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[Jul 12, 2013] Marty Kaplan on the Weapons of Mass Distraction

Jul 12, 2013 |

Across the world - Greece, Spain, Brazil, Egypt - citizens are turning angrily to their governments to demand economic fair play and equality. But here in America, with few exceptions, the streets and airwaves remain relatively silent. In a country as rich and powerful as America, why is there so little outcry about the ever-increasing, deliberate divide between the very wealthy and everyone else?

Media scholar Marty Kaplan points to a number of forces keeping these issues and affected citizens in the dark - especially our well-fed appetite for media distraction.

"We have unemployment and hunger and crumbling infrastructure and a tax system out of whack and a corrupt political system - why are we not taking to the streets?" Kaplan asks Bill. "I suspect among your viewers, there are people who are outraged and want to be at the barricades. The problem is that we have been taught to be helpless and jaded rather than to feel that we are empowered and can make a difference."

An award-winning columnist and head of the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, Kaplan also talks about the appropriate role of journalists as advocates for truth.

Interview Producer: Gina Kim. Editor: Rob Kuhns.
Intro Producer: Robert Booth. Intro Editor: Paul Henry Desjarlais.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Time again to talk with MARTY KAPLAN. Loyal members of Moyers and Company know him as one of the keenest and most sensible observers of politics, the press, and culture. He runs the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, an independent promontory from which he lets his mind range wherever his insatiable curiosity takes him. Most recently, Brazil.

For several weeks, the largest country in Latin America has been shaken by a massive citizen uprising protesting political corruption, economic injustice, poor health care, inadequate schools, lousy mass transit, a crumbling infrastructure, and, get this, billions blown on sports. That's right, vast numbers of citizens in this soccer crazy nation are outraged that their government is spending billions of dollars to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. This, in the land of Pelé.

They're even up in arms over the $74 million deal signed by the young soccer star Neymar da Silva. Crowds have been shouting, "Brazil, wake up. A teacher is worth more than Neymar!" Being no one's fool, Neymar has sided with the protesters and written on Facebook that their mobilization inspires him on the playing field.

Surveying this tumult, MARTY KAPLAN recently expressed wonder at this people's uprising and challenged us, his fellow Americans, "Let's Be Brazil." That's when I called and ask him to join me on the show. By the way, his work has just won two awards from the Los Angeles Press Club, including best columnist.

MARTY KAPLAN, welcome.

MARTY KAPLAN: Thanks very much.

BILL MOYERS: And congratulations on those awards.

MARTY KAPLAN: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: You recently confessed to "outrage envy." What's that about?

MARTY KAPLAN: It's my feeling that what happened in Brazil, which is so encouraging about citizens taking their destiny in their own hands, is not happening here. We have unemployment and hunger and crumbling infrastructure and a tax system out of whack and a corrupt political system. Why are we not also taking to the streets is the question. And I want us to.

BILL MOYERS: You wrote "If you're not outraged…you're not paying attention." So are we not paying attention?

MARTY KAPLAN: We are paying attention to the wrong things. We are paying attention to infotainment, which is being spoon-fed to us and sadly, frankly, we are enabling because we love the stuff.

BILL MOYERS: "The infotainment narrative of life in America," you call.

MARTY KAPLAN: Yes. The tragedy of journalism now is that it is demand driven. And when you ask people what they want, we're like one of those rats that have a lever to push and cocaine comes out. And once that happens one time, they'll stay there till they die, until more of the drug appears. We can't help loving lurid stories and suspense and the kind of sex and violence which the news is now made up of.

BILL MOYERS: But you go on beyond the infotainment story. You say, "Our spirits have been sickened by the toxins baked into our political system." Powerful sentence. "Our spirits have been sickened by the toxins baked into our political system."

MARTY KAPLAN: The control of our democracy by money is shocking and deserves the same kind of response to corruption that it got in Brazil. And instead, we have become used to it. We don't see a way around it. There are voices, there are people like Larry Lessig that are trying to change the campaign finance system, the way media plays into that. But they are voices in the wilderness.

And we, the public, have wised up and decided either not to pay attention at all, or the media have decided not to force us to pay attention. And if we do pay attention, you can't live with the knowledge that our democracy is now so corrupt that it is unchangeable.

BILL MOYERS: So, if it is true as you say, that, "Our tax code is the least progressive in the industrial world," that we've witnessed "The most massive transfer of wealth in history," which is "Destroying our middle class," that "Tuition is increasingly unaffordable, and retirement increasingly unavailable," that "The banks that sold trillions of dollars of Americans' worth have not only gone unpunished; they're still at it," why are we not at the barricades?

MARTY KAPLAN: I suspect among your viewers, there were people who are outraged and want to be at the barricades. The problem is that we have been taught to be helpless and jaded rather than to feel that we are empowered and can make a difference--

BILL MOYERS: Taught by whom? By those of us who report the news of bad things happening?

MARTY KAPLAN: Well, the stuff that is being reported on the news tends not to be the kind of stuff that we need to know about in order to be outraged. Climate change is one of the great tests of journalism.

