When I started Sphere College Project over seven years ago, one of my key reasons for doing so was to illuminate the fact that the media is among the most compelling social force in America today. Why? Because the majority of Americans get their information (synonymous with “education” for many folks today) from these media sources – 55% from television and 21% from the Internet, according to a 2013 Gallup poll.(1)
As I frequently point out in my classes, a good portion of the American media is “owned” and controlled by a few corporations; most sources in a general Google search about the subject point to six organization (GE, NewsCorp (Rupert Murdock), Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS). The amount of the market the Big 6 own is uncertain – some put the percentage of ownership as high as 90%, which is highly questionable, other analyses point closer to 50%. Without taking time away from the development of Sphere to conduct meticulous research, I’d rather focus on the point at hand: Televised news has an undeniable influence on our perspectives, and its effects are far more reaching than most of us realize.
What most people think of as news is actually “rhetoric” – the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, and it is arguably the most egregious, insidious aspect of the media today. Famed political consultant and strategist, Frank Luntz, described his specialty in a PBS interview as “testing language and finding words that will help his clients sell their product or turn public opinion on an issue or a candidate.”(2) In the same interview, he noted that his job revolves around exploiting the emotional content of language: “It’s all emotion. But there’s nothing wrong with emotion. When we are in love, we are not rational; we are emotional…. my job is to look for the words that trigger the emotion…. We know that words and emotion together are the most powerful force known to mankind.”(3)
If you watched or listened to any of the election news coverage, you well know that the media thrives on emotion; and what sparks emotion more than controversy, divisiveness, and separatism? That’s the point, when we are emotional we are not rational; we become entrenched, closed down, and fixed. Is it any wonder why our society is so divided today?
So what does it take to be rational? In part, a broader perspective that is only available through education. This is what we are up to at Sphere. We believe that through investigation, not rhetoric, and inquiry rather than emotion, along with a little bit of searching into our cooperative nature that there is a whole lot that we could accomplish together, regardless of who holds office.
(2) “Interview Frank Luntz”. PBS Frontline. Retrieved 2007-03-23. Sourced from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Luntz