Shaping the News: Propaganda, Media Ownership and Influence Networks

The idea that much of the mainstream media in the USA is now controlled and shaped by some six corporations is not new. For instance, a Business Insider blog post These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America by Ashley Lutz dated Jun. 14, 2012 shows a popular infographic/meme from the Frugal Dad weblog.

It is fair that the 90% claim is subject to some dispute, as is shown by the “Meme Police” blog post Do Six Corporations Control 90% of the Media?. The Meme Police source the origin for the meme to the revised 2004 edition of Ben Bagdikian’s book The New Media Monopoly, and provide an energetic counter argument along the lines that there are many other media organisations active in the market apart from those named as being owned by the six corporations cited, these being:

  • Comcast – major holdings include NBC (including CNBC and MSNBC), Universal Pictures, many smaller cable channels (including The Weather Channel, USA, Bravo and E!)
  • Disney – ABC, ESPN, Pixar, A&E, Lifetime and Marvel Studios
  • News Corporation – Fox (News, Sports and 20th Century), The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, FX, Barron’s, HarperCollins publishing
  • Time Warner – CNN, Time Magazine, Warner Bros, HBO, Cinemax, the CW, TBS, TNT
  • CBS Corporation – CBS, Simon and Schuster
  • Viacom – MTV, Comedy Central, BET, Paramount Pictures.

However, the question of how one measures the claimed 90% is overlooked and the counter argument is reduced to a listing of news organisations that are not covered by the six specified in the meme and the many non-US news organisations, such as the BBC and Al Jazeera.

Even taking this into account, the Meme Police concedes that while the 90% is not credible (however that is measured),“it seems plausible the “Big Six” might control less than half of media content” i.e. still quite a lot. The article goes on to disingenuously compare media ownership consolidation to industries such as the manufacture of aircraft, cars, mobile phones and beer to conclude that such consolidation is unsurprising and not a problem anyway.

So, much for the critical role of the Fourth Estate in countering governmental and corporate overreach and corruption.

But, media ownership is not the whole story…

As Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky set out in their landmark work Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, mass media control is exerted through a range of filters, namely:

  1. Advertising – The influence advertisers have on editorial policy through the economic power they can exert.
  2. Ownership – Media owners can have a huge influence on editorial policy through direct actions and through the decisions they make on staff hiring, salary and performance policies.
  3. News makers – The need to fill news slots demands a constant flow of material, which is often most readily sourced from prominent persons and celebrities.
  4. News shapers – Governmental and private organisations that deliberately seek to shape the information presented to the public through the media.
  5. Flak – Negative responses that news media are subjected to by sectional interests and officials, including letters, telegrams, phone calls, petitions, lawsuits, speeches or bills before Congress, and other modes of complaint, threat, or punitive actions.
  6. Ideology – The pervasive influence of ideas about the world so that news is consistently selected and shaped from a certain view point, for instance anti-communist, anti-Islamic or pro free market.

In seeking to update Herman and Chomsky’s work to the digital age, 2ndvtrepublic identifies a further five news filters in an article The Post (Truth) World: Reviving the “Propaganda Model Of News” For Our Digital Age, which are:

  • “Deep state” disinformation – The deliberate actions of aligned lobbies and aligned lobbies, organisations and public relations agencies to “seed” stories into mainstream news channels designed to promote US imperial agendas, protect corporate interests, and advance the goals of the “military industrial complex”.
  • Algorithms – The use of automated processes and algorithms by the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon to further their own commercial and political interests by selecting, shaping and censoring the information presented to users of their services.

  • Filter bubbles – The self-imposed filters we create for ourselves through the search terms we use, the groups we join or avoid, the newspapers we read or websites we visit, and the way we accept or reject information based on our own world views.

  • Behavioral microtargeting – The use “psychographic” data to manipulate individual behaviour by presenting or filtering information based on detailed information such as likes/dislikes, search histories, age, location, profession, relationships and attitudes.

  • Sock puppets – Use of fake social media accounts to often automatically flood users with messages to “promote or attack a particular candidate, campaign or ideological position”.

Influence networks have taken on huge prominence…

When you consider the filters above as a whole it is easy to see that they do not each simply stand on their own; they inevitably interact so as to reinforce each other in particular ways. For instance, media ownership can be seen to interact with ideology, so that as well economic self-interest, the ideological position of the owner guides the way they influence the selection and reward of managers and editors and hence the way that news is filtered and shaped by the news organisation.

Combine this with the deep state influence on media that The Vermont Independent article speaks of and we have an even deeper level of self-reinforcing filters. The fact that the CIA has actively infiltrated many aspects of US society over the past 70 years, and in particular the media, is documented by Douglas Valentine in his book The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World.

Added to that, we now have senior ex-defence and intelligence agency staff being openly recruited to influential news positions, as is reported in the Mint Press News article by Whitney Webb Planting Stories in the Press: Lifting of US Propaganda Ban Gives New Meaning to Old Song.

“For instance, last year, CNN hired former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Clapper, a key architect of RussiaGate, has committed perjury by lying to Congress and more recently lied about the Trump campaign being wiretapped through a FISA request. He has also mad racist, Russophobic comments on national television. Now, however, he is an expert analyst for “the most trusted name in news.” CNN last year also hired Michael Hayden, who is a former Director of both the CIA and the NSA, and former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence.”

Swiss Propaganda Research (an independent research group investigating geopolitical propaganda in Swiss and international media) has now also documented how senior journalists and media executives in a host of mainstream media channels (many of which are mentioned above) are linked to three highly influential neoliberal globalist US organisations — specifically, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg meetings and The Trilateral Commission.

These links are illustrated in the following graphic:

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