Front page Times article on Wal-Mart exemplifies major propaganda technique: selection of facts to distort reality

The front page of Saturday’s New York Times displayed an egregious example of perhaps the most utilized propaganda technique other than the big lie: selection of details, facts or experts to distort reality.  It works best, as in the Times article, when the writer does not state the point of distortion, but lets the facts or experts selected do the talking.

Here, then, are the first three paragraphs of the Times story in question (or should I say, propaganda document), which reports Wal-Mart’s latest efforts to open a store in New York City 

“It persuaded the makers of All laundry detergent to shrink their bottles by more than half to generate less waste. It got thousands of farmers to stop using pesticides. And it encouraged millions of consumers to dump incandescent light bulbs in favor of energy-sipping compact fluorescents 

But for all of its arm-twisting powers of persuasion, Wal-Mart has been unable to achieve the simplest of ambitions: to set up shop in New York City, America’s biggest urban retail market.

It is a galling failure for a company that transcended its humble rural roots to become a global behemoth.”

When you get done with the first paragraph, don’t you just love this environmentally friendly company that persuades others to help clean up the environment?

If you love this Wal-Mart, you might admire the following historical figure: “He turned around his country’s lagging economy in less than five years.  He created an organization that helps young people learn about the joys of outdoor activities and the importance of high ethical standards.  In negotiations with the leaders of other countries, he obtained everything that his country needed while giving away few concessions.” 

Don’t you just love this guy?  Don’t you wish he was our leader?  Or did you guess that I’m describing Adolph Hitler? 

I think most readers understand that I’m not comparing Wal-Mart to Hitler.  What I’m doing is using the same distorting propaganda technique of fact selection to make Hitler look more admirable that the Times writer Elizabeth A. Harris uses to describe Wal-Mart.

In distorting reality by selection of facts, the subtext of Harris’ message is that Wal-Mart takes its corporate responsibilities seriously.  Besides suggesting explicitly that Wal-Mart is a jolly green giant, the use of specific words—“persuaded,” “encouraged”—undercuts the common image of Wal-Mart as a big bully.

Here is another way that Harris might have begun her story, using the same rhetorical device of listing facts to create a contrast between what the powerful company has been able to accomplish elsewhere and its long-term inability to take a bite out of the Big Apple: “It used its purchasing power to hardball entertainment companies to sanitize the lyrics of best-selling music CDs.  It has successfully kept unions out of its workforce with a combination of questionable activities and massive spending.  It has driven thousands of mom-and-pop stores and small chains out of business while destroying the downtowns of smaller cities all over the country.”

My paragraph is a more relevant picture of what Wal-Mart has wrought, focused on big-picture actions as opposed to some tactical decisions Wal-Mart made to save money that happened to also help clean the environment.  My version also suggests why the contrast to the New York situation is so poignant: because Wal-Mart is used to throwing its weight around and getting its way, and that has never happened in New York.   

The reporter is attempting to elicit admiration for Wal-Mart and sympathy for its plight in the Big Apple.  But to do so, she has to ignore both Wal-Mart’s long and negative past as an employer and a competitor. 

The article goes on to describe Wal-Mart’s NYC efforts, puts the new NYC campaign in the context of the company trying to sell “liberal America,” and quotes numerous experts. 

What the article doesn’t do is explain why New Yorkers and the existing New York political and governmental infrastructure are so hostile to Wal-Mart.  Let’s start with the low salaries and Ebenezer Scrooge-like benefits the company pays most of its employees.  And then there’s the fact that in Manhattan, and to a lesser degree in the other boroughs, you can see a lot of small and regional stores selling all kinds of interesting and different things in the streets along side the national chains with the standardized offerings.  These stores give dozens, if not hundreds of New York neighborhoods an individual character that is lacking in so many American residential areas nowadays.  Or maybe it’s that New Yorkers are less willing than other Americans to put up with censorship or to suffer companies accused of discrimination against any group, as Wal-Mart has been so accused numerous times.

Whatever it is, Wal-Mart and New York City are completely mismatched.  As a once-and-always New Yorker, I hope that Wal-Mart loses its latest battle to enter the city, and worry that it appears that this time out the Arkansas monster has The New York Times on its side.   

