Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cognitive Infiltration For The Masses

James F. Tracy
Activist Post

On March 18, 2014 Cass Sunstein released his latest collection of essays, Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas.[1] Like his other works geared toward a mainstream readership, the prominent Harvard law professor, former Obama administration regulatory czar, and NSA advisor [2] points to numerous alleged dangers posed by even “rational people” who are susceptible to adopting “crippled epistemologies.” What Sunstein fails to explain throughout his most recent medley of gentle authoritarianism is how the “conspiracy theory” term has received vigorous promotion from the editorial practices of certain major corporate news media.

“Conspiracy theory” is not merely a flippant or off-handed water cooler term, but rather a powerful tool of political discourse. “Deployed as a pejorative putdown,” political scientist Lance deHaven-Smith observes,
the label is a verbal defense mechanism used by political elites to suppress mass suspicions that inevitably arise when shocking political crimes benefit top leaders or play into their agendas, especially when those same officials are in control of agencies responsible for preventing events in question or for investigating them after they have occurred.[3]
Along these lines, “conspiracy theory” and its common variants, “assassination buff,” “crackpot,” “wacko,” and so on, were essentially interpolated into news reports and commentary in the late 1960s by CIA media assets as the agency maneuvered to bolster the Warren Commission’s “lone assassin” explanation of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

When confronted in 2012, Sunstein does not “remember very well” co-authoring a 2008 paper, “Conspiracy Theories,” the namesake of his most recent book.

Only in the past forty years or so has the label become an especially salient discursive technique for channeling political dialogue and inquiry. From the late 1800s through the first half of the 1900s the phrase can seldom be found in news discourse. A search of the Historical New York Times database finds that “conspiracy theory” is used 30 times between 1870 and 1960, often in accounts of criminal court proceedings. Yet from 1960 to 1969 alone there are 46 instances of the term’s usage in Times articles. Since 1970, it is invoked in over 1,700 pieces, with a peak between 2000 and 2009 (728).[4]

Today the pejorative not only acts as a disciplinary measure–journalists and scholars alike fear such a trenchant smear–but also as a technique to shape information and analysis. It serves as a more-than-subtle way of saying, “Look here, not there,” thereby guiding readers and viewers to place their reasoning faculties in abeyance and adopt what are often uncritical and even misleading modes of substantiation and conclusion. While this phenomenon is clearly demonstrable in print news media, it is also widespread in US-based cable and broadcast news.

A LexisNexis search of news program transcripts for the dates March 1, 2011 to March 1, 2014 reveals 2,469 usages of the “conspiracy theory/theories” term. Probing the surveyed time span reveals CNN (586 transcripts) and MSNBC (382) as the foremost purveyors of the phrase, with Fox News (182) a distant third. The US government’s transcript service, US Federal News, comes in at fourth, suggesting persistent strategic usage of the label at federal government press conferences and similar functions to drive home official positions and dispel challenges to them. Programming on National Public Radio ranks fifth, with 115 instances.

The following is a breakdown of the cable or broadcast outlet/program referencing “conspiracy theory” or “conspiracy theories” in transcript text within the aforementioned three-year span.

CNN Transcripts - 586
Global Broadcast Database (local broadcast transcripts) - 416
MSNBC - 382
Fox News - 182
US Federal News - 144
National Public Radio - 116
Australian Broadcasting Corporation - 71
NBC News - 67
Congressional Quarterly Transcripts - 57
ABC News - 55
CTV TV (Canada) - 55
CBS News – 54
CNN International - 48
Imus Simulcast - 39
Financial Market Regulatory Wire - 31
PBS News Hour - 21
Bloomberg: Surveillance Show - 17
Congressional Quarterly Testimony - 16
The Charlie Rose Show - 15
Follow the Money - 14
Euro News - 13
Lou Dobbs Tonight – 12
Cavuto – 8

To be more conclusive, the specific contexts in which the term is mobilized might be more fully examined and delineated. An argument may also be waged that this metric is not exactly proper given the dissimilar breadth of content produced by each outlet. After all, a 24-hour cable news channel such as CNN simply has far more “news hole” to fill than a daily one-hour broadcast like PBS News Hour or Charlie Rose.

Yet even here the variances are telling. For example, when comparing domestic CNN transcripts to those of the channel’s counterpart, CNN International, the former uses the term over twelve times as frequently. Such findings suggest the execution of a clear-cut editorial policy to fulfill certain propaganda-related ends–indeed, not unlike the Central Intelligence Agency’s usage of the term to combat alternative interpretations of President Kennedy’s assassination.

Along these lines, further examination of the data sample distinguishes how even news personalities’ bylines are correlated with frequent employment of the “conspiracy theory” label. Searching within the same data set, transcripts with CNN Anderson Cooper’s byline possess the highest incidence of the expression (81), with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Al Sharpton tied for second place (77), and Piers Morgan (38) ranking third. CNN’s Erin Burnett and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tie for fourth. Ostensibly conservative Fox News personalities Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity use the expression less frequently.

