Illiteracy is costing you

Corporate media blackouts and “fake news” leave people uninformed.

By Jacob Foote

Such a perfect democracy constructs its own inconceivable foe, terrorism. Its wish is to be judged by its enemies rather than by its results. The story of terrorism is written by the state and it is therefore highly instructive. The spectating populations must certainly never know everything about terrorism, but they must always know enough to convince them that, compared with terrorism, everything else seems rather acceptable, in any case more rational and democratic. – Guy Debord, Situationist and Marxist theorist, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle


NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, NEW YORK – On Sunday, Feb. 5, 113.7 million eyes across the United States were trained on television screens, witnessing one of the largest spectacles in American society, the Super Bowl. As the football launched across the field for the last time, there was no doubt in who the victor would be that night. This was in part to the variety of news outlets across the country boasting the scores as if it were one of the most important events of the year.

Without a doubt, the vast majority of information that enters the public psyche radiates from corporate news outlets. Such media is a blessing, as it informs people on the happenings of the world while sparing them the exhausting effort of digging up facts on their own. However, there is a significant consequence to this relationship with private news organizations.

For example, Yemeni Houthi forces launched a ‘Volcano 2’ long-range ballistic missile at the Saudi capital of Riyadh, successfully striking a military outpost. This appeared to be a significant news event, as Saudi Arabia and its ally – the U.S. – have maintained an imposing presence in Yemen, escalating since the Saudi-led intervention began in 2015. Yet many mainstream media sources failed to mention it at all that Sunday night.

Such neglect for coverage on international affairs is not uncommon in the United States. Given that news organizations are supposed to tell people what is going on in the world, it seems odd that stories like the one above are ignored. It begs the question: why?

“Although the news ideally should be based on the importance of stories and the overall impact of events, it is also a money-making business,” said Dr. Joseph Sirianni, an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Niagara University. “Events like the Super Bowl, which is the biggest event of the year in terms of television ratings and ad revenue, will most likely overshadow international events because of the invested interest of the public.”

“People are less interested in parts of the world they couldn’t find on a map,” said Dr. Ken Culton, Associate Professor and Director of Social Sciences Program at Niagara University. “The board of directors profit from a unified message, so they don’t want to get off message and distract people from the process of consumption.”

He continued that the corporate media is dispersed to maintain the status quo.

“The Super Bowl is a great opportunity to do that as it reinforces consumption, sending the message that it is business as usual even though parts of the world are on fire,” he said.

In spite of this, it is true that some international events do enter the horizon of the public’s awareness. This is especially the case for sudden tragic events, seen in the recent examples of terror attacks across the Western world. However, the circulated information about such tragedies does not always capture the full story. Not only that, but many attacks or disasters in less developed countries seem to be completely ignored by Western media. It is almost as if the lives of Westerners are seen as more important, or the tragedies that do not concern them are considered unnatural. This is to be expected of these nations in a “savage state of society,” to quote eugenicist Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race, written in 1916.

This recipe of neglect for coverage on certain foreign happenings and limited information on others produces a detriment to the masses.

“The effect is that the American public becomes less informed about international events that might potentially affect the United States at some point,” said Dr. Sirianni.

“We fall into a habit of saying people are stupid or the education system isn’t doing its job. But really it’s about these sources of information that are out there masquerading as news that people take in,” said Dr. Culton. “On one hand you have this awful made-up nonsense and then you have just a lack of information and both of these things combined leave a lot of people with completely ridiculous ideas of things.”

Given this insufficiency, it seems clear that a response on the part of the public is necessary. In the final thesis of The Society of the Spectacle, Debord writes on the need for self-emancipation, “This ‘historical mission of installing truth in the world’ can not be accomplished either by the isolated individual, or by the atomized crowd subjected to manipulation … [but] is only possible where individuals are ‘directly linked to universal history’; only where dialogue arms itself to make its own conditions victorious.

Dr. Culton said the misinformation and lack of information is one of the primary things that needs to be addressed in order to return to some sort of democracy.

When asked what should be done, Dr. Culton advocated “brutal honesty whenever and wherever you can. This is not a time to be ‘diplomatic’ or to be ‘meek’ in the face of nonsense. This may be painful and upsetting to people, but there is too much at stake.”

One way to overcome the problem, according to Dr. Sirianni, is to read international news outlets. By following various news organizations through social media, people can access information on international affairs relatively easily.

“In turn, those people can take part in disseminating news that is not covered by the American media on their own social media pages,” he said.

While this solution aims to decrease the effects of selective news coverage, it opposes symptoms of the fundamental problem; corporate news outlets fail to cover certain worldly events in the face of others due to profit incentives.

This is not to disqualify the validity of that approach, however. Maybe, more than ever, the public should aim to bring the locus of media power back to the individual.

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