Mass media barrages young people with messages that even if school is good, learning is not.

I like to collect examples of the ideological subtext hidden in mass media documents such as TV shows, advertisements, movies, cartoons and news stories.  Today I would like to share some recent examples of one ideological message embedded in the mass media for decades: anti-intellectualism and anti-learning.

The mythology of anti-intellectualism has been alive since at least the end of World War II.  In this mythology, only the socially maladroit and sexually unattractive do well in school or engage in intellectual pursuits.  The brand name for these socially inadequate creatures that end up alone with their books is the nerd.  Here is how Merriam-Webster’s defines nerd:  an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially: one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits

It’s easy to spot anti-intellectualism in films such as “Grease,” the “Revenge of the Nerds” series and even “The Social Network,” or in any number of television shows.  I want to give a few examples of more subtle digs at those who like to do well in school or pursue intellectual activities:

  • The latest New Yorker has an article by D.T. Max about chess phenom Magnus Carlsen that sets Magnus up as the anti-chess nerd.  Max tries to convince us the Magnus, who played thousands of games of chess over the Internet a year, is not a studious chess professional compared to unnamed others.  All the details about Carlsen are meant to oppose him to some imaginary chess archetype who is less normal and nerdier.  This imaginary archetype exists only in myth.  Most of the children and young adults whom I met when my son was a nationally ranked youth chess player were well-rounded, athletic kids with a lot of social poise and grace for their age, including the current American phenom Hikaru Nakamura.
  • A article circulating the Internet this week claims to tell us the “Top 10 cities to date a nerd.”  It’s a list of the 10 cities with the highest educated members in technical or educational occupations.  I can see the value of the article, because if I wanted to find a spouse, I would certainly be interested in going where there are a lot of highly educated people.  But note that the label doesn’t glamorize highly educated people, the articles uses the derogatory “nerd.”
  • A Garfield the Cat cartoon of March 3 finds Garfield and his owner, Jon, perusing the owner’s yearbook. Remember that years ago the strip’s creator Jim Davis established Jon as a socially inept doofus.  Here’s what Jon says as they flip the pages:  “There’s me in the chess club….There’s me in the Latin club…There’s me in the science club…There’s me in the calculus club.” Finally, in the last panel the punch line comes, “There’s me stag at the Junior prom,” to which Garfield think-says with a sarcastic smirk etched across his face, “Go figure!”  The inference and the essence of the joke, is that it’s a no-brainer that Jon went stag to the prom since no one with those intellectual activities could ever attract a date.

Now for two examples of one of the most popular sub-themes of the anti-intellectual ideology, the myth that math is impossibly hard.

  • In October of last year, Mackenzie Carpenter wrote a very good story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the fact that all over the county, more and more freshmen kids are freaking out when they get to colleges.  Unfortunately, she marred the story with her anti-math opening: “It’s late October. Have you gotten The Call or The Text yet from your college freshman?  As in: I hate it here. No one will sit with me in the dining hall. I’m going to flunk algebra because the teacher has a foreign accent and I can’t understand her.” 

In analyzing this hypothetical case history that Carpenter presents, let’s place the mildly racist comment to one side and look at what Carpenter imagined was the tough class the hypothetical freshman was failing: algebra.    The fact of the matter is that most kids bound for college have already taken algebra, many as early as the 6th grade.  On the college level, algebra is considered a remedial class. To propose algebra then as the “hard subject” in the hypothetical case history actually demeans the intellectual content that should be the central experience of college.  By selecting algebra instead of calculus or freshman English is inherently anti-intellectual, while also supporting the false view that math is extremely hard.

  • “The Motley Fool” column of financial advice and news also took a gratuitous swipe at math by assuming that his target market assumes math is hard in an article from last October: “The bad news: Studying companies well involves a little math. The good news: It’s not that hard.” There are so many other ways that the Fool (or should I write fool?) could have approached the story, which is about calculating growth rates, none of which would have proposed that math is hard.  It’s not that the Fool/fool has an agenda to help enslave people intellectually by convincing them they are not smart enough to master the intricacies of “10 = X + 3, what is X?”  It’s that “math is hard” and “intellectuals are socially maladroit” are part of the underlying ideological messages that permeate all our lives, including the Fool/fool’s. 

