Chapter Title Describes Me

Chapter 2 Unworthy Victims

The first paragraph is a doozy. It first summarizes People abused in enemy state are worthy victims, while those in client states are treated as unworthy. Then the final two sentences: “While this differential treatment occurs on a large scale, the media, intellectuals, and public are able to remain unconscious of the fact and maintain a high moral and self-righteous tone. This is evidence of an extremely effective propaganda system.” In other words virtually everyone has been hypnotized, but they don’t know it. I’m guessing that a few powerful people have brainwashed everyone. But this isn’t a conspiracy theory.

The first case: a Polish priest murdered by the police. This garnered much more coverage than many murders in South America. What’s more the killers of the Polish priest were brought to trial, while many of the South America murderers escaped justice.

Romero’s murder in El Salvador is described. Several church leaders describe a panic started by bombs thrown from the national palace, although this is never reported in NYT or elsewhere. There is only one citation in the article, that of the then-US ambassador, who blames the left. False information is conveyed to the press by the US government. The murder appeared to have been covered up. The likely murderer escaped justice, and eventually became president of the Salvadoran legislature.

The second case: Four Salvadoran Churchwomen murdered, which was inconvenient to the Carter administration. Later, the Reagan administration lied about the deaths, although I’m not clear if lie here means simply false statement, or if there was intensional deception. Since it is the government I would assume that it was intensional. There was a trial in this case, and convictions, but probably not all of the perpetrators.

The press coverage was muted. Lydia Chavez, of the NYT attended the trial, and the medical evidence was not presented. The media relied heavily on senior official of the US and Salvadoran governments. Claims were made that they were “victims of mindless, increasing violence” in the Salvador. When evidence mounts that the national guard was responsible, the national guard is made distinct from the government. John Dinges actually does some investigation and finds plans for the murder by high level officials. This is ignored by much of the media, although it did appear in several high profile outlets. It would have been interesting to examine the verbiage used in Dinges articles to see if it conformed to the rest of the unworthy victims story.

Both the Salvador and US government appear to have been involved in cover-ups. Convictions are obtained essentially by paying off the Salvador government. The last sentence is a funny statement about the press :”Newsweek sticks to an official source, and misreads it.” There’s no excuse for misreading things.

Third case: 23 religious victims in Guatemala. A brief review is given of the US overthrowing the democratic government. Thousands were killed by the new regime. America Watch and others document the Guatemalan murders. The press gives little notice to these, and when it does report them it does so in a passive manner, and also gives time to State department responses.

GAM was formed to find redress for victims. After pressing too hard, several were tortured and then murdered.

I hadn’t heard any of these stories prior to reading the book. They were interesting. In the context of the model, I wish that they had talked to the reporters. There is only so much you can get from frequencies of certain words. You can ask what the government sources told them and how they requested that the stories be shaped. Without that, it is more speculative than it needs to be. They also didn’t describe the verbiage used in the one piece of reporting done that was independent of government sources. This was the one non-lazy reporter described in the chapter, who found proof that the Salvador murder happened.

The language used to describe the “unworthies” was much more immediate than the language used to describe the murdered priest in Poland. Possibly this is because they felt that they should make up for the lack of passion shown for the unworthy victims in the media.

Now I will analyze these stories with a model I call The Lazy Model. The model is named after myself. And some lazy reporters. Mostly the reporters. I’m assuming in this model that reporters are lazy. Since I’m lazy I’m going to make a lot of simplifying assumptions throughout the analysis. I’m also going to assume that the government acts as a unit. This is a major simplification, since the government is huge and has a lot of moving parts and individuals all have their own agenda, but from the end of WWII the government has been consistently anti-communist. I don’t think that anyone doubts that Reagan was sincere in his anti-communism, so I will assume that the government as a whole is anti-communist.

The first question to ask is, what is the marginal value to each of a newspaper of a story about a catholic dying in a foreign country. In other words, how many more papers would a newspaper sell by running these stories. Most people will buy the paper anyway if it has a sports section and Marmaduke, but some will be more interested based on these particular stories. This will differ from paper to paper. Local papers with large Polish constituencies would be more interested in the Polish story, likewise the Salvador story and the others. Certainly one would expect that a cardinal getting murdered would garner more coverage than a priest, cetaris paribus, and American women getting murdered would get more attention than foreign men. Of course, things aren’t equal. Being that all the unworthies were in South America, a place with a wild, lawless reputation, while the priest was in Europe, the cradle of civilization. Still, my own estimation is that the stories would rank
1)Cardinal
2)Women
3)Priest
4)GAM
You may have a different ordering.

