There exists a symbiotic relationship between corporate America and the United States government. This relationship influences the organizational structure of the mass media and thereby greatly impacts the framing of social problems in our society. The mass media serves the interests of the corporate and political elite by presenting only those issues favorable to their objectives and filtering out those that are not. To understand how this filtering process works, it is necessary to recognize who actually has control of what issues are presented in the mass media and what issues are omitted.
Our media is an oligopoly that poses a threat to the very idea of democracy. The general assumption of most people, that the journalists themselves control what we see and hear, is false. Rather, it is the owners of the media, who consist of the corporate and government elite that are in control These two groups are so intertwined, having such a mutual reliance on one another; it is difficult to view them as separate entities. A clear example of this is how William J. Casey, Reagans CIA director, gained both personally and politically from the Capital Cities/ABC takeover.
Casey was both a founder of Capital Cities as well as a major political player in the Reagan administration. As a major stockholder of the corporation it is easy to see how he could possibly have used his influence to assure what was broadcast by ABC was favorable to the Reagan administrations political agenda. This example is not unique, rather, it is representative of the normal workings of big business and politics in our country. To protect the interest of these powers, the media systematically filters what it presents to the American public.
Issues that pose a threat to the interests of those in control are either not presented or presented in such a way that their threat is neutralized. Conservatives have gone as far as to establish think tanks to form conservative opinions from which they can derive their sources. In fact, conservative right wing think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, come out on top in studies of most quoted think tanks. American opinion however, is much more liberal than that of the conservative experts. Advertising pressure is another example of a filter.
While newspapers earn 75% of their revenue from advertisement, they claim that the advertisers dont influence their stories. Advertisers demand a supportive programming environment. Take for example what happened when Mercury News ran a story on automobile buying that was not in the best interest of automobile dealerships. The dealerships pulled their advertising from the paper. When the paper subsequently ran a story favorable to the dealerships, they resumed their advertising. This amounts to little more than corporate censorship.
What is presented to the public by the mass media, and more importantly, how it is presented, plays a large role in the framing of social problems in the United States. When the fact is considered that what is classified as a social problem is closely tied to what is viewed as deviant behavior, the role mass media plays in shaping the mindset of America becomes relevant. The role this power plays in the designation of deviance must be explored. While we may not want to admit it, our image of the world in which we live is primarily formed and directed by the media.
It is important to keep in mind that the information on which the public bases its opinion comes largely from sources who seek to protect their own interests rather than those of society. When public opinion is formed from information propagated by self serving institutions, it is easy to understand why almost no attention is given to the subject of institutional deviance or corporate and state malfeasance where the subject of social problems is considered. This is particularly true of the criminal justice system.
The study of social problems is mainly directed towards the individual deviant rather than the society in which he operates. This concentration of study on the individual neglects to consider the covert, institutional forms of deviance pervading society. The violence of war and the injustices imposed on society by large corporations is elided in the publics obsession with the dramatic and predatory actions of the individual. These stories of individual deviance are the ones that make the front page and the evening news.
Is it any wonder knowing what powers control these media outlets? The more the focus is placed on the individual deviant, the less it is placed on the institutions controlling the society in which he operates. This is precisely what the powers to be need in order to protect their interests. The politicians who create and ratify the laws, by which society is judged, do so in order to protect and defend their interests and the interests of those who support them financially. The deviant actions of their supporters, namely the corporate elite, are rarely treated in a criminal fashion.
They instead use the laws they create to oppress and persecute those who do not comply with their rhetoric, this being primarily the poor and minority segments of the population who are underrepresented in the Government. The viewpoint of the conservative capitalist is that social problems are the result of human failure and those who fail need to be placed under strict social control because they are unfit to live in society. It is because of this perspective that victim blaming takes place. Those viewed by the criminal justice system as inutile are less apt to have the crimes committed against them addressed by the system.
Americans have been conditioned to recognize only those situations that are well beyond the principled ideal as social problems. To be perceived by the public as a social problem, a condition must be seen as insufferable and extreme. It is this and other themes in American culture that decide which problems are worthy of public sympathy and support. Situations that are not exigent in nature, while they may well be sociological problems are often not considered social problems in the mind of the public. Problems can be brought to the attention of governmental decision-makers in various fashions.
Most often, indicators (such as statistics collected from studies) bring a problem to the forefront. These indicators allow government the ability to not only assess a problem but also to track shifts or changes in a particular area. The trouble with relying on statistics as indicators of social problems and their fluctuations is that data can be manipulated to favor a particular viewpoint. Another way a problem is frequently brought to the forefront is by way of a catastrophe or disaster also referred to as a focusing event. Feedback, both direct and indirect, can also bring a problem into focus.
As fast as problems are brought to light, the concern they generate seems to be able to fade just as quickly. This happens for a variety of reasons. Government may believe that the problem is solved and sometimes this may actually be the case (at least to some extent). Another reason a problem may fade is the dwindling of public support and interest when the amount of time, cost and effort necessary to rectify the situation becomes evident. The fact remains; those in power have the power. The rest of us are relegated to just show up every four years and vote.
In a democracy, we need a free flow of information in order to evaluate the situations going on around us. But as long as big business and government symbiotically control the media well only see what they want us to see. If things are ever to change with our present system it must start at the grass roots level. The people must challenge the system if they want a chance at having a voice that is equal to that of the corporate and political elite. As George Orwell once said, [True] libertymeans allowing people freely to say things you do not want to hear.