Some of you are going to remind me that I often write about another social trend: the mad push by helicopter parents to get their children into the very best colleges possible.  This mad dash can include a lot of actions that would appear on the surface to support and cherish learning, such as taking enrichment classes during the summer and getting private tutors.  But judging from the stories in the mass media and the vast anecdotal evidence I have collected from my own experience and those of many other parents, the quest of the helicopter parent, or maybe I should say the Tiger Mom, has nothing to do with learning or education.  It has to do with upgrading to a brand of education that the parents believe will represent a more powerful certification of their children’s status and therefore lead to a higher social position and a job that pays more money.  The helicopter parent has commoditized education, that is, turned it into a commodity that they believe they can buy to enhance their children’s lives (and their own).

Far from being a paradox, the coexistence of these two trends—anti-intellectualism and the helicopter parent—makes all the sense in the world.  What debases intellectual activity more than reducing its value to a certification that money and not intellectual achievement can buy? 

Pundits use extreme and extremely unrealistic Tiger Mom as a straw man to support American anti-intellectualism.

My initial reaction to the Tiger Mom concept of parenting that Amy Chua presented in early January in her Wall Street Journal article titled Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior was to dismiss it as the ranting of a neurotic mother who presents her own almost sadistically extreme parenting tactics as representative of traditional Chinese attitudes towards education.  I didn’t think it worth commenting.

But the news media has since used Chua as a straw man to represent a severe and unfriendly Asian model for parenting that the news media has explicitly and implicitly contrasted with the more loving, if less academic approach American parents take.  I’ve read critiques and comments now in The New Yorker, Economist, San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post and New York Times and it’s amazing that all seem to take the Chua concept at face value as representative of an Asian model.  To some degree, all find fault with Chua’s harsh extremism. 

Chua brings disapprobation on herself with her list of what she never allows her children to do, which I will repeat here (for probably the thousandth time for those who read a lot):

“• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.”

Most of the list seems arbitrary or denying children the right to follow their own minds.  Most of the list has absolutely nothing to do with getting good grades, e.g., attend a playdate or sleepover.  The items related to school performance seem unfair, as sometimes a child runs into a teacher who doesn’t like him or her, and there are other smart kids around, so it’s tough to be #1 in everything all the time.  Even the items with a kernel of good advice are extreme; for example, never watching TV or playing video games.  Limit these mindless distractions, certainly, but to never allow is going a bit too far.

Merriam Webster tells us that a straw man is “an imaginary argument of no substance advanced in order to be easily confuted or an imaginary adversary advancing such an argument.”  As we see in the case of Chua, a straw man is often a boogie man, in this case the boogie being China and the Chinese.

The Chua straw man plays into American fears of China’s growing economic power and influence in the world while at the same time makes us feel a little better about the inadequacies of the consumption-oriented and anti-intellectual American parenting style and the bad performance our children record on tests of knowledge and skills compared to not just the Chinese, but to most Western and industrialized Asian countries.  Our kids may be ignorant, but they’re happy.  (Of course, many of them are not, but that’s beside the point!) 

The ideological subtext behind setting up Chua as a straw man is one that I have often found in the mass media, to wit: learning and school are bad and all intellectual activity is to be despised or mocked.  In this case, the badness resides in the overly controlling behavior and unrealistic expectations of a neurotic mother who wraps herself in the flag of academic achievement.

I would like to propose that the broad Chinese (and also Jewish) model of stressing education and achievement in school while honoring intellectual endeavors is the right one, but to present Chua, the crazed “Tiger Mom,” as the model of this parenting strategy is inaccurate and even insulting.

