Saturday, August 27, 2011

August 27, 2011
Note: This is the piece I mentioned last week. It is quite long, is opinion in nature and does tie back in to Oregon sports and the purpose of this blog in the first place. It uses extensive quotes of Noam Chomsky. I do not ascribe, personally, to all of his political leanings. However, I find the content of his Manufacturing Consent fascinating. It is applicable to what I have to say here. Not all will agree with this viewpoint, do not let that affect your enjoyment of future Duck articles here on The Other Side of Duck. I felt that this was a unique concept for a sports blog. Enjoy!

The world of journalism is seemingly living oblivious to their manufactured consent.

The petty attacks began on a Sunday. I had completed an interview and posted a story. The article was the culmination of countless hours of dialog, back and forth messaging and relationship building. Yes, I had built trust with a family and friends looking for a deeper story. From the beginning of the quest, I was as honest as possible about my original intent: there was none other than investigating a story from a different angle.

The original articles were simply a result of requests by fellow Oregon football fans for a place they could read my thoughts in a coherent string rather than intermittent thoughts on a message board. There was never a request, by me, my family or friends to have this be anything more than me sharing thoughts. A “blog” in today's world, is really nothing more than an on-line journal. The original entries represented a collection of thoughts in journal form.

It exploded from there as the information was passed along to a radio station, then began to get wider distribution. Unlike newspapers, radio programs and television stations, I was not “promoting” the subject matter. I was simply gathering the facts I had access to and providing that compilation to others who were likewise interested in the subject.

Then came a lucky break; having learned of some facts not widely known, I contacted the principles and asked questions. The answers I received were then chronicled in a third article. When the third article was released, there were more requests which I fulfilled as graciously as possible. I expected that the third would be the last in the series; hoped may be a better word! Then, less than two weeks later, word began to leak that the subject of the original stories, Lache Seastrunk, was considering a transfer from the University of Oregon. Once more, the story became news.

Out of respect to the family and friends of Lache, I asked for, and was granted an exclusive interview with Lache Seastrunk. The interview was not the result of some mythical friendship, but respect for the manner in which I treated the subject from the beginning. The interview and final article should have allowed Lache Seastrunk to move on with his life in a graceful manner.

But then, traditional media became somewhat inflamed by the response from other fans. One particular journalist took to insulting my own credibility. It was a rather petty and snide comment that many of the people who enjoyed the article took offense to; a twitter war of the words began on Sunday shortly after I posted the article.

I have never talked to Lindsay Schnell. I have never emailed her; never commented on one of her stories. Yet, Sunday night, within three hours of the story being posted she had this to say:

“It's good to hear all sides of a story, but I hope everyone realizes that Scott Reed has basically no credibility & is clearly NOT objective”

Why exactly does a “respected” journalist feel the need to bash a person who is just presenting his own thoughts on a blog? There are answers, and answers she probably is not even aware of. Most will slough it off as professional jealousy because this was the second time in less than a month that I had been able to get an interview that no one else could land. That in itself, might have been understandable, but to publicly criticize goes well beyond professional jealousy.

Traditional journalists are trained to protect their institution. It is not well recognized, but protecting their job is vital to their continuation. In the “internet era” anyone can get their thoughts out to the masses very easily. Most newspapers have adapted decently and made their online versions as available and instantaneous as any individual. Breaking news stories are posted within minutes of their beginning; newspapers have gotten very aggressive in being able to respond quickly to world, national, regional and local stories as the break. Gone, though, are the days where paying subscribers fund news organizations. In the 1970's and 1980's, television stations relied heavily on advertising revenue for their survival. Newspapers, though, were able to be more objective in their reporting as their funds were subsidized by paying subscribers. That has all changed.


The Profit Agenda

Harold Laswell once said: “Dogma is a defensive reaction against doubt in the mind of the theorist, but doubt of which he is unaware.”

Lindsay Schnell is a relatively young journalist, still seeking to ensure the protection of her livelihood. She falls under Laswell's quote. Her reactions are against her own doubt, a doubt which she doesn't even recognize. As she grows in the profession and works toward advancing within a traditional news organization, the doubt will grow, and the awareness of the doubt will continue to dissipate.

Laswell continues on, “In what's nowadays called a totalitarian state, military state or something, it's easy. You just hold a bludgeon over their heads, but as societies become more free and democratic you lose that capacity and therefore you have to turn to the techniques of propaganda. The logic is clear—propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”

What is Laswell referring to when he talks about propaganda? Simply put, he is referring to traditional media; they are the propagandists. At the lower reporter level, though, they are unaware. They are unaware because they are still blinded by an idealism of being the next “Woodward and Bernstein.” What they missed in Journalism school, though, was the underlying elitist mentality that was taught. Traditional journalists are taught to believe that, because they seek truth, they are better equipped to disseminate information.

