© Josh Sager –October 2014
Over the past month, the American people have been inundated with a media narrative of constant threat and fear mongering. If a person were to just uncritically listen to much of the media, they would be afraid to leave the house out of fear that an ISIS terrorist or an Ebola victim would run into them on their shopping trip, leading to their bloody demise.
This type of fear mongering is not a recent development, but it has been unusually extreme in the past few weeks, as the issues of Ebola and ISIS are particularly gruesome and visually disturbing (beheadings and death by hemorrhagic virus).
Unfortunately, the fear machine is not random and is actually part of an extremely pernicious system of crisis profiteering that has an unintended side-effect of making the American people focus on all the wrong threats.
Profiteering from Fear
Put simply, there are moneyed interests that benefit from stirring up fear.
The corporate media gains power based upon its reach (IE. how many people are listening) and ability to draw in advertising revenue. When more people tune in, an outlet gains more prestige and resources, regardless of the programming’s validity (case in point: Fox News), thus creating a race for ratings. The incentive structure for the modern corporate media has caused them to shift away from providing accurate and revealing commentary, and towards tailoring programming to draw in a large audience.
Because the American people (and people in general), are ignorant and unable to rationally assess what is truly dangerous, the media is able to stir up a terrifying threat that people absolutely HAVE to hear about. These fears don’t necessarily need to be based in reality, but they do need to have worrying optics (ex. people in hazmat suits or masked terrorists with weapons) that can be endlessly repeated.
When the media’s need for ratings mixes with the military industrial complex’s need to perpetuate wars, a truly deadly combination emerges. Wars are great for the media (there is always something new to cover and people are drawn to the idea of violence) as well as for the people who make the means of waging war.
In order to perpetuate and increase their profits, military suppliers support politicians who tend to favor more war and foreign intervention. Once in office, these politicians propose new interventions and wars abroad. Because the media benefits from potential war and doesn’t want to lose access by fighting the Washington narrative, they are largely uncritical of these politicians and the American people are blindly led towards more conflict. As many conflict abroad breed hatred of the United Stated, even more enemies are created, thus making it easier for politicians and arms dealers to justify their wars.
In this manifestation of the military industrial complex, the military contractors get paid to produce weapons, the politicians are given their legal bribes, and the media gets a compelling story to draw in the audience—the casualties in this cycle are the truth and the lives of those lost in wars that were unnecessary. Unfortunately, we have seen this play out many times in recent years, including when Bush led us into Iraq (where the media went along with the WMD lie), and when Obama decided to go into Iraq and Syria to root out ISIS (on no discernable legal grounds).
Fear Mongering Conceals the Real Threats
While ISIS and Ebola are very real, they are comparably minor threats in the grand scheme of things. They are being focused upon not because they are objectively the largest risks to the American people, but because they are the easiest threats for the fear machine to use.
In many cases, the truly deadly threats are chronic and don’t readily inspire a sense of urgency in the American people. For example:
- The extreme weather, droughts, floods and food/water shortages caused by global climate change are estimated to 300,000 people every year, according to recent studies, while Ebola has killed less than 6,000 people worldwide since it was first diagnosed in 1976 (in the same amount of time, GCC would have killed approximately 11.4 million people).
- ISIS has killed several American journalists and made numerous threats against the American people, but has yet to inflict any substantial casualties on American soil. Conversely, Americans with guns murder nearly 10,000 of their fellows every year, without any pattern, organization, or coordination.
While we focus on addressing the issues that the media thinks will draw in ratings, the problems that are inflicting real damage are left to the margins. Because they are harder to cover, less immediate, less visually impressive, or more likely to draw the ire of those in power, these issues are ignored by the mainstream in favor of the low-hanging fruit.
In the long run, this prioritization has very real consequences on the American people—we don’t know where the real threats are lurking, and, in many cases, delayed action will result in even larger problems down the road (ex. while the media ignores climate change or treats it as a controversy, the damage to our environment grows and the solutions become less effective).