The Propaganda Model: How and why the Media is Not on Your Side
"Any dictator would admire the obedience and uniformity of the U.S media.”
- Noam Chomsky
There has been a lot of talk about “fake news” lately. What started as a term meant to label literal fabricated news, has since begin to describe partisan news, news meant to advance an agenda. The constant use of this term has created a division in people’s minds. On one side of the division lies news from partisan outlets, news that is overtly biased. In people’s minds, this news can not be relied on as it does not report the truth. It exists not to promote your self-interest, but to advance an agenda. Simply put, this news is not on your side. On the other side of the division lies news from non-partisan, objective outlets . This news reports the truth so it can be relied on. The only agenda it exists to serve is your own self-interest. It is on your side.
This post is here to challenge that notion. Here is the truth:
The difference in reliability between the news on each side of the divide is negligible:
None of the media is on your side.
The media does not give you the truth; in fact, you do not have access to the actual truth. What you have is merely propaganda moonlighting as “news.” This news is reported in a very specific way, the way that powerful entities want it to be. The purpose of the media is to shape the way you think.
This is the primary assertion of the “Propaganda Model” proposed by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman. The model explains how mass media is used as a propaganda tool by the government and large corporations to “manufacture the consent” of the public towards certain policies or decisions, whether economic, governmental, or otherwise. Due to the influence that these elite sectors exert, the media self modulates, engages in voluntary censorship, over or under reports certain issues, and exercises purposeful bias to present a distorted picture of the world that is beneficial to the powerful, but offers nothing substantial to the public at large. Chomsky introduces five news “filters” that media information must go through before it reaches the public. As potential news passes through each of these filters, if it doesn't get stuck and snuffed out that is, it devolves from legitimate information meant to truthfully inform the reader, to mere propaganda in line with the interests of the corporate and political elite.
What follows is a detailed analysis of the propaganda model. It is a very long read, but if you wish to truly understand the media, I implore you to read it carefully.
Concentration of Media Ownership: The First Filter
"What you need to control a media system is ostensible diversity that creates actual uniformity”
- Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister
Let's say you wish to get an unbiased picture of the world; to do so, you make sure to garner news from various sources rather than just one. You figure that through this diversification you might achieve a clearer and more objective picture of the world, one you would not attain by relying on just a single news source. So you watch Fox News for politics, and watch your local “My Network TV” nightly news for your local stuff, you read the Wall Street Journal for finance, National Geographic for a little culture, and the New York Post because the Times is too expensive. You even throw in the UK's biggest newspaper, “The Sun,” and Australia's 2nd biggest newspaper, “The Daily Telegraph,” for an outside look. You probably feel like you beat the system.
All these news outlets are owned by the same company Newscorp (Fox), and the same person, Rupert Murdoch. In fact, 90% of the media in the United States, is owned by the same 6 companies: Newscorp (Fox) , Comcast, Viacom, Disney, Time Warner, and CBS. These six companies directly control the vast majority of media you have access to. This is the basis of Chomsky's first filter “Concentration of Media Ownership”
NBC for instance, was owned by General Electric up until very recently (which used to be the 6th largest media company). General Electric owns a wide variety of businesses in 170 countries in industries such as oil and gas, aviation, healthcare, energy, and finance. It is in their best interest that these companies and industries are cast in a favorable light. The best way to assure this is by positive media coverage. Thankfully, they had NBC to take care of this. This creates a conflict of interest in that it is impossible for NBC to unbiasedly report on any matter in which GE has an interest in; this holds true for any media outlet with corporate ownership. When reporting about their corporate owners, or any related industry or company that their corporate owners have an interest in, the media has no choice but to focus on positive aspects while softening negative ones. The end result of this is a mass media that is actually more akin to a corporate newsletter, rather than a legitimate information source.
In addition, it means that the editors of the media outlets are not the ones that actually decide what gets covered; the heads of the corporations are the ones that truly hold this power.
Here are some examples of the application of this filter at work.
Rupert Murdoch owns The Sun, The Times, and the Sunday Times, three of the largest newspapers in the UK. He is very conservative and has been quoted as calling CNN as “too liberal.” His newspapers were unsurprisingly very generous and uncritical of the conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who curiously knighted him and received a huge book deal from Harper Collins, also owned by Murdoch.
