Earlier this year, former CBS Investigative Journalist Sharyl Attkisson (author of “Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington”) exposed the news media for what it is: a corrupted industry used by political, corporate and other special interests to effectively manipulate Americans.
Attkisson began her talk by pointing out how most people do their research on a particular pharmaceutical company. She mentioned searching the Internet to determine whether a particular product was safe and the company’s claims about it were true.
Attkisson then asked,
“What if all isn’t as it seems? What if the reality you found was false, a carefully constructive narrative by unseen special interests designed to manipulate your opinion, a Truman Show-esque alternate reality all around you?”
“Special interests have unlimited time and money to figure out new ways to spin us while cloaking their role. Surreptitious astroturf methods are now more important to these interests than traditional lobbying of Congress,” she said.
Attkisson describes what she calls “astroturf manipulation,” a new industry entirely devoted to perpetrating “fake grassroots” that deceive the general public.
She explains that the goal of astroturf manipulation is to change public opinion and make people feel that they are “outside the mainstream” when they are not.
Astroturf manipulation occurs, she says, “when political, corporate and other special interests disguise themselves and publish blogs, start Facebook and Twitter accounts, publish ads, letters to the editor, or simply post comments online to try to fool you into thinking an independent or grassroots movement is speaking.”
She cited the Washington Redskins name change controversy, as an example of the media blowing it out of proportion to cause people to think the majority of Americans genuinely believe its name is offensive. But, that is not the case. In fact, she argues, citing a poll, that 71% of Americans think the name is just fine the way it is.
“Astroturfers,” she argues, seek to controversialize those who disagree with them. They target news organizations that publish articles they dislike or oppose, whistleblowers who tell the truth, elected officials who ask tough questions, and journalists who attempt to report facts and news.
On many occasions, astroturfers create so much disinformation, that even the most rational person might disregard it all, including the truth.
Attkisson pointed to Wikipedia, which she said is an “Astroturf’s dream come true.” (Keep in mind that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales earned a large portion of his money from trafficking pornography.)
Wikipedia’s pages are anonymously controlled and edited to spin certain issues. According to Attkisson, Wiki editors:
“control and co-opt pages on behalf of special interests, they forbid and reverse edits that go against their agenda. They skew and delete information in blatant violation of Wikipedia’s own established policies with impunity, always superior to the poor schlubs who actually believe anyone could edit Wikipedia only to discover they are barred from correcting even the simplest factual inaccuracies.”
Studies have shown that when comparing Wikipedia to peer reviewed research, Wikipedia contradicted real medical research 90% of the time.
Attkisson offered an example from her own experience working at CBS News. She investigated a drug used by people who had difficulty sleeping. She discovered that the pharmaceutical company was behind “a study,” which was actually a survey, which the non-profit organization, the National Sleep Foundation, promoted– to falsely give the impression that Americans are sleepless. Then, when Americans “ask their doctors” about sleeplessness, they are offered the latest drug on the market to cure their non-existent sleeplessness.
While Attkisson reported the story, along with her findings, the rest of the news media simply reported the press release as written without digging into what was behind it.
So, what can be done to recognize the difference between truth and astroturf? Attkisson provides the following helpful hints to identify the hallmarks of astroturf:
- Use of inflammatory language (ie. Crank, quack, nutty, lies, paranoid, pseudo, and conspiracy);
- Claims to debunk myths that aren’t myths at all;
- Controversializing an issue by attacking the people, personalities and organizations surrounding it rather than addressing the facts;
- Reserving public skepticism for those exposing wrongdoing rather than the wrongdoers (instead of questioning authority, they question those who question authority).
Sadly, for many, they don’t even realize how much they have been brainwashed by the various media they come in contact with every day. Hopefully, this brief account by Attkisson will be the much needed sunshine that will disinfect the corrupt media that we are surrounded with in our lives.
Tim Brown is an author and Editor at FreedomOutpost.com, SonsOfL