Monday, December 31, 2012



"Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return."

Fredrick Remington, writing his employer William Randolph Hearst from Havana in 1897

"Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war."

William Randolph Hearst's response to Remington regarding what became known as the Spanish-American War.'

(Source: Citizen Hearst, W.A. Swanberg, 1963)

The famous exchange above indicates the unprecedented power a media owner has. In this case, a few extremely wealthy individuals, notably Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, were able to manipulate the government into the Spanish-American War by inflaming public opinion with propaganda and yellow journalism.

For a short time in the early part of the twentieth century, there was a great diversity of opinions present in the media: "muckraking," as its detractors called investigative reporting, was at its zenith. Ida Tarbell had won international fame with her brilliant exposé of the Standard Oil Company, serialized in McClure's magazine before becoming a book. Upton Sinclair exposed the hideous practices of the meat packaging industry through The jungle, a work which was serialized in the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason, a year before being published as a book. But as World War I broke out, criticizing the establishment became taboo, and the U.S. Post Office refused to deliver Appeal to Reason and other similar publications. Advertisers pressured the media to lighten up. And fairly quickly, muckracking disappeared from the scene, never to return to the same degree. From time to time, journalists like George Seldes, I.F. Stone, and more recently Robert Parry, would self-publish when they realized they could not tell the truth boldly and fully in other people's publications. But these small circulation newsletters and journals could never compete with media giants such as CBS or the New York Times.

The Establishment in this country knew early on how important it was to control the press. Just as the representative form of government was set up to prevent direct democracy, or rather, "mob rule," so too did the press have to be protected from what Walter Lippmann called "the defective organization of public opinion." Truth could be a powerful weapon, one the elites were loath to share with masses. But keeping the truth out of the press presented a quandary. The elites themselves needed to know what the truth was. How could the elites get the information and still manage to keep it hidden from the rest of the world? As Lippmann (who served in an intelligence unit designed to aid the U.S. negotiating team in Paris as WW1 ended) argued, in his essay Public Opinion,

"representative government cannot be worked successfully, no matter what the basis of election, unless there is an independent, expert organization for making the unseen facts [of the new world] intelligible to those who have to make the decisions."'

In a 1937 work, Harold Lasswell, one of the fathers of modern communication theory, made a similar and more explicit suggestion:

"Propaganda must be coordinated with information and espionage services which can supply material to the propagandists and report progress of propaganda work."

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