Wednesday, July 22, 2020

How the News Media Manipulates National Meta-Narrative

If there is one thing I've learned over the past few years, and particularly the last few months, it's that the power of the news media is greater than any other institution in our nation.  The news media holds the power of the meta-narrative. Friends, beware the narrative.

What is a meta-narrative?  To break down the phrase, meta means going beyond, or a higher transcending viewpoint, and narrative is a story of events.  The power of the news media is to control the meta-narrative of our country, and even, of the world.  Most people, most Christians don't have or take the time to really delve into news.  So we look to news outlets to help us understand what is going on in the world.  

The narrative is the key.  The narrative is the larger overarching story that appears from the hundreds and hundreds of hours of television news reports, and the thousands of pages of online articles, magazines, and newspapers.

A narrative begins to take hold in the national mindset.  Let's consider some of the key narratives that have taken hold from time to time in the past.

Many will recall the narrative of the Watergate scandal, and how it took hold.  Many would recall the narrative of the 1960s, the radicalism, the protests, the free love, the drugs, and so on.  Others would recall the narrative surrounding Westboro baptist church promulgated by the news media.  Another key narrative particularly of the 80s was the Cold War, the Reagan era, and the Aids epidemic.  

Today we have many narratives being put forth by the mainstream news media. Of course we think of the recent corona virus pandemic, and the sensational reporting surrounding it.  We think of the intense 24/7 coverage of police violence toward people of color.  We think of the coverage of the protests and the riots, and how it's framed for us.  We think of the continuous battle between the press and President Trump.  We think of the Russia scandal, the Supreme court, LGBTQ issues in our day and age, and the transgender debate, along with issues like abortion, human trafficking, and various other concerns that appear in the narrative.

I would make the suggestion to you today that there certainly should be a national narrative, which ought to reflect the ideas, perceptions, political movements, causes, and concerns of a nation.  But I would also indicate to you today that the mainstream news media has increasingly taken to manipulating that narrative, instead of just reporting on it.  Our news media has increasingly weaponized the narrative of our nation, twisting it to suit those they favor, and twisting it to attack and minimize those with whom they disagree. 

So what are some ways that the news media in the United States manipulates our national narrative?  Here are a few of the tactics: 

Emphasize Certain News Stories - This may be the single most powerful tool.  CNN or NBC can run a single news story about say, corporate corruption, give it a few minutes, but that means it will never take hold as part of the national narrative.  But, if they take a single news story, such as a police officer hurting someone, and they focus on that, 24/7 continuing coverage, endless discussions, panel discussions, interviews, and keep harping on it day and night, it will take hold in the mind of the nation.
Even if studies have shown that a bias in police conduct simply doesn't exist in statistics.  And the scary thing is, it will take hold even if it's an isolated incident.  It will be shown so often that people will assume, without checking the statistics and facts, that it represents the whole, that this is an extremely common thing, even if it isn't.  Scary isn't?  Imagine if the news reported on every single car crash with a fatality, just endless, continuing coverage day, and night, 8 dead today from car crashes, interview the families, with tears in their eyes, how long would it take before the whole nation would be screaming for car driving reform of some kind?  That's the insidious power of taking isolated incidents and representing them as the whole. 

Ignore Certain News Stories - This to me is nearly as powerful as emphasizing selective stories.  This is the power to completely ignore events that don't fit the narrative the news network is pushing forward. 
One example would be the increasing violence and genocide against Christians in the middle east.  Hundreds of thousands of people have died. But the news media never talks about it. Why? Well, because it doesn't fit the narrative.  In the news narrative, churches and Christians are generally portrayed as colonialist, imperialist oppressors and anti-LGBTQ haters. So stories, even if they're true, that portray Christians as victims can't be allowed to see the light of day.  Another example would be mass shootings prevented by lawful citizens with person firearms.  These stories happen more than you realize, but they are rarely reported on, because they don't fit the media narrative that says guns are the problem.  That is the power of ignoring stories, by the news media.  When Planned Parenthood was caught selling aborted babies body parts to the highest bidder, there was a near total media blackout on the incident. Imagine if the media had covered it honestly, and given it the prominence it deserved. It could've changed the entire country's perspective on the issue of abortion. But it never saw the light of day.  It was ignored by the news media, strategically.  It didn't fit the narrative of oppressive religious people trying to steal vulnerable women's healthcare.

