America’s Shock Brigade: The Students of Stoneman Douglas High School

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, March 4, 2018)

In Soviet Russia, where propaganda was indistinguishable from news, the shock brigades were promoted as idealized representatives of the people. They couldn’t be challenged because, to do so, would be to challenge the people themselves.

The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, have become our modern version of a shock brigade.

As the label implies, shock brigades are designed to trigger people into action.

In the hands of today’s partisan media, it results more often in people being hurt.

The most recent example is a teacher at Stoneman Douglas High School that was originally portrayed by the media as a ‘hero’ following the tragic shootings at the school on February 14th where 17 people died.

Here are just some of the representative headlines from March 3rd…

Newsweek: Parkland Shooting Survivor Calls Teacher ‘Coward’ For Locking Students Out of Classroom During Attack

Yahoo News (whose first mistake is treating Inside Edition as a legitimate news organization): Parkland Teacher, Praised as a Hero, ‘Is Nothing but a Coward,’ Student Says.

Though the story never should have been run to begin with, at least Fox News tried to get the headline right: Protocol or cowardice? Parkland student slams teacher over locked door during shooting, report says

The gist of this story is that a Parkland student, in the teacher’s class at the time of the shooting, tweeted that the teacher was an “opportunist” and “a coward,” after he allegedly wouldn’t unlock his classroom door and let students in.

As with any story, the truth is more complicated, and certainly did not warrant headlines calling the teacher (by name) a coward. The man’s life is irreparably damaged by this attack from a junior in high school.

The explanation for the teacher’s behavior, which was consistent with protocols established by the school system after consulting with security experts, was buried at the end of the news stories published on March 3rd. Only a day later have the subsequent stories put more emphasis on the established protocols guiding the teachers behavior.

But in the era of hyperpartisan media, particularly within the cable news networks, it is not acceptable to challenge the shock brigades. If they say something, anything, no matter how baseless, Anderson Cooper will be there to report it, unfiltered. He might even cry.

After all, air time and compelling theater is far more important than the reputation of some high school biology teacher in Florida.

The right-wing conspiracy media is shameless and offensive, but they are not the problem

It didn’t take long after the Parkland shootings for the right-wing conspiracy peddlers to question the authenticity of the Stoneman Douglas High School students that became almost instant media celebrities.

“Crisis actors” they were called. And while the term is wholly inaccurate as applied to the Parkland students, it has become popular with Alex Jones and other right-wing media opportunists.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media, particularly CNN, by indulging in their own false narratives, facilitate the attractiveness of these right-wing conspiracies. When mainstream news outlets start losing credibility, alternative facts and conspiracy theories become more attractive.

The depth of the tragedy in Parkland — 17 innocent people were killed for no reason — did not require embellishment. Yet, somewhere, a decision was made to construct an heroic myth that the Parkland students, on their own initiative, sparked a national consensus to pass meaningful gun control legislation. What the Democratic Party and gun control activists have failed to do for all these years, these plucky kids from Parkland were able to do in a matter of days.

Since the shooting, CNN has been on a daily campaign to promote the Parkland students and their #NeverAgain movement as representing something bigger than just another collection of gun violence victims.

CNN and the mainstream media have consciously created a heroic myth tale, one of the hallmarks of propaganda campaigns, with the clear intention of pressuring Congress and the President Trump to support and pass gun control legislation. The false narrative of the Parkland kids creating the #NeverAgain movement on their own is a critical element of the story. Without the false narrative, the movement regresses back to the old and failed narrative of ‘just another partisan politics battle.’

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is built to win the old narrative. The ‘super kids of Parkland’ narrative makes the NRA very nervous.

How can you argue against making the NRA nervous for once?

Well, it is pretty easy, actually. And it is not because I support the NRA or its purest approach to the Second Amendment (I don’t). The problem is the lack of concern about major news organizations being active lobbyists on political issues, because that is what CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald are doing when they uncritically accept, or even create, false narratives to advance partisan political goals.

The mainstream media, by misrepresenting what is really going on with the Parkland students, are engaging in advocacy work. Through agitation and propaganda, otherwise known as agitprop, they cease to be journalists and are in the lobbying business.

Truthfully, I don’t have a problem with CNN or MSNBC (or Fox News) from being partisan lobbyists. But they have to stop calling themselves ‘news organizations.’

They are not. They are lobbyists.

If you don’t think Parkland student David Hogg is the greatest human being ever, you are probably a Russian sympathizer

When journalists have a point of view and they filter information based on its support for that point of view, journalism ends and propaganda begins.