I want to close this OpEdge entry with my parenting approach, which I believe is more representative of typical “strict” parents, be they Chinese, American or Norwegian.   We did not allow my son to watch TV until he was four, and after that only within strict time limits that changed as he got older. The evening before my son started 9th grade, I said to him, “You now have total control over your life.  No curfew, no requirement to do any extra curricular activities, you can hang around and watch TV all afternoon or you can be in as many clubs and activities as you want.  Show up for dinner or not.  There’s only one thing you have to do: Get only As and Bs, get more As than Bs and they all have to be in honors classes.” By the way, if my son had tested lower on his aptitude tests I would have lowered the academic requirement to whatever level was realistic. 

This approach combined strict objectives with flexibility on how they are met, and I know it worked: After an outstanding high school career, my always cheerful and positive-looking son won an academic scholarship that paid room, board and tuition for his entire course work at Northeastern University, where he currently ranks first in his class going into the last semester of his senior year. 

Leftovers from the New Year’s weekend: slipping in the propaganda and guess who turns to pay-for-play?

The New York Times rang in the New Year by trying to connect a few statements in a paragraph and create a greater meaning that runs counter to reality.  It was buried on the page A3 continuation of the first page story, “Boomers Hit Another Milestone of Self-Absorption: Turning 65.”

Read the following paragraph very carefully while thinking of two men, John Kerry (the war hero who came back and led opposition to the war) and Dick Cheney (who used three exemptions to avoid service while calling for others to make the supreme sacrifice):

“…the never-ending celebration of the hippie contingent of boomers tends to overshadow the Young Americans for Freedom contingent. After all, while some boomers were trying to “levitate” the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War, other boomers were fighting in that war.”

Note how the YAFers morph into those who fought in the Viet Nam war, when in fact, as Mr. Cheney exemplifies, that was not always the case.  Also note how once again, anti-Viet Nam protesters are slurred by equating them completely with “hippies,” those free-spirited devotees of recreational drugs and free love in the mythology of the right.  In fact, the anti-War movement comprised a mix of types, including hippies, feminists, buttoned-down professors, pacifists, business students and business people, minorities, housewives, parents and former soldiers.

Now let’s turn to the ostensible New Year’s resolution of Parade, perhaps the most well-read periodical in North America by virtue of its insertion into the Sunday coupon page of a preponderance of Sunday newspapers. 

Parade’s New Year’s resolution: We will make more money by prostituting our magazine to advertisers.

It’s called pay-for-play and it’s when a magazine offers to run a story on a company or its products if the company buys an ad or a series of ads.  The most common and crude of the pay-for-plays has the ad facing the story, so that everyone knows that the company paid for the story.  A classier variation, one that I believe Parade followed in its January 2, 2011 edition, is to have the ad someplace else in the magazine.

The ad is a full-page color ad for the Queen Latifah collection of lipsticks by Cover Girl on the third page.  The article included the cover and a story on Queen Latifah’s advice on New Year’s resolutions that starts on page 10 and spills onto parts of five other pages.  Now I don’t know for a fact that Cover Girl paid specifically for an ad and a cover story, but judging on my 26 years of experience in public relations and advertising, I would say it’s almost a dead lock certainty that a pay-for-play agreement was arranged between the two parties.

The pay-for-play typically characterizes a lower form of journalism, certainly lower than what we traditionally expect from either Parade or a reputable daily newspaper. I’ve been reading Parade for some 50 years, and I am fairly certain that the Latifah ad-and-article represents the very first time that it has so blatantly favored an advertiser.

It symbolizes a new low for one of the most influential arbiters of mass culture in America.

A.P. headline writer decides to take an unfair pot shot at President Obama for his so-called “entourage.”

The Associated Press, which supplies virtually all of the national and international news to thousands of newspapers across the country, published an article early this morning about the upcoming winter vacation to Hawaii that President Obama and his family have planned.  The article is a well-written feature account of Obama’s childhood in Hawaii and how the residents react to having the President in their midst for a few days every year.

It’s not necessarily my kind of story.   I find that feel-good articles abut the personal lives of our elected officials invest them with some of the attributes of royalty, which is, after all, what we fought against in the Revolutionary War.  But for such a story, this one is okay.

Except for the headline, which attempts to turn the article against the President by the use of one word: “entourage.”