There was "The New York Times" headline about the first time that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million. Which "The Times" said that carbon dioxide had reached a level not seen in "millions of years."


MARTY KAPLAN: My jaw fell. You would think that that would cause a worldwide stir. And instead, it was a one-day story, onto the next thing.

BILL MOYERS: As you know, President Obama recently made a major speech in which he announced a new plan to tackle climate change. All three cable networks turned to the president's speech, but then they cut away from it well before it was intended to end. Fox News cut away saying the remarks could be streamed online, and then they turned to a guest critical of the president.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The planet is warming, and human activity is contributing to it.

MEGYN KELLY on Fox News: But that is not the full story. We're going to stream the remainder of the President's remarks live on and in the meantime we'll be, we're joined now with some reaction. Chris Horner is the senior fellow and the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the author of the book, "Red Hot Lies."

BILL MOYERS: Fox's host, Megyn Kelly wondered aloud about whether the country even needed to tackle the problem. And CNN's Wolf Blitzer cut in soon after--

WOLF BLITZER on CNN Newsroom: Alright, so the president making a major, major address on climate change. I want to bring in Jim Acosta, and the president has got some important news he's about to release--

BILL MOYERS: --and then Wolf continued to talk over the president's remarks. What do you make of that?

MARTY KAPLAN: The meta message is more interesting to journalism than the message itself. People--

BILL MOYERS: Meta message?

MARTY KAPLAN: The meta message is, here's grist for combat between different factions. How is it going to play out? Rather than the message, which is, here's what's happening to our climate, here's what we have to do to prevent it. That stuff risks being boring. But combat is never boring. What they don't know how to do is to talk about, well, what are our options here, America? How do we mitigate the effects of climate change?

Instead, they're refighting all these old battles. And that kind of combat is what they can do. The Sunday talk shows did something else, which is to completely ignore it. I mean, they probably had John McCain and Lindsey Graham on for the 27th time each, instead of dealing with what was the most important speech about climate change ever given by a sitting president.

BILL MOYERS: And ThinkProgress, the progressive website published an info-graphic, which pointed out that, as you say, Sunday's news shows ignored Obama's climate plan, late-night comedy shows picked up the slack. "The Daily Show" gave three minutes and 29 seconds to the president, "The Late Show" gave one minute, 33 seconds, "The Tonight Show" gave one minute and two seconds. "Meet the Press?" Zero seconds. Fox News? Zero seconds. ABC "This Week"? Zero seconds. "Face the Nation?" Zero seconds. "State of the Union" on CNN, zero seconds.

MARTY KAPLAN: Yeah, but I bet they kept us informed about the phony IRS scandal. They have stuff which they think pushes the buttons that makes people emotional and angry. And they just find climate change as snooze. They find guns a snooze. Look at what happened with Sandy Hook. Look at what happened with Hurricane Sandy and climate change. We are capable of turning away because we get bored with one thing and need the next.

BILL MOYERS: At the time of the Sandy Hook shootings, you wrote about the learned helplessness that seemed to permeate that situation. Talk about that a moment.

MARTY KAPLAN: We have had the unfortunate experience of being outraged, being Brazilians, trying to get something done, and watching as the dysfunctional system that we are forced to live under destroys momentum and creates stasis, or adds power to the already powerful, rather than enabling reform. We have, for example, on Capitol Hill, a system which is built on the need to create ads, narratives, phony reality about members who are running for office.

And they need to finance that because our television stations make a killing on that. Especially in the swing states. And so the only way they can finance it is by doing quid pro quo deals with special interests. So when the Newtown tragedy happened, my instinct was, yes, I know Obama's going to make a great speech and the polls are going to be 99 percent, but it's going to be business as usual. Our hearts will be broken, because the system is simply unresponsive and incapable of reform.

You watch that happen enough times, and you decide, why bother? You have to be someone who just fell off the turnip truck to think that popular outrage can make a difference. The truth is that we can make a difference. We can change the way campaigns are financed. We can change the electoral college. You name it, we can do things. But because we have been taught that we will be ineffective and fail, it seems like the gesture of a rube to be hopeful.

BILL MOYERS: But this takes us back to the Brazilians. Because as you know, the Brazilians were protesting, millions of them were protesting against the $31, $33 billion they're going be spending on the World Cup and the Summer Olympics. They were carrying signs about that 21-year-old soccer star who's just signed a deal for $74 million. And they were saying, a good teacher is worth more than this soccer star. Now somehow, their learned helplessness was overwhelmed, or overcome, or penetrated by some other consciousness.

MARTY KAPLAN: Well, but I think the key difference is that their democracy is new. They still believe in holding it accountable. They want to have a system that works. And as long as their promise is out there of making a difference, they want to hold the politicians' feet to the fire. In our case, we have an old democracy, which has ossified.

The narrative should be, the system is broken, let's fix it. The founders were not Moses or God and what they put in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, was not written in stone. It is meant to deal with things they could never imagine.

They could not imagine swing states and the amount of money you have to spend and what you have to do with special interests in order to get elected. There is a pathology in our system that we, as a country, refuse to acknowledge because it's a way of saying that we're not heaven's blessed child. We are humans.