Since the shooting, Parkland students appeared on a CNN town hall broadcast, organized a pro-gun control rally in Tallahassee, and are in the process of preparing for a national “March for Our Lives” protest scheduled on March 24th.

Regardless of any help the Parkland students are receiving from professional activists, the rapid growth and scope of the #NeverAgain movement is impressive. News coverage of the Parkland students never required a false narrative to heap significant praise on them.

But it is a legitimate question to ask: who is helping these students? Are the Democratic Party and gun control activists leveraging the Parkland tragedy to achieve political aims beyond just gun control legislation?

Former Georgia congressman Jack Kingston, while appearing on CNN, asked, “Do we really think — and I say this sincerely — do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?”

The National Review’s film critic Armond White called them: “Parkland Puppets.”

The news media pounced fast.

“I talked to these kids before they knew the body count of how many of their friends had been killed. No one had talked to them yet,” Alisyn Camerota said during her CNN morning show broadcast on February 20th. “They hadn’t been indoctrinated by some left-wing group. They were motivated from what they saw and what they endured.”

Click on image to watch video

Camerota’s inflated posturing aside, her attempt to shame Kingston sent a clear message to those considering attributing the success of the #NeverAgain movement to anyone other than the Parkland students.

Kingston never suggested the Democratic Party or gun control activists were organizing these students on the day of the shooting (Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz had the good sense to at least wait a day before contacting the students). He never questioned the validity of their fear and anger. He just wanted to know how their movement had become so professionalized so fast.

Camerota’s shaming technique was not the only method used to shutdown debate. Some in the mainstream media willfully conflated the ‘crisis actor’ conspiracy theories (which were nuts) with legitimate questions like Kingston’s about whether or not national activists were co-opting the movement.

A headline for a Vanity Fair story read: GIVE ME A BREAK: HOW THE FAR RIGHT IS SMEARING SCHOOL-SHOOTING SURVIVORS.

After conveying the story about an aide to Florida legislator passing a ‘crisis actor’ conspiracy video to a journalist, Vanity Fair writer Tina Nguyen decided to classify Kingston in the same category as other purveyors of the ‘crisis actor’ theory, suggesting even that CNN should ‘take action against’ Kingston.

Kingston never suggested David Hogg or any other Parkland student was a ‘crisis actor.’

Writing just two days after the shootings, The New York Times‘ Anne Applebaum even grouped pro-gun rights advocates on social media with Russian Twitterbots already spreading conspiracy theories about the Parkland shootings: “Over the next few days, many of these same kinds of accounts will invent a whole range of conspiracy theories about the shooting. If the past repeats itself, pro-Russian, alt-right, white-supremacist and pro-gun social media accounts will promote the same hashtags and indulge in the same conspiracy theories.”

If that is not virtue signaling, I don’t know what is. By throwing down the gauntlet early, Applebaum and The New York Times were letting everyone know they shouldn’t even think about questioning how the legitimate media will be covering this tragedy — if you do, its as good as working for the Russians.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, therefore, that there was little reporting on how organized activists converged quickly on the Parkland students.

Its not like the evidence wasn’t there: Dozens of buses all over the state of Florida ready to transports hundreds of students to Tallahassee on just a few days notice;  millions of dollars in donations within days of the tragedy, including $500,000 from George Clooney;  Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu sharing in a tweet that he has a personal connection to David Hogg; the known political aggressiveness of Broward County’s teachers union.

“For two weeks, journalists abjectly failed in their jobs, which is to tell the public what’s going on,” writes forensic science expert David Hines for The Federalist. And any of them who had any familiarity with organizing campaigns absolutely knew.”

Why did the news media fail? Because news media celebrities, like Aliysn Camerota, are in the myth-making business, not journalism.

When Buzzfeed is leading the way, something is really wrong with the state of American journalism

The condemnation of the ‘crisis actor’ conspiracy promulgators was more than warranted.

It also reasonable that CNN and others would want to build a compelling narrative (‘those great kids at Parkland’) to attract viewers and readers. That is not necessarily good journalistic technique, but entirely understandable.

But what puzzles me is how the ‘journalists’ on CNN and MSNBC were so quick to censure people like Kingston for asking an obvious question that deserved to be answered.