Here’s the headline:

Obama, family, entourage expected soon in Kailua

But the story is entirely about the President, his family and the residents of the island. The article has not one reference to the staff or security people who will accompany the President on his trip, so why is a word referring to them in the headline?  When you read the story, you realize that the more appropriate headline would have been “Obama and family expected soon in Kailua.”  But the headline writer added the word “entourage” and the editor stuck with it.

Nitpicking, you may say.  But is it?

I went back over the use of the word “entourage” in news stories about presidents over the past five years and in every other case I found that the news story is about the groups of people serving presidents of various countries, including of the United States.  Additionally, most but not all of the uses of “entourage” attach at least a little negative connotation to the word, either a questioning of its cost, size or honesty.

Here are some examples:

Now why would the headline writer (who is usually a different person than the writer of the article) want to use “entourage” in a headline when the story is not about the “entourage?”

My answer: to make the president look bad.

Many words carry with them mythic associations that can change over time.  In the case of entourage, there are three layers of mythic association, two quite recent, that make its use at least slightly pejorative, no matter the context. 

  1. Merriam Webster’s defines entourage as “one’s attendants or subordinates,” which strongly implies that royalty is involved.  Entourage has always had a slightly negative nuance of hangers-on, people who serve the ego of or attach themselves to “modern royalty” such as boxers, basketball players or rock stars.
  2. Since the ascent of the TV show, entourage has acquired a new meaning, “a group of young men who hang around all day smoking dope and talking about their dreams.”  I would assert that at this juncture in time, this meaning is the primary one for a large number of Americans.  Of course, we don’t ever like our President taking a toke, and we don’t want to think of his advisors as a bunch of loose-end guys with whom he’s been hanging since elementary school.
  3. A few months back, Michelle Bachman in another of her seemingly endless stream of highly exaggerated numbers (some would call them “big lies”), used the word “entourage” to impute the size and cost of the security people and staff members going with the President to India.  When attached to the President, “entourage” has now become a code word on the far right that suggests that: 1) Obama’s election came because of his “celebrity” not his qualifications, 2) more than other Presidents, President Obama has tried to increase the imperial trappings of the presidency. 

Three meanings, and all negative when applied to the President.  And yet the story had nothing to do with Obama’s staff.   A headline writer and editor of a primary media source for most Americans went out of their way to put a little anti-Obama message into the headline, which is the most-read and sometimes the only read part of all articles. 

Chip may be a little slow on social trends but he certainly gets the ideology.

“The Born Loser” comic strip is Chip Sansom’s often funny take on living in a Rodney Dangerfield world in which the main character never gets any respect.

Yesterday’s strip, carried in hundreds if not thousands of newspapers, is a sweetly surreal mélange of Rip-van-Winkle quaintness and ideological imperative.

The dialogue in the strip goes like this:

Little Boy: At last, it’s here. Yahoo!

Dad: What’s all the fuss about?

Mom: Don’t you remember when you were a kid—one of the best events of the year was when the Christmas toy catalog came in the mail.

Earth to Chip…Earth to Chip…They don’t wait to send toy catalogues until the next-to-last day of November anymore.  They send them in October, and maybe sometimes in September. 

When characters of a certain age behave like characters of an earlier age, technically called an anachronism, the result often engenders in the audience a quiet joy at encountering “quaintness.”  The classic example is Stendhal’s “Charterhouse of Parma” (“Chartreuse de Parme”) in which the early 19th century characters exhibit the behavioral characteristics of people in the 16th century.  In a sense, Chip Sansom does the same thing by running this particular joke on a date for which the joke would have been relevant 30 or 50 years ago, but no more.

But despite locating his comic strip sometime in the 50’s to 70’s, Chip gets the ideology right, because that hasn’t changed one iota over the years.

Ideology, as I have often written, is typically expressed in the details that make up the narrative or imagery of a work of communication or a work of art.  The details are like liquid refreshment that fills a “vessel of communication,” which in this case is the joke. 

It’s a hard concept that I think this one example of “The Born Loser” will make much easier to understand: The joke (vessel) is the idea that through the generations, children have the same reaction to events that their parents did even if the “born losers” among us forget what it was like to have had those feelings as a child.  The feelings in this joke revolve around the anticipation of Christmas (an ideological selection, too, as it promotes one religion over others). 