Schnell shows her naiveté with another quote:

“Who is objective & has cred(ibility)? How about everyone who works for a real organization & doesn't have an agenda. Goe, Moseley, Schroeder, etc.”

Does Schnell really believe that these traditional, so-called, “real” organizations do not have an agenda? If so, she is much worse than just naive. But I will leave that for the reader to determine. In reality, Schnell works for The Oregonian; and The Oregonian has an agenda. First and foremost, the agenda of The Oregonian is to generate revenue and profit. In order to succeed, the newspaper must appeal to a wide variety of interests. Schnell, though, does not determine what is appealing, she simply submits her work to an editor who deems it's appropriateness before the story is released.

The Oregonian is part of a much larger conglomerate owned by Advance Publishing. All told, this organization owns 76 newspapers as well as multiple other magazines (including The Sporting News, GQ, Vanity Fair, Allure, Vogue, Golf Digest and a host of other “lifestyle” publications). Advance Publications is a media giant. Advance Publications, Inc., is a privately held communications company that, directly or through subsidiaries, owns Condé Nast Publications, Parade Publications, Fairchild Publications, American City Business Journals, the Golf Digest Companies; Advance Publications' subsidiaries also have extensive interests in cable television, as well as in Internet sites which are related to its print publications.

The Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Advance is Samuel Newhouse, Jr. who is rated as the 47th richest person in America with a net worth of 6.6 billion dollars. He and his brothers inherited the business from the father, Samuel Newhouse, Sr. Neither graduated from college, but both are native New Yorkers and considered philanthropic in their support of Syracuse University. In fact, Syracuse School of Communication is fully titled “S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.” The school was founded with a gift in 1964 and named for publishing magnate Samuel Irving Newhouse Sr. In 2003, his sons provided an additional gift of $15 million to the school.

Let's not pretend, though, that the gift is purely philanthropic. Journalism has merged into large conglomerates and they answer to ONE thing: profits. The Newhouse family did not create tens of billions of dollars of wealth by angering their Board of Directors. And this is where the news business gets tricky.

When you start from the bottom of the food chain, the “beat” reporter answers to their departmental editor who answers up a chain to the main Editor in Chief and Publisher. The Oregonian Editor is Peter Bhatia, a Stanford graduate. He answers to his Publisher, N. Christian Anderson III, an Oregon State Graduate. These men, of course, answer to the Corporate office which answers to their Board of Directors. The directions of newspapers are determined by corporate objectives.

Further clouding the control newspapers have over content, is the control they manufacture over beat reporters. In many cases they are young, hungry and idealistic. But they have large debt to pay just like every other college graduate and, like the rest of us, need to pay their bills.

Very telling is this tweet from Schnell:

She is correct, columnists do have editors. But editors are expected to maintain content not based solely on journalistic integrity, but on what they are told is policy. Policy from a corporate level is not related to journalism. It is about what content will generate the readership that then allows the company to rake in advertising dollars. Do not get me wrong, here, either, I am not against a company making profit. However, when a company's profit is at the expense of news, we must be wary of the content that is presented to us for our knowledge.

The Political Agenda

Further complicating the profit motive is the political agenda present in all media. Whether they like to admit to this motive is irrelevant, it exists. Noam Chomnsky tells us

We're talking primarily about the national media, those media that sort of set a general agenda that others more or less adhere to, to the extent that they even pay much attention to national or international affairs.

Now the elite media are sort of the agenda-setting media. That means The New York Times, The Washington Post, the major television channels, and so on. They set the general framework. Local media more or less adapt to their structure.

And they do this in all sorts of ways: by selection of topics, by distribution of concerns, by emphasis and framing of issues, by filtering of information, by bounding of debate within certain limits. They determine, they select, they shape, they control, they restrict -- in order to serve the interests of dominant, elite groups in the society. (Chomsky, 1992)

And this is the issue at hand with any and all criticism or critique from local media; they are merely responding to a challenge of the agenda as set forth by major media and followed along by local media. This is a very clever indoctrination into the belief that this is not actually the case.

To start with, there are two different groups, we can get into more detail, but at the first level of approximation, there's two targets for propaganda. One is what's sometimes called the political class. There's maybe twenty percent of the population which is relatively educated, more or less articulate, plays some kind of role in decision-making. They're supposed to sort of participate in social life -- either as managers, or cultural managers like teachers and writers and so on. They're supposed to vote, they're supposed to play some role in the way economic and political and cultural life goes on. Now their consent is crucial. So that's one group that has to be deeply indoctrinated. (Chomsky, 1992)

It is critical to the success of this model that journalists be deeply indoctrinated. It is fundamental that they not know they have been indoctrinated. Their idealism is key to the illusion that they are unbiased reporters working in a world where the truth is the ultimate objective. But it is not. The ultimate objective is far from what is truth. It's all about which part of the truth sells. Further belaboring this point is that the other eighty percent of society is, for the most part, desensitized.

