Life in the Box: Propaganda Television


Bipartisanism used to be a goal in politics. It meant that both parties compromised with each other to solve problems. They used to agree on the problems, just not how to fix them. And the parties used to agree that working together was good for America. 

That word is still used, but now it seems to mean “you have to do what my team says because there are more of us.” No compromise allowed. Parties don’t even agree on what the problems are; one could even say the laws one party creates are the problems the next party wants to eradicate. There seems to be no middle ground anymore. 

As I’ve watched this gap between parties get broader, I’ve come to the teeth-grinding conclusion that one of the main causes of our nation’s split is: television and media-driven propaganda.

There’s a difference between news slant and propaganda. Slant is point of view; propaganda involves messages created for the purpose of supporting an agenda. For this article, I am also defining propaganda as including intentional lies: fake news. Let me explain my thinking. 

Slant is merely saying the truth from a point of view. For instance, I once saw two newspapers reporting on an abortion ruling. One said “Court Strikes Down Abortion Limits,” and the other said, “Court Supports Abortion Rights.” They are reporting the same thing from different perspectives.

A propaganda headline might say, “Liberal Judges Change Abortion Laws.” See the way this headline skews reality? It plays on prejudice and distrust of the courts and liberals, and it inflates fear and feelings of dis-empowerment for those who disagree with the ruling. And whether the judges actually changed the law or not is also up for interpretation; in this case it’s not a reportable fact. 

As a journalist, I have been trained in seeking, verifying, and reporting the truth. As a viewer, I’m as dependent as everyone else on the transparency (or lack thereof) of the news organization or source I’m watching. I can tell you for certain that Fox News channel on cable is a bad source. The cable channel’s owners have an agenda: say anything to make people vote Republican. This is not a secret. It’s an open truth. It’s been verified and documented. (Read Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury for insider information about just this past year.) However, Fox fans refuse to believe this.

The Fox channel has the highest ratings on basic cable, month after month. In prime time, the Sean Hannity show on Fox is just a bit ahead of the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. Once again, here are the numbers that prove America is pretty evenly split between fake news (Hannity) and real news with a liberal slant (Rachel.)

Even with my pedigree, I can’t seem to convince people I know to stop watching Fox dross. It’s blatant propaganda, meaning that it goes beyond slanting the news—it actually fabricates stories that are not true. Fox has trained their viewers to hate and mistrust mainstream, ie: real news. Viewers can’t be talked out of these feelings because their trust has been twisted. In addition, Fox has encouraged its viewers to mistrust our government, courts, liberals, Democrats, minorities, poor people, immigrants, scientists and any statement that might make them distrust Republicans.

This breaks my heart, it really does. 

In my flailing attempts to talk people off the propaganda ledge, I keep thinking that I can somehow keep them from jumping. It’s too late, really. A huge number of Americans have taken the leap and they seem to think being flat as a pancake is just fine. From their position, reality that doesn’t conform to their outlook just needs to be ignored. They really, really, really want Fox News to be true. 

Meanwhile, I have new information that supports my claim that Republicans have direct input into  what’s reported on Fox. The book Fire and Fury reports that Mr. Trump (even before the election) has been on the phone to Fox executives constantly. They work together to coordinate messages in order to fight reality and make Trump look good.

Why would Fox do this? First, it was founded by a man who wanted to use the power of television to elect Republicans. Roger Ailes, who died in 2017, started his television years by helping President Nixon slant the news. Ailes never looked back, helping every Republican President or candidate along the way.

Jeffrey Jones, the director of the Peabody Awards (for media excellence) said, “No single individual has done more harm to American democracy in the last generation than Roger Ailes. He ushered in the post-truth society… He helped craft an enormous gulf of distrust between people and news.” Since Ailes’s death, the Fox network continues to run under Rupert Murdoch’s Trump-tied leadership.

Second, Fox caters to “conservatives” because it makes money with that audience. Nothing wrong with that, every outlet has its own audience and needs to make a profit, but this is the slant part.

Third, and more recently, as Republicans started splitting between standard conservatives, evangelicals, and Trump’s alt-right, Fox found out that if they said bad things about Mr. Trump, they lost viewership. Saying good things about Mr. Trump gained viewership. It was a no-brainer to them that profit (larger audiences) must come before truth, and the more Trump exposes his alt-right tendencies, the more they have to deny, twist, point fingers and say things like, he really means well, in order to keep hold of the more moderate viewers. The alt-right doesn’t need the disclaimers, they are on a power high knowing that Trump doesn’t mean well, and they have another outlet, the Breitbart syndicate, for confirmation of their views. They watch both. 