The detail that Chip twists ideologically is the anticipation that the father forgets.  Here are some of options for that detail that Chip did not select:

  • Looking forward to getting together with cousins you see once a year
  • Baking special foods or treats with mom
  • Selecting or decorating a Christmas tree
  • Putting lights on the outside of the house
  • Practicing for a caroling group

Of course, there’s plenty of time before December 25 for Chip to hit these topics in the strip, but right out of the chute, he made sure that the hidden message of the strip was that Christmas is about engaging in commercial transactions—AKA buying stuff—especially stuff for oneself.  In one neat little joke Chip supports the pursuit of selfishness and the commercialization of all emotions, two of the ideological underpinnings of contemporary society and discourse.

They say the devil is in the details, and all too often, so is the propaganda.

The old expression, “the devil is in the details,” certainly applies to propaganda.  Writers, editors, publishers, photographers, filmmakers and illustrators often will pretend to be objective in their communication while loading up the details with images, statements and facts that support the hidden message they want to make.  As frequent OpEdge readers will note, the process of putting the message in the details is what I call “creating an ideological subtext.” Sometimes, a piece is full of these details, while other times, the writer (or visual communicator) adds an ideological detail in an offhand, almost gratuitous manner. 

Many months ago, I gave several examples of using photos to make an ideological message without saying a word, in September 2009 and August 2009

Today, there are two examples of embedding ideological detail into written news on the front page of the business section of today’s New York Times.  In both cases, the writer(s) goes so far out of the way to add the propaganda note that the detail stands out almost like a daub of red paint on a canvas that is otherwise entirely gray and white:

In “Fed Adopts Washington Tactics to Combat Critics,” Sewell Chan starts the second paragraph (and second sentence) with this tidy little list: “Caught off guard by accusations from Congressional Republicans, Sarah Palin, Tea Party activists and conservative economists, the central bank and its chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, are pushing back….  It’s another easy SAT test question—which doesn’t belong?  The answer, of course, is Sarah Palin, whose standing in the discussion is the same as Mitt Romney’s, Tim Pawlenty or Newt Gringrich, other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.  In fact, her views, as illogical and uninformed as they are, are probably worth less on this issue than those of Mittman, Timmy and the neutered Grinch.  But by throwing her name into the mix of critics, Chan continues the mainstream media’s campaign to raise Palin’s stature and make her into a national leader, whose opinions on every issue count.

In a story about the possible sale of J. Crew that many other newspapers including the St. Louis Dispatch ran unchanged from the Times article, the writing team of Michael J. de la Merced and Andrew Ross Sorkin take a weird back-handed slap at our first lady: “J. Crew, the clothier of choice for the likes of Michelle Obama, is near a deal to sell itself for about $2.8 billion to the buyout firms….” The expression, “…the likes of…” is always negative, as in, “we don’t like the likes of you around here,” which many will recognize as a line of dialogue from a large number of movies about the old West.  Always unstated in this expression is the reason why the speaker does not like the type of person about whom they are talking.  In the case of our first lady, it could mean “upscale” or even “fashionable;” I believe, however, that a large number of people who read this expression will think, “Uppity N-word.”  But whatever association comes to mind, the expression always has a negative context.  In a story about a possible acquisition, the use of “the likes of” is completely out-of-context and a snide back swipe at our President through his wife. 

I’m not questioning the value to the news story of stating that the first lady likes the products, but the writers could have used any number of other expressions to communicate that “gee-whiz” fact without a subtle slam at the first family.  They could have written, for example, “J. Crew, the clothier of choice for Michelle Obama…” or “J. Crew, the clothier of choice for many upscale professionals including our first lady…”

Since it’s the de facto national newspaper of record and has a liberal reputation in its editorial policy, I like to use the New York Times as exhibit A whenever I write about ideological subtext that supports a right-wing worldview.   But every mainstream media outlet does it.

Some examples of how to control the outcome by controlling the selection of the facts or options.

