|January 14, 2005|
How Does Right-Wing Media Craft Its Message?
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
The following presentation styles were gleaned from an observation of right-wing broadcast media over the months leading up to the 2004 election. (The principle sources were right-wing radio, the Drudge Report and Fox News web sites, and Fox News Channel.)
We use the term "presentation styles" here, but one could also call these "techniques," "strategies," or "propaganda," depending on your take on the intention of the media outlet. No attempt was made to differentiate between the media outlets in the type or amount of usage of these styles--nor was an analysis made of left-wing broadcast media for comparison purposes. It is difficult to judge the effectiveness of such styles in swaying public opinion, but certainly some of what was presented in right-wing media was picked up by mainstream media and so exposed more widely to the public.
1. Highlight a quote from the opponent out of context from a speech or interview. Comments made by Ted Kennedy opposing Bush’s policy in Iraq, for example, were used this way. These and similar quotes were then used to paint the liberal establishment as strident Bush haters. Although Teresa Heinz Kerry is not shy about voicing strong opinions, specific quotes that cast her in a negative light were often repeated. This is a way to hurt her credibility and, indirectly, that of her husband.
2. Use loaded terminology to describe a disliked program. For example, use "death tax" instead of inheritance tax or "class warfare" to describe Democratic support of a more progressive tax to benefit lower-income Americans. (George Lakeoff has discussed this in his work on political rhetoric.) An accompanying tactic is to make repeated negative associations with key concepts or constituencies so that they conjure up negative feelings (as with "Liberal" or "trial lawyer").
3. While attacking liberals, promote the idea that it is conservatives who are under attack or marginalized, whether you actually are or not. (Thom Frank notes this in his bestselling book What’s the Matter with Kansas?) For example, conservatives push the idea of a liberal bias in media, academia, and Hollywood. This keeps the focus on areas of real or apparent liberal strength, without acknowledging conservative or pro-corporate influence in major social institutions.
4. Give coverage--and thus credibility---to right-wing groups and individuals with an overtly biased perspective, while granting some limited coverage to the liberal opposition. Conservative media outlets used this style in covering the Swift Boat Veterans’ slam of John Kerry. It can set the agenda of what issues get covered (even in mainstream media), while maintaining one’s claim of objectivity.
5. Attack people and their credibility, making them rather than the issue the focal point of discussion. Right-wing media focused more on Kerry’s character and personality rather than on his political record.
6. Find some vulnerability in the opponent and make that the focus for evaluating him or her. Pound away on that topic until the opponent is judged only in those terms. For example, right-wing media succeeded in painting John Kerry as a flip-flopper (even when the flip-flopping was exaggerated and numerous instances of Bush flip-flops were uncovered).
7. To divert attention away from a liberal opponent's attack on a conservative position or individual, discredit widely one piece of their argument as a way of discrediting their entire argument. Thus, conservative media (who were followed by mainstream media) gave extensive coverage to the Dan Rather/CBS plagiarism story. This quickly deflected attention from the larger issue of President Bush's questionable National Guard record. (It also made journalists fearful of covering related stories in the future.)
8. Accuse the opposition of doing the same underhanded things to you that you yourself refuse to acknowledge doing to them. For example, although conservatives launched numerous personal attacks on Kerry, they loudly complained about attacks on the president by "Bush haters" (see the first point above). This also tends to make the attacks by conservatives more acceptable given that it is "really" the other side that is the problem.
By the way, a quick perusal of the rhetorical literature revealed that many of the presentation styles presented here were discussed in the section on "Propaganda Techniques" in J. A. C. Brown's 1964 book Techniques of Persuasion, Propaganda, and Communication!
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Dr. Neil Wollman is a Senior Fellow at the Peace Studies Institute and Professor of Psychology at Manchester College, North Manchester, IN.
Dr. Abigail Fuller is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Manchester College, North Manchester, IN.
Interested in contributing an article to BuzzFlash? Click here for more info.
Articles in the BuzzFlash Contributor section are posted as-is. Given the timeliness of some Contributor articles, BuzzFlash cannot verify or guarantee the accuracy of every word. We strive to correct inaccuracies when they are brought to our attention.