Protecting ourselves from media manipulation: The use of alternative media as an information source (Reedited June, 2006)
Throughout time it has been clear that the media has had a large influence over our perceptions of the world and of the society in which we live. One has to wonder why it is that we blindly believe whatever we hear on the radio, see on the television, read in newspapers and more currently on the internet? The mass media has acquired great control over the perceptions of how we interpret the world around us; it is only when we allow alternative media to develop and expand to greater parts of the world that we will be able to understand different perspectives and work towards understanding the truth.
There have been past reports on alien invasions, attacks made by giant worms and other exaggerated or made-up stories, often times these events or attacks were based on popular fears of the time. This same phenomenon can also be seen during the “Red Scare.” Americans constantly afraid of being attacked by communists and their spies thus, they proceeded to name anyone or anything as a communist if they did not respond in the way that they had anticipated. These fears were further exaggerated and manipulated by the mass media creating which only lead to the creation of more anxiety.
Timing and making thing believable are equally as important in creating stories or news that can result in anxiety and fear. To fully deceive the public there has to be a plausible story occurring at the right time and place.
In our post 9/11 world, where many people are already feeling on the edge it is important for the media to be careful in what they produce, and the potential effects it can have on their audience. We would not want to see ourselves confronted with the same tactics as those used during the “Red Scare.” If similar broadcasts were to occur today, they might trigger widespread fear that a biological or chemical terrorism attack was actually underway, even though no actual proof might be visible, as such was seen with the supposed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
With this said, it is important to take note of the constant bombarding of images of soldiers in the battlefield and the constant threats of future terrorist attacks provided by the news media. As George Orwell explains, “…if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should know better,” this helps explain how the media can use language to influence the perceptions of it’s audience even when the audience normally knows better than to be seduced by that same language.
It is generally agreed that the relationship between terrorism and the media is ‘symbiotic,’ in that defiant terrorist organizations use the media as a means of expression for their political message to be heard by the targeted audience, whilst supplying ‘exciting news’ for the media (Nacos). The media is further seduced into adopting the language that is provided by the terrorist organization. An example of this occurred when former-Italian Premeir Aldo Moro was kidnapped and then murdered, the editor of La Repubblica ran the headline ‘They Have Struck The Heart of The State,’ which seems to be indirectly repeating Red Brigade’s statement ‘…we have carried the attack into the very heart of the state” (Bechelloni).
The media not only adopts some of the language used by the terrorist organization but it also has been pointed out that many times the news media automatically adopts the taxonomy of the government (De Graaf). It is not believed that the media is seduced by the government’s use of language but rather the government’s perceived superiority in information. For this reason, the media is further inclined to use language that describes acts as politically motivated with violence, rather than neutral reporting. This is very dangerous in itself because it means that the media would be afraid of providing the public with information that did not agree with the information that was being provided by the current government, thus causing confusion and possible chaos. This allows us to wonder if we are only learning of one side of the story and there’s a whole other “truth” that we are not learning of.
It is well known that words influence thought and limit the ideas that can be transferred from one individual to another. Based on the example above we can see that the media plays a central role in telling the public what words will be judged by society to be appropriate in any new discourse. Therefore, it is important for both terrorist organizations and state agencies that the media uses their language to describe acts of politically motivated violence.
This is just in. You are looking at obviously a very disturbing live shot there. That is the World Trade Center, and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center. CNN Center right now is just beginning to work on this story, obviously calling our sources and trying to figure out exactly what happened. (CNN Anchor Carol Lin, 8:49:50 a.m., 9/11/01)