Spin a News Story - Have you ever heard the saying "Be careful because the press will have you believing that the victim is the criminal and the criminal is the victim?"  Well, it's true.  Think of the 1996 Olympics, when the
Richard Jewell a security helped to save lives from the bombing.  What did the press do? They portrayed the situation as if Richard Jewell had committed the crime, and an innocent man's life, a hero, was turned into a villain.  Though eventually he was exonerated. Think of the confirmation hearings of Justice Kavanaugh, or Justice Clarence Thomas, for the Supreme Court.  The news media gave intense overage to the accusers of Kavanaugh, who one by one after he was confirmed, came out and indicated they had invented the charges, and they were baseless. The same thing was done to Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings.

Repeat Falsehoods - Gas Lighting - The last few times when my mom visited me she said she heard a train going by near my house.  I told her I never heard any train.  But I few times I did hear the train. And it became a joke between us, I kept saying there was no train, even though there really was a train.  And I heard it.  This is done sometimes in abusive relationships by sociopaths, not as a joke, but seriously, to manipulate someone's perception of the world.  They call this "gas lighting."  The news media, when they repeat falsehoods, are engaging in this practice of gas lighting. An example of gas lighting by the media would be when
President Trump came out against white supremacist hate groups numerous times, but the press kept repeating the lie that Trump had shown support for white supremacist hate groups.  A larger meta-narrative example would be the Russia scandal, that went on for four long years, of gas lighting by the media, which in the end turned out to be smoke and mirrors. There was nothing there.  But they kept that narrative going for years.

Minimizing the minority - This is done a great deal during things like pride month, or now during the BLM protests, the media reports on it like everyone agrees with pride month, and the BLM, refusing to show that there is a minority out there that doesn't agree with these agendas.

Code Words - Have you heard this phrase used?  "Oh that's code word for racism."  Or that phrase is a
dog whistle for hate groups?  This is taking an innocuous statement like, we need to stand up for western civilization, and then saying there is a hidden meaning behind it, that is actually bigoted, racist, sexist, and so on.  So someone say almost anything, and it can be twisted to be a "code word" for something nefarious or evil. Conspiracy theorists are good as this as well, watching for little signs, like a triangle, and that infusing it with tons of code meaning, that probably doesn't even exist.

Firing those who depart the lockstep - have you heard of the growing tide of cancel culture?  Those within organizations and businesses, such as Google, or major universities who depart from the lockstep, can often end up losing their jobs.  Think of the Google employee,
James Demore, who tried to speak up about the ideological echo chamber at the business. He was fired.  Many scientists who dare to question Darwinian evolution have lost their jobs, catalogued in a documentary by Ben Stein called "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed."

For many years there had generally been only one narrative, the narrative of the mainstream news media, produced by the main outlets like the NY Times, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, and so on. This narrative tends to bend toward a more left-leaning perspective on the nation and the world at large.  Many felt that this narrative left out much of the truth, and strangled out the viewpoints of those with dissenting opinions on issues of the day.

So increasingly we see a second narrative taking hold promulgated through outlets like The Wallstreet Journal, National Review, Fox News, The Washington Times, The Daily Wire, Breitbart News, The Daily Caller, and so on.  Talk radio is a big component of this counter-narrative as well, by hosts such as Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh.  This narrative also tends to gather on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and so on. 

So I think the big take away from all this is to recognize that the news networks you watch or read have an agenda.  In the past I think many of us regarded news as fairly unbiased. But that is simply no longer the case.  We should be careful when formulating opinions, and consider various sources before getting too excited and hyped up about issues.  We should ask ourselves: Have I really been told the truth?  What do the statistics say?  What is the narrative here?

Hopefully, we as Christians can begin to take hold of the media narrative in more serious ways to help get the truth out there.  Because the news media has little trouble demonizing Christians as bigots, haters, and judgmental jerks.  But we know those things aren't really true.  They are narrative.  Most Christians, not all, but most Christians really do love people and seek to share the gospel in love and truth.  

Be aware of the narrative.  The narrative is powerful. It can make people think you hate them.  It can make people think you love them.  It can control the entire mood of the nation, and right now the media narrative is in the hands of people who do not like or support Jesus or Christianity.  Don't let the narrative sweep you away.  Think for yourself.  Check both sides.  Form your own opinion, don't just follow the crowd.