Earlier this year, former CBS investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson exposed how the media has been corrupted by political, corporate and other special interests in order to effectively manipulate and distort the message the media is putting out to the American public.
Attkisson began her talk by pointing out how most people do their research on a particular pharmaceutical. She mentioned using the internet in order to determine whether a particular product was as safe as it claimed and did what it said it would do. After going through the various means of doing one’s homework concerning said drug, Attkisson asked an important question, “What if all isn’t as it seems? What if the reality you found was false, a carefully constructive narrative by unseen special interests designed to manipulate your opinion, a Truman Show-esque alternate reality all around you?”
“Complacency in the new media, combined with incredibly powerful propaganda and publicity forces means we sometimes get little of the truth,” she said. “Special interests have unlimited time and money to figure out new ways to spin us while cloaking their role. Surreptitious astroturf methods are now more important to these interests than traditional lobbying of Congress.”
In fact, this new means of faking grassroots movements is an entire industry built upon such methods in Washington, according to Attkisson.
She went on to describe what astroturf manipulation looks like.
“It’s a perversion of grassroots, as in fake grassroots,” she said. “Astroturf is when political, corporate and other special interests disguise themselves and publish blogs, start Facebook and Twitter accounts, publish ads, letters to the editor, or simply post comments online to try to fool you into thinking an independent or grassroots movement is speaking.”
The goal of astroturf is to change your opinion and to make you feel like you are outside the mainstream when you are not.
Attkisson provided an example of the Washington Redskins name controversy and how the media blew it up into a frenzy, causing many to think the majority of Americans really think the name is offensive. While she quoted that 71% of Americans think the name is just fine the way it is, I would guess that far more could care less one way or the other.
“Astroturfers,” as she called them, seek to controversialize those who disagree with them. These people go after news organizations that publish articles they don’t like, whistleblowers who tell the truth, representatives who actually ask tough questions and journalists who would seek to report on these things.
On many occasions, there is so much disinformation put into the mix by the astroturfers that even the most rational among us will, at times, disregard it all, including the truth.
Specifically, Attkisson pointed to Wikipedia, which she referred to as “Astroturf’s dream come true.” Keep in mind that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has earned a large portion of his money from trafficking pornography.
Wikipedia’s pages are anonymously controlled and edited by editors in order to put the particular spin on it they want.
According to Attkisson, these editors “control and co-opt pages on behalf of special interests, they forbid and reverse edits that go against their agenda. They skew and delete information in blatant violation of Wikipedia’s own established policies with impunity, always superior to the poor schlubs who actually believe anyone could edit Wikipedia only to discover they are barred from correcting even the simplest factual inaccuracies.”
Of course, sometimes the information is truthful, but this is where you, the discerning reader, must be vigilant to get at the truth.
Studies have shown that when comparing Wikipedia to peer reviewed research, Wikipedia contradicted real medical research 90% of the time!
Not only does Ms. Attkisson provide the viewer with details on how special interests work behind the scenes through social media, search engine results and new stories, but she even gave an example from her own experience working at CBS News. It involved a drug for those who found it hard to sleep. What she discovered was that a pharmaceutical company was behind a study, which was actually a survey, and the National Sleep Foundation, which is a non-profit which promoted the idea that Americans are sleepless. Then, as Americans “ask their doctors” about sleeplessness, “cha ching!” They are offered the latest drug on the market to cure their non-existent sleeplessness.
While Attkisson reported the story, along with her findings, the rest of the news media simply reported the press release as written without digging into what was behind it.
So, what can be done to recognize the difference between truth and astroturf? Attkisson provides the following helpful hints as to the hallmarks of astroturf:
- Use of inflammatory language (ie. Crank, quack, nutty, lies, paranoid, pseudo, and conspiracy)
- Claims to debunk myths that aren’t myths at all
- Controversializing an issue by attacking the people, personalities and organizations surrounding it rather than addressing the facts
- Reserving public skepticism for those exposing wrongdoing rather than the wrongdoers (instead of questioning authority, they question those who question authority)
Sadly, for many, they don’t even realize how much they have been brainwashed by the various media they come in contact with every day. Hopefully, this brief account by Attkisson will be the much needed sunshine that will disinfect the corrupt media that we are surrounded by in our lives.