By John Cronin
When Leslie Moonves, CEO of CBS, said that in February 2016, regarding Trump running for president, he was stating a fact. This presidential election would be the motherload of ad revenue, unlike anything. His statement was neutral regarding Trump’s effect on the country. Like a good CEO, he stated that his network—and all networks—were about to start printing money. Everything Trump said or did—being a self-marketing genius—had Americans choosing sides faster than they did after the Japanese bombed Fort Sumter. Americans lapped up everything he said like free Dom in a trough at Mara-a-Largo.
The internet and social networking were already transforming the way Americans of all ages communicated every iota of useless minutia until racist tirades, wrong medical advice, conspiracy theories, and grandma’s recipes—no matter how insane or untrue—coalesced like molecular cohesion and formed groups that thought and hated alike. Before social networking, these diverse groups had little chance of ever amounting to anything noticeable (unless they decided to make themselves known). They had to be satisfied with stapling posters to telephone poles or exchanging email addresses at annual gatherings. The old-fashioned way of meeting people with similar values (traveling to meet, word-of-mouth, friends-of-friends) was replaced by putting your request in the search bar, hitting “Enter,” and finding soulless mates at the speed of light.
While Moonves was stating a business fact (said at a Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference), he also revealed the underlying motivation behind media. Duh. I know. No surprise there, but part of me still loved watching, reading, hearing, and surprisingly believing in the news. I knew money was always a factor, but I’m a Boomer, raised with Walter Cronkite, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, and David Brinkley. I listened, believed, and absorbed what I knew were facts and then filed them in my belief system. Then whatever emotion got triggered ran its course (tempered by knowing all I could do was vote or send letters). Today’s news is written like notes passed in class. “Biden said he didn’t like you!” “McCarthy asked Jennifer to the prom!” It’s layer upon layer of manufactured outrage written to sell. And we’re too caught up in it to see we’re being played.
When I began writing political ads, I was taught: “The only way to make people change their minds is to make them frightened or confused.” It works.
If your great-grandma used Sudsywudsy to wash her clothes, your grandma used Sudsywudsy; and your mother used Sudsywudsy. You used Sudsywudsy too, until you read that scientists proved that Sudsywudsy causes cancer in rats. Four generations of loyal customers gone after hearing that washing rats in Sudsywudsy gives them cancer (even if it was a chemical left on clothes after 3,057 washes). It makes no difference. Even if you never washed your rat in Sudsywudsy, you read that Sudsywudsy caused cancer, and that scared you enough to change detergents.
You’re an informed voter and read initiatives before voting on them, and you’re trying to decide whether to vote for the Pretty Streams and Blue River Initiative. But it’s filled with so much legalese and scientific jargon that you never figure out that it allows chemical plants to dump untreated waste into local waterways. You voted for it anyway because any initiative with a warm and fuzzy name must love the planet.
If you’ve read this far, you’re wondering what my point is. It’s this: You know whom you will vote for—either the party or the person—so don’t keep filling yourself with clever, manipulative BS to feed your righteous indignation, stoke your hate, or validate the feeling you’ve chosen correctly. You’re just making the BS artists rich. Well-crafted crap is written to keep you hoping our leaders will come to their senses; a superhero will jump in and say, “Enough’s enough!” Or you hear what you want to hear because every word fuels the fire burning you from the inside out. You don’t have to subject yourself to that. Today’s “news” (a misnomer if there ever was one) is written to keep you outraged, craving more, and focused on blaming the “other guys” for all your problems. Divide et Impera.
Just vote for your candidate and see who’s paying to put things on the ballot (and who’s paying to put your candidate on the ballot). Following the money makes voting a breeze. Then just read the sports or financial sections.
Save yourself the agitation. Choose your candidate and vote on election day. Regarding initiatives and referendums, skip to the bottom and see who’s financing them. If the Pretty Streams and Blue River Initiative is sponsored by the local oil and chemical industry, that’s all you need to know.
The only way people change their minds is if they’re frightened or confused into doing so. If you read or hear something that frightens or confuses you, before you do anything, ask yourself if you want your mind changed and how the people financing it benefit.
Ashland Chronicle Contributor