Anderson Cooper (CNN) - 81
Rachel Maddow (MSNBC) - 77
Al Sharpton (MSNBC) - 77
Piers Morgan (CNN) - 38
Erin Burnett (CNN) - 31
Chris Hayes (MSNBC) - 31
Sean Hannity (Fox News) - 29
Bill O’Reilly (Fox News) – 19

With the exception of ABC (Australia) and CTV (Canada), all of the outlets are US-based, suggesting how the American population, well known for its limited historical comprehension and political sophistication, is expressly targeted with repeated usage of the “conspiracy theory” phrase. A population relying on sensation, caricature, and hearsay to understand national and world affairs has already forsaken its freedom. It is perhaps ironic that CNN and MSNBC in particular cater to audiences that see themselves as open-minded and “liberal”–indeed, the opposite of cunning technocrats such as Sunstein. At the same time, if these two networks’ continually depressed ratings are any indication, the public is becoming more and more skeptical of how it is being patronized.[5]

A most profound political act any individual can undertake may involve adopting a basic regimen of intellectual self-defense that would include an increased awareness of the “conspiracy theory” label itself and a resolve to assess the term’s utilization vis-√°-vis the context in which it is employed, in an effort to better determine what it seeks to obscure, legitimate, and redirect attention to.

[1] Cass Sunstein, Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014.
[2] “America’s Joseph Goebbels to Serve on NSA Oversight Panel,” Liberty Blitzkrieg, August 25, 2013.
[3] Lance deHaven-Smith, Conspiracy Theory in America, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013, 9.
[4] See also deHaven-Smith, 126-131.
[5] “Key Indicators in Media & News,” Pew Research Journalism Project, March 26, 2014.

This article first appeared at MemoryHoleBlog.com, the official blog of Dr. James Tracy.

This article may be re-posted in full with attribution.


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Anonymous said...

And the frontrunning of equity trading (illegal since the Securities Act of 1934) now called high frequency trading platforms was a conspiracy theory until it became conspiracy truth.

Anonymous said...

Has worked very well. Who wants to be labeled a crazy? Kinda like being called an "antee-semight".

Anonymous said...

Great piece by Dr. James Tracy and great timing given TPTB's recent shift into a much more aggressive and complex infowar churning out mountains of disinfo from the MSM and gatekeeper alternative news organizations. Limited hangouts are becoming much less limited, thus blurring the lines of propaganda and real analysis. Individual gatekeeper agents are burrowing deeply into legitimate alternative media.

It's time these tactics backfire as segments of the Truth and Activist community respond with steep learning curves and the propaganda juggernaut finally implodes when it reaches terminal impact with the law of diminishing returns.

Anonymous said...

The fastest thinkspeak for undermining credibility is to smear a person's comments as a "conspiracy theory". 90 percent of the population will discredit the speaker immediately, and 88 percent will never reflect back on what they discounted. The brainwashing of this politically correct/ disinformation tactic is very successful and constantly used as part of the ceaseless mind control.

Anonymous said...

It was Sun Tzu who opined that an enemy is best disarmed by using his own momentum against him; thus, one should never deny the CT term, but rather, accept it, and then conclusively prove its legitimacy, thus turning it from theory into fact.
I was interested to note that nowhere in these lists of agencies utilizing the CT term was to be found the estimable BBC; which is no less a government propaganda tool than the various US outlets mentioned. Perhaps this is explained by the fact that the British are far less exposed to alternative viewpoints than Americans are, and thus they do not need to have their delicate sensibilities disturbed from a wholesale belief in the mainstream viewpoint, which in my experience at least, they are almost universally afflicted by.

Anonymous said...

I can count how many Conspiracy Theories have turned or are turning into Conspiracy Facts. Check the news anywhere. NSA doesn't spy on us or our phone calls, IRS doesn't pick and choose who is satisfactory as a political group........GMO food is good for you, no different than natural or organic foods....Those are plane Contrails......

Wake up, Wake up, Wake up, Wake up!!!!!

Conspiracy Theory my a**!!!!!!!!!!!!

I happen to just love folks who put it all on the line for others!

The "Nuts" have a deep need to share awful information with the world because they are worried, scared, afraid of the world we are creating for ourselves. It is not like they enjoy being classified as a "nut". They are trying to tell you something you should be aware about, question and research. It is important enough to take on the label of "nut". ( (Some "nuts" truly care what is in your newborn babies vaccinations, they really do care)!!!

I wish cranky others, would not deny so quickly. Remember, that a fair amount of us who have the time and have researched, are trying to enlighten you, inform you of what we know that is directly affecting your life and family! We would rather not be disregarded but appreciated.

Save the eye rolling and instead, open your ears and give a moment to the person who cares about you; the person who is risking themselves worried that your going to think of them from now on as a "nut."

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