BILL MOYERS: What intrigued me was that the Brazilians first sparked over an increase in the bus fare in São Paulo, and then it just spread. The bus fare. Yet when recently the Metropolitan Transit Authority here in New York raised the transit fare, it just, that wasn't even a ripple on the surface.

MARTY KAPLAN: Because the class that produces news has the kind of incomes that can absorb those kinds of changes. The news industry is now part of the privileged elite. They are not the scrappy adversaries that one would hope they would be fighting for the little guy. They are the man. And if public transportation costs a little more, the studio's going to send a car for them anyway. The problem is that corporate self-interest plays itself out in the content of news.

BILL MOYERS: As you know, there's a debate going on over journalism in America. The Pew Research Center recently wrote bleakly about the future of journalism.

The other side of it, Marty, is that some people are saying these are the "glory days" of journalism, because there's so much information out there online, if you have access. And you yourself recently wrote, and I'm quoting, "the best journalism in the world, from plenty of sources, is available online, often for no cents a day, and we can access it in video and audio as well, and from anywhere at any time." So where do you come down?

MARTY KAPLAN: And as long as you are a critical thinker. As long as you could sort the stuff that's reliable from the crud. As long as you understand that people who propagate information have interests. And so you could understand that, you know, this incredibly popular website is also the mouthpiece for this party. To be able to do that requires exposure to enough quality journalism so that you learn to tell the difference between the stuff that's being hawked in the bazaar that is intriguing and probably only partly accurate, between that and stuff which, where the facts are verified. We have had instance after instance in the last several months of stories in which it's the pressure to be first, to say something before anyone else has completely overridden the pressure to check is it accurate and valid.

And this is happening to the prestige outlets. They are not taking the time, because they have this bizarre notion that being first in the world of journalism, when microseconds count, it's like being a micro trader on Wall Street, that you're going to make or lose zillions by having those bragging rights. And in fact, the next day, they buy full-page ads in "The New York Times" saying, we were first to get this. They don't buy an ad when they say, we were first and wrong.

BILL MOYERS: Come back to cable for a moment. Because as you know, the three major cable outlets, MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN have been giving a lot of attention to the Trayvon Martin story--

NEWS ANCHOR #1: Yesterday, huge day in the George Zimmerman trial--

NEWS ANCHOR #2: Coming up, a crucial day in the George Zimmerman trial--

NEWS ANCHOR #3: George Zimmerman trial is eating up a lot of time on cable television--

NEWS ANCHOR #4: The trial that has got America entranced--

NEWS ANCHOR #5: We are watching with great interest--

NEWS ANCHOR #6: The jury is not yet seated. As soon as this trial begins in earnest we will take you there--

BILL MOYERS: It's a good story, by the way. Would they be doing this if people weren't watching?

MARTY KAPLAN: No. They are both creating and responding to demand. But what they're not doing is exercising journalism. What they're doing is they're part of the entertainment industry. They're providing content. Journalism, in principle, is set apart because it has a notion of what's important, not just interesting. And in a dream world, journalists would make important stuff interesting. That they would use the same kind of techniques they use in covering the Trayvon Martin case to make stuff like climate change just as compelling.

BILL MOYERS: You've been following the debate between Glenn Greenwald who broke the Edward Snowden story and NBC's David Gregory, who asked, well, let's listen to what David Gregory asked Glenn Greenwald on "Meet the Press."

DAVID GREGORY on Meet the Press: To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn't you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?

GLENN GREENWALD on Meet the Press: I think it's pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themself a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies. The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence, the idea I've aided and abetted him in any way.

The scandal that arose in Washington before our stories began was about the fact that the Obama administration is trying to criminalize investigative journalism by going through the emails and phone records of AP reporters, accusing a Fox News journalist of the theory you just embraced, being a co-conspirator with felonies, in felonies for working with sources.

If you want to embrace that theory, it means every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information is a criminal. And it's precisely those theories and precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States. It's why "The New Yorker's" Jane Mayer said investigative reporting has come to a "standstill," her word, as a result of the theories that you just referenced.

DAVID GREGORY on Meet the Press: Well, the question of who's a journalist may be up to a debate with regard to what you're doing. And of course anybody who's watching this understands I was asking a question, that question has been raised by lawmakers as well. I'm not embracing anything. But, obviously I take your point.

MARTY KAPLAN: The assumption of the question is that there is some dictionary somewhere that says what journalism is. The truth is that journalism, like a number of other things, is socially constructed. We enter into a contract through history and based on class and evidence of what journalism is or is not. Things get ruled in or ruled out all the time.

And the reasons they're ruled in or out is not because some school of journalism, some professor, says, well, here's the yardstick and it is or it isn't. The way in which things get ruled in or not is practice. What actually happens? So if David Gregory can ask a question and justify it by say, some in Congress are asking that question, that rules out nothing.

Some in Congress are morons. And those people will say anything. And as long as you can have the ability to do the "some say" game and call yourself a journalist and be in a mainstream marquee platform, then you are tugging at what the definition of journalism is. And I think it's entirely appropriate for Glenn Greenwald or anyone else to tug right back and say, no. What you have done changes the terms of the debate. Here's where I stand. And let's fight it out. Let's not let the imprimatur of some corporate trademark say that this defines what journalism is.