Aren’t journalists supposed to be curious, by nature? Shouldn’t journalists be asking, regardless of how noble the cause, how the #NeverAgain movement is being organized and financed. Who did the heavy-lifting in building the website? Who opened the GoFundMe.com webpage? Where exactly is the money going? Who financed and organized the buses that took students from all over Florida to the Tallahassee rally?

The mainstream media has spent nearly three weeks ignoring the obvious professionalization of the #NeverAgain movement. Instead, stories have credited the organizing skills of the Parkland students as being the results of a good comprehensive education, and, like all teenagers today, their skills at using social media.

All true. But that doesn’t rule out a significant role for the Democratic Party or the organizers from other anti-Trump movements like the Women’s March or #MeToo.

And guess what? We now have reporting that offers credibility to suspicions that organized partisan and gun control activists are playing a large role in the #NeverAgain movement. But it didn’t come from The New York Times or The Washington Post. The first story came from Buzzfeed.

“Barely two weeks ago, the (Parkland) student survivors sat in a circle in the living room of one of their parents’ homes, planning a trip to Tallahassee to meet with lawmakers and handling nitty-gritty matters like which media outlets to talk to,” writes Buzzfeed’s Mary Ann Georgantopoulos and Brianna Sacks. “Since then, major players and organizations — including Everytown, Giffords, Move On, and Women’s March LA — told BuzzFeed News they are helping with logistics, strategy, and planning for next month’s March for Our Lives rally and beyond. Much of the specific resources the groups are providing to the Parkland students remains unclear — as is the full list of supporting organizations — but there are broad outlines.”

As the Buzzfeed story notes, the funding and scope of this help is unclear. Why? Because very few journalists are going to the effort to find out. CNN and MSNBC won’t. But where is The New York Times or The Washington Post?

Trying to understand the details behind the #NeverAgain movement in no way diminishes what the Parkland students did in the first weeks after the shooting. They were media-ready, not because Tom Perez and the Democratic National Committee were pulling the strings, but because these kids are well-educated and confident.

That is undeniable.

These students built a social media following numbered in the millions on their own effort (though, even there, there were national opinion leaders that helped them). But that is how social media works. That is why you want celebrities to follow you on Twitter.

But the fingerprints of the Democratic Party is also all over the #NeverAgain movement — which makes the effort a partisan one, which means partisan divisions are quickly activated across the country, and we are subsequently stuck, once again, with dozens of innocent dead people and little chance of seeing substantive gun control legislation.

Partisanship infects our news media organizations and we are paying a price for it

It does matter if partisan forces are driving the #NeverAgain movement, if only for the historical record. More importantly, hiding the partisan nature of the movement only strengthens the partisan opposition to it.

And that is not what this country needs.

After a 5-minute search on Twitter regarding the #NeverAgain movement, NuQum.com found clear evidence that at least one Florida Democratic Party activist was critical in the planning and execution of the February 20th Tallahassee rally of the then-nascent #NeverAgain movement.

Seventeen-year-old Parkland student Jaclyn Corin’s Facebook and Twitter posts on Feb. 18th acknowledged the critical organizational role played by Kathryn Casello, the Director of Political Affairs for the Florida State University Democrats, who was also the “creator” of the “Florida’s March on Gun Control” website.

As Buzzfeed, again, discovered before anyone else, “Democratic US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Broward County resident for nearly 30 years…has been in touch with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas since the day after the shooting, helping them connect to state legislators and plan their trip to Tallahassee last week.”

That is not unethical or inappropriate on Wasserman Schultz’ part. What is distressing is that the national media has shown no inclination to find the facts behind the rise of the #NeverAgain movement and has shouted down anyone that suggests someone should.

And, frankly, wouldn’t it have been refreshing if Wasserman Schultz had included a fellow Republican when she contacted the Parkland students?

If Wasserman Schultz’ true motivator was passing substantive gun control legislation, an issue where a majority of Americans (and NRA members) side with the Democrats, casting the #NeverAgain movement as a bipartisan effort would not hurt the cause.

But when your motivator is to use the tragedy in Parkland as another cudgel against the illegitimate Trump administration, bipartisanship doesn’t enter Wasserman Schultz’ calculus.

Hyper-partisanship damages policy. Obamacare, as an example, passed only because of partisan support, and dies (though not as fast as some hope) for the same reason.

Medicare included interests and support from the Republican Party (or at least its now defunct liberal wing) and survives today.

Instead, we get CNN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the impetuous but earnest Parkland kids and their fight to save America. Because it is now just a partisan effort, the students’ good intentions are starting to wear thin partisan-weary Americans.

