How Did It Happen? – Pt. 5

How did an imbecile like Trump become President?

Featured image courtesy of The Daily Beast.

FCC Rules

Broadcasting false content during news programming

The FCC is prohibited by law from engaging in censorship or infringing on First Amendment rights of the press. It is, however, illegal for broadcasters to intentionally distort the news, and the FCC may act on complaints if there is documented evidence of such behavior from persons with direct personal knowledge. For more information, please see our consumer guide, Complaints About Broadcast Journalism.


The Podcast Thing

You don’t have to be high tech to listen to the podcasts I point out. You don’t even have to listen to them on your computer. Most of them give you an option to download. Our tractors are quite old. They don’t have any of that fancy stuff. My Jeep doesn’t have any Bluetooth or what-not either.

A long time ago I bought one of these on eBay for under $12.

MP3 FM broadcaster

I download the podcasts to that SD card you see and whenever I’m going to be spending hours in the field or on a long drive, I just plug that thing into a cigarette lighter and tune the radio to whatever FM frequency I currently have this little toy set to.

Nothing really high tech about that thing. I don’t even have the little “manual” that came with it anymore. If you were willing to use whatever FM frequency it was set to when you got it, Play/Stop are really all you need to know. I don’t create playlists or anything like that. I just dump the podcasts into the root folder. It figures it out. The Fast Forward button actually skips to the next file and I bet you can guess what the Reverse button does from that.

Fox News

The Fox News Channel was founded by media mogul Rupert Murdoch in 1996. In 2001 Roger Ailes appointed himself as permanent CEO of this news operation that was created as a Republican-centered alternative to CNN.

Bombshell (2019)

Before you read this installment I must insist you watch Bombshell. In particular you need to pay attention early on in the movie where Ailes tells one of the characters that he didn’t care for Trump but Murdoch liked him “and anyway, he’s good TV.”

Honestly, I never understood why CNN had talk shows like Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace to begin with. Having shows like that really degraded CNN’s claim to journalism. Until the First Gulf War I didn’t see any need for CNN to have any channel other than HLN (Headline News). You turned it on and in fifteen minutes you got the big stories with a tiny bit of detail and not enough time for any real spin. If it was something that interested you, fine, look it up when you get where you are going or wait for your local evening news.

Fox News by and large copied CNN and took the mantra of “good TV” instead of journalism as its guiding principle. Some might say to an extreme. You even see an often asked question on Snopes:

Did Fox News Sue for the ‘Right to Lie’?

Snopes question

What the FCC has yet to weigh in on, but needs to soon, is how much non-journalism content is allowed on a “news” network and more importantly when is that content allowed. Most of the Fox News non-journalism content is in prime time instead of 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

I haven’t watched Fox in many years. Honestly, if you total up the amount of time I watch CNN over the course of a year it’s gotta be under an hour. I got rid of my dish quite some time ago and just have an ordinary antenna. If I happen to see Fox or CNN it is because I’m in a waiting room somewhere or at a client site and they have one of them on in the common area.

What Fox News really liked was the headline ticker. People had been conditioned to trust whatever was on it during The First Gulf War. You could put anything you wanted on it and some large chunk of the viewership would take it as fact, never spending even a nanosecond on researching it.

Apparently a few of their watchers do take the time to actually look things up. That has lead to a petition demanding the FCC revoke Fox’s media license until “News” is removed from Fox News. This isn’t a U.S. only phenomenon with Fox. They’ve even broken U.K. broadcasting rules.

Sinclair, a network that wanted to be even more of a propaganda machine than Fox News (if you can wrap your head around that) got itself into even hotter water than Fox. Earned themselves a $48 million fine.

Still, Fox has ample opportunity to catch up. The COVID-19 suits have started coming in. Eventually little moves like this won’t win the day:

Faced with widespread public criticism last month, Fox Business announced that a show hosted by Regan was on “hiatus,” after the host said the coronavirus is “another attempt to impeach” President Trump.

The Psychology Game

I’m not a psychologist nor do I have any formal training in the field.

You need to understand a few things about marketing before we go on. Yes, I have twice worked at marketing/advertising companies. I’m not going to ask you to take my word for anything though. I’m going to take you on a bit of a detour so you can understand how this all works. First you need to watch two movies based on real events.

Moneyball (2011)
The Big Short (2015)

Both of these movies are based on books written by Michael Lewis. He also wrote the book that became the movie The Blind Side, but that movie isn’t part of this discussion. He does an awful lot of research to write books about real events that on the surface you can’t believe anybody made a movie out of. These are some really good movies. Watch them before going further.