BILL MOYERS: So when Glenn Greenwald says, "Top officials are lying to our faces about government spying," is that journalism or is it prosecution? Is he a journalist or is he an activist?

MARTY KAPLAN: I think there is a credible case that journalism is activism. That if you, as a journalist covered climate change by saying, well, some say this and some say that, you're not being a journalist. You're being a tool of the people who want to intimidate journalism from covering evidence and the truth. So when Glenn Greenwald says that lying is going on, I don't think you can rule that out because of the activist nature of journalism. It either is true or not true. Let's settle it on those merits, not on the question of, does he have the credential to be able to do that?

BILL MOYERS: It does seem to me that the First Amendment guarantees us the right to draw a conclusion on the evidence, from the evidence that we have gathered.

MARTY KAPLAN: Yeah, and unfortunately, the, especially the right has learned to game the system and to say, no, no, journalism is not that. Journalism is, "We report, you decide." The phony slogan of Fox News. So giving people alleged evidence and letting them draw alleged conclusions is in the interest of people who want to throw sand in your face and work the ref so that they are softened up and afraid to say, here is the conclusion.

BILL MOYERS: So your point about the Trayvon Martin trial, about Paula Deen, whom we haven't even discussed about what you call the race, crime, and porn axis in tabloid news, cable news, your point is that it distracts us from and drives out attention to the problems that will take us down if we don't tackle them?

MARTY KAPLAN: Watch the birdie over here, not the corruption over there. That's what circuses are about, is to distract us and make us happy while we're being distracted. The challenge is not only to give us the information that we should be paying attention to and to do it in a way which keeps our attention, the challenge is also what do we as citizens do with that. And I think there is an aspect of journalism which is afraid of taking that extra step and empowering citizens or covering the citizens who have empowered themselves to try to make a difference.

BILL MOYERS: So when we do that, Marty, we run into what you wrote about recently, "Informed Citizen Disorder," ICD. Now for the benefit of my viewers who haven't read this, tell me what you mean by "Informed Citizen Disorder."

MARTY KAPLAN: Ever since I was in junior high school, I was taught that to be a good citizen meant you needed to know what was going on in your country and in your world. You should read the paper, you should pay attention to the news, that's part of your responsibility of being an American.

And the problem, especially in recent years, is the more informed I am, the more despondent I am, because day after day, there is news which drives me crazy and I want to see the public rise up in outrage and say, no, you can't do that, banks. You can't do that, corporations. You can't do that polluters, you have to stop and pay attention to the laws, or we're going to change the laws.

That every time that doesn't happen, and I keep learning each day the same thing, something bad happened and nothing was done about it, that's the news. The more that that's the case, the sadder one is when you consume all that news. So it, the, all the incentives are perverse. The way to be happy, to avoid this despondency is to be oblivious to it all, to live in Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World."

BILL MOYERS: So, given all that we've talked about and all you're writing about, where do you come out? Are you an optimist or a pessimist about what's happening to us?

MARTY KAPLAN: I have children. I have to be an optimist. The globe has children. We have to be optimists. There is no choice. What is the alternative? If you are a pessimist, well, the most you can do, I suppose, is medicate yourself with the latest blockbuster and some sugar, salt, and fat that's being marketed to you. The only responsible thing that you can do is say that individuals can make a difference and I will try, we will try, to make that.

BILL MOYERS: Don't they have to do it collectively. I mean, right now in North Carolina, there's a growing demonstration against the coup by the right wing that's been taken. But don't we have to do that collectively as they did in Brazil?

MARTY KAPLAN: Well, yes, we do. But moral Monday's in North Carolina is a great example. What happened in Wisconsin was a great example. When people see one another, they join one another. If the TV is covering these demonstrations, it draws other people into it. The internet has been, in principle, a way in which people can gauge the growth of a community of discontent.

It is not as important so far as actually physically getting off your duff and going into the street. And I'm under no illusion that I can ignite some national wave of protest. But as more and more cities become more and more unhappy with what their corrupt government is doing, maybe a critical mass builds.

BILL MOYERS: MARTY KAPLAN, thank you again for joining me.

MARTY KAPLAN: Thank you.


Bill and Marty. I completely agree with everything you both are saying. I want to voice my disagreement. As near as I can tell, the only "place" I can go is the internet and join like-minded people in our "collective disorder." But, where on the internet do I go? When you say: "go out on the street," what street? Mine? 5th avenue? I have called and emailed my Congressional representatives, but, as far as I can tell, it all ends up in a black hole. We need someone or some powerful entity to lead the charge. And, the only vehicle for getting our collective message across is the internet.

Robert McGovern

Marty is more like a lost and found department. If you realize that you've lost something,then go see Marty. If we can face up to the fact that we consume to satisfy our addictions, then help is on the way.

There is still time to turn off addictive media and turn on to nourishing media. After all, ratings and the ability to generate ad revenue respond quickly to lack of interest. If we commit to looking at real problems and real solutions, then the phony news will suffer. If we find places that help us to improve the quality of our life, then the interests that oppose it will falter.