The hashtag movements are the new agitprop

Many journalists and academics just want to refer to our current state of affairs as partisan media. Nothing radical or even that new. Just good old-fashioned partisan politics working its way through the news media. It might even be good for hammering out issues in the public sphere.

Sadly, partisan media is much more hazardous to our democracy than previously understood. So dangerous, in fact, I prefer to call it for what it is: institutionalized agitation and propaganda — or agitprop.

In general, agitprop is a political strategy where agitation and propaganda are used to influence and mobilize public opinion. That definition makes it seem benign. But when weaponized, as it was in the 1920s in Soviet Russia, it destroys societies as it turns criticism into treason, neighbors into spies, and citizens into serfs.

CNN’s use of the Stoneman Douglas High School students as their shock brigade is not a criticism of the students. They are victims of gun violence on a level none of us should ever experience. Sadly, they have that experience and now, for good reason, they are activists demanding meaningful gun control legislation.

What is alarming is how quickly partisan forces and their collaborators in the mainstream news media co-opted and manipulated the Parkland students to advance a partisan agenda that has more to do with damaging the Republican Party and the Trump administration than actually passing substantive gun control legislation. The news media isn’t covering the #NeverAgain movement, they helped create it and are active participants in its growth trajectory.

 

In just the last year, the news media has covered the Women’s March, #TheResistance, the #MeToo and other anti-Trump movements, and through them we have learned the names of activists like Teresa Shook, Billy Wimsatt, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, Bob Bland, and Linda Sarsour.

Since the Parkland shootings, according to CNN, its news producers have been in daily contact with the Parkland students’ parents and activists as they prepare for the ‘March for Our Lives’ on March 24th. To what extent CNN is coordinating with the Parkland students is unclear. At a minimum, CNN is facilitating the #NeverAgain movement by giving its organizers generous access to CNN air time.

Some will argue that CNN should be facilitating this movement. And I would agree on this point: CNN is breaking no laws by offering airtime to the Parkland students as they organize themselves into a credible, sustainable national movement.

If CNN wants to organize a CNN Town Hall, help tighten a few of the Parkland students’ questions, give those students the resources to express their deep emotions surrounding this tragedy, and help the students in keeping their movement alive, I have no problem with that.

It is called advocacy. It is constitutionally protected speech. It is democracy in action.

But it is not journalism. It is not even advocacy journalism, which requires the same objective reporting standards as investigative journalism.

CNN appears to be actively shaping the political environment to not just feed a pro-gun control narrative, but to bring down a presidency and an opposition party.

Why now? Why after Parkland, but not after Sandy Hook or Las Vegas?

When people ask — Why did this gun control movement start after Parkland, but not after Sandy Hook or Las Vegas? — they deserve an accurate answer.

The answer will not be complete unless it includes how news outlets midwifed the Parkland student gun control movement through their generous access to broadcast airtime.

The next question is why didn’t the Sandy Hook or Las Vegas survivors get similar assistance? There may be no simple answer, but here are some possible candidates:

  • This latest assault rifle attack on children may truly be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back.’
  • The Parkland students are good-looking, articulate kids and it was easy an decision on the media’s part to keep their focus on the Parkland tragedy. One audience research colleague of mine suggested Sandy Hook was too tragic and was more likely to drive cable news audiences away. Parkland is the perfect blend of tragedy and attractiveness.
  • CNN and the anti-Trump news media are gaining experience assisting and sustaining national movements since Donald Trump’s inauguration. The news media attempted something similar with Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico, but the public’s interest (i.e., audience ratings) never reached the critical mass necessary for the news media to devote significant resources to the crisis.

The organization and promotion of the ‘March for Our Lives’ on March 24th mirrors the methods used by the ‘Women’s March’ on Trump’s inauguration day and #TheResistance, further suggesting significant organizational resources are being provided to the Parkland students.

Again, this is not a crime and it is not an indictment of the Parkland students or their cause. And it isn’t necessarily an indictment of CNN either, except for one caveat.

The truth matters. If CNN and Democratic activists are providing ongoing, in-kind assistance to the Parkland students movement, it is important for the public to know.

The credibility of any social movement often rests on whether its energy source is organic (i.e., rising from the masses), or is contrived and sustained by well-funded, elite interests. The former confers authenticity, and the latter suggests manipulation.

