Fox News: Propagandists or Hunter-Gathers? E-mail
Tuesday, 24 November 2009 13:05  |  Written by Justin Pot | Blog Entry

Defaced Fox News Poster in New York City Subway Station photo byGlobal-warming deniers, like creationists and Holocaust deniers, need to do a certain amount of mental gymnastics to maintain their irrational viewpoints. These leaps and jumps around evidence are typically automatic and subconscious, which makes sense: as human beings we are programmed to find patterns. It's the evolutionary result of hundreds of thousands of years living as hunter-gatherers.

In prehistoric times there was often a direct consequence to not believing something true, but no real consequence to believing something false. For example, pretend a tribe of humans found some delicious-looking berries. Some of the tribe ate the berries and died.

Learning a lesson from this—namely, that eating certain berries will kill you—is an essential survival skill. On the other hand, believing a pattern exists where none does is more an annoyance than a detriment to survival.

For example, imagine if a desperate group of lions attacked a human tribe—but coincidentally did so right after a bolt of lightning ripped through the sky. The survivors in this tribe may come to believe that a lightning bolt is a warning from some supernatural entity of an oncoming lion attack. Believing this will cause the tribe to stand guard every time they hear lightning, expecting a sudden lion onslaught. This may waste their time, but it probably won't kill them.

So in prehistoric times, refusing to find a pattern where one existed could result in death, whereas seeing patterns where none existed merely wasted time. And so our minds today are programmed to find patterns, and are very good at it.

Which brings us to modern times, when thousands of years of philosophy, theology and science have convinced us that we need to conclusively prove patterns exist rather than blindly accept their truths.

Will certain berries consistently kill if consumed? If so, why? Does lightning really consistently precede lion onslaughts? Or is this something that is a chance occurance or happens so infrequently that it's insignificant?

Examining a problem in this way is unique to the scientific mind, which is in and of itself largely unique to the past 400 years of human civilization. Sadly, however, not everyone looks at life from this superior scientific perspective.

Which brings us to Fox News and a story that aired this week about two EPA officials, Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, who questioned the current cap-and-trade bill before Congress. The video explains that cap and trade, as currently represented, doesn't go nearly far enough to offset carbon emissions. The conclusion: a comprehensive carbon tax would be far more effective at offsetting climate change. This is a view shared by many environmentalists, and was even mentioned prominently last week in a conservative magazine, the Economist, as a productive way to offset America's deficit.

The video was taken down at the request of administration officials. Whether they should be in the business of requesting that bureaucrats not express policy opinions in the public sphere is a legitimate debate, and I don't mean to downplay the administration's sins in this regard.

But Fox viewers have no idea that the controversy was a matter of policy and not science. Coverage of the story started with anchor Alisyn Camerota claiming that Williams and Zabel "questioned the science behind global-warming policy," making it sound as though the two were climate-change skeptics. It's not hard to imagine what happens from this point on: creative editing and the power of suggestion deforms the story into that of two rogue scientists taking on the myth of climate change. And the carbon tax Williams and Zabel say is necessary in the video? Fox's story doesn't mention it once.

So my question, dear viewers, is this: are Fox News journalists intentionally warping stories like this? Or are they—like our prehistoric ancestors—finding patterns where none exist, unintentionally changing every bit of news that comes across their desk to conform with their worldview?

In essence I'm asking whether Fox News' journalists are intentional propagandists or simply have the intellectual self awareness of hunter-gathers. I'd really like to hear what you think, so let me know in the comments below.

Comments (1)add
Written by Ken Oatman , November 25, 2009
Generous of you to ascribe primal excuses to the machinations of Fox News. But, after years of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove et al, crafting outstanding propaganda to mislead the masses, I'm cynical. Fox News IS propaganda from Rupert Murdoch and worse. See the Twitter timeline of my formerly conservative friend @nowmediascott for a better explanation.
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