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“I saw it in the papers/on tv”

“I saw it in the papers/on tv”

The number of people whose attitude is expressed in the phrase “I never believe a thing I read in the papers/I see on the tv” is far smaller than the number of people whose attitude is expressed in the phrase “I read in the papers this morning/saw on tv last night that…”

This latter group, who make up the great majority of media consumers, are apt to look upon a newspaper or tv news bulletin as something above sus-picion. People who are extremely sceptical about the statements of their friends, people who have been known to raise doubts about the accuracy of history books, and even people who question the inspirational basis of the gospels, will nonetheless cite as proof that such and such an event has happened or that such and such an event will happen because they “saw it on tv.”

Such people have fallen into the trap that the media is perpetually laying. These people have ceased to think for themselves and are prepared to believe whatever they read or see. They are the victims of suggestion. Having been subjected to the suggestion of their newspaper or tv news show for years, they have now abandoned their minds entirely to the control of its owners. Amongst such people, newspapers and tv news shows enjoy prestige; and prestige, as I have pointed out earlier, is of immense help to suggestion.

We have already seen how advertisers will exploit the prestige appeal of famous people. The same thing is done in political propaganda. A very large part of the propaganda effort in dictator-led countries is devoted to the task of creating an immense reputation for the respective heads of state. Once this reputation is established, whatever the dictators may say is accepted with so much the more readiness by the people. If prestige does not exist, then propaganda has to make it, and the greater it builds the prestige, the more effective is the propaganda with which the prestige is associated.

Prestige exercises a peculiar power over all people. This power is really a re-flection of our snobbery. We look up to and admire people with titles and money, people who do things better than we do them ourselves, people who write books, people who make speeches. The very fact that an author writes books is sufficient to secure her a certain amount of prestige in the eyes of the people who read them; readers will be less inclined to criticize what she says, more willing to accept her opinions, than they are to criticize what other people say or to accept other people’s opinions.

The respect we have for prestige is quite understandable and, indeed, admirable, provided certain conditions are satisfied. If a great scientist, whose reputation has been built up by years of honest work, makes a pronouncement about the nature of scientific knowledge, we give his words attention. He obviously knows more than we do about the subject and we most likely cite him as an authority whenever we are discussing the matter with our friends. In such a case we are being legitimately influenced by prestige.

But if that same scientist makes a solemn pronouncement about the merits of a political party, many people will be equally impressed and will cite him as a political authority on the matter. It may seem unnecessary to point out that he is no more of an authority on a political matter than is any other layman; but we do need to point it out, because this ‘transfer of authority’ from one realm to another is precisely what happens whenever we permit ourselves to be illegitimately influenced by prestige.


Back to Free press and censorship  :   On to Prestige and personal appearance




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