Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
There is a moment in everyone’s life when they have an Ah Ha! about something. A revelation that changes their outlook in a fundamental way about a persistently difficult situation and allows them to deal with it in novel ways because they now understand the problem correctly for the first time. I recently had one of those ah Ha! moments. It occurred while I was following the story of the CDC whistleblower in the pro-safe vaccine movement. After the safe-vaccine crowd made a concerted effort to inform the mainstream media only to have the story twisted and corrupted by them, I practically slapped my head and yelled D’oh! It was a revelation that I probably should have had long ago.
It was that example that finally pushed my perception of the mainstream media completely over the edge. This wasn’t the stubbornness of skeptics, reporting incompetence or laziness. The mainstream media wash’t swayed by a particular point of view either. They flat out refused to cover the story in an impartial way because they are a special interest group pushing a particular point of view. It doesn’t have a lot to do with being liberal or conservative; it’s not terribly political, but when you look at the mainstream as protecting the interests of big business then you start to see where the line is drawn. On the political front we’ve seen this in the coverage of 99 percenter’s protests and the way labor leaders have systematically been shut out of debates that they were central to. This was outlined in Herman and Chomsky’s “The Propaganda Model”
In their 1988 book ‘Manufacturing Consent – The Political Economy of the Mass Media’, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky introduced their ‘propaganda model’ of the media. The propaganda model argues that there are 5 classes of ‘filters’ in society which determine what is ‘news’; in other words, what gets printed in newspapers or broadcast by radio and television. Herman and Chomsky’s model also explains how dissent from the mainstream is given little, or zero, coverage, while governments and big business gain easy access to the public in order to convey their state-corporate messages – for example, ‘free trade is beneficial, ‘globalisation is unstoppable’ and ‘our policies are tackling poverty’.
We have already touched upon the fact that corporate ownership of the media can – and does – shape editorial content. The sheer size, concentrated ownership, immense owner wealth, and profit-seeking imperative of the dominant media corporations could hardly yield any other result.
Michael Parenti, in an article for Media Alliance titled Methods of Media Manipulation had this to say:
I would argue that the media’s misrepresentations are not all the result of innocent error and everyday production problems, though such problems certainly exist. True, the press has to be selective–but what principle of selectivity is involved? Media bias does not occur in a random fashion; rather it moves in the same overall direction again and again, favoring management over labor, corporations over corporate critics, affluent Whites over low-income minorities, officialdom over protesters, the two-party monopoly over leftist third parties, privatization and free market “reforms” over public-sector development, U.S. corporate dominance of the Third World over revolutionary social change, and conservative commentators and columnists like Rush Limbaugh and George Will over progressive or populist ones like Jim Hightower and Ralph Nader (not to mention more radical ones).
The corporate mainstream media seldom stray into territory that might cause discomfort to those who hold political and economic power, including those who own the media or advertise in it.
The autism-vaccine debate crosses one of those lines. Vaccines are a $52 billion dollar cash cow for the pharmaceutical industry, so it’s logical that they would go to great lengths to protect it. There is much money to lose if alternative medicine is accepted, especially homeopathy. Furthermore, parapsychology is a threat because if it is accepted, it opens the door to theoretical acceptance of information transfer as a healing mechanism, the basis of homeopathy and many alternative healing practices.
Similarly, Bigfoot is a threat to mining and timber interests because any land where it was found to be living would certainly be off limits for these activities. They would be an indigenous people and would therefore have a claim to that land. If it were to somehow be discovered that 9/11 was a planned internal attack on American soil to start a war, this would undermine the oil and defense industries. Similarly LENR is a threat to the oil, gas and coal industries.
So if you look at the areas where alternative and controversial topics hit a brick wall with the mainstream media, you’ll see a strong connection between big money and what gets attacked or ignored. The mainstream media is, in the strictest sense of the phrase, a special interest group.
While I don’t think that most people have given this much thought, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t already skeptical of the mainstream news they get. This has led to the steady rise of alternate media as a source for news. The good news is that this is pretty much unstoppable, the bad news is why it is unstoppable. It is composed of literally hundreds, if not thousands of socially important news sites ranging from specialty blogs like mine, to specialty news sites on a dizzying array of topics which all have one thing in common: they are shut out of the mainstream press for one reason or another. It makes for some very strange bedfellows. bigfoot researchers, 9/11 truthers, homeopathy and alternative medicine practitioners, labor leaders, libertarians, right wing Christians, parapsychology scientists, autism groups, LENR entrepreneurs and many others find themselves together in the same virtual room. It is unrealistic to expect these various groups to band together; no news site is going to carry all of this and there is no way anyone has time to research all these various topics to find out everything that the mainstream media is either leaving unsaid or distorting. Some of these topics conflict with one another.
To make matters more complicated, there are also social sites that provide pseudo news and information, such as Wikipedia, The Smoking Gun, The Skeptic’s Dictionary and Quackwatch. You cannot trust alternative media any more than you can trust mainstream media without critical evaluation skills, and a lot of time. The truth is out there, but it’s not readily apparent what it is or even where to find it.
The good news is that these things eventually sort themselves out over time. From a social perspective, our new over-exposed and over-connected society is still coming to terms with what it is and what it is capable of. New avenues of communication are developing and better information is slowly filtering through. It is slow because it is an emotional change. When you get beyond the mainstream, everyone suddenly has a voice and they all rise into one ginormous monotonous deafening roar. In this environment, no shortcuts work because only critical thinking skills, an ability to spot bias, both in the media and in one’s self, an ability to spot truth and a desire to pursue truth can get you there. It is HARD to get good information and it often requires advanced search skills and persistence. Search engines seem to go out of their way to provide you with crap.
There is a steep learning curve involved in understanding the social milieu in which we live. If my search results pull up a bunch of skeptical sites, I have to learn about them and their point of view to put them in proper context. (Although I think for most people landing on one of these sites accidentally it’s simply a matter of “nope, not what I was looking for” followed by going back to search.) People have to learn not to trust Wikipedia and even expect it to lie when it’s always at the top of search results and to understand when and where to trust mainstream media sites. It’s a lot to ask.
But ever so gradually, our society is learning to create these new connections and become more sophisticated in searching out information. This has the effect of gradually watering down the impact of mainstream media. Another effect of this has been the creation of the two headed media system. We have the mainstream press . . . and everything else, ranging from comments on mainstream articles, to Facebook, to blogs, to the alternative press. It’s kind of like a controlled economy with a black market. You can go the traditional route, but the really good stuff is going to take some time and effort to get.