Who controls the media? Google is about to find out

From The Age:

Google’s advertising crisis went global after some of the biggest marketers including AT&T and Johnson & Johnson halted spending on YouTube and the internet company’s display network, citing concern their ads would run alongside offensive videos.

The controversy erupted last week after the London-based Times newspaper reported that some ads were running with YouTube videos that promoted terrorism or anti-Semitism.

….Search represents the lion’s share of Google’s advertising revenue, which totalled $US79.4 billion ($104 billion) last year.

Google is about to discover who controls media. Noam Chomsky was right all along. The media is not controlled by shareholders — nor the Illuminati as conspiracy theorists would have us believe — but by advertisers.

No private media outlet is going to bite the hand that feeds and run material that offends its biggest advertisers. That explains why mainstream media, instead of being at the forefront, were the last to discover that tobacco smoking is harmful to your health. And still haven’t awoken to the enormous social damage caused by alcohol. Because Tobacco and Alcohol were (and in the latter case still is) some of the biggest advertisers in mainstream media.

Watch how quickly Google responds to the current furore by changing its censorship of offensive content.

8 Replies to “Who controls the media? Google is about to find out”

  1. Why would you refer to anything written by Noam Chomsky? The guy is a charlatan and an apologist for the worst despots and terrorists on Earth…

    To quote Benjamin Kerstein (http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/michael-j-totten/noam-chomsky-last-totalitarian):

    First, Chomsky is an absolutely shameless liar. A master of the argument in bad faith. He will say anything in order to get people to believe him. Even worse, he will say anything in order to shut people up who disagree with him. And I’m not necessarily talking about his public critics. If you’ve ever seen how he acts with ordinary students who question what he says, it’s quite horrifying. He simply abuses them in a manner I can only describe as sadistic. That is, he clearly enjoys doing it. I don’t think anyone ought to be allowed to get away with that kind of behavior.

    Second, Chomsky is immensely important to the radical left. When it comes to American foreign policy he isn’t just influential, he’s basically all they have. Almost any argument made about foreign affairs by the radical left can be traced back to him. That wasn’t the case when he started out back in the late ’60s, but it is now.

    Third, he is essentially the last totalitarian. Despite his claims otherwise, he’s more or less the last survivor of a group of intellectuals who thought systemic political violence and totalitarian control were essentially good things. He babbles about human rights all the time, but when you look at the regimes and groups he’s supported, it’s a very bloody list indeed.

    Communism and fascism are obviously dead as the proverbial doornail, but I doubt the totalitarian temptation will ever go away. The desire for unity and a kind of beautiful tyranny seems to spring from somewhere deep in the human psyche.

    Fourth—and this may be most important—he makes people stupid. In this sense, he’s more like a cult leader or a New Age guru than an intellectual. He allows people to be comfortable with their prejudices and their hatreds, and he undercuts their ability to think in a critical manner. To an extent, this has to do with his use of emotional and moral blackmail. Since he portrays everyone who disagrees with him as evil, if you do agree with him you must be on the side of good and right. This is essentially a kind of secular puritanism, and it’s very appealing to many people, for obvious reasons, I think. We all want to think well of ourselves, whether we deserve it or not.

    There is an intellectual side to this, as well. You see it clearly in his famous debate with Michel Foucault. Chomsky says at one point that there is a moral and ethical order that is hardwired into human beings. And Foucault basically asks him, why? How do you know this hardwired morality exists? And even if it exists, how can we know that it is, in fact, moral in the first place? We may feel it to be moral, but that doesn’t make it true.

    Chomsky’s answer is essentially: Because I believe it to be so. Now, whatever that is, it isn’t thinking. In fact, it’s an excuse for not thinking. Ironically, Chomsky later said that Foucault was the most amoral man he ever met, whereas I would argue that Foucault was simply pointing out that Chomsky’s “morality” is in fact a form of nihilism.

    I think people come to Chomsky and essentially worship him for precisely that reason. He allows them to feel justified in their refusal to think. They never have to ask themselves any difficult questions or provide any difficult answers. It’s a form of intellectual cowardice essentially, but I’m sure you can see its appeal.

    This may be one of the reasons for Chomsky’s hostility to psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis may be many things, but it is certainly a method of gaining self-knowledge, of asking difficult questions about one’s self and others. And that is precisely what he, and his followers, want to avoid.

    …and Oliver Kamm also deplores Chomsky’s crude and dishonest arguments:
    …Paul Postal, one of Chomsky’s earliest colleagues, stresses the tendency for the grandiloquence of Chomsky’s claims to increase as he addresses non-specialist audiences. Frederick Newmeyer, a supporter of Chomsky’s ideas until the mid-1990s, notes: “One is left with the feeling that Chomsky’s ever-increasingly triumphalistic rhetoric is inversely proportional to the actual empirical results that he can point to.”

    … he deploys dubious arguments leavened with extravagant rhetoric—which is what makes the notion of Chomsky as pre-eminent public intellectual untimely as well as unwarranted.

