1. Culturally Biased News - The people who produce CBN are mostly trying to be fair most of the time. They aren’t trying to help either Team Red or Team Blue. They understand that “both sides” have to be presented within an intellectually honest context. They want their audience to be everybody who is willing to sit through a current events program. The problem is that these news programs are produced by people who are in sympathy with the same team. This influences story selection and emphasis. Those who work within these institutions deal with the institutional biases in different ways. Some (like Anderson Cooper and Chris Wallace) make it a point to strongly cross-examine figures from the “home” team from the perspective of the “other” team. Just this afternoon, Bret Baier of Fox News had an admirably tough and smart interview with Paul Ryan. Ryan should go to the tape and try to come back with some better answers on Romney’s tax plan. Then again, I’m not sure there is a good defense of Romney’s tax cut plan. Some powerful employees at CBN institutions are just in denial about their biases and allow their institution to drift into overt but denied bias. Some journalists in CBN outlets try to push a partisan agenda as much as they can within the norms of the institution. I’m looking at you Soledad O’Brien. There are lots more liberal-leaning than conservative-leaning CBN news shows on television.  Examples of these kinds of programs would be the ABC, NBC, and CBS evening news programs and their respective Sunday morning talk shows, Special Report with Bret Baier, The Fox Report, Fox News Sunday , most CNN shows and the New York Times news section.

2. Group Therapy - This programming has a “side” that is either Team Red or Team Blue. The commentary is overwhelmingly about why the home team is right and why the other side is wrong, and rarely tries to rebut strongest arguments of the other side. Those with opposing viewpoints are brought on to serve as piñatas. The purpose of these shows isn’t to change minds in the sense of trying to win over members of the other team or the uncommitted. The purpose of these shows is to make the audience feel good for having chosen the smarter and more moral team. These shows can somewhat influence the policy priorities of their audience and set the terms of debate within the coalition that is their team (whether to emphasize tax cuts or Medicare reform or whether to emphasize abortion or income inequality.) Examples of these kinds of programs would be everything on MSNBC from 4:00 PM to 4:00 AM on weeknights, Hannity , and the Fox News Saturday morning business shows.

3. Propaganda - This kind of media shares some qualities with Group Therapy and the audiences for the two partially overlap. They both have a “point of view” (which really means a team.) They are both generally allergic to taking on the strongest arguments of the other side. They both emotionally gratifying to partisans of the home team. There are also substantial differences. Propaganda is also aimed to those who aren’t members of either team. Group therapy is episodic programming. The audience knows and has bought into the characters, the conflicts, the moral assumptions, the established vocabularies, and the in-jokes. This has obvious limitations for winning people over. Watching Hannity or Hardball means you have to pick up the context as you go. It is like being dropped into a soap opera. Why are these people so upset with each other? Propaganda doesn’t start with these assumptions. Propaganda starts the story at the beginning and builds the audience’s assumptions as it goes. With its manipulation of context, propaganda might be most effective with low information viewers who are politically uncommitted. Propaganda is also usually designed to be less ephemeral than Group Therapy. Group Therapy tends to be reactive to the news of the day. This news is filtered through a viewpoint of course. A liberal Group Therapy outlet would take good economic news as a sign that the Obama stimulus succeeded and bad economic news as a sign that we need more Obama stimulus. A conservative Group therapy outlet would look at good economic news as a sign of what could happen if only Obama left the private sector alone and bad economic news as a sign that the stimulus was an historic failure. Either way, hardly anybody will want to see today’s Hannity or Hardball next week. Propaganda is designed to be effective across years - or at least across an election cycle. The propaganda program might come out this week but, to an audience the doesn’t much follow the news, it is still just as good at convincing its audience to love socialized medicine or hate the incumbent president even months later. Examples would be Fahrenheit 9/11 and (from what I’ve seen of the promotional materials) maybe the new 2016: Obama’s America movie.

More on: Media, Politics

Articles by Pete Spiliakos

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