At the moment, I'm most influenced by Marty's journalistic advice, which I translate as "Say what you mean" and "Tell it straight". I'm already doing less of "people say" or "you might think", etc. There are limits to how well I can pass on the wisdom of others. I'm looking for fewer limits on the expression of my own.

I'm committing to think first and click maybe, based on whether or not I want to improve the rating for wherever that click will take me. Ditto for cable and books. I'll make some exceptions. I accept the idea that people see reality the same way as their media inputs present it. If a lot of people are getting their input from a particular source, then that source is subject to inspection.


Answer this fundamental question:

Why do Americans allow their election system to controlled by money with the result being corruption by special interests?

This is corporate America's and the Federal Reserves biggest trick.

I just don't get it.


Kaplan was too kind because the news manipulation is sinister to say the least. We have corporate America controlling what we see and hear from its media and it is very effective in controlling the masses. The Zimmerman trial to other misdirected media spot lights is what we get to hear.

Even PBS is controlled by right winged corporate media now.

When everyone is starving for lack of a job from bogus 'free trade agreements', to lost retirement funds from fraudulent Wall Street practices, to Federal Reserve misleading the public, to politically slanted Supreme Court decisions, and to Global Climate change, JUST maybe people will then take to the streets.

God help us all.


One of the distractions according to Mr Kaplan is .. his words: "the phony IRS scandal". Rather the the adjective phony I would use "Corrupt" The list of things that frustrate us are" banks; corporations and/or polluters.".No the greatest frustration comes from government & all is agencies; lying & corrupt politicians. Govt takes our earned income & taxes the heck out it & then spends it wastefully to buy votes. Congress has an approval of under 10% I believe & Obama's is around 42%. If Kaplan has any suggestions how govt could improve & win the hearts & minds of the folks it would be helpful..His views on capitalism was voiced on previous interviews which follows why he lists corporations & banks as big frustrations to him. If govt provides proper oversight over them his frustrations could be elleviated.but politicians accept graftor they extort money so.. there in lies the problem


It would help if people would have an ecclesiatical epiphany, "All is vanity".


We had a chance with the "Occupy" movement, but it was essentially leaderless and has fallen off the radar. If we had a leader with the charisma, intelligence, public speaking power and total dedication of a Martin Luther King, we could pack the central districts of all of our major cities with enough outraged citizens to put fear and disbelief of the greedy, supercilious, puppets that supposedly lead our failing democracy.


These are some encouraging words from Dr. Ben Carson: (p. 38, America the Beautiful)

As long as we have a courageous populace, and a courageous and unbiased media, we are likely to be able to correct significant societal problems as they arise, which is a part of the greatness of America. Unfortunately, political correctness threatens the integrity of the media, and we must all be vigilant in our attempt to continue the great experiment that is America.


So what are We supposed to do when not enough citizens are informed of the issues, the politicians have sold US out and the Oligarchy is plundering our treasury?!? Intrinsically I do think people know deep down that our system is broken, but there is also a division over FAUX distrctive non-sense to distract from the real issues! how do we get the truth to the low information people so that they understand what's really going on?


We need a middle class TV station that does not represent the right or the left, but the normal every-day person working two jobs, feeding their kids and living from pay-check to pay-check. This station would cover simply issues that economically effect the middle class, not stories that right or left use to emotionally sway our views.


This is amazingly relevant. As a 35 year old I suffer from this affliction. I am angry, informed, and have let apathy sink in. It is often looked down upon to be negative about the state of affairs in this country, and is seen as uncool. Though it must be granted that we, and myself, since coming out of college have been subject to a tech bubble bursting, the 9/11 downturn, and the continuing great recession. With this pressure more young people are forced to keep their mouths closed to protect their reputations and jobs. We are outnumbered by Boomers with great power and influence. What REAL steps are we to take to be active citizens while not being arrested, "ruining" our reputations, or losing our jobs?


it's not the Boomers, it's the corporate 1%. Most Boomers are behind the same eight- ball that is aimed toward the younger generation.

Nothing will happen until the majority of the people are backed into a corner with no other way out. Then like the animals we really are we will finally fight.


I haven't been able to watch the video yet, but wanted to say that I think a big part of why Americans are un-efficacious is because we lack a leadership that inspires us, a political program that stands for democracy and peace, and doesn't sugar coat the difficulty of the struggle we have before us. We need to build that leadership in the various movements for social and economic justice and be able to connect them all to challenge the institutions we oppose.


12 comments? Are there only a dozen people out there making an attempt to be informed? Jeez.

Mike Davis

Brilliant and dead-on view of our perverse media system. While I'm no activist, Kaplan helps me understand the challenges in becoming one in America. Great piece!


Thank you Bill Moyers and Co for your tireless pursuit and reporting of the truth.


The powers that be, i.e. wealthy heads of large corporations, find a way to keep America's citizens ignorant and entertained. That sums up what happens to the majority. The rest of us are just trying to skate by and stay afloat.

