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Media manipulation is an aspect of public relations in which partisans create an image or argument that favours their particular interests. Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or points of view by crowding them out, by inducing other people or groups of people to stop listening to certain arguments, or by simply diverting attention elsewhere.

As illustrated below, many of the more modern mass media manipulation methods are types of distraction, on the assumption that the public has a limited attention span.

Distraction types

Distraction by nationalism

This is a variant on the traditional ad hominem and bandwagon fallacies applied to entire countries. The method is to discredit opposing arguments by appealing to nationalistic pride or memory of past accomplishments, or appealing to fear or dislike of a specific country, or of foreigners in general. It can be very powerful as it discredits foreign journalists (the ones that are least easily manipulated by domestic political or corporate interests).

  • Example: "You want to know what I really think of the Europeans?" asked the senior United Statesmarker State Departmentmarker official. "I think they have been wrong on just about every major international issue for the past 20 years." .
  • Example: "Your idea sounds similar to what they are proposing in Turkey. Are you saying the Turks have a better country than us?"
  • Example: "The only criticisms of this proposed treaty come from the United States. But we all know that Americans are arrogant and uneducated, so their complaints are irrelevant."
  • Example: The "Support Our Troops" campaign created by the Republican party during the War on Terror implies that opposing the war effort detracts support away from the individual soldiers fighting the war. Thus patriotic support of the troops becomes a form of support for the war in general. This could, however, be seen as a weak example because those on the right traditionally support the troops and the war, and those on the left typically make the distinction between supporting the troops but not the mission.

Straw man fallacy

The "straw man fallacy" is the lumping of a strong opposition argument together with one or many weak ones to create a simplistic weak argument that can easily be refuted.
  • Example: Grouping all opposed to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as "pacifists", so they can be refuted by arguments for war in general. As with most persuasion methods, it can easily be applied in reverse, in this case, to group all those who supported the invasion together and label them as "warmongers" or "lackeys of the United States".

Distraction by scapegoat

A combination of straw man and ad hominem, in which your weakest opponent (or easiest to discredit) is considered as your only important opponent.
  • Example: If many countries are opposed to our actions, but one of them (say, France) is obviously acting out of self-interest, mention mostly France.

Distraction by phenomenon

A risky but effective strategy summarized best, perhaps, by David Mamet's 1997 movie Wag the Dog, by which the public can be distracted, for long periods of time, from an important issue, by one which occupies more news time. When the strategy works, you have a war or other media event taking attention away from misbehaving or crooked leaders. When the strategy does not work, the leader's misbehavior remains in the press, and the war is derided as an attempted distraction.

Distraction by semantics

This involves using euphemistically pleasing terms to obscure the truth. For example saying "choice" or "reproductive rights" instead of referring to the medical term "abortion", or, similarly, "pro-life" instead of "anti-abortion". A brilliantly executed example was the way that President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation prevented European nations from entering the war in support of the Confederacy by framing the war in terms of the moral issue "slavery" as opposed to states rights. In reverse "States Rights" was used as justification for the fight against Civil Rights in the 1960s.

Other types

Appeals to consensus

By appealing to a real or fictional "consensus" the media manipulator attempts to create the perception that his opinion is the only opinion, so that alternative ideas are dismissed from public consideration. Michael Crichton explains:


This is a widespread and subtle form of media manipulation: simply giving credence only to "mainstream" sources of information; it exists in many news outlets. Information, arguments, and objections that come from other sources are simply considered "fringe" and ignored, or their proponents permanently discredited, or accused of having their own agenda.
  • Example: "I think there are a lot of people out there who feel the way I do, but haven't wanted to come forward because they're afraid of being identified with a fringe group..." Langley said. "I don't believe in all the things that all the (anti-war) groups stand for, but we all do share one thing in common: I do believe that this war is wrong."
  • Example: "Because Mike Gravel has not demonstrated measurable public support for his campaign to date, he has not received an invitation [to the 2008 Democratic Presidential Candidate Debates]."

Fear mongering

Fear mongering (or scaremongering) is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. The feared object or subject is sometimes exaggerated, and the pattern of fear mongering is usually one of repetition, in order to continuously reinforce the intended effects of this tactic to frighten citizens and influence their political views. It often states that if something is or is not done, a disastrous event will occur, and that by voting for or against it this can be prevented. The end result is the voter being scared into changing their vote or opinion to one more favorable to the person that is fear mongering.

Demonisation of the opposition

This is a more general case of distraction by nationalism. Opposing views are ascribed to an out-group or hated group, and thus dismissed out of hand. This approach, carried to extremes, becomes a form of suppression, as in McCarthyism, where anyone disapproving of the government was considered "un-American" and "Communist" and was likely to be denounced.
  • Example: The consignment of almost all dissent to the "International Jewish conspiracy" by Nazi Germany.
  • Example: Labelling those with any sort of right-wing views as "Nazis", or those with left-wing views as "commies", etc.
  • Example: Dismissing attendees of tea-party protests opposing government spending as racists.

See also

Notes and references

  1. Leading Journalists Expose Major Media Manipulations. Retrieved May 2009.
  2. May 17, 2006. Media Manipulation. Author: Anup Shah. Global Retrieved May 2009.
  3. [1] New York Times article
  4. [2] Operation Infinite Reach
  5. [3] Daily Telegraph, "Clinton strikes terrorist bases", Friday 21 August 1998
  6. [4], "Thousands stage anti-U.S. protest in Sudan", August 22, 1998
  7. [5] SF Chronicle: "Anti-War Forces Get New Recruit"
  8. [6] NH Insider: "Gravel dismisses CNN ... statement"

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