MEDIA LITERACY: Don't vote without it

Posted in News Last updated on: Monday, 11 July 2016

MEDIA LITERACY: Don't vote without it

The months before an election turn us into four-year-olds trying to get through a funhouse: slanted floors, lying mirrors, screams. It's harvest time for the public relations industry, working overtime to override our rational minds and get us to vote for the interests who've hired them. The means: ancient, underhanded, and effective.

If the picture painted in Eyes Wide Open of the fossil fuel lobby's PR campaign seems exaggerated, check out the quotes from the book followed by those in bold from prominent Washington consultants Richard Berman and Jack Hubbard touting their techniques to oil and gas executives, their talk recorded by a disgruntled exec and printed in a story in the New York Times.

Eyes Wide Open, p. 65: "You can see this in action when environmentalists are described in ways that incite fear about them rather than about the dangers we're courting. 'Radical' is a favorite fear-inducing adjective."

"So we received funding to start something called Big Green Radicals. And Big Green Radicals was and continues to be a national campaign and the initial targets of that campaign were the Sierra Club, NRDC, and Food and Water Watch."

FALLACY: The ad hominem argument
Eyes Wide Open, p. 157: "Attacking an opponent rather than his or her position. 'But what would you expect of someone with two DUI arrests?'"

"And what we did was we conducted a whole bunch of intense opposition research digging into their board of directors, and we pulled all of the title information for all the vehicles that they own. And we released the report...a really damning report against them and their board of directors. "

FALLACY: The appeal to emotion
Eyes Wide Open, p. 157: "Relying on fear, pity, and other emotions instead of reason.  'Lock your doors--Measure Q is coming!" 

"I was convinced you could not get into people's heads and convince them to do something as easily as you could get into their hearts or into their gut to convince them to do something...The two [emotions] that resonate best with people, and that we're trying to use in this particular campaign are fear and anger."

Eyes Wide Open, p. 58: "The lobby funds its own legitimate-sounding research institutes to produce desirable statistics." 

"And these websites that you see: UnionFacts, ConsumerFreedom.com, etc.; these are websites we maintain and we have about 25 different websites in our firm, probably more than that on different niche issues."

Eyes Wide Open, p. 58: "They have the clout to demand their viewpoint be heard on TV, in newspapers, on radio, and in school textbooks."

"And that comes from people hearing something enough times from enough different places, people repeating it to each other, that you reach a point where you have solidified your position."

Eyes Wide Open, p. 156: "To seem trustworthy, these groups hide the corporations that give them money."

"People always ask me one question all the time: ‘How do I know that I won’t be found out as a supporter of what you’re doing?’ We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don’t know who supports us."

What's missing: any attempt to convince based on the merits of the case.  The Detecting Patterns of Deception page at flackcheck.org has an excellent description of below-the-belt techniques as well as a page devoted to the climate debate. 

Both political parties use these rhetorical tricks because they get results.  That can stop with you.  As mentioned in my "The Science Isn't Settled" post, tricks lose their power once we understand their workings. We're all being bombarded with them daily. Best to have our eyes open from an early age--especially at election time.



Click here to see which states require media literacy be taught in the schools.

Those powerful emotions anger and fear are in full display in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.  For a foreign observer's perspective on their import, check out this BBC article.