|Number 593||January 26, 2016|
This issue of the Notes marks the end of the Ten Concrete Tips for Media Propaganda Self-Defense. I hope you've enjoyed reading them and thinking about them as much as I've enjoyed putting them together. If you have anything to add to the list, send it along. There's no reason why it can't be Eleven Concrete Tips, after all.
Nygaard Notes will be on vacation for a couple of weeks, so if you try to write to me—and I really do love it when you do!—the response won't come your way until sometime after February 5th. Who knows what will happen while I'm not paying attention?
One foot out the door,
Every December the Associated Press publishes their list of the "Top News Stories" of the year, with a brief summary for each item on the list. The following words were what the AP wrote about the story that they listed as the fifth-from-the-top story of the year. See if you can figure out why this is the Nygaard Notes "Quote" of the Week:
"5. BLACK DEATHS IN ENCOUNTERS WITH POLICE: In Baltimore, riots broke out after the death of Freddie Gray, a black man loaded into a van by police officers. In Chicago, Tulsa and North Charleston, South Carolina, fatal police shootings of black men prompted resignations and criminal charges. The incidents gave fuel to the Black Lives Matter campaign, and prompted several investigations of policing practices."
Do you see the problem here? Something "prompted resignations and criminal charges" (of police) in 2015, but it couldn't have been "black deaths," could it? Otherwise, we should have been seeing resignations and criminal charges every year since Europeans landed on these shores. Or at least since 1619.
The 10th, and final, Concrete Tip for Media Propaganda Self-Defense is the shortest and the simplest. I did it this way because not too many people will remember and use all ten Tips. If you're one of those non-rememberers, then I suggest that you just try to remember the 10th and final Tip:
ALWAYS ASK THE TWO BIG QUESTIONS: WHO SAYS? and SO WHAT?
The first question should be obvious. When we ask "Who says?" we are asking about the sources of a story. And that's important, because journalism is not scholarship. Scholarship is conducted by people with a certain amount of expertise, who go deeply and specifically into a subject. It's not aimed at a mainstream audience; it's aimed at others who also have a certain amount of expertise.
Journalism is different. Journalists, generally speaking, are not experts. Instead, they talk to experts and try to get them to say things that can be understood by a mainstream audience. So, as readers who are also not experts, we have to ask a bunch of questions (the shorthand for which is the single question, "Who says?"): Who do they talk to? Where do they find these people? What makes them experts? Why does the journalist find them credible? Why do WE find them credible? DO we find them credible?
In the world of scholarship, there is a whole system of assessing credibility and validity of arguments. Not that there isn't tons of controversy in academia, but the people doing the arguing often take the time to really look into what other scholars are saying. They have the time to do this because, well, they're scholars. That's what they do.
Most of us are not scholars, so we have to place an enormous amount of faith in the journalists whose job it is to bring the world to us. When we question the sources for a story—or when we at least acknowledge that we don't know if someone is believable or not—we are taking a large step toward defending ourselves against propaganda.
A journalist cannot write a good story without good sources. Of course, it's quite possible to
The Second Big Question to ask when watching or listening to the news is "So what?" The answer to this question tells us what to pay attention to—and what NOT to pay attention to. What is the significance of the story? Is it a "front-page" story? If not, what is it doing on the front page? If yes, why is it NOT on the front page?
Remember Tip #9 about Metacommunication. Sometimes the fact that a story is on the front page tells you that some Important People want the public to focus on the subject of this story, and not on something else. So, for example, we'll read stories about the crimes and mistakes of our enemies, and the virtues and valiant efforts of our official friends.
Here's an example: Amnesty International released a major study last August about the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. The study pointed out that "Saudi Arabia remains one of the most prolific executioners in the world," executing more than 2,200 people over the past two decades, "mostly by beheading." Saudi Arabia remains "Washington's closest Arab ally in the Middle East," which may explain why the Amnesty study received virtually no notice in the U.S. press. Yet when an official enemy, ISIS, engages in beheadings, the Wall Street Journal reports the comments of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who said the latest video of Islamic State militants with hostages was "a reminder of their brutality and barbarism." In fact, a Google News search for the terms "ISIS beheadings barbaric" (I just did one) returned 292,000 citations. Substituting "Saudi" for "ISIS" in the same search yielded 6,000 citations, a discrepancy of nearly 5,000 percent.
Asking the simple question "So what?" when seeing an article about ISIS barbarism, then, can help to conjure up a whole range of important questions: If beheadings are barbaric for enemies, are they not barbaric for friends? When does Saudi Arabia get on the front page? Why? If the barbaric nature of an entity is not what determines if they will be an ally or an enemy, then what factors do play the key role? All of these questions come up when we see a story about the barbarism of ISIS and, instead of recoiling in horror or fear, we ask a simple question: So what?
I've just spent nine issues and over three months spelling out my Ten Concrete Tips for Media Propaganda Self-Defense. I don't expect anyone to memorize the list. But if you do remember to practice any one or more of them, I believe you will end up being better informed, and your quest to understand how the world works will be a little happier.
