The pandemic pathogen of propaganda

Coronavirus diary

 By David Loomis

INDIANA — A friend posted something on Facebook that pushed a button. It was a familiar refrain about “media”: They are The Problem.

Some media may be a problem, including some news mediums. But not every news medium. At a time when newspapers are fighting for their economic lives, many are publishing reliable local information that is preventing loss of life. Meanwhile, other news mediums may be endangering lives.

Indiana, Pa., has a comparatively robust news market, including a local family-owned newspaper (an exception) and a radio station with a news staff. The community also has begun to produce a vigorous series of citizen-journalism webcasts.

It’s vital in a pandemic to know how to find good info. So I responded to my friend’s remark.

Here is a slightly edited version:

Lumping all media together is like lumping all humans together. Not all of them are bad. A lot of diversity offers a lot to like and to dislike. As Martin Luther King Jr. urged, it’s best to judge the character of individuals, not of groups. Same goes for mediums.

Entertainment media, for example, help audiences cope with social distancing and isolation prescribed for a pandemic. But such media are one-way, top-down, not interactive. Moreover, they tend to be toxic to the civic engagement that healthy democratic republics need.

Social media offer welcome two-way connections linking individuals and groups who otherwise might not be able to interact in real time. But they, too, tend to be as toxic to society as entertainment media.

Photography can be as poetic as a thousand words of Shakespeare. Or as banal as a selfie. You get the idea.

News media tend to be the real targets behind complaints about “the media.” But, again, not all news mediums are the same.

You identify as bad mediums “Global Cable operators who offer us constant bickering, biased, and spin-based reporting.” I’m not sure which cable operators you mean, but you are right to suggest that there are differences among TV news programs.

Fox News, for example, is different. It also is the most popular cable news network, and its audience is growing. But this is not good news for a nation that depends on factual, reliable and trustworthy information to fight a world war against a global pandemic.

Fortunately, Fox News – and its opinionated prime-time entertainers – is not the leading source for news in America. Broadcast news programs, not cable news, were top-rated during the first three months of 2020.Indeed, audiences for broadcast network news shows – ABC, CBS, NBC — top cable news audiences by millions of viewers every night. Always have.

That’s not to say that the Big Three broadcasters are faultless. But at least they aren’t preparing to be sued for spreading false information during a pandemic. Fox News is. 

Just as citizens need to protect themselves from a virus during this crisis, so do they need to protect themselves from the pathogens of misinformation, disinformation and propaganda. Skepticism (not cynicism) is an important habit for audiences to maintain. Additional essential tips are published on the website of FactCheck.org, a project of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Here are the links:

— “How to spot ‘fake news’”

— “Directory of deceptive information

— “Guide to coronavirus coverage

These websites take a little time to read. But they can save a whole lot of trouble if we heed. Same goes for protecting against coronavirus.

Be safe out there.

__________

David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.

The HawkEye invites comments on this and other issues of community interest. Email doloomis@iup.edu or click on the “contact us” drop-down menu, above.

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1 Response to The pandemic pathogen of propaganda

  1. Chelsea Elisabet says:

    Propaganda (and even mainstream media, to some extent) are essentially machines run by the government that dictate what a population is supposed to think and feel. With media, however, we can try to study what the product is and whether it conforms to obvious assumptions. Both propaganda and media direct a mass audience, but propaganda is usually censored to fit a government’s, elected official’s or cause’s agenda. It’s a tool with the primary purpose of advocating government policies. Trump, for example, is an unrelenting propaganda mouthpiece. Fox News and Twitter perpetuate his demoralized, deceitful narrative that glorifies intolerable hatespeak and lies. The emphasis is on spreading conspiracy theories and rattling off misleading spin. It serves as a distraction from truth. It suppresses free thought, and is not that different from its historical predecessors. An elimination of reality in the mask of reality. Manipulation. The old “Us versus Them” instead of hard facts and ideas. It’s a problem because it floods the media with all sorts of rubbish and nonsense, and most networks (CNN, MSNBC) are happy to play along for ratings. By overwhelming the media with intentional lies, they’re amplifying bullshit stories. As Chomsky states, propaganda and corporate media are one in the same. And the whole goddamn system is a corrupt mess.

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