Why do you think the U.S. government still denies its past interventions in political revolutions in other countries, such as the ‘color’ revolutions in post-Soviet Eastern Europe or the failed revolutions during the “Arab spring.” Any suggestion that a social movement is aided by external forces can delegitimize that movement, even if that assistance is minor.

CNN, MSNBC and Fox News are not news organizations, they are agitators and propagandists

The Washington Post recently changed its motto to: Democracy Dies in Darkness. Last I checked, the U.S. doesn’t devolve into a dictatorship between sundown and sunrise, but maybe I’m missing the point.

A more appropriate motto would be: Our collective understanding is degraded when news organizations publish information uncorroborated by other independent sources and selectively include information based not on its accuracy or relevance, but on its fit with a broader (often biased) narrative.

OK, its not very catchy.

But when our constitutionally-protected Fourth Estate becomes infected by a fraudulent cast of semi-journalists, partisans and political hacks claiming to carry the banner of objectivity and truth, we have lost an institution critical to our democracy.

No ideology or major news organization is spared from this criticism. From the New York Times to Fox News, this malignancy has found its way into every newspaper, news website, broadcast news organization, and journalism school in this country. Few people complain anymore that news organizations promote specific ideological or partisan points of view. To the contrary, most Americans seek out news that confirms their partisan worldview.

Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America and the author of The Business of America is Lobbying, argues in The New Republic that partisan media is a positive thing and it was only for a brief period in our country’s history when “objective” journalism was the aspirational norm (1950 – 1980). Partisan control of the media dominates other periods in our history and, when considered cross-nationally, is the norm in most democracies.

Drutman further argues that the partisan media doesn’t create division but merely reflects our nation’s diversity and, therefore, is a virtue, not a vice.

“Partisan media can amplify existing partisan divisions, but mostly they reflect them,” writes Drutman. “In a political system divided on fundamental questions of science, religion, and national identity, the question of what responsible media looks like will only get more pressing—but it can’t be answered in terms of ‘objectivity.’

Partisan media are vulnerable to a number of potentially dangerous biases:

  • Selection bias: Choosing information that fits a partisan narrative to the exclusion of relevant information that does not.
  • Single-source bias: Relying too heavily on single sources, with uncorroborated information, because they are partisan allies, insiders or have information that, again, fits a partisan narrative.
  • Anonymous source bias: Similar to the single-source bias, partisan media for the party in power will have unique access to government officials with critical information, often classified, that will help the party in power. But even the partisan media for the out-party will use anonymous sources as conduits of information from whistle-blowers and critics of the party in power.

As a quantitative social scientist, it is surprising that Drutman is not more sensitive to the problem of selection bias which looms over every social scientist when he or she engages in research. Drutman knows selection bias can lead otherwise scientifically rigorous studies towards deeply flawed conclusions. Does that sound like something good for American journalism or our democracy?

Besides, we are not arguing that there shouldn’t be partisan news and outlets. They do serve a purpose and losing them would harm the quality of this country’s political dialogue, not to mention its entertainment value.

We are arguing that there should be better defined lines between objective news outlets and partisan ones.

CNN, MSNBC and Fox News are the modern versions of Soviet agitprop and citizens need to protect themselves

An obvious by-product of agitprop is fake news and, not coincidentally, the Russians are masters of the technique. Unfortunately, according to liberal podcaster Bob Cesca, Americans are particularly susceptible to the new form of agitprop.

“Our widespread habit of blindly ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ news without critical scrutiny was absolutely exploited by the Russians,” writes Cesca. “Millions of Americans on social media continue, to this day, to serve as middlemen for circulating fake news and agitprop, political or otherwise.”

Another vivid example of the new agitprop, Verrit.com, Hillary Clinton’s propaganda distributing website, is unapologetic about its mission to flood the news media with pro-Clinton stories.

But the most alarming example of modern agitprop is the mainstream news media itself.

CNN’s Town Hall following the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School has further lifted the curtain on the news media’s deceit and laid bare their tools and methods for disguising it as public service.

“This town hall was a theatrical production with the clear aim of advancing an anti-gun narrative, so it’s not hard to believe the network was prompting and even scripting questions,” writes Rachel Stoltzfoos, managing editor of The Federalist.

Stoltzfoos also points out that this is the same cable news network that recently “sent a reporter to an elderly lady’s front lawn to confront her about her role in Russian election meddling — because she reposted something on Facebook.” The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald nicely summarized CNN’s journalistic practices with a tweet:

Objectively speaking, the Trump administration has not been good for CNN’s reputation. It’s journalistic integrity has taken a severe hit in the past year as CNN has repeatedly been caught exercising poor journalistic standards in their coverage of the Trump administration.