This weekend brought two classic examples of controlling the outcome by controlling what facts are selected for consideration or what options are available for action.

The first example began a week ago, when The New York Times presented readers with the opportunity to develop plans to eradicate the deficit.  In its “Week in Review” section, it gave readers about 40 options, some of which raised more revenues, others of which cut spending.  In all cases, the Times told us the financial impact of each option and asked readers to devise plans to cut at least $1.345 trillion from the deficit.

Yesterday the Times published a chart that told the percentage of the nearly 7,000 people who put plans together recommending each of the options.  The Times also broke out what those who prefer tax increases wanted versus what those who preferred spending cuts wanted.

The problem is that the Times cooked the books beforehand by the options it selected.  The Times never explains why it proposes the options it does, but an analysis of the only two deficit-fixing choices in the healthcare arena suggest that the editors were trying to move the country rightward:

  • Cap Medicare growth starting in 2013.
  • Enact medical malpractice reform.

FYI, enacting malpractice reform means putting a cap on the money someone who has been physically harmed by a physician or hospital can get.

Funny the Times should mention something that will help physicians get richer while doing little to cut medical costs, but it did not mention the following other options to stem Medicare costs:

  • Raise the Medicare tax a half percent on people making more than $100,000 per year.
  • Institute a “best practices” project that determines and then mandates “best practices” for treating illnesses based on analyzing the medical evidence.
  • Force nicotine-addicted, diabetic and obese Medicare recipients into wellness programs if they want to maintain benefits.

All of these options drive the conversation to the left, and so would never occur to any of the mainstream news media.  The Times selects the options that keep us moving towards the right.

No surprise, there.

But who would have thunk that the left-leaning New York Review of Books would also use selection to move the political conversation to the right.  In the latest issue, the venerable NY Review of Books, which has long been our nation’s de facto intellectual and academic publication of record, included these two articles:

  • Janet Malcomb’s Maileresque I-was-there narrative about attending the Comedy Central rally on the Washington, D. C. Mall.
  • Mark Lilla’s review of three books by Glenn Beck and two books about Beck, which Lilla anchors by focusing to a large degree on the significance in Beck’s career of his “Restoring Honor” rally, also on the Mall during the past election season.

Do any of my dear readers recognize what’s missing?

Answer is…the rally of labor unions and progressives, also on the Mall during the last election season. 

The progressive rally is missing from this issue of the New York Review of Books, which to a large degree is dedicated to analyzing the past election.  Missing, just as it was missing in mainstream news media coverage for the most part, despite the fact that according to the consensus of reputable estimates, about the same number of people attended all three of these rallies.

Despite the fact that far fewer than half a million people read The New York Review of Books, its pages are among the most influential when it comes to writing the political and economic history of any election, era or decade.  What that means is that when the history of this time in American politics is written, one more sign that progressives actually have as many adherents as the Tea Party phalange will likely go unnoted.  By selection, the editorial board of the New York Review of Books has voted to join the mainstream media and move the country rightwards.

Parade Magazine asks 3 celebrity chefs to plan a Sunday dinner that raises cholesterol and pads tummies.

In its latest issue, Parade Magazine features an interview of three female celebrity chefs, Daisy Martinez, Lidia Bastianich and Paula Deen, on how to make Sunday dinner more meaningful for the family.  Just in case we didn’t notice, the article starts by pointing out that the chefs represent three of the most popular cuisines in America: Latin, Italian and Southern.

The interview presents the mass media’s usual equation for happiness: The chefs’ comments focus not on nutrition or food preparation, but on the emotional value of a family eating together—a chance to air family issues, a way to make family members feel better or feel loved, the fact that kids who eat meals with their parents are more likely to grow up right and not get into trouble.  The culinary genii have many examples of bad food being an okay option and only one suggestion on how to foster healthy eating habits.  “Food is love,” as one of them says.  All true…

But in focusing on enhancing the emotional value of food, Parade and it celebrity chefs forget all about nutrition.   Here is the Sunday meal that Parade created with the chefs:

  • Linguine with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil.
  • Puerto Rican roast pork
  • Spicy black-eyed peas.