    Chomsky’s first book on politics, American Power and the New Mandarins (1969) grew from protest against the Vietnam war. But Chomsky went beyond the standard left critique of US imperialism to the belief that “what is needed [in the US] is a kind of denazification.” This diagnosis is central to Chomsky’s political output. While he does not depict the US as an overtly repressive society—instead, it is a place where “money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print and marginalise dissent”—he does liken America’s conduct to that of Nazi Germany. In his newly published Imperial Ambitions, he maintains that “the pretences for the invasion [of Iraq] are no more convincing than Hitler’s.”

    …In The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many (1994), Chomsky considered whether the west should bomb Serb encampments to stop the dismemberment of Bosnia, and by an absurdly tortuous route concluded “it’s not so simple.” By the time of the Kosovo war, this prophet of the amoral quietism of the Major government had progressed to depicting Milosevic’s regime as a wronged party: “Nato had no intention of living up to the scraps of paper it had signed, and moved at once to violate them.”

    After 9/11, Chomsky deployed fanciful arithmetic to draw an equivalence between the destruction of the twin towers and the Clinton administration’s bombing of Sudan—in which a pharmaceutical factory, wrongly identified as a bomb factory, was destroyed and a nightwatchman killed. When the US-led coalition bombed Afghanistan, Chomsky depicted mass starvation as a conscious choice of US policy, declaring that “plans are being made and programmes implemented on the assumption that they may lead to the death of several million people in the next couple of weeks… very casually, with no particular thought about it.” His judgement was offered without evidence.

    In A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West (2000), Chomsky wryly challenged advocates of Nato intervention in Kosovo to urge also the bombing of Jakarta, Washington and London in protest at Indonesia’s subjugation of East Timor. If necessary, citizens should be encouraged to do the bombing themselves, “perhaps joining the Bin Laden network.” …

    This episode gives an indication of the destructiveness of Chomsky’s advocacy even on issues where he has been right. Chomsky was an early critic of Indonesia’s brutal annexation of East Timor in 1975 in the face of the indolence, at best, of the Ford administration. The problem is not these criticisms, but Chomsky’s later use of them to rationalise his opposition to western efforts to halt genocide elsewhere. (Chomsky buttresses his argument, incidentally, with a peculiarly dishonest handling of source material. He manipulates a self-mocking reference in the memoirs of the then US ambassador to the UN, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, by running separate passages together as if they are sequential and attributing to Moynihan comments he did not make, to yield the conclusion that Moynihan took pride in Nazi-like policies. The victims of cold war realpolitik are real enough without such rhetorical expedients.)

    If Chomsky’s political writings expressed merely an idée fixe, they would be a footnote in his career as a public intellectual. But Chomsky has a dedicated following among those of university education, and especially of university age, for judgements that have the veneer of scholarship and reason yet verge on the pathological. He once described the task of the media as “to select the facts, or to invent them, in such a way as to render the required conclusions not too transparently absurd—at least for properly disciplined minds.” There could scarcely be a nicer encapsulation of his own practice.

    1. Hi Steve,

      Every time that I quote Noam Chomsky I get a similar reaction: “Why would you quote him….the star of the loony left?”

      My standard response is that it is more important that we listen to our critics than listen to those we agree with. We may not necessarily agree with them but it forces us to question our assumptions.

      1. Hi Colin
        Of course I agree with you, that we should read (and quote) those with whom we may disagree, not just those who share our own opinions and world view. However, we must satisfy ourselves that we read, debate and quote people who share our basic ethics and respect for scientific analysis, based on rational evidence.
        Chomsky has demonstrated, over decades of critical analysis by countless of his peers, to be motivated primarily by the enhancement and preservation of his own concocted and false reputation as a celebrity “intellect” than by genuine, rational, scientific analysis.
        He uses humiliation and bullying in the classroom and lecture theatre, to crush dissent or even questioning of his pronouncements. He obfuscates and lies in his writings. Many of his footnotes lead to circular references (in which he quotes others, whose arguments are founded on Chomsky’s own earlier publications), or are entirely fictitious or blatant mis-quotes.
        But the bottom line is that someone who basically ends up supporting the wanton slaughter by Pol Pot, or the crimes against humanity of the despotic, corrupt, terrorist regime of Hamas, is not someone I’d waste my time reading, debating… or quoting.

  2. …but to return to the main point of your posting, Colin: it’s clear that “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. And so advertisers have always held sway over the media, even to the extent of influencing editorial opinion. However, before the democratising, openness of the World-Wide Web, when media was controlled by a small number of large corporations, he who pays the piper included not just advertisers, but also other (and sometimes, hidden) financial interests of those corporations or of their major shareholders. This profit motive remains the case with Google and all other media giants.

    I suggest that it’s heartening to see that responsible corporations are holding Google to account for their blind acceptance of any content, and refusing to allow their brands to appear alongside the promotion of terrorism or antisemitism.

    (And this is relevant to the current debate in Australia