Murdoch also reportedly ordered Fox News to hold a “daily tribute” to Ronald Reagan, whose political views aligned with Murdoch, while Reagan was running for president.
After the stock market crash of 1987, popularly referred to as “Black Monday,” Jack Welch, the owner of General Electric (and NBC) forbade the head of NBC news from using this term, or any others that might contribute to GE's stock falling.
In 1991, NBC once wanted Todd Putnam, the editor of National Boycott News, to do an interview about consumer boycotts. He was, however, forbidden to talk about the biggest boycott going on at the time, the one against GE.
NBC once ran a report about the use of defective bolts on important structures like planes, power plants, and bridges, but left out a particularly flagrant user of these defective bolts: General Electric.
Almost immediately after GE bought NBC, they used it as a vessel to promote their nuclear energy interests. They ran a documentary using a town in France, whose “Townspeople welcome each new reactor with open arms” as a model to show how great nuclear power plants were. Right after the documentary aired, there were two accidents at French power plants and the polls showed that the French people changed their minds about loving nuclear power. NBC curiously did not report on the accidents.
Another problem posed by corporate ownership of media companies is the involvement of board members. When the model was first proposed in 1983, over 50% of board members of the ten largest media companies were either CEOs of other large companies or bank members. This means that news outlets are subject to influence not only from the top, but in all directions. For instance, CNN is owned by Time Warner. Time Warner's board of directors is composed of ten individuals including the presidents, chairmen, and CEOs of several other large companies. Just like the NBC example above, this creates a massive conflict of interest. Meredith Artley, the Editor in Chief of CNN, would have to be out of her mind to run any stories that are overtly critical of these companies or the people that run them. They sign her checks and would happily replace her with someone more cooperative in a heartbeat.
This shows that media outlets are not only beholden to the companies that directly own them, but also those companies that they involve themselves with. A terrifying application of this was realized when Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, purchased the Washington Post. According to this filter, the Post will now be unable to accurately cover Amazon or any companies that Amazon associates with, and one of these “companies” is the CIA, who Amazon has a $600 million contract with. When Amazon delivery drones are outed as CIA surveillance tools, you can be sure as hell you will not hear about it in the Washington Post.
Every major media company is publicly traded. They therefore have to worry about not only keeping CEO's and board members happy, but stockholders as well. These stockholders and board members do not care about producing quality news, they care about making money. Because editors and reporters are beholden to them, this must be their first priority as well. If sales, ratings, or views fall to that point that stock prices are brought down, there will be an outcry from the stockholders to fire editors and journalists, simple as that. This causes journalists and editors to revert to money-making practices that are absolutely antithetical to quality and ethical journalism. Think clickbait. Once reserved for the bottom of the barrel, it has since seeped into mainstream news websites due to the fact that such content tends to generate more revenue. This drive for profit will help nudge an editor to forego running a story about Trump's shady businesses dealings over another article called “Ten Times Donald Trump’s Hair Looked Like a Stray Animal: After Looking at Number 9 You Will Never See Your Cat the Same Way.” If he doesn't, his job might be in jeopardy.
The Advertising License to Do Business: The Second Filter
"We are here to serve advertisers. That is our raison d'etre."
- Michael H. Jordan, CEO of Westinghouse (now CBS) 1997
I used to wonder how Newspapers survived by selling papers for such low prices. It seemed impossible to me that a newspaper, even with a large circulation size, could ever make a profit while charging just 99 cents a copy. It turns out, I was right. It is impossible. The money made from sales alone does not come even close to generating the revenue it takes to keep a newspaper afloat. So how do newspapers survive? By selling advertisements. This is known as the “Advertising License to do Business.” It is called this because the media needs advertisers to be economically viable; without them they could not survive.
A further analysis of this relationship reveals a very grotesque, yet frequently overlooked, facet of the mass media: because the mass media does not actually profit by selling media to the public (newspapers, talk shows, etc), it follows that this is not their primary raison d'etre; they must exist to serve a different purpose. The actual goal of the mass media is not to sell anything to you, but rather to sell you and your buying power to businesses. If a media outlet wishes to survive, they must be able to meet the demand of these businesses.
