version
- ^ Jump up to:a b c Mind Games By Daniel Schulman, Columbia Journalism Review at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism
- Jump up^ Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi - Jordanian Painted As Foreign Threat To Iraq's Stability By Thomas E. Ricks, The Washington Post, April 10, 2006
- ^ Jump up to:a b US Propaganda Aimed at Foreigners Reaches US Public: Pentagon Document by Agence France Presse, January 27, 2006
- Jump up^ US plans to 'fight the net' revealed By Adam Brookes, BBC, January 27, 2006
- Jump up^ Briant, Emma L (2015) Propaganda and Counter-terrorism: Strategies for Global Change, Manchester: Manchester University Press
- Jump up^ Truth from These Podia - Summary of a Study of Strategic Influence, Perception management, Strategic Information Warfare and Strategic Psychological Operations in Gulf II by Sam Gardiner, Colonel, USAF (Retired), October 8, 2003, [PDF]