May 25, 2014

Lesson Learned: Control the Press, Control the People

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , — Bill @ 9:38 am

Hoover Book Cover copyThe image our US press has created and cultivated for itself is one of journalistic independence.  Our press, which today must include the electronic news media as well as print,  strives to promote itself as the purveyor of truth for the benefit of us citizens.  To believe the self-image the press has concocted, though, requires us to accept as fact the underlying premise:  that the press is independent of manipulation and control by external influences.

Matthew Cecil‘s recent (2014) book, Hoover’s FBI and the Fourth Estate, was intended to inform readers about the time and effort Hoover and his employees spent cultivating the FBI’s image by carefully and systematically manipulating the media.  Cecil diligently and successfully chronicled that.

Hoover had been the assistant director of the Bureau of Investigation’s Radical Division and had played an instrumental part in the Palmer Raids in 1919-1920.  Hoover realized that if the Bureau of Investigation was to gain public acceptance, it would have to overcome the bad tastes left by the outrageous overreach of the Palmer Raids.  To do that, it would have to be in total control of the agency’s image.  Beginning in 1924 when he was selected to clean up the Bureau of Investigation’s image and continuing until his death as the Director of the FBI in 1972, Hoover was obsessed with controlling every detail of every piece of information the public received about the Bureau and its successor FBI.  Cecil’s book details how Hoover picked and rewarded his friends and tried to discredit and destroy his enemies in the media.

But Cecil went further than painting the detailed portrait of J. Edgar Hoover, master media manipulator.  With equal skill, Cecil articulately revealed how many of his era’s media owners, publishers and editors and reporters, were more than willing to use their respective media to be willing participants in Hoover’s manipulation of the information the public received.  Rather than being independent journalists, they became compliant accomplices in the fledgling field of publicity, what we now call public relations.

And those in media who didn’t cooperate?

“At the same time, the Bureau monitored and investigated its enemies and (with the help of friendly journalists) actively undermined those who were critical of the FBI.  Over the course of several decades, and despite the efforts of critics and many leftist journalists and publications, public relations specialists inside the Bureau and friendly journalists outside managed to construct and maintain the facade of a legitimized FBI that most Americans believed was a protector of civil liberties.”

Matthew Cecil’s book is loaded with facts and is not an easy read.  However, those who do follow it through to the end will have a much better understanding of how many of today’s news media have been bought or cajoled into becoming little more than the public relations arm of their owners and the propaganda tools of federal, state, and local governments in cities and counties of all sizes.  His book was meticulously annotated — 54 pages of endnotes for 287 pages of text.


  1. Bill, which news sources would you consider as an example of journalistic independence today?

    Comment by Dan Gookin — May 25, 2014 @ 9:49 am

  2. Dan,

    I’m not sure there are any news media (print or electronic) today that are journalistically independent from outside influence. In fact, I’m not sure there have been more than a handful in my lifetime. There are certainly none in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene areas. In part that may be due to the same owners owning print and electronic media in the same market.

    The traditional news media today are not believed as unconditionally and unquestioningly by their consumers as they used to be. Today’s news consumer really has many of the tools to gather, collate, compare and analyze the raw information that becomes finished news. Maybe the most effective of those tools is our ability to use the internet to compare and contrast the reporting of various news sources. We’re no longer limited to getting our news from one newspaper and one radio or television station. Those same tools give us the ability to evaluate the timeliness, completeness, and quality of the commercially produced news. In essence, today’s news consumer is almost a competitor of the traditional news media. Books like Cecil’s enable us to more critically evaluate the news media’s product, and in many instances, the consumers are finding the products delivered by long-time news providers (such as our local skewspaper) to be unsatisfactory.

    Comment by Bill — May 25, 2014 @ 11:51 am

  3. This topic salwys brings the following to mind,

    “Of course people don’t want war. Why should a poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best thing he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece?

    Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
    Hermann Goering

    But one could say, “There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

    To which, “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
    Herman Goering

    Ultimately, this same thing works on the smaller levels in things like, the Kroc, McEuen, Library, and it works on both sides dem, rep, conservative, liberal etc. There are reports as far back a Julius Caesar saying and doing the exact same thing. Our current state works this was, our local gov, and so to does it happen here at Open Cda, and especially on HBO.

    It certainly is an interesting human phenomenon.

    Comment by Eric — May 27, 2014 @ 8:52 am

  4. Eric,

    Thanks for the comment!

    Placing too much unquestioning trust in any institution or in the individuals who represent them is just asking to be deceived and manipulated. It really doesn’t matter much whether the members of the institutions are elected (government), appointed (also government), or hired (private industry such as news media). All of them possess the same flaw: Their positions are occupied by human beings who are as capable of deception as of noble duty.

    Comment by Bill — May 27, 2014 @ 9:46 am

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