Ms_Phillips > leopardkitty8 • 10 hours ago

Major factor: attack on FREE, public education that began w Reagan & the Republican push to spend tax-payer money on vouchers.

robort1138 • a day ago

Here's what's up in the new U.S.A... WE DON'T CARE. Some of us do, but take a closer look... we're diverse to a fault. Most people I know don't watch world news and have no interest in politics (beyond understanding we have no political representation anyway). Others that care are further fragmented into groups of their own deep special interests that concern them but not you. Here's a short list: Conservatives; Liberals; Upper Class Wage Earners; Lower Class Wage Earners; Pro Union; Anti Union; Black Power; White Power; Latino Power; Gay Rights; Yes On No; No On Yes; religions that tell you who to like, where to go; what to do and when to do it. We face more divisions than you can shake a stick at, especially here in the United States. This is the perfect climate for Corporatists and Politicians to take the money and run. Our form of government doesn't seem to work anymore, although it apparently works ok for them because, after all, they've spent years now grooming it to what it has become (it's no accident).

We've all heard that the larger corporations - and those at the top - are pulling down record profits these days, and that most politicians are retiring as millionaires. Politicians complain too much of their time is required chasing campaign funds, yet no crusaders emerge to instigate reform. They say they don't have time to actually read most of these bills they vote for or against. Their lobbyists keep them informed as to what needs to be done, the dollar amount their vote is worth and who's signing their check for it. We're too divided. You've heard "united we stand (remember WWII) and divided we fall.

Well guess what: WE DON'T CARE.

Those born here used to care, but faces have changed and now we don't. Government keeps just enough of us comfortable such that they know we aren't willing to take it to the streets, wind up in jail, when we could be at home drinking beer, watching baseball players that spit in a manly way (America's favorite pastime). I have a large flat screen Color TV, a cell phone and temperature controlled leather seats. WHY SHOULD I CARE WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS? I already know a bit of Russian, could learn Chinese, or what ever it takes.

marvin steiner > robort1138

We have a lot of information, some knowledge, but very little understanding.


I'd like to see BM ask Kaplan if he has joined any activist protests...or if he's another white collar type journo who just reports on the news, but doesn't do any "carnal" activism


In part, I suspect it is because peaceful protests have become an arresting offence even though our constitution guarantees peaceful assembly. This was started under GW Bush when protesters would be held in pens away from the president when they would wear a t-shirt or hold a sign that was against him. The Occupy movement has experienced the same brutality by officers who were sworn to uphold the constitution and laws of this country. We have become a lawless nation at the highest levels of government, so why are we surprised when no one wants to be arrested as it will also hurt possible job prospects in the future.

marvin steiner > prettymeadow

Police clearing and arresting protesters at the recent session of the Texas legislature.

Daniel Brenek > prettymeadow

Yes, there is a right to LAWFULLY assemble. That doesn't mean occupy private property for days, weeks or months.


The architects of this great divide, beginning with Reagan and his cronies in 1981, have done a masterful job at setting us against one another in a desperate fight for the few crumbs they were willing to throw us. They've convinced us that the "other" is to blame - generally those directly below us on the ladder. As years have gone on, and we've witnessed our opportunities diminish and our resources vanish, in our panic we've allowed ourselves to be turned against one another. It's diabolically clever - we never think to look up, where all the wealth has gone, and where it will stay.

Those hardy souls among us who have tried to direct our attention to the systematic plundering of our Nation have been savaged, not only by the mainstream media, but by their fellow citizens. Those daring to question the concentration of the Nation's wealth in the hands of one percent of its population are called socialists, lazy moochers, losers, and worse. We've bought into this myth that if we aren't making it, we are lazy or stupid or somehow un-American, when the simple fact is: the fix is in.

I don't believe all of us are jaded or feel helpless. I believe many of us have been bullied into silence and obeisance by this fear (especially since 9/11) of being branded as traitors if we speak out against the powerful few. I believe many feel that speaking out, or joining together in protest, will result in retribution. Evidence of this is the way unions have been under attack since 1981. Where I live, "union" is synonomous with "commie." Even as it becomes increasingly clear that unless we stand as one against this tyranny of wealth, we will never again prosper.


The more informed I am, the more despondent I am, Marty Kaplan says. No kidding.

Tom Welsh

Wonderful segment....


I am stunned that no mention, much less analysis, was made of the Occupy could this be?

spw > Tom Welsh

I found this very puzzling as well. I kept waiting to hear more about both Occupy and the apparently very different attitude to media in Brazil, but both were lacking.

marvin steiner > spw

The constraints of time. choice of content, and context. If that segment had not been so well managed it could have become a lecture.


Bill Moyers: "So, if it is true as you say, that, 'Our tax code is the least progressive in the industrial world,' that we've witnessed 'The most massive transfer of wealth in history,' which is 'Destroying our middle class,' ... why are we not at the barricades?"

Many Americans were at the barricades two years ago protesting the vast economic injustices that have become rigidly institutionalized in the U.S. What was most notable about their efforts was the way the majority of americans reacted, belittling them, insulting them, calling them unpatriotic, and defending the small minority in this country who neither need nor deserve to be defended. (Indeed, many should be prosecuted.)

