Last article was a case study of how the media uses experts and studies to push its agenda. However, that is but one tactic used to sway opinion. The second is their unfettered ability to set the center of the discussion.
In football, “setting the edge” is a term used to describe setting the bounds of the “pocket” where the quarterback can move during a play. The defensive player uses leverage to move the offensive blocker in the proper direction, and the quarterback is contained inside by the defensive player. In essence, the defensive player has shrunk the field accessible to the quarterback.
In politics, the same thing occurs. Most of us are familiar with the Overton window, the bounds of acceptable discourse within society. The media are masters of “setting the edge” in a way that favors their agenda. By containing the public perception of events within certain bounds, the media grabs Orwellian control over the way that politics can be discussed.
There is a psychological theory called price bracketing, where a seller offers two versions of a product to consumers. The first version is the basic version (e.g. a base model car). The second version is the premium version (e.g. a car with option packages). Consumers will buy a certain amount of the basic version (let’s say 60% of total sales) and a certain amount of the premium version (40% of total sales). However, we’re evil greedy Glibertarians, so we want to make more money, which means selling more of the premium version. Being evil and having thumbed through the latest Psychology Today, we decide to try out this price bracketing thing. In order to do that, we introduce a third version of the product on the market, a super-premium version (e.g. a car with all the option packages and even more). Then, we price it so that it’s a poor value in comparison to the premium version. After a few months, we look back at the sales and see that they have changed significantly. Now consumers are buying less of the basic version (let’s say 25% of total sales), sales of the premium version have skyrocketed (70% of total sales), and a few rubes are buying the super-premium version (5% of total sales).
People want to feel like they’re getting a good deal, and you can trick them into thinking they’re getting a good deal by offering them a choice of a comparatively worse deal. The same trick can be played in the political realm.
Bracketing in the Political Context
Isn’t this how it always works out? You have two talking heads on the show, radical SJW leftist professor on one split screen, and establishment Republican think tank fellow on the other split screen. The show’s host sits in between, moderating the bloodbath. This is classic bracketing. In the eyes of the media, you have the basic version of political ideology (establishment Republican) and the super-premium version (the SJW leftist), and you have the bracketed premium version (the progressive leaning host). Inside the average person’s head, they’re thinking “Well, I want something better than the basic version, and the super-premium version costs too much, but that host is asking reasonable questions and making reasonable points.” Slowly, but surely, the culture shifts leftward as the sympathies of the media are ingrained into society.
Contributors as Intellectuals
People tend to defer to those that they find smart. It’s a shortcut we take that’s probably baked into our DNA. Our tribal instincts say “don’t waste your time reinventing the wheel, trust the egghead.” There’s a certain authority that comes with being deemed an intellectual. There’s also a certain condescending attitude. “Well ayctually” seems to be their verbal tic these days. This affectation seems to work because the arguments promulgated by these talking heads spread like wildfire. Their on-air preening signals to the audience that they and their opinions are important.
Cable news networks are notorious for exploiting this natural human deference to intellectual authority. Every segment starts like this: “We’d like to welcome Dr. Ukunwe Selekala, senior research professor of East African Postmodern Banjo Studies at St. Jemima’s-Maple Tap, Vice President of Aboriginal Affairs for the Southern Tennessee Coalition for Crisis Action, and author of a new best-selling book, ‘Twangs of Heart Strings: The Lasting Impact of Colonialism in East Timor.’ Dr. Selekala, thanks for coming on. My first question is why do state governments act in such a racist manner when they’re confronted with their Confederate heritage?”
The fact that is lost in all of the preening and groveling is that “Dr. Selekala” is no more qualified to talk about state politics RE: Confederate heritage than you or I. He’s a puppet, placed on the screen to parrot a predictable opinion with an air of intellectual authority. His last three research papers have been on Saharan ancestral music, and his book is an unreadable and poorly researched emotional screed. However, he’s a radical leftist, and he anchors the conversation in one direction. On the other side is either a withering establishment moderate or a conservative held on a very tight leash by the host. Neither talking head has any experience that is relevant to the conversation, but they play their parts and the unsuspecting viewers are pulled in by the intellectual authority signaled to them by both sides.
Success in the Small Things
When viewed in the big picture, it seems a bit outlandish to assert that the media can drag people kicking and screaming to a new opinion. However, they don’t need to move the whole mountain. They can move it one grain at a time. Merely mixing a lie/mischaracterization/biased statement in with an otherwise completely objective statement can sway viewers. If you do this repeatedly, the lie becomes truth to the viewers. Irma is the most powerful hurricane ever in the Atlantic (except it isn’t)
Part of our perception that the media is going nuts is the fact that they’re doubling down on their injection of lies and half-truths into the conversation. They have lost control of the populace, and they’re trying to get it back the only way they know how, through rigging the debate in their favor. The only problem is that once you load the die too much, it becomes obvious that it’s off-balance.
Part 3 of this series will tie a neat bow on things by explaining how public opinion polling is a complete sham and how the media uses polls to sway their viewers’ opinions.