Now here is my ever-so-brief summary of the Ten Tips. See which one you remember the best:
Concrete Tip #1: NEVER USE NEWS MEDIA TO INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO A SUBJECT. Remember that the "facts" in the media will only make sense—can only make sense—if and when we connect them to something we already have in our heads. And if we don't take care about what we already have in our heads, then others will put things in there that we really don't want residing there.
Concrete Tip #2: THE MEDIA SHOULD BE ONLY A PART OF A WELL-BALANCED INFORMATION DIET. Don't rely on media to tell you about the world. Instead, try reading a book. Take classes. Attend a workshop. Talk to people who know things. Read all kinds of things that you only read about in the news; see for yourself. Do a case study on a subject that interests you. Reading the paper can be dangerous if you don't acquire some history, background, and context from other sources.
Concrete Tip #3: FORMULATE YOUR QUESTIONS BEFORE LOOKING AT THE NEWS MEDIA. Journalists ask questions for a living, but they may not be YOUR questions. Think about what you want to know before diving into the mass media. That way, you'll know what you're looking for, and you won't end up following the lead of some journalist that you don't even know.
Concrete Tip #4: SET YOUR OWN NEWS AGENDA. Back in July I quoted political scientist Bernard Cohen, who said, "The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about." So, before you listen to the daily news, spend a moment deciding where you want to focus your attention. Knowing what to ignore is a major self-defense skill!
Concrete Tip #5: READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE. Sometimes the real reporting is buried deep in the article, maybe even at the end. A headline is someone's idea of the main point. Your idea may be different. Skimming the headlines is dangerous.
Concrete Tip #6: DON'T "TRUST" ANY NEWS SOURCE. Somewhere between blind trust and immature cynicism lies a path to follow when seeking the truth. The real secret may be to stop looking for "truth" at all, and look for meaning instead.
Concrete Tip #7: INTERROGATE YOURSELF AS YOU READ/WATCH THE NEWS. The next time you watch the news, notice that some news items are easily digestible and readily believable, while other news items make you feel uncomfortable. Think about why this is so.
Concrete Tip #8: KNOW YOUR ABCs. We need to commit a significant amount of time and energy toward looking inside ourselves if we want to free ourselves from some of the powerful ideas that the Propaganda System has embedded in our minds and hearts. This goes 'way beyond media propaganda; it's really intellectual self-defense.
Concrete Tip #9: NOTE THE METACOMMUNICATION. News stories are messages being sent to the public. Think about all of the messages that come along with those messages. Ask yourself: Why am I reading this? Why here? Why now? Who thinks I should believe this? What am I not reading? Every story relies on some big ideas to give it meaning; what are the big ideas in this story?
Concrete Tip #10: START BY ASKING THE TWO BIG QUESTIONS. See the article elsewhere in this issue of Nygaard Notes.
OK, that's the end. Enough concrete. Time to see what 2016 has to offer. Starting with the next article.
A major and timely report was released earlier this month, but was ignored by the mass media, and thus remains unknown to most USAmericans.
The report was called Living in the Shadow of Danger: Poverty, Race, and Unequal Chemical Facility Hazards, and it was released by the Center for Effective Government on January 16th.
Now that we know what an RMP is, I think I'll just let the following excerpt (from page 12) speak for itself. And the emphasis is not mine, it's all in the original:
"Nearly 23 million U.S. residents – 7.5 percent of the total population – live within one mile of an RMP facility. These fenceline communities would be hardest hit during a chemical catastrophe and would have the least amount of time to escape.
"Who lives in these 'fenceline zones'? They include people of all demographics—young and old, people of color and white, poor and non-poor—across all 50 states. However, people of color and people living in poverty are the hardest hit. Nationwide, people in both groups are much more likely to live at the fenceline of a hazardous facility than white populations or people with incomes above the poverty line, respectively.
"As one digs deeper, the findings become even more startling:
• Nearly half of the people living in fenceline zones (11.4 million) are people of color. This includes 3.6 million children of color.
• Nationwide, 10 percent of all people of color live within one mile of a hazardous chemical facility—compared to six percent of white residents. This means that people of color are 1.7 times more likely to live in fenceline zones than white residents.
• One-fifth of all people living in these fenceline communities (4.8 million) are in poverty. Of this group, two-thirds (3.2 million) are poor people of color.
• Nationwide, 10 percent of all people in poverty live in fenceline zones, compared to seven percent of people not in poverty – making poor people 1.4 times more likely to live in fenceline zones.
Michele Roberts, national co-coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, says that "It is important that this report is being released at the celebration of the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Still, today, we ask, how long must race be a factor and how many lives must be tragically lost in order to get the justice our communities deserve?"
How long, indeed? If you're wondering what you can do to challenge this ongoing environmental/racial injustice, one group to check out is the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform. That's a long name, but just go read their principles, then support them. They also have a list of 20 or so affiliates, any one of which could use your support, I'm sure.