The blind patriotism in the U.S. will either decline or continue to aid, abet, and accelerate the nation's decline. The unfettered faith that "We're no 1!" not only betrays ignorance but leads the ignorant to believe that we've scaled the summit, that we've achieved the ultimate in our quest to "form a more perfect union."

The plutocrats of this country have been effectively bribing politicians for decades. Fortunately for the plutocrats, a majority of the citizens come much cheaper, deceived by the simple misdirection tricks of a malevolent magician.

Ms_Phillips > cgmcle

I don't think the majority of Americans reacted as reported to the Occupy Movement. The "reporting" was bogus.

Joyce Berger

"Weapons of Mass Distraction" was disturbing if for no other reason than the personal frustration of being unable to do anything about the massive problems. Seems to me that popular mobilization will only come in the wake of a catastrophic event such as the civil rights turmoil of the 60's when most of the U.S. began to internalize the magnitude of the injustice against a significant part of our population. I don't know another person who identifies that our national problems are part of the power structure. The people I know aren't persuaded that the U.S. economic situation is anything other than a personal failing (never mind that it afflicts millions). I've come to believe voting is not the solution nor are any of the other time-honored tactics such as futile attempts to communicate with state and national legislators. Only mass action will begin a solution and I don't see that on the immediate horizon.

What Orwell Didn't Know Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics

Andras Szanto, Orville Schell 9781586485603 Amazon

A profound look at political propaganda and manipulation November 2, 2007



This book is published to coincide with a one-day conference on "Orwell and the American society" to be held at the New York Public Library November 7, 2007 sponsored by the Open Society Institute and the graduate schools of journalism at UC Berkeley, Columbia, and the Annenberg School at USC. This year is chosen because it is near the 60th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell's famous essay, "Politics and the English Language" (1946).

But what this book is really about is the perversion of truth by the Bush administration and the concomitant failure of the American mass media to do anything about it or to even comprehend what is going on. Editor Andras Szanto writes in his "Editor's Note," "the deans of five prominent journalism schools...were worried about what was happening to political language, which seemed to be divorcing itself from reality at an alarming rate." (p. ix) This book with essays by 18 heavyweight political thinkers, cognitive scientists, psychologists, journalists and others is an attempt to address that worry.

Aside from the many Ministry of Truth sort of lies cynically concocted by the Bush administration, there is the striking and very scary fact that Bush is acting out the Orwellian nightmare in that he has put the United States on what appears to be a permanent "war" footing just as was the case with Oceania in Orwell's novel, 1984, and for pretty much the same reasons. As several of the contributors have noted, George W. Bush has invented an endless and fraudulent "war on terror" as a means to keep the populace in fear and to control both the Congress and the media in order to enhance his own power as chief executive.

But there is much more. As Drew Westen notes in his essay, "The New Frontier: The Instruments of Emotion," there is the example of "Polluters" drafting "a bill which became law," which was "named, as if in cynical tribute to Orwell, the 'Clear Skies Initiative.'" (pp. 75-76) Of course it was, and is, anything but. Westen goes on to make the salient point that "What Orwell could not have foretold is...Orwellian language can be as effective in a democracy as in a dictatorship." (p. 79) These are points that George Soros also makes in his essay, "What I Didn't Know: Open Society Reconsidered."

What strikes me is how corporate control of the media in all its aspects, including especially advertising and news reporting, can insure that only politicians sympathetic to corporate interests can possibly be elected, and once elected can work with their corporate sponsors to bring about something close to dictatorial control. Congresspersons and reporters in fear of losing their seats or their jobs are as easily controlled as citizens terrified of secret police and brown shirts. What Bush, Cheney, Karl Rove and the minions working for them have done--and this is the thrust of the book--is beyond what Orwell could possibly have foreseen. As George Lakoff explains in his essay, "What Orwell Didn't Know About the Brain, the Mind, and Language," we think metaphorically, and the many metaphors of life are charged with emotions that can be activated by certain political words or phrases, "War on Terror, tax relief, illegal immigration...abortion on demand...cut and run, flip-flop...," etc. These words "can activate large portions of the brain." (p. 70) He further notes, "every time such words and phrases are repeated, all the frames and metaphors and worldview structures are activated again and strengthened--because recurring activation strengthens neural connections." (p. 71)

Lakoff recalls how the word "liberal" was destroyed by conservatives through incessant repetition of such phrases as "tax and spend liberal, liberal elite, liberal media, limousine liberal," and so on. This is brainwashing postmodern style. Orville Schell in his introductory essay sees this sort of thing as "penetrating 'the inner heart' of individuals." (p. xx)

Nicholas Lemann in his essay "The Limits of Language" makes the point that the corruption of language, which is what Orwell was writing about in "Politics and the English Language," is one thing, but "an even more frightening political prospect" is "the corruption of information." (p. 15) Bush invaded Iraq under the auspices, as it were, of such a corruption of information. Lemann laments that "there often is no corrective mechanism at hand" when "the facts of a situation have been intentionally corrupted by people in power." (p. 15) Personally I am concerned about the truth hiding in plain sight, in news stories, in articles, in books, on the Internet, while remaining largely unrecognized and unappreciated amidst the massive information and misinformation overload that is burying all of us.

