JOHN TAN. How the corporate media is helping Biden and normalising neoliberalism.

The corporate media is sneaking opinion into news reports, masquerading as fact. Not too subtle but a very effective form of propaganda now saturating our lives; changing what we believe to be normal; and playing on our insecurity and fears.

News reports and commentaries here and in the US have taken to referring to Joe Biden as “moderate” or “centrist” and to Bernie Sanders as “socialist” and “unelectable”.

Biden is a status quo candidate. He will not upset anyone with power if he is elected. Not the Wall Street elite, nor the core of the 1%. They like him.

Sanders once described his beliefs as democratic socialist, which is the policy of the most socially successful European liberal democratic countries. His policies are more egalitarian than neoliberals can live with. They call him “socialist”, which in America is code for “communist”, and is certainly not the equivalent of democratic socialist.

By using such loaded descriptors, the media is avoiding having to discuss the merits of their policies; even avoiding having to identify their key policies. It’s part of the process of dumbing down politics.

Planting the idea that neoliberal economics is “centrist” or “moderate” establishes firmly in public minds the new normalcy; that the poor and disadvantaged have only themselves to blame; that the people at the top deserve it because they are smarter and work harder; small government is best; and politicians should get out of the way of markets; all ideas that have cemented privilege and power at the apex.

And this normalisation of neoliberalism is happening here as much as in the US.

This political-media project to re-shape public minds has been made easier by a growing culture of fear and insecurity in the 21st century, as pointed out by sociologist Frank Furedi, in his latest book “How fear works” (2018):

“The power of the media is illustrated by its capacity to influence language usage and popularise the rhetoric of fear. Through the sheer repetition of terms such as superbugs, pandemics, extinction or toxic, a lexicon of doom helps endow threats with an existential quality.”

He wrote that the media has a role in “popularising and normalising a language and a system of symbols and meaning for interpreting society’s experience”. He believed that media can help “to render our fears palpable, visual, dramatic and intensely personal”.

Furedi noted that it takes more than just the media to bring about this growing fear: “Accounts of the public fears are often represented as artificially manufactured by highly manipulative media moguls. ‘Fox News Fear Factory’ is the term used by one journalist to capture the image of a media devoted to the invention of scare stories. Commentators sometimes go so far as to hold the media guilty for turning its audience into fearful, even brainwashed, subjects.” Such a conception is exaggerated, according to him.

Furedi wrote that media can only amplify what is in the culture. But isn’t is equally true that the culture is also a product of the media? And isn’t it also true that the greater the concentration of media in narrow hands, the greater the concentration of ideas and opinions that voters are exposed to; and the greater the propaganda effect?

Furedi wrote that there is a moral dimension in fear. “Fear” and “evil” are closely linked with one another in people’s minds. “They are the moral equivalent of ‘Siamese twins’; what we fear is evil what is evil we fear,” he wrote.

Within such a frame, it follows naturally that Sanders’ description as “socialist” and “unelectable” could lead in some minds to equal “communism”; and also to “evil” because of two current greats “threats” to America in the public discourse, namely Russia and China.

Not everyone will draw such a conclusion of course but enough could, especially those most vulnerable to subliminal messaging, to make a crucial difference in the current primaries.

(John Tan was a deputy editor in the Straits Times newspaper in Singapore. He has been foreign editor and business editor.)


John Tan was a deputy editor in the Straits Times newspaper in Singapore. He has been foreign editor and business editor.

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4 Responses to JOHN TAN. How the corporate media is helping Biden and normalising neoliberalism.

  1. Avatar Graham Stanley Turvey says:

    Australia has been for many years the country that embraced capitalism and socialism in a balanced form. For example, the first gold miners who exploited the Ballarat gold fields in the 1850s and our initially state-run superannuation system of the 1950/60s for teachers, health workers and police etc. Bernie is not a communist-he is a US Senator who wants to care for the poor and needy in the US. Hopefully Joe will be elected and do what Bernie wants to do.

  2. Peter Sainsbury Peter Sainsbury says:

    I agree with much of what you say, John, particularly the ‘normalising’ of neoliberalism and Biden being part of this. But I can’t go along with Bernie Sanders being a democratic socialist. He may describe himself as such but his voting record and his policies identify him as belonging to the social democracy spectrum. Nor can I accept the vast distinction you seem to be drawing between socialism (in true socialism the adjective democratic is unnecessary) and communism and Marxism. Without trying to differentiate socialism, communism and Marxism, I personally would say that socialism is much more closely aligned to the other two than it is to social democracy. 99.99% of inhabitants of the USA have no conception whatsoever of what socialism is – as evidenced by them accepting Sanders being described as a ‘socialist’ and by every attempt to introduce any form of social safety net in the USA being described as ‘socialism’.

  3. Avatar michael lacey says:

    You have to look at what Bernie is actually taking on! In a word the establishment which feels they have the divine right to govern.
    60 odd billionaires, the medical industrial complex, the fossil fuel industry , the military industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, the media, education versus small donations to Bernie right across the country.
    The fact that he is still there is amazing and he has been pitted against all the establishment candidates two of which were ex Republicans Bloomberg and Warren and one must include Trump as a preferred candidate to Bernie.
    They will throw everything at Bernie and manipulate and strategize to push him aside!
    The money will now be poured in behind Biden who really is senile and if he loses an election against Trump well they still have Trump to keep them comfortable for another 4 years.

    There is only one choice in this election. The consolidation of oligarchic power under Donald Trump or the consolidation of oligarchic power under Joe Biden. The oligarchs, with Trump or Biden, will win again. We will lose. The oligarchs made it abundantly clear, should Bernie Sanders miraculously become the Democratic Party nominee, they would join forces with the Republicans to crush him.

  4. Avatar Jerry Roberts says:

    You hit the nail on the head, John. The use of language has played a significant role in the uncritical acceptance of neoliberalism by the media, major political parties and even the universities. In the days of Keating and Howard I wrote to media people asking them not to use the word “reform” for policies of privatisation and de-regulation that stole the public’s property and gave it to financial parasites. The subs in the news room in my day would not have let them get away with it.

    Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are the two most conservative political leaders in the Anglosphere. The radical “reformers” were Thatcher, Reagan, Pinochet and those who followed, which is just about everybody including Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton.

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