How Media Mold Public Opinion in the U.S. and Canada

Looking back on my two decades in Canada, the voices I remember belong to Pierre Burton, Charles Templeton and other commentators who would be considered dangerously “liberal” in the United States today. And I conclude that the transformation of Canadian political attitudes owes much to those voices. When I arrived in Ontario in 1957, Toronto was an uptight red-brick town that could have fit comfortably into the North of England. When I left for Florida in 1979, Toronto was a vibrant city comparable to Los Angeles or New York.

Today, few people in Canada would be comfortable discussing politics with their American friends. Political attitudes are dramatically different in the two neighboring countries. While Canadians have moved to the left over the years, Americans have drifted to the right.

Back when I moved to Canada from Jamaica, the dominant voices in American media were decidedly liberal. Commentators like William Buckley were the exception. And today, Buckley would be a “lefty” (or at least a “moderate”) in American politics.

What happened?

I think American media have been subverted by activists with huge amounts of money to spend, while Canadian media have – by and large – been free to serve the interests of the public.

In an article published on the web yesterday, commentator Ernest Partridge has this to say about the state of the media in America:

The right wing is operating a super-charged carnival of hype, hysteria and hoopla, while the left struggles along with a pipsqueek sideshow: a few magazines like The Nation, Mother Jones and The American Prospect, with minuscule circulation among the already converted, some tolerated columnists like Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, and Frank Rich, and of course there’s Shultz, Olbermann and Maddow on MSNBC.

Meanwhile, one by one, the lights are going out: in January, Air America Radio fell silent, and last month David Broncoccio’s outstanding investigative program, NOW, closed shop. Last Friday, Bill Moyers’ Journal on PBS broadcast its final program. Shultz-Olbermann-Maddow remain on MSNBC at the sufferance of the owners and managers of NBC and MicroSoft, while Comcast is attempting a takeover of NBC. If successful, how long will this lone outpost of progressive cable-TV commentary remain?

So what’s happening?

To borrow an unjustly ridiculed phrase from Hillary Clinton, I see “a vast right-wing conspiracy.”

I’m sure there’s a left-wing “conspiracy”, too. Billionaire George Soros, the Hungarian born billionaire investor, philanthropist and author who became famous as the currency speculator “who broke the Bank of England,” has poured a lot of money into “progressive” propaganda outlets – MoveOn,org, for example. But for every George Soros there are a dozen billionaires funding “conservative think tanks” and supporting the right-wing PR crusade.

And make no mistake, there is a crusade going on.

This organized battle for the minds of Americans began back in the early Seventies. The spark came from Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, who  wrote a memo to the Chamber of Commerce saying that all of America’s best students were becoming anti-business because of the Vietnam War, and that “we” needed to do something about it. Powell’s agenda included getting wealthy conservatives to set up “think tanks.” professorships and institutes on and off campus where intellectuals would write books from a conservative business perspective. They set up the Heritage Foundation in 1973, and the Manhattan Institute after that.

Much of the big money behind the conservative and libertarian think tanks can be traced back to foundations created by enormously wealthy individuals – Charles G. Koch and his brother David H. Koch, Richard Mellon Scaife, Adolph Coors, Lynde and Harry Bradley and John M. Olin, for example.

Thinks tanks and other organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, funnel a torrent of cash into lobbying and propaganda. And this is not your father’s propaganda. This is a highly developed science. It is based on intense study of human behavior and the way we respond to various words and phrases. And there is scant regard for accuracy. “Talking points” are based not on the truth but on their effectiveness.

The result was inevitable.  Today, polls show mainstream America is significantly “conservative.” And this trend is bound to continue. There is little political will to oppose it. And with the constitutional guarantee of “free speech,” Americans are getting all the “information” that rich special interests want them to get – true or false.

The trend is boosted by the fact that media need advertising revenue to survive, and the general public does not do much advertising. Media revenue comes from business and special interests.

Obviously, media that oppose business and special interests cannot long survive in this environment.

The future looks grim. As the “vast right-wing conspiracy” pumps huge sums of money into a sophisticated campaign to manipulate the public mind, mainstream American thought will inevitably become ever more “conservative.”  And to stay alive, American media must perforce go with the flow.