A great way of understanding this is by looking at the demise of working class and populist newspapers. In 1960's Britain, for instance, three of the nation’s largest newspapers, all with social democratic leanings, the Daily Herald, News Chronicle, and Sunday Times went out of business or were bought out. Despite having a much larger reader share than their non-working class competitors, they received a much smaller advertisement share; they were selling tons of papers, advertisers simply did not want to do business with them, so they were unable to survive. Why did businesses not want to run ads in these newspapers? Because the people who bought them were working class and had meager incomes; trying to sell them stuff made no sense as they had little expendable income to buy anything. In other words, the readers that these newspapers were trying to sell made for crappy products. Because businesses have little interest in advertising to the lower class, information that may aid them is snuffed out.
Though it is unfortunate that working class newspapers, or other newspapers that do not run advertisement, struggle to survive, at least they live or die on their feet in accordance to their own principles. This is as opposed to most of the media that survives on their knees by striking a faustian bargain with advertisers. Yes, running advertisements gives the media life and the opportunity to thrive, but it also debases them, turning them into little more than sales catalogs.
The media is handcuffed to advertisers and is therefore forced to promote material that satisfies their business partners’ objectives of selling you products. This means that a media outlet, like a television channel, will preferentially air insubstantial and fluffy programming that promotes what Chomsky calls a “buying mood,” which primes you to make purchases, as opposed to more serious content that might disrupt this mood. Take the Bachelor, for example. It’s fun. It’s light. It’s entertaining. It certainly does not make you think too much or ask any existential questions. It also sets the perfect buying mood for the commercials that air. Admiring the beauty of the contestants makes you susceptible to a Pantene commercial. It might make you think about proposing to your girlfriend, so when a De Beers commercial pops on, you are that much more likely to bite. It tapes in exotic locations so it gets you thinking about purchasing a plane ticket, and wallah, in steps Expedia with a great new deal. What if the executives at ABC wanted to forego airing the Bachelor for one week and replace it with a special program raising awareness for a humanitarian issue? Even if they could promise high ratings, it would be infeasible. Their regular advertisers would never agree to buy ad time as a program like this would disrupt the buying mood. Would McDonald's want to promote their new Dollar Menu items during a program about starvation in Somalia? Would Macy's choose to announce a new product line in the middle of an examination of sweatshop working conditions? Would Ford even bother trying to sell you an F-150 when you just spent thirty minutes learning about carbon emissions? Obviously not. Because heavy thought provoking programs are not in line with the goals of advertisers, they get caught in this filter and never make it to air. Television channels have no choice but to promote tawdry and unprovocative programs that simply serve to keep you complacent and exploit your purchasing potential.
Sourcing Mass-Media News: The Third Filter
“..officials have and give the facts; reporters merely get them.”
- Mark Fishman
In the previous filter, we discussed how the media needs money from advertisers to survive. Financial sustenance is not the only outside resource that the media is dependent on, however. Besides money, the media also needs content, and they need a lot of it. For instance, between print and digital outlets, The Washington Post publishes 1200 stories, graphics, and videos per day. Just including the six days a week their print newspaper is circulated, that’s over 370,000 news items per year. To meet this demand, the media must turn to the only sources capable of producing newsworthy content in this volume: the government and corporations.
The government and large corporations are uniquely capable of satisfying the media’s demand for voluminous information to synthesize into news content, or as media critic Mark Fishman says, “only other bureaucracies can satisfy the input needs of a news bureaucracy.” Take the Air Force, for instance. In 1979, their official magazine had a 125,000 copy circulation, they published 45,000 pieces of headquarters and unit news releases, conducted 6,600 media interviews and 3,200 news conferences, gave 11,000 speeches, and took meetings with 50 editorial boards. Any media outlet could satisfy its content threshold just by relying on this information. As Chomsky says, these large, powerful sources “subsidize” the media. Just like the problems posed by the media’s reliance on their corporate ownership and advertisers though, this reliance on powerful sources too creates a conflict of interest which is the subject of the third filter: Sourcing Mass Media News.
Lets use an analogy to try and understand the vast scope of problems that this filter poses.
You are a reporter assigned a story about the state of the economy. You use your press credentials to gain access to the daily White House Press Secretary's press conference. You raise your hand, are called on, and ask if there has been economic growth or decline in the past year. The Press Secretary answers that the economy has grown five percent and that unemployment is down three percent. Using this statement, you go home with the intention to write your story with the angle that the economy is on the rise. Before you can begin typing though, you receive a text from a contact at an independent government watch group. He saw the press conference and contends that the answer you received was bogus. The economy is actually on the decline. Growth is not up, but actually down four percent and unemployment is up 5 percent rather than down as the Press Secretary reported.