How would this be different if the newspapers weren’t supported by advertising? If the papers had the same format (National News, Business, Sports, World News) then I doubt there would be much difference. If advertising somehow led to less bundling of the news, then obviously the world news papers would gain.

The analysis is different for broadcast TV. Since broadcast tv is restricted by government license they can extract rents from their oligopoly. At the time the networks dedicated maybe an hour a day to network news and hour a day to local news, I think. I can’t really estimate the marginal value to a TV station of supplying this news. It would seem that if any one network broadcast the story the others would avoid it, since there is so much news that is worthy of coverage, and only an hour a day to fill. If broadcast TV wasn’t commercial, then I don’t know what business model they would have. If no one is paying for the time then how do you analyze the marginal value of the story?

At this point I will point out another major assumption that I am making. I assume that if a news story doesn’t contain anything new then the marginal value goes from small to almost zero. I base this on the fact that on every TV show or movie with reporters everyone hates to get “scooped”.

This comes into play in analyzing the reporters. Virtually everything that was reported to them came from official US government sources. The government has vast resources, and is able to use those resources to give all of the sources a little bit of new information, enough so that each story written is news. Since the government is a given source of news, the reporters don’t really need to do any work. They can just write down what their govie tells them. Why wouldn’t they work harder for more story? It’s the same reason many people don’t walk up an escalator. Putting in additional effort doesn’t produce much benefit. Risking your life to get more information about a murder when you already have a story and walking up escalators when you’ll get to the top soon anyway doesn’t have a great payoff. Marginal analysis works. And the story will be printed the way the government wants it to.

Looking at the five filters it appears that only two apply, Sourcing Mass Media News, and Anti-communism.

It is interesting to think about what have been reported had none of these filters been in place. My guess is that much less would have been reported about all of these cases. They are simply too far away and remote from most Americans lives to be worth the value of sending multitudes of reporters overseas to generate that news.

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5 Responses to “Chapter Title Describes Me”

  1. Jon Says:

    I have little to say here because truthfully I’m not sure I get you. But let me just say this much anyway. With regards to your comment here:

    “The first question to ask is, what is the marginal value to each of a newspaper of a story about a catholic dying in a foreign country. In other words, how many more papers would a newspaper sell by running these stories.”

    You should not equate value with increase in paper sales. It is part of the value, but not all of the value. The goal of a newspaper is not to sell copies. It is to sell advertising. If increasing the circulation achieves that then you do it, but other things can do it. Like simply reporting news that is worth publicizing to the advertisers even if the public doesn’t care.

    Emphasizing stories of dead priests in El Salvador may or may not be interesting to the American public, but it’s definitely not something the Chamber of Commerce wants because the responsible party is a right wing thug military dictatorship that is giving US based corporations profitable conditions through violence. So they want to sustain those regimes. On the other hand Poland under Soviet domination does not live under conditions favorable to US corporate interest, so installing a new regime that creates profitable conditions is a goal for US corporate interest. Emphasizing stories that promote fear for that regime is useful to advertisers. Edward Bernays explained this method with regards to overthrowing the democratically elected government in Guatemala. Corporations didn’t like the democratically elected government but Americans wouldn’t be interested in overthrowing them with violence. So Bernays suggested that we paint them as in league with the Communists and scary. This made it possible to install another dictatorship there, with genocidal consequences and increased profits for the United Fruit Company.

    So there’s plenty of value in telling stories of dead priests in Poland even if the value is not in the increased circulation.

    • darfferrara Says:

      Increased paper sales and increased viewership almost directly relate to the profit generated. Unless you can show that certain companies pay to have stories written about certain dead Catholics, and pay to have stories about other dead Catholics suppressed, it would be hard for me to believe. The fact that you talk about corporations (plural) when in the case of United Fruit Company it was a single corporation leads me to believe that you want to believe that there is a conspiracy, rather than there being any evidence that corporations are pressing the stories.

  2. Jon Says:

    Increased paper sales and increased viewership almost directly relate to the profit generated.

    You’re repeating what I just said as if it’s a point in dispute.

    As for the conspiracies, do you disagree with Orwell on this point?

    http://bigwhiteogre.blogspot.com/2010/02/orwells-unpublished-intro-to-animal.html

  3. darfferrara Says:

    “You should not equate value with increase in paper sales.”

    This seems directly opposed to what I said.

    That’s a long quote to simply agree or disagree on.

  4. Jon Says:

    It’s the difference between equating value with paper sales and saying that value and paper sales are related. I said increased paper sales is part of value but not all of the value. They are related but they are not the same.

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