The rule should be when a news organization is caught for the 10th time in one year disseminating misleading or false information, the “we-weren’t-using-our-highest-editorial-standards” defense should no longer be allowed. Even as a critic of the Trump administration, I view CNN’s coverage of the Trump-Russia investigation as frequently dishonest and an undisguised quest to ruin a president they helped elect.

It is ironic that CNN and the other cable news networks, through their gifting Trump a $1.2 billion advantage over Hillary Clinton in ‘free media’ during the 2016 election, are probably the single biggest reason Trump is president today. At most, the Russians invested $60 to $80 million in their attempt to meddle with the 2016 election, and majority of that was squandered on ad buys in the low-credibility arena of social media.

Like Drutman, though, I have no problem with CNN or MSNBC or Fox News being partisan tools. I do have a problem however with these cable networks operating under the pretense of being news organizations. They may hire former journalists or interview practicing ones, but that does not make them news organizations. They are agitators and propagandists and, by understanding that, Americans will take a big step in protecting themselves from them.

Agitprop is more watchable than objective journalism

By design, agitprop cloaks itself within legitimate journalism and trades on the Fourth Estate’s credibility as it pursues a political agenda informally coordinated with an established political ideology, party or administration.

Fox News has been doing this for over twenty years. While the rest of the mainstream media may have always served as propaganda garrisons for a leftist political ideology, their noticeable decline into partisan politics accelerated after their embarrassing complicity with the George W. Bush administration’s propaganda offensive in the run up to the Iraq War.

Objective journalism is hard to find anymore. Its a documented money loser that doesn’t entertain enough and includes too many shades of gray.

Agitprop, on the other hand, generates ratings and readers.

According to the Nielsen ratings, CNN’s Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action Town Hall broadcast crushed the competition.

Airing from 9 p.m.-11 p.m., the town hall drew 2.91 million total viewers, while Fox News averaged 2.45 million and MSNBC averaged 2.31 million in the same time period. More importantly, CNN won the coveted ‘adults 25-54’ demographic. On the digital side, the town hall attracted 1.9 million multi-platform live viewers, the largest such digital audience ever for a CNN town hall.

I am certain, out of respect for the 17 students that had died only a week earlier in Parkland, CNN executives only spoke of their ratings victory in somber, hushed tones.

New York Times columnist, Bret Stephens, contends today’s “opinion journalism is still journalism, not agitprop,” but watching CNN’s Town Hall with Parkland students suggests otherwise. Watching Florida Senator Marco Rubio squirm and sweat when asked if he would accept NRA campaign money in the future was great television. I don’t care what your politics are, if that moment didn’t grab your attention, nothing will.

The new agitprop, pioneered by Roger Ailes and Fox News in the mid 1990s, combines live television with a partisan political agenda to create a much more visceral and watchable form of television news. Where objective journalism mostly appeals to our brain’s analytic frontal lobe, the new agitprop goes right to the amygdala.

Strong emotions are good sometimes. But sometimes they are bad.

I met Harvard Professor Jennifer Lerner eight years ago when I worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and she was giving a presentation on the role of emotion in decision-making.

Her thesis that day was simple: emotion is a powerful predictor of behavior, especially in the area of politics and policy. More importantly, she noted that decision-making can be impaired by a specific type of emotion, incidental emotion, which is “triggered by a particular situation that carries over and influences your subsequent judgments and decisions.”

Lerner said fear is a particularly powerful emotion when it comes to decision-making, as it generates levels of confidence that have a direct impact on decision-making. Angry individuals are more likely to blame individuals over societal causes, and are more likely to take greater risks.

According to Lerner anger tends to simplify our thinking processes which, in the short-run, get us involved in the problem but, in the long-run, proves inadequate for making good decisions. It is in the absence of anger (or happiness) when our cognitive decision-making skills perform best.

That is the problem with event-driven policy debates. Triggered by intense tragedies, such as the Parkland mass shooting, emotions gets us engaged but suppress our more thoughtful cognitive abilities that would otherwise help us render better decisions.

Their good intentions notwithstanding, CNN’s Town Hall exploited the emotions of the Parkland shooting victims, including parents that lost children in that carnage.

That is not journalism. That is advocacy. That is propaganda meant to agitate others into action. That is the new agitprop.

K.R.K.

{Send comments to: kkroeger@nuqum.com}

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

 

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