What do you do?
According to this filter, because of your reliance on the government as source, you will ultimately write the story with the angle of economic growth.
Why? There are several reasons.
1. The media needs to appear objective and factual. Whether or not the information that the Press Secretary reported actually is factual, it is at least ostensibly so. A reader is more likely to believe an official White House statement over some watch group they have never heard of. In addition, you know that every other news outlet will report economic growth. By publishing a story counter to that of other news outlets, it may appear that you are just trying to stir up controversy. In pursuit of ostensible objectivity, you will be forced to take the Secretary at his word and write the story about economic growth.
2. You are on a deadline and your story is due in five hours. You already have the statement from the Press Secretary, a few great sound bites, and even the official press report corroborating the statement the White House just put out. Using this information, you can get your story into your editor with time to spare. Investigating the claim of your contact, though, would take up a lot of time and might even cause you to miss your deadline. You would have to set up an interview, find statistics to corroborate the claim, and maybe even spend time arguing with your editor, trying to explain why you don't believe the White House Report. Because of time constraints, you will be more likely to write the story about economic growth which is simpler and less time consuming.
3. The White House is the gatekeeper of crucial information and they are very selective about who is given access to press conferences. They tend to give preference to reporters or outlets that report news the way they want it to be, and have full authority to take away your access at a drop of a hat. Contradicting their report will likely upset those in charge of giving media clearance and your clearance, along with the clearance of your entire newspaper, could be in jeopardy. Even if your privileges are not revoked, the Press Secretary might be more skeptical about choosing to call on you next time you raise your hand. This would mean less access to crucial, reportable material, which your newspaper needs to survive. (As I am typing this, it has been reported that Press Secretary Sean Spicer banned CNN, the New York Times, and Politico from White House press briefings. More supportive outlets, like Fox and Breitbart, were allowed to stay ). Because the White House acts as a gatekeeper of information, you will need to write the story about economic growth or your access to future information might be cut off.
4. Your newspaper publishes over 1000 stories per day. The government and corporations are the only sources that can provide enough information to meet this demand. Here are the Air Force press statistics again. 25,000 copy circulation, 45,000 headquarters and unit news releases, 6,600 media interviews, 3,200 news conferences, 11,000 speeches, 50 editorial board meetings. Contrast the volume of information released by the government with that of an alternate, non-profit source, one that may provide more balanced information, that of the “American Friends Service Committee.” In 1984, they had a staff of just eleven people, a budget of $500,000, held just 30 press conferences, and released just 200 press reports. The watch group that your contact works for is likely even less substantial. Relying on non-official sources would not allow your newspaper to meet its publishing goals, therefor you will be more likely to write the story relying on the Press Secretary's information, as it would not be pragmatic to make a practice of doing otherwise.
The end result of this is that you will write the story about economic growth. Your paper benefits by being able to publish a story and maintain good standing with their source, but the government , however, is the true benefactor here. A trusted media source is writing a positive story with their preferred angle. The government does not need to write its own propaganda,the journalist, is doing it for them.
I have to admit one inaccuracy in this analogy, the part about receiving a dissenting text from your source. Though journalists do solicit the opinions of credible individuals, people that Chomsky calls “Experts,” outside the official realm, it is very unlikely that they would provide information contrary to what the White House released. This is because corporations and the government act as “kingmakers” in the sense that they decide who is considered an expert and who is not. The fact that someone is considered credible suggests that they are in tacit collusion with those in power.
Think for a second some qualifications of a public policy “expert.”
1. They would have an extensive research resume.
2. They might work for a public policy think tank
3. They have authored books in the field
4. They make frequent media appearances where they discuss their ideas.
Now read those again, but consider these facts.
1. The government and corporations often fund research. Research critical of those powers will have a harder time getting funded. Therefore, it is likely that an expert either receives research funding from corporations or the government (including research done at public universities which is obviously paid for by the government) or that the very fact that he has been able to publish research suggests that said research is in line with corporate and government interests.
