How the Media Construct Myths
by Enza Ferreri
Sometimes we wonder how it is possible that the public believes so easily what the media and the elites tell them, about Islam and its threat, for instance.
I've gained an insight into this by watching the second presidential debate on the TV, after which the media have on the whole immediately screamed victory for Obama because the biased CNN moderator Candy Crowley has wrongly taken the President's side on the question of how he (mis)handled the Benghazi consulate assault, although she later backtracked.
I distinctly heard Candy Crowley say “He did call it an act of terror. It did as well take two weeks... so Governor Romney is right" or something to that effect, but for a while I thought I had imagined this because no-one seemed to have noticed it.
When even Crowley herself explicitly confirmed and repeated that sentence: “I did turn around right after that and say ‘but you are totally correct that they spent two weeks telling us this was about a tape'...he [Romney] was right in the main I just think he picked the wrong word”, I believed that the question was now settled, that the media could be economical with the truth but not go as far as telling an outright lie.
I must have been naïve, because the next day many media outlets were repeating that Romney got it wrong.
Day by day the evidence is mounting that Obama knew within 24 hours that this was a jihad attack but kept saying it was because of the Muhammad video to cover the failure of his Middle East policies. Even during the same debate he pointed out that he kept his promise of getting Osama bin Laden, as if to imply that al-Qaeda had been defeated.
In fact, “former CIA Director Porter Goss told Fox News that, especially in North Africa, Al Qaeda is 'much stronger' and 'spreading out' throughout the region.”
It is clearer to me now how myths are created by press and broadcasting networks. A little bit at a time, like Chinese whispers: something gets reported in the media with a little subtraction or addition of "facts", then gets repeated with more changes, and so on. In the end, all these misrepresentations accumulate and become an avalanche.
They start by a small distortion here, followed by a minor alteration of the facts there. Gradually. So, unless you have been a very, very attentive reader, listener or viewer -- or, more likely, somebody who has followed a particular event or subject for a length of time -- you won't realize that what started as A, by slow and stealth transformations, has become B, non-A.
For example, newspapers have been using the expression "anti-Muslim" for the AFDI's subway ads, rather than "anti-jihad". That is intended to subtly instil doubts in readers' minds.
The media add a single piece of the puzzle a day to their complete picture of fabrications. They don't tell you abruptly and overnight that the Muslim Brotherhood is a nice, peace-loving, tolerant organization; no, they insinuate one day that they have renounced violence, they imply the week after that they have changed their radical positions of yore and in a few months, lo and behold, what was a dangerous Islamist association has been transformed into an ally of the West and upholder of freedom and democracy, in a sleight of hand worthy of the best prestidigitator.
What I think happened is that Obama or some-one in his team, easily predicting that during the presidential debate Romney would criticize Obama on his dealing of the Benghazi consulate attack, counted on the fact that Romney had not read the transcript of the speech given by the President in the Rose Garden the day after the assault, because it did not matter, that speech's exact wording is less important than the entire message sent by the President, which was that the attack was a consequence of the Innocence of Muslims film.
So the Obama camp tried and, with the help of the media, succeeded in spinning this story as if Obama in the Rose Garden had actually called the Benghazi assault "acts of terror", whereas in fact he hadn't. He did use the expression "acts of terror" in a general sense, as a conclusion towards the end of the speech, without a specific reference to the incident occurred the previous day in Libya.
He said: "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for."
But when he was talking about that incident specifically, he called it "this type of senseless violence", "brutal acts", and "this attack": no mention of terrorism. "Senseless violence" indeed clearly refers to the reactions to the Muhammad film, since terrorism is violence with a planned objective. That the President did not attribute it to an act of terror is the right interpretation to give to his words in light of his insistence in the following two weeks in blaming the eruption of violence in the Muslim world, from Libya to Pakistan, on the YouTube movie.
As I said, I don't think that all this matters so much per se. What is important is the whole message, posture and policies.
But this is a useful lesson to learn in how the media exercise their deception.
The good news is that people are less and less accepting of this state of affairs. UK newspapers’ sales have been falling for quite some time, and The Guardian/Observer in particular have seen their readership decline, reporting last August an annual loss of around £54m, to the point that both newspapers (The Observer is The Guardian’s Sunday sister paper) are now “seriously discussing” an end to their print edition.
Enza Ferreri is an Italian-born, London-based author and journalist. She has been a London correspondent for several Italian magazines and newspapers, including Panorama, L'Espresso, La Repubblica.