Now there are other media too whose basic social role is quite different: it's diversion. There's the real mass media-the kinds that are aimed at, you know, Joe Six Pack -- that kind. The purpose of those media is just to dull people's brains.

This is an oversimplification, but for the eighty percent or whatever they are, the main thing is to divert them. To get them to watch National Football League. And to worry about "Mother With Child With Six Heads," or whatever you pick up on the supermarket stands and so on. Or look at astrology. Or get involved in fundamentalist stuff or something or other. Just get them away. Get them away from things that matter. And for that it's important to reduce their capacity to think. (Chomsky, 1992)

This is you and me; we are the ones that, typically, mass media aims to distract. Certainly I am not going to sit here and tell you that existence itself is some conspiracy theory of a few wealthy elite. However, what we call news is most certainly a controlled effort to maintain a certain “status quo” in this nation. There are very large publications, like The New York Times which some argue is the most important newspaper in the world. The Oregonian, for that matter, can be considered the most important newspaper in Oregon. At a state level, The Oregonian plays an extremely important role in shaping the perception of the current world on the part of the politically active, educated classes. Oregon history is what appears in The Oregonian archives. In 100 years, when most of us are gone, Oregon history will be to the future what The Oregonian says. With that comes a heavy burden the editors likely feel.

Because of this deep burden of presenting history, it is of the utmost importance that to ensure history is shaped in an appropriate way certain things appear, certain things not appear, certain questions be asked, other questions be ignored, and that issues be framed in a particular fashion. To be clear, it is critical to note that this has nothing to do with liberal or conservative bias.

What does this have to do with sports? Simple, sports is a very pivotal component of the aforementioned indoctrination system. Sports offers us something to pay attention to that is, in the long run, of little true importance. Sports keeps us from worrying about those things that truly matter in our lives; things that, without a preoccupation, we might consider the idea of doing something about. Think for a moment the amount of intellectual capacity everyday people use towards sports. Hell, I am doing it here! Listen to a call-in radio program and it is incredible to see the intelligence that is used by ordinary people in discussions of sports as opposed to political and social issues. These callers have the most exotic information and understanding about all kind of esoteric issues. The press most certainly has a lot to do with this.

Expanding upon this thought, the press needs to keep fans focused on a topic if they are truly shaping history. In the case of Oregon athletics, there is no doubt that local press has been shaping the history of Oregon for quite some time. Because Oregon has experienced unprecedented success in the sport most vital to a university, football, the history or Oregon athletics is inexorably tied to this success. The opinion makers recognize the need to divert attention to them, so they can continue to shape the rest of history. This is where negativity comes in to play.

Without a negative tint to Oregon athletics, Oregon fans might be inclined to start looking at the rest of history that The Oregonian is beginning to shape. Duck fans become very incensed whenever we see something negative about our team. Fans like me spend all of their free time looking for proof that these opinion shaping pundits are incorrect. We spend our time debating how to “quiet” these pundits. We think of exotic plans to boycott their paper, diminish their value. Does it really matter?

So what we have in the first place is major corporations which are parts of even bigger conglomerates. Now, like any other corporation, they have a product which they sell to a market. The market is advertisers -- that is, other businesses. What keeps the media functioning is not the audience. They make money from their advertisers. And remember, we're talking about the elite media. So they're trying to sell a good product, a product which raises advertising rates. And ask your friends in the advertising industry. That means that they want to adjust their audience to the more elite and affluent audience. That raises advertising rates. So what you have is institutions, corporations, big corporations, that are selling relatively privileged audiences to other businesses.

Well, what point of view would you expect to come out of this? I mean without any further assumptions, what you'd predict is that what comes out is a picture of the world, a perception of the world, that satisfies the needs and the interests and the perceptions of the sellers, the buyers and the product.

Now there are many other factors that press in the same direction. If people try to enter the system who don't have that point of view they're likely to be excluded somewhere along the way. After all, no institution is going to happily design a mechanism to self-destruct. It's not the way institutions function. So they'll work to exclude or marginalize or eliminate dissenting voices or alternative perspectives and so on because they're dysfunctional, they're dysfunctional to the institution itself.