2. Think tanks are often owned by corporations or receive corporate funding. For instance, the Brookings Institute, a very respected economic policy think tank, recently promoted an $8 billion plan by the home development company Lennar Corporation, which aimed to revitalize a part of San Francisco through construction. Curiously, the Brookings Institute had just received a $ 400,000 donation from the Lenner corporation. They named a Lennar executive a Senior Fellow for the institution. Although think tanks moonlight as unbiased sources, they are often corporate or government tools.
3. The five largest publishing companies are all owned by corporations. Simon and Schuster is owned by CBS, Harper Collins by Fox, Penguin Random House by the multinational corporations Bertelsmann and Pearson, Hachette Book Group by the multinational media conglomerate Lagardère, and Macmillan Publishers by Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. These publishers are much more likely to publish books that are in line with their corporate interests, so an expert that is given a book deal likely carries this bias. If they didn't. it would be unlikely for them to have received one in the first place.
4. An expert gains credibility by garnering media appearances, but as we have discussed, almost all media outlets are owned by corporations. Media outlets will give preference to guests that hold views in line with their corporate interests. A person with conflicting ideas would be unlikely to be given the time of day.
Through these examples, we see that most “experts,” are considered so because of tacit government or corporate approval. It is therefore very hard to find information deemed credible that is not being espoused by individuals with pro-government and corporate agendas.
The most important implication of this filter is that because powerful sources control the outflow of information, they are able to manipulate what ultimately gets reported on. If the government wants a particular topic covered, they merely have to release reports about it and hold interviews, which the media, with their need of satisfying content output, is all too happy to report on. If there is something they would rather stay off the front page, they simply need to not talk about it. Author Stephen L. Vaughn has written that this manipulation is actually an official government strategy, saying that they “discovered in 1917–18 that one of the best means of controlling news was flooding news channels with ‘facts,’ or what amounted to official information.”
Through media reliance on powerful entities for sourcing, both parties win. Those in power get the exact information they want out to the public: heavily biased information that is taken for fact. The media has no issue disseminating this dubious information because, through reliance on these sources, they can write or air countless stories with relative ease. We, the readers, lose, however. News critical of sources gets stuck in the filter and that which makes it through much more closely resembles propaganda rather than news.
Flak and Other Enforcers: The Fourth Filter
“If attacked on some vulnerable point by anyone or anything or any organization, always find or manufacture enough threat against them to cause them to sue for peace. Don't ever defend. Always attack.”
- L. Ron Hubbard
In America, the First amendment guarantees freedom of press. This means that the press has a right to report information free from meddling governmental interference. Freedom of press in the USA is consistently ranked relatively high ( typically between the top 20-40 in the world) so it is clear that this is a freedom taken seriously. The government allowing dissenting information to be published, however, is not the same as letting it go completely undiscouraged or unchallenged. The US government employs various techniques to mitigate or suppress information that does not align with their interests. Chomsky refers to this as “flak” and it is the subject of the fourth filter: Flak and Other Enforcers.
Chomsky defines flak as the following:
“(the) negative responses to a media statement or program. It may take the form of letters, telegrams, phone calls, petitions, lawsuits, speeches and bills before Congress, and other modes of complaint, threat, and punitive action. It may be organized centrally or locally, or it may consist of the entirely independent actions of individuals.”
In the internet age especially, we see a lot of this. People seem all too eager to react negatively to media reports of all kind, and it can be very injurious to a media source. Flak can inspire boycotts of the outlets, negative press, and it can even cause advertisers to withdraw business. The flak inspired by individuals, is not what Chomsky focuses on, however. He primarily discusses the specific ways that those in a position of power use their vast resources to manufacture flak as a way to discredit or harass the media and keep them in line.
The powerful employ flak in both direct or indirect means. Examples of direct flak include statements or phone calls to the media from the White House, the FCC demanding documents or sources used for a contentious report, or from ad agencies and corporations demanding “reply time or threatening retaliation.” Most of the filter is concerned with indirect flak, however. The primary method of employing this kind of flak is by organizing and using think tanks and watch groups to attack the media. Chomsky lists several institutions, such as the American Legal Foundation, the Capital Legal Foundation, the Media Institute, the Center for Media and Public Affairs, and Accuracy in Media, that, despite moonlighting as unbiased partisan organizations, are in truth no more than corporate funded flak manufacturers.