To get the recipes, you have to text message or go to the website, which makes sense now that Parade’s dimensions size out a little larger than a commemorative postage stamp.  Being an old-fashioned kind of guy who uses his cell phone only for telephone calls, I selected the later option. 

At the web site we learn that:

  • The pork dish is 100% all meat, no vegetable garnish.
  • There is bacon in the black-eyed peas and only just a little green in the form of canned chili peppers. 
  • The pasta is a healthy entry in the right context, with a little green and lots of tomatoes.  But given the fat content of the entire meal, maybe Lidia should have left out the cheese this time.

Would you consider this meal to be nutritious?  Will it help people eat five or more fruits and vegetables a day?  Is it low in animal fats?  Lots of complex carbohydrates? Any fish? Where is a green vegetable dish, maybe kale, spinach or cabbage?  How about a nice spicy Mexican salad? Or some guacamole without cheese served with raw veggies? 

Well, no, not nutritious. It has lots of fat, more protein than needed, a mere one serving of vegetable or fruit, just a sprinkling of green.  Probably laden with too many calories, but we’ll never know since Parade doesn’t publish the calories or fat content for a serving of any of these dishes.

How hard would it have been for Parade to present a nutritional role model for families?  Why didn’t Parade ask the chefs to work together to plan a meal that would be healthy for the family, which means three servings of vegetables or fruit, lots of complex carbs and only one fatty source of protein?

Remember that Parade is without a doubt the most well-read print periodical in the country by virtue of landing inside the ad circulars of hundreds of Sunday newspapers.  So in a sense, Parade is among the largest of all mass media role models and conveyors of the American ideology.

Having created a greater need for food by injecting it with more emotional value and at the same time mystifying food preparaon by making it the purview of “experts,” Parade decides not to offer the American public a healthy meal, but instead to present a calorie- and fat-laden groaning board as the answer to the meal-planning conundrum.  The result: people will eat more, which means they will buy more food (and unfortunately collectively gain more weight, contract more diabetes, heart problems and cancer, and die younger). 

Advertisements try to sell values that enhance products, but do they reflect the market’s values or shape them?

Most advertising, no matter what the medium, tries to attach a value beyond the inherent value of the product or service being shilled.  According to standard ad theory, you do research to find out what values are of importance to the target market and work on connecting one or a few important ones to the product/service.

But as is often the case, the real world often works the other way.  Often the advertiser has to create the need for the value in the target market.  And sometimes it seems as if the advertiser has the choice of values—and which one it selects says more about its own needs and belief system than it does about the target market’s.

Take, as example, a current Home Depot radio ad.  Let me preface the impending diatribe by saying that Home Depot came into East Liberty, a poor minority neighborhood in Pittsburgh, several years after Sears had abandoned the neighborhood, and has revitalized the entire area by bringing consumers in and giving a lot of jobs to the local residents.  I always go to my inner city Home Depot instead of the Lowe’s in the new suburban lifestyle center.

Now to the radio ad:  A professionally friendly male announcer tells us that we can buy LED Christmas lights, which use much less energy than traditional lights.  The announcer then makes the connection to an important value to the consumer.

And is the connection to value that the LED lights let you save money? No, Home Depot doesn’t play on the frugality of Joe and Jane Sixpack during a recession.

Or, is it the fact that buying LED lights help you make the Holiday celebration more energy efficient? No. Home Depot doesn’t talk about green values either.

What Home Depot’s friendly announcer says is now you can keep your lights on longer for the same cost.

Of course!  It’s America!  When the cost of consumption goes down, consume more!  

So Home Depot misses an opportunity to distill the values of frugality and/or green consciousness, the very two values that we all need to cultivate to address the mess in which the human race finds itself, thanks to our massive over-consumption. 

Instead the “old-fashioned hardware store in an airplane hangar“ encourages the public to consume more.

Shame on Home Depot, but it’s to be expected.  To sell more of its consumer products, Home Depot wants to influence the buying public to consume more, even if what the public will be consuming is a) not for sale at Home Depot; and b) something of which our society really should be using a lot less.  Thus it imbues the product with the ideological imperative to consume more.