Making up stories to make Trump look good, innocent, a victim of “the left,” and so forth, continues to this day. There are extremely disturbing “reports” seeding distrust of the FBI and especially Robert Mueller’s investigation being made up and emotionally pushed right now. The closer this White House comes to being tried for obstruction of justice and colluding with Russians during the election, the harder Fox works to discredit the most credible people in America. 

Reporters, including liberals and Democrats, aren’t immune to greed and corruption. Do you know any organization of people that is totally free of that? But some are more obviously corrupt than others. Fox is one of these. But, apparently, even corrupt organizations aren’t dumb. They have covered all the bases in turning Americans into Republican zombies. Simply put, they turn every single objection one might have to their own corruption—into something that someone else did. Point the finger—it’s easy.

Another common practice is to take real news and mix fakery into it. It’s impossible to tell what the real part is and what the fake part is unless you use other sources. People don’t. Fox also does a lot of molehill changing—making mountains of molehills and also the reverse—making molehills out of huge Alps-sized mountains. The chasm they have intentionally created has rocked our nation, and I believe has made us even more vulnerable to outside propaganda such as the Russian influx of pro-Republican and anti-Democratic messages on social media that swayed our 2016 election. 

Fox pumps out propaganda in any number of ways. In fact, I found a great article about some of the top fourteen ways Fox and “conservative” talk shows twist reality. I’ll link to it and synopsize it, below.

The hard part about consuming news is that it’s easy to see these techniques being used by organizations you don’t trust.  However, if you trust the liars, you will think it’s the real news outlets that are using these techniques. For instance, if you already think Fox News isn’t good, you’ll agree with me about this list. If you love Fox, you will think every single technique is used by real news organizations. 

Outfoxing this fox is going to be difficult. Freedom of speech is constitutionally protected. No one is forced to view Fox and millions of people just love it. The main problem, as I see it, is that twisted news should come with a warning label, just as there are warning labels on cigarettes and back-up cameras in cars. There is a great risk in watching lies on television. Lies have taken over our nation’s voters and have created a crisis in our government. This is a sorry state of affairs. And that’s the truth!

Nancy Heather Brown is a retired, Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, narrating and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she enjoys learning new things and reflecting upon the creative process and life issues, both inside and outside the box. Her opinions are her own, and are not necessarily those of this web site. 

Fox News Commentator Quits — Decries Propaganda 

Roger Ailes’ Obituary on CNN Money
Roger Ailes’ Obituary in New York Times’ Business Section
Roger Ailes’ Obituary on Fox News site
Rupert Murdoch’s connections to Trump

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff  

Life in the Box article about Fire and Fury 

New York Times editorial: Only Fox News can get rid of Trump

Article about Fox News’ ratings in AdWeek

Fourteen Ways Conservative “News” Makes Propaganda by Dr. Cynthia Boaz 

Here’s my bullet-point take on Dr. Cynthia Boaz’s Article on Truthout 

  1. Panic Mongering — a step beyond fear-mongering. Why terrorize your own audience? Because it is the fastest way to bypass the rational brain. In other words, when people are afraid, they don’t think rationally. And when they can’t think rationally, they’ll believe anything.
  2. Character assassination — a quicker route to dispensing with opponents than debating. Makes it seem like everything they say is a lie. Also used to dispense with groups of people.
  3. Projection / Flipping — accusing your opponent of doing it to you first.
  4. Rewriting History –they’ll often speak with such authority that the casual viewer will be tempted to question what they knew as fact.
  5. Scapegoating — if you can find a group to blame for social or economic problems, you can then justify violence against them and blame them for any harm that results.
  6. Conflating Violence — to mean “power” instead of “last resort or weakness”
  7. Bullying – being louder than any reasonable detractors
  8. Confuse them – if you sound authoritative enough, you don’t have to use real logic.
  9. Populism – being against “elites” and “liberals” and “government insiders”
  10. Invoking a Christian God – God loves us, not “them.” A technique used by all totalitarian entities from states to cults.
  11. Saturation / Repetition — psychological effect of being exposed to the same message over and over, regardless of whether it’s true or if it even makes sense.
  12. Disparaging Education – who needs research when we have our own reality?
  13. Guilt by Association — This is a favorite of Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart, pretending that if someone went to a garden party that a commie also attended, that means they ARE a commie.
  14. Diversion – changing the subject when you can’t win an argument.