“Whoever controls the media, controls the mind,” Jim Morrison said, and this is certainly true in America. Consider the lead stories over the July 4th weekend. The first was the threat of terror attacks against America. We were told that law enforcement officials were “in no mood for a national party” — that the threat of an ISIS-inspired terror attack was real. That no attack occurred is of no consequence. Fear was stoked, and that’s what matters. Prepare for the next terror reminder on the anniversary of 9/11, if not sooner.
The second story was shark attacks off the Carolina coast. Unusual, yes, but hardly a threat to America or to the vast majority of its people, even those who chose to go swimming in the ocean. “Shark surge!” “Fear at the beach!” “High alert!” These were common expressions in the media.
Of course, Americans were much more likely to be hurt in fireworks accidents than by terrorists or sharks, but the sensational always takes precedence over the mundane in our media. Indeed, if the goal was to safeguard ordinary Americans, we should have been told to stay off the roads this past weekend, but of course that would hurt tourism and the economy, so you weren’t about to hear that advice coming from America’s talking heads.
It seems nearly impossible to remember that one of FDR’s Four Freedoms was the freedom from fear. FDR knew the paralyzing and stultifying effects of fear, the way it erodes individual autonomy, the way it can be made to serve the powerful. Frank Herbert in Dune captured a powerful truth when he wrote that “Fear is the mind-killer.” The movie Blade Runner echoes the sentiment, with the Replicant Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer) explaining that to live in fear is to be a slave.
A media that spreads fear facilitates a government of wolves. Or, put slightly differently by the great Edward R. Murrow, “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”
There’s a definite method to the media madness, America.