Mark Danner takes this quote from Orwell as the wellspring for his essay, "Words in a Time of War: On Rhetoric, Truth, and Power": "From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned." He goes on to show how this perfectly fits the mentality of Karl Rove, AKA "Bush's Brain." Quoting Ron Suskind, he reveals that Rove disdains what he calls "the reality-based community," opining that "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality...we'll act again, creating other new realities...." (p. 23)

I wish I had the space to say something about the other excellent essays in this collection, but I am up against Amazon's 1,000-word limit, so just let me say this is an outstanding book, wonderfully conceived, eminently topical and profound. I suspect it is going to appear on college reading lists all over America in the next few years, and hopefully it will help a new generation of Americans resist the kind of political propaganda and fact manipulation ubiquitous in recent years.

By the way, Orwell's famous essay appears as an appendix.

Riveting Must Read for all - especially now January 8, 2008

By Kathryn A Hickman

Format:Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase

A book of galvanic essays written by noted journalists, authors, reporters, professors, and psychologists - What Orwell Didn't Know is truly a "must read" - especially before voting in the 2008 election. Prompted by the dismal state of "political discourse," today, five revered schools of journalism joined forces to create this anthology. Its 20 essays provide a vital resource to help readers and reporters alike to "disenthrall public debate from bias, hyperbole, bombast and lies."

Along the way, it enlightens readers about everything from brain research and the psychology of emotion to the devastating impact of the "Orwellian" Postal Reogranization Act of 1970 on small, independent opinion journals and magazines; the tragic and ironic consequences of the administration's "subservience of truth to power" in Iraq and in the US; the "carnivalesque media economy," the threat of corporate power, and our own willingness to look the other way when the Emporer has no clothes.

While I found a few of the 20 essays in the book somewhat less engaging, most were powerful, alarming, challenging and enlightening. And though Americans are more savvy today about the ways in which language can be manipulated and distorted for political ends, we can still be taken in....and we do ourselves, and our democaracy, a dangerous disservice if we do not question rigorously the medium, the message, the messenger the motives behind all we hear and read. "What Orwell Didn't Know" offers chilling evidence of our need for vigilance and action...I can't recommend it highly enough.

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful

5.0 out of 5 stars Against the corporate control of public consciousness February 19, 2008


Format:Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase

"What Orwell Didn't Know" is an eye-opening compendium of pieces about the insidious use of propaganda in our time. Editor Andras Szanto presents outstanding works by eighteen intellectuals who compare Orwell's classic 1946 paper on propaganda, 'Politics and the English Language' (reprinted in its entirety) with the propaganda industry of today. Convincingly demonstrating how the science of propaganda has in fact metastisized into a very real threat to the Enlightenment ideal of progress, the authors implore us to sharpen our critical thinking skills as we seek to immunize ourselves to manipulation and struggle to keep our democracy alive.

Part One: Language and Politics includes six essays about how deceptive language serves political ends. Orwell believed that clarity in writing was essential to reasoned discourse and understood that fear is the gateway to despotism. The authors connect these concepts to the Bush administration's well-documented misrepresentations that have led the U.S. into its perpetual war on terror. Among many insights, we learn how the deceptive use of language has allowed the corporate-controlled state to deepen its control over the public consciousness and impose a far right-wing political agenda.

Part Two: Symbols and Battlegrounds contains six articles that explore how culturally-charged symbols are routinely exploited for political advantage. The authors discuss how post-Orwellian discoveries in cognitive sciences have demonstrated that reason is not just rational but emotional, complicating the task of disputation against the skilled propagandist. For example, the authors cite President Reagan's Star Wars proposal as an emotionally-appealing but unattainable solution to the overblown Communist menace that has distracted us from the real problem of nuclear proliferation. Similarly, the authors discuss how liberal causes such as women's rights and the environment have been revoiced in born-again Christian terms to the detriment of human progress and nature. Fortunately, the authors detect a growing challenge to the Christian Right by socially-conscious religious organizations and individuals such as Al Gore, whose cinematic jeremiad 'An Incovenient Truth' has succeeded in bringing attention to global warming by reframing the problem as a moral issue.

Part Three: Media and Message consists of five compositions on the dangers of concentrated media ownership plus an Epilogue by George Soros. Writing before television came into maturity, Orwell's concerns about the printed word seems almost quaint when compared with the ubiquitously persuasive powers of television on the public mind. The authors are appalled with the rise of the postmodern infotainment industry and the media's stakeholder role in promoting the spectacle of disaster; others voice their concerns about the lack of diverse perspectives and self-censorship practices which makes it more and more difficult to reach broad consensus on critical issues. And in an astute closing chapter, Mr. Soros concludes that the role of the media watchdog is more important than ever if we hope to curb dishonest reporting and reconnect the masses with reality.

I highly recommend this timely, thought-provoking and important book to everyone.

Continued Softpanorama Media Skeptic Bulletin, 2006

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