Both of those movies are about an intersection of money and psychology. He has another book about the psychology behind those things.

I have not yet read that book (still wading through Bolton’s), but I have listened more than once to the Freakonomics podcast about it. It’s free and you need to listen to it. In particular you need to pay attention to the “Wheel of Fortune” experiment.

LEWIS: Anchoring is the idea that your mind can be swayed by totally irrelevant information when you’re making a judgment. And they tested it by creating a wheel of fortune that had numbers 1 to 100 on it. You the subject, the lab rat, would spin the wheel of fortune and some number would come up – 20 or 47. And then they asked you to estimate what percentage of the countries in the United Nations came from Africa and what they showed is people who spun a higher number on the wheel of fortune placed a higher estimate there, and the people who spun a lower number on the wheel of fortune guessed lower. And they were anchored by just this number that had been mentioned before. The idea that you could have that kind of effect on an totally irrelevant judgment by just putting a number in front of it, I think it’s totally original. Although, every used car salesman sort of understands, right?

Men Who Started a Thinking Revolution Freakonomics podocast

Freakonomics is an incredibly interesting podcast and you should listen to as many episodes as possible. For this post series you just need to listen to that one. The snippet I quoted above isn’t really enough to get a complete understanding. These guys really explored the process of thought.

The snippet above is talking about Anchoring. Keep that word and the snippet in mind as you read through this post. We will come to Anchoring again. By itself it is good. Used in combination with these other techniques it is freaking awesome!

Effective Frequency

Bull – Episode 20 “Make Me”

Next you need to watch Episode 20 of Bull. The title of it is Make Me. You don’t have to watch the entire episode, only to the point where Bull points out to the jury that on the previous day they had heard the word “red” a certain number of times and today they all wore something red thinking it was their own idea. I couldn’t find just that clip online. There is actual science behind what he says.

Repetition is the annoying key to success when it comes to programmed behavior. In the advertising world it is called “Effective Frequency.” Even Microsoft did a study on it and you can find that study referenced in that link. Depending on what you are selling and who you are targeting a person needs to hear something 6-20 times. It works with news tickers too.

Confirmation Bias

One of the reasons Facebook and Google violate your privacy with wanton abandon is to gather each and every detail of your life to sell you to advertisers. Who you are targeting makes a really big difference in the number of times a person has to hear something. You make much more money if you only have to pay for three ad impressions to make a sale than if you have to pay for twenty.

If you read one conspiracy theory you are more apt to read/listen to another. How do we know this? Confirmation Bias. People don’t “do research” on the Internet, they search for things that support their viewpoint. You don’t watch Fox News for journalism or ethical integrity; You watch Fox News because it supports your opinion and you always want to have your opinion supported.

The problem with algorithm driven sites like Facebook is their goal is to make money keeping your eyes on the advertising. To that end they feed you all of the conspiracy theories you can consume because you looked at one before. Keeping every user on an extra ten minutes means great big money. This means you go down a dark well just because you wanted to look up something about the JFK assassination, possibly for a school assignment.

It’s not just Facebook. Every Internet site funded by advertising is trying to keep you on just a few ads longer. You will find many in “the biz” don’t talk time they talk ads. Haven’t you noticed how some sites have ads in boxes that rotate out while you are reading the page? Others will popup 3-5 ads that cover just part of what you are trying to read. The only way for you to finish reading is to click on the X to close the window. That generates more money (usually) because now they have proof a human responded to the ad which means a human saw the ad.

Exploiting the Algorithm

Algorithm based sites tend to get exploited just like Google’s advertising. That’s why keyword stuffing was so popular a while back. People poke at things to figure them out. There are thousands of “companies” offering to sell you SEO (Search Engine Optimization) services. There is all kinds of stuff out there about optimizing Facebook ads too. Oh, not just ads, lots of people peddling “information and services” for you to increase your organic search results as well.

You can get sucked in to an extremist world simply by making an innocent search. Why do you think white supremacists and other terrorists are so busy co-opting things that were once good? It is because they create a lot of content around that and want you to look it up.

Take for a minute the okay hand gesture. From the 1950s (if not before) this was a hand gesture of universal goodness. People could communicate silently over great visual distance using it. Now white supremacists have latched onto it.

They chose well. We all learned by the West Point incident that today’s kids play “the circle game.” This is basically a reworking of “the peace sign game” popular when the Beatles were still a band. No great mystery to it. You simply try to flash the sign when someone is taking a photograph. Much to the chagrin of my relatives I’ve got more than one childhood holiday photo where I’m flashing the peace sign. Perhaps all kids go through that stage?