The American Legal Foundation specialized in upholding the “Fairness Doctrine.” The Fairness Doctrine was a policy introduced by the FCC in 1949 that demanded balanced coverage of issues. It forced the media to present both sides of contentious issues. If a news channel chose to dedicate time to criticizing government policy, they would also have to dedicate time to counter arguments. On the surface level, this seems like a fair practice, but it was used by the government to mitigate the damage that dissenting views would cause by obliging that their views also be discussed. The American Legal Foundation, sponsored by the government, made their bones by advancing this agenda.
In regards to the “Accuracy in Media” organization, Chomsky says that its function “is to harass the media and put pressure on them to follow the corporate agenda of a hard-line, right-wing foreign policy. It presses the media to join more enthusiastically in Red-scare band-wagons, and attacks them for alleged deficiencies whenever they fail to toe the line on foreign policy. It conditions the media to expect trouble (and cost increases) for violating right-wing standards of bias.”
A very controversial aspect of US government foreign policy is its involvement in foreign elections. The government often uses its influence to help US backed officials get elected. Though this practice is dubious and can be subject to media criticism, government funded organizations are often used to promote these practices and criticize the media when they call them into question. The government funded NGO “Freedom House,” for instance, sent monitors to the 1979 US backed Rhodesian election and declared them “fair.” A subsequent election ,held under British supervision,elected a different Prime Minister, which they declared questionable. In addition, they found a 1982 El Salvadorian election, which elected a US backed president, “Admirable.” Freedom house also sponsored a notable book, “Big Story” by journalist Peter Braestrup, which blamed negative media coverage during the Vietnam War as the reason the US lost the conflict. Chomsky calls assertion “a travesty of scholarship,” but this flak helps influence popular skepticism of media coverage that is critical of US foreign policy.
Flak manufactured by corporations and the government make it hard for the media to report objectively and honestly, as it calls their credibility into question. Because of this, in some cases it is easier for the media to keep dissenting views to themselves. If they wish to report them despite the threat of flak, they will have to deal with being assailed and possibly spend precious time and money defending their contentious views.
Anticommunism as a Control Mechanism: The Fifth Filter
“...if people are frightened, they will accept authority.”
- Noam Chomsky
Though it was first introduced in 1988, the principles of the Propaganda Model have primarily withstood the test of time. The fifth filter, however, is a bit antiquated. It focuses on using the fear inspired by communism as a means to galvanize the public into uniform thinking and acquiescence of pertinent government policy. Though the use of communism specifically is no longer as relevant today as it was during the Cold War when the model was published, the general assertions of the filter still hold true when examined in a broader sense: when made afraid of a common enemy, people become very pliable and susceptible to influence and propaganda.
Fear is a potent selling point and the media understands this. They help capitalize on fear to sell papers or gain viewers. While the media sows fear among the public to advance their agenda, the government is able to reap it. When people are afraid, skepticism and distrust of the government is replaced with reliance and complacency, and they become less critical of government action that they would otherwise question.
Take 9/11, for instance. After the attack on the Twin Towers, the American public was absolutely mortified and faith was placed in the government to restore order. The government was able to capitalize on this and pass the questionably-legal Patriot Act, which greatly broadened government power. In 2002, 47% of Americans believed that the government should take all steps necessary to stop terrorism, even if civil liberties are violated. Just a year later, when public sentiment began to calm, however, the number was down to 33%. At this point, though, it was too late and the act had already taken effect. During a typical political climate, the public may have objected more to this widespread government power grab, but the government was able to take advantage of the fear promoted by the media to advance their agenda.
The name “Patriot Act” is very much in line with the way the government and media choose to push their agenda; by objecting to it, one is asking to be called “unpatriotic.” When the media dolls out criticism of those who do not support government policy, they do the government’s job for them.
Even before 9/11, the Bush administration stated interest in invading Iraq. The fear inspired by the attacks, though, gave the administration sufficient support to start the war. Though in hindsight the war has largely been considered a colossal blunder, it received widespread support at the time, and the media is complicit in inspiring this. At the time of the invasion, 71% of American media sources openly supported the war, while only a meager 3% opposed it. Without media justification, the government may not have been able to pull the trigger. The media harnessed the fear of the public and, inadvertently or not, helped advance the government agenda.