Now there are other media too whose basic social role is quite different: it's diversion. There's the real mass media-the kinds that are aimed at, you know, Joe Six Pack -- that kind. The purpose of those media is just to dull people's brains. (Chomsky, 1992)

This is The Oregonian. They are here to dull our brains. The reporters? Most of them are completely oblivious to their role. Most reporters are simply trying to create their own lives. They are, as stated before, idealistic. Any of those that enter into the system who have a divergent point of view are likely to be excluded at some point of their career. No institution will create the mechanics of their own self-destruction. Successful institutions do not function in this manner. Schnell, and her colleagues are willing participants in this system as designed. They have an institution to protect and will give their entire being to exclude, minimize or eliminate altogether dissenting voices and alternate perspectives because they are dangerous to the institution itself.

Now, to eliminate confusion, all of this has nothing to do with liberal or conservative bias. According to the propaganda model, both liberal and conservative wings of the media -- whatever those terms are supposed to mean -- fall within the same framework of assumptions.

In fact, if the system functions well, it ought to have a liberal bias, or at least appear to. Because if it appears to have a liberal bias, that will serve to bound thought even more effectively.

In other words, if the press is indeed adversarial and liberal and all these bad things, then how can I go beyond it? They're already so extreme in their opposition to power that to go beyond it would be to take off from the planet. So therefore it must be that the presuppositions that are accepted in the liberal media are sacrosanct -- can't go beyond them. And a well-functioning system would in fact have a bias of that kind. The media would then serve to say in effect: Thus far and no further. (Chomsky, 1992)

This is the state we find ourselves in as we read through The Oregonian. Most of the writers are unaware of the role they play. They simply do what they are told; write stories they know will get printed and let the editors shape the news how they see fit. This does not, though, reduce their culpability. These writers are intelligent people who have the capacity to see the manner in which their opinions have been skewed to shape perception, yet they are unable or unwilling.

Certainly the media will not agree with this theory. They will say Chomsky is nothing more than an anarchist who is beyond just a liberal. And, they would be right in their characterization of Chomsky as an ultra-liberal. But that does not change the truth of this matter. That is just another diversion from the truth. They will turn your head by focusing on an extraneous factor. After all, if you are focused on your disdain for Chomsky's political leanings, you will be less likely to see whether his concept of manufacturing consent is real or imagined. And, isn't that exactly what Chomsky predicts?

When it comes to Oregon athletics, just remember, these writers are part of a bigger issue. It is not they who shape the opinions that appear in the paper; it is the editors in response to publishers and their conglomerate owners. It is business that shapes their opinions. They just do not know it.

Our love of Oregon athletics shall not be diminished simply because a few writers are following their editorial policy. Yes, sports is a diversion. We are diverted for a reason and that is okay. The writing of a few writers following corporate directives cannot and should not diminish our love of Oregon athletics. Nor will I allow the rantings of a young, impressionable reporter to silence my voice. There is another side to the stories they write. I do not need an editor or publisher to “approve” my content. This is not as much a defense of my writing as a critique of traditional media's approach to constant criticism of dissenting voices. I am a dissenting voice. I am not a “professional” journalist, but that does not diminish the point of view I have. In fact, my status as an outsider strengthens my point of view!

The readers have also been insulted throughout this process. By insulting my writing, traditional media have also insulted the readers. They are saying, in effect, since my opinion does not matter, the reader is wasting his or her time reading what I have to say. Understand, seeking out divergent opinions is a GOOD thing. If we let The Oregonian or The Register Guard be the sole source of our knowledge, we play into their agenda setting role. Keep reading; do not let anyone tell you which voice is legitimate and which voice is void. Be the keeper of what you consider legitimate information. The readers of this blog are capable of determining their own reasonable truth. They are entitled to opinions from both sides of the fence.

Credentials as a journalist do not change any facts I have presented nor any conclusions the reader has reached. Everyone has a bias and/or agenda in their writing. This blog is called The Other Side of Duck for a reason; to put a forth a unique perspective that few get to see elsewhere.

Read on and I will keep working hard to keep trying to let everyone see the other side.


  1. Just wondering if you have a second pair of eyes for editing... FYI, the title misspells "manufacturing". (I actually help edit Dale Newton's blog at DuckStopsHere)

  2. I do not have a second set... yet... there is the very real possibility that I will be associated with an established website in the near future... at which point I would... for now... I write LATE at night most days... so... try to catch my own... I read through this piece like 8 times and caught a few typos, but never once looked at the title!

  3. Hey Scott,

    I'm sure you will have no problem getting picked up by an "established website" as you are a very good writer. You've put together some great stuff.

    I know how it is with editing. You've seen the text so many times that your brain no longer sees errors. I didn't see a way to contact you other than via the comments section, otherwise I would have sent you a note and not called it out via the posting...