When was the last time you watched the news and didn’t feel sad or scared? The majority of the mainstream news is constantly going on about death, terrorism, and hate. It appears that the mainstream news has an obsession with fear mongering. Fear mongering, the use of scare tactics to influence the behavior of people, has run rampant in our society, and it has left those who have noticed to ask why. The answer, surprisingly, is not that complicated, but to find the answer we must first look at the goal of any society.
The goal of any society is to create ideal conditions for all of its population. This utopian dream, as it appears to me, can never come fruition, however. This is due to the fact that everyone’s ideal conditions depend upon how they see the world, their perspective. For example, for the very rich, we may already be living in what they would consider to be a utopia. They have all the money and resources that they could ever want, meaning they have power, and if there is anything I have learned from George Orwell’s 1984, it is that “power is not a means; it is an end.”
So what does this have to do with fear mongering? Well, those with power can have a very large influence on the media. Since those with power control most of the things we see in the news, they have the ability to spread whatever information they want, regardless of how true that information is. In the case of the mainstream news, those in power decide to use scare tactics, using fear as a tool to get us to agree with what they want to do. When we agree with what the powerful, or ruling class, want to do, it reinforces the power that the ruling class has over us.
Possibly the most notorious example of the media’s use of fear mongering occurred in the build up to the United States entering the war in Iraq in 2003. In his article “Media’s Failure on Iraq Still Stings”, Howard Kurtz writes, “From August 2002 through the March 19, 2003, launch of the war, I found more than 140 front-page stories that focused heavily on administration rhetoric against Iraq: ‘Cheney Says Iraqi Strike Is Justified’; ‘War Cabinet Argues for Iraq Attack’; ‘Bush Tells United Nations It Must Stand Up to Hussein or U.S. Will’; ‘Bush Cites Urgent Iraqi Threat’; ‘Bush Tells Troops: Prepare for War.’ By contrast, pieces questioning the evidence or rationale for war were frequently buried, minimized or spiked.”
This is a perfect example of members of the ruling class, in this case the Bush-Cheney administration, using the media as an apparatus through which to spread fear in order to get people to do what they want. This obviously isn’t the only example of the use of fear mongering in the media. Another great example comes from the 2016 election cycle, especially with Donald Trump. Perhaps Trump’s most infamous use of fear mongering was directed at Mexicans, when he said, “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” This type of rhetoric was designed to get people to fear Mexicans. Trump realized that he could use his power, his time on TV and in the media, to spread this fear, and if people fear Mexicans, they will support his policy of building a wall on the border.
So now that we can see how fear mongering works and why it’s used, we must ask ourselves another important question: why does it matter whether or not those with power use fear tactics in the media?
As I discussed earlier, the goal of any society is to create ideal conditions for the entirety of its population. While we may not be able to create “ideal” conditions for everyone, we can certainly create fair and good conditions for the entire population. Fear mongering discourages the creation of these conditions through distraction. By this I mean to say that instead of focusing on issues which could help to create a better society for everyone, we are too focused on the things that we fear. Since one would expect the recent presidential debates to be a reflection of the most popular topics discussed regarding the United States, we will look to these debates as an indicator as what is being discussed in the mainstream media. For example, Clinton has brought up the issue of Trump having access to nuclear codes multiple times in an attempt to scare voters into voting for her.
The debates have featured a lot of attacks on each candidate’s personal character, each of them trying to discredit the “fitness” of the other. This has let many issues fall at the wayside, including topics such as education, which, in my opinion, is one of the most important topics to be discussed, as education could actually help to create a better society for everyone, except for ruling class.
According to the article “The U.S. Literacy Rate Hasn’t Changed in 10 Years” from the The Huffington Post, a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy found that 14% of the U.S. population cannot read, 21% of adults read below a fifth grade level, and 19% of high school graduates cannot read. This issue has not been brought up in the debates once, and I have never heard it mentioned anywhere within the mainstream media, despite the fact that this appears to be a pretty large problem, one that will certainly deter our country from being able to create fair and good conditions for everyone.
The fact of the matter is, however, that the ruling class largely determines what is shown and discussed in the media, and a 100% literacy rate does nothing to cement their status as the ruling class. In fact, if anything, it is likely in the interest of the ruling class that less people are literate, because it allows them to be manipulated much easier, and if large groups of people can be easily manipulated, it becomes easier for the ruling class to cement their social status. The more people that become educated, the more we will see a change in social structures which is exactly what the ruling class would like to prevent.
While all of this may sound pretty depressing, and it may seem as though the odds of creating fair and good conditions for our entire population are insurmountable, we should not give up hope. Instead, we should voice our opinions, so long as they are rational and well thought-out, through platforms other than the mainstream media. In the digital age, we have a lot of resources which we can use in order to stand up to the ruling class and the mainstream media. Through these resources, persistence, and maybe even a little luck, perhaps one day we will be able to have rational discussions not based on fear and the desires of the ruling class but based on logic and the desires of our population as a whole.