“I believe that competition in the future will not be only an advertising competition between individual products or between big associations, but that it will in addition be a competition of propaganda.”
– Edward Bernays, author of ‘Propaganda,’ and ‘The Father of Public Relations’
For the longest time, the mainstream media lacked true opposition. Sure, there have been many media outlets competing for market share of subscribers over the last century, but there has always lacked true opposition in the form of perspective, narrative, and principle. Following the end of the FCC’s ‘Fairness Doctrine’ in 1987, talk radio emerged as a right wing power house to combat the enormous blob of collectivist thought that made up the mainstream press. But, talk radio only went so far, it would take the true freedom of the internet with it’s low barriers to entry to uncage the diversity of opinion that makes up American thought. This new medium for journalism has given rise to the alternative media, and the alternative media is now winning the competition for trust.
In response, the mainstream media projected it’s massive shortfall in trust onto the alternative media with two words: ‘fake news.’ This weaponized term of ‘Fake News’ that the left-wing media created has blown back on them, further poisoning their former, long standing brands of trust and authority in journalism.
In the latter half of February 2017, within only a couple of days of each other, The New York Times, CBS News, and The Washington Post all announced new slogans in an attempt to uproot the public’s perception that they are fake news.
The New York Times launched a 30 second ad during the 89th Academy Awards. The ad transcribes many recent news story lines in an ever-accelerating, chaotic, and contradictory fashion. Each story line overlaps the one prior to emphasize how the truth can be drowned out by the numerous voices of the modern media era. These story lines end in a crescendo stating that “Truth is hard to find, to know, and more important now than ever.” The final line is the words: The New York Times. This ad is an attempt to reposition NYT as THE authority that can cut through the surrounding noise that entangles the truth.
The New York Times is fighting more than a credibility, PR battle; they are fighting for their financial survival. President Trump has repeatedly branded them, “the failing New York Times.”
The President’s persuasive branding device invokes his critics to attempt to disprove the claim. The problem for them is, he’s right. The New York Times’ 4th Quarter net income for 2016 was $37m, down from $52m for the same quarter in 2015, a 28% decrease. And this shrinking income came about during an election year! Election years generally boost media ad revenue and readership.
CBS News chose a slightly less subtle way to close the brand gap between their reporting and so called ‘fake news’ with the new slogan, ‘Real News.’
CBS has been a news broadcasting organization for nearly 90 years. This slogan is not an informative label of a new player in the media space; this message’s sole purpose is to draw the sharpest distinction away from CBS’s current brand image of ‘fake news.’ CBS’s choice to combat the brand of ‘fake news’ head-on is an admission that the alternative of leaving this issue alone would only further damage their credibility.
The Washington Post’s latest slogan is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” It’s clearly catchy with it’s strong use of alliteration, but the persuasiveness of the tone reveals The Post’s not-so-subtle narrative. Democracy is an overwhelmingly positive ideal held in America, and the fear of democracy dying evokes a strong emotional appeal for us to prevent it’s demise. How do we prevent democracy from dying in darkness? With light! Supposedly, that light shines forth from The Washington Post.
The term ‘darkness’ is interesting too. ‘Dark’ has been repeatedly used to describe Donald Trump’s campaign and now White House. Scott Adams explains that ‘dark’ “lets you fill in the details with whatever scares you the most about Trump while conveying a general tone of evil and negativity.” There’s no coincidence that this new WaPo slogan was not used during the Obama administration; yet, one month into Trump’s administration, we’re reminded how democracy dies each time The Washington Post covers a story. At least there is no more pretense that The Washington Post is an unbiased and objective news source when they tied their slogan to the defeat of their enemy, Donald Trump. They are telling you right up front, ‘this propaganda piece is designed to destroy the current president.’
The mainstream media is at war with Donald Trump and the alternative media. These are rather newer enemies to the not-so-long-ago, unopposed mainstream media. Anticipate the other mainstream media outlets to shift their slogans towards pronouncing that they too are ‘real news.’ But they too will be in vein. The shift in consciousness, thanks to the alternative media and Donald Trump, has already reached it’s tipping point and no amount of competing, mainstream media, propaganda slogans will replace the trust that is lost.