The Toxic Combination of Corporate Money and a Neutral Media


By Josh Sager


In a post-Citizens United political landscape, those with large amounts of money are able to spend near-unlimited amounts in order to spread propaganda favorable to their interests. Corporations, unions, and rich individuals invest in political advertising and attempt to sway the public into supporting politicians who are friendly to their interests.

With the weakening of campaign finance laws, modern elections have become billion dollar events and interest groups the new advertising sponsors. As most of the money in political races is spent in the production and distribution of political advertising campaigns, this increase in money in politics has led to the public being bombarded with political propaganda, much of it non-factual, and all of it focused at shaping public opinion.

Money may not directly buy an election, but it definitely buys a megaphone which can be used to influence voters—the more money that can be spent, the larger and louder the megaphone that can be bought to sway the election. 

Americans are currently being inundated with millions of dollars of political advertising and there is rarely any real fact-checking that would correct any falsehoods propagated by these ads; some fact-checking may occur, but it is almost never propagated with the same frequency of the lie. By virtue of sheer repetition and lack of a loud debunking voice, political advertising allows those with resources (e.g., oil corporations) to convince wide swathes of the population to vote a certain way, regardless of the real effects of such a vote.

At this point in American politics, the megaphones that corporate interest groups are using to spread their propaganda are the size and power of air-raid sirens—even if the truth about an issue is spoken, it is drowned out by the much louder lies of those who wish to buy the election to serve their interests.

In the traditional political model, the media acts as an information source and a fact-checking organization. By reporting the facts and debunking lies, the media serves to keep both sides honest and confined within the facts.

Unfortunately, due to both the sheer volume of political propaganda being thrown at the American public and an unwillingness by the media to risk being seen as biased if they debunk propaganda, the traditional media functionality is now failing. The American media has gone from the objective arbiters of the facts, to the neutral stenographers who report partisan lies on equal footing with factual arguments.

For the most part, the current mainstream media has become totally politically neutral and has neglected much of the fact-checking that it should be doing. A neutral media, as opposed to the objective media, reports all sides on an issue equally, regardless of which side is factually correct.

As most Americans lack personal knowledge of the issues and rely on the media to tell them the facts, the equal portrayal of political propaganda and factual arguments often leads Americans to draw the wrong conclusions. When there are no fact-checkers, it is far easier to construct a set of lies to prop up a false premise than to make a factual argument; reality has contradictions and exceptions, while an argument engineered to spread a lie simply forces all facts to conform to the selected outcome.

We see examples of this toxic “neutrality” in several recent situations:

  • The fictional “death panels” that plagued the Affordable Care Act passage
  • The fight over the validity of global warming as a phenomenon
  • The portrayal of Obama as a socialist or radical liberal

The combination of a neutral media and a deregulated campaign finance system has a truly toxic effect on American democracy. The massive advertising campaigns of special interest groups are flooding the American public with propaganda and are running virtually unopposed by the media. In the absence of an objective referee, the loudest (wealthiest) interest groups will be allowed to shape public opinion in their favor and will gradually indoctrinate the public to support their interest.

A democracy doesn’t work if the people voting have been indoctrinated to the point where they are incapable of making rational choices when they step into the ballot box. Because of their exposure to a flood of misinformation, the low-information voter is increasingly likely to vote contrary to their interests, not because they don’t want to pursue a certain policy, but because they have been brainwashed.

If we, as a society, want to retain our democracy and the integrity of our government, we must prevent private entities—all of which have an agenda, regardless of whether they are large aggregations of power or simply people with wealth—from being able to drown out all other voices.

How are the poor and middle class expected to get their voices heard when millions of dollars of advertising is blaring propaganda across every media medium?

By equalizing the playing field through campaign finance laws, the strongest of which would be a constitutional amendment, we may create a system where the discussion is based around who has the best ideas rather than who shouts the loudest.

To protect our democracy, it is imperative that every American recognize that limitless money in politics is a recipe for a government that only serves those who can afford a loud voice, and that campaign finance is an issue beyond partisanship—without sane rules on the money in our political process, there is no way to have an actual conversation about the issues.

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