When you search for the new context of the okay sign, you seed the algorithm. “Hey! They looked up a white supremacist thing. Let’s feed them more white supremacist content!”

You can experiment with this yourself. In a browser with the ad blocker turned off, search for “hemorrhoids treatment.” Leave your ad blocker turned off and go on about your life. Pay attention to how many times when you are shopping for other things or visiting other sites advertisements popup for hemorrhoids treatments.

Because you once searched for something, that information went into not only a local cookie, but (depending on where you searched) also a database keeping track of your personal information. Until there is some horrible disk drive failure that information will be used to funnel both content and advertisements in your direction.

Facts Aren’t Enough

To get people frothing at the mouth crazy supporting your fiction or horrible cause you need to bring them in slowly. You have to develop a tiny sliver of trust by initially having something they want. There is a fantastic Hidden Brain episode on this very topic. It’s about 51 minutes long and you really should listen to it now.

The First Gulf War did much of the work for Fox News. It got companies to scatter televisions around the office and to leave a 24-hour news channel running with low/no sound. It even got you conditioned to reading and trusting that news ticker on the screen. You trust what is on it even if you don’t agree with it.

Remember what we learned about “Effective Frequency.” According to the Microsoft study (that we can assume they used for their own advertising) it takes somewhere in the range of 6-20 times to get a person to believe/act on something. Various forms of this statement have been around for a very long time. If you paid attention in World History class you should have heard this:

Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth

the NAZI Joseph Goebbels

That’s right. Adolph Hitler’s propaganda person. Once you have a person sufficiently conditioned no amount of actual facts will sway them. Just listen to what people are saying about “stolen election” despite all of the facts to the contrary, facts confirmed by Republicans even. Trump Tweets and they mobilize.

Ask yourself this.

If, pre-COVID-19 you worked in an office, did they have televisions showing some 24-hr news channel scattered about? If so, how many times per day did you read a few headlines from the ticker? Was the television where you could see it from your desk? Did you glance up and read it while you were on phone calls?

Conditioning has gotten a lot worse with all of the lock-downs, unemployment, and stay-at-home orders. People are just watching 24-hour news hoping to hear they are getting more relief or can once again have a job. If the headline ticker cycles through and starts over once every 15 minutes that means you read one of those fake things four times per hour.


Scroll back to the Freakonomics quote and read it again.

Repetition creates the illusion of truth, but anchoring re-enforces it.

When it comes to the headline ticker, order is important. If you are pushing an agenda or, as often is the case, a complete fabrication, you want an anchor with a really high value.

Trump signs $2.2tn Coronavirus stimulus package into law : Trump awarded Nobel Peace Prize

The second statement is patently false. Because it comes after something you knew was coming (because of all the lead-up) and it was a really big thing, viewers will tend to believe the second statement. This lowers the frequency, sometimes to as low as one.

I’m not a psychologist nor do I have any formal schooling in the field. I have worked at an advertising agency more than once. I deliberately chose this example to cement a point. It has been my belief and the belief of those I’ve chit-chatted with in the world of selling things that you need the following to sell it in one:

  • Predisposed to wanting or believing something because it is something you would like or want. (Bias)
  • Doesn’t directly impact you. (Me & My)

With the limited exceptions of the people who actually award the Nobel Peace Prize and the actual recipient; the second statement won’t directly impact your life. Yeah, maybe a token few reporters would cover it, but they aren’t going to actually reach the Fox News audience so . . .

If the ticker cycles through every fifteen minutes and is on at the office or your work-from-home office, by the end of the day you will have seen it enough to believe it even if you weren’t predisposed. You won’t bother to check it out because the true or false of it won’t change your life or the life of your family. You probably don’t even pay attention to who wins any of the Nobel prizes anyway. Who won the peace price last year? I couldn’t tell you without looking it up. You probably can’t tell me without looking it up either.

Once someone is conditioned to have a certain viewpoint there is almost no removing said conditioning without some form of traumatic event. This American Life has a fantastic podcast dropping after 7pm 11-15-2020 titled Personal Recount. I heard most of it driving to the store this weekend. I strongly urge you to listen to it. Pay particular attention to the segment featuring the 91 year old farmer who had been a life long Republican in the middle of a staunchly Republican section of Iowa who put a great big Biden sign in his field. I really like it when I manage to catch an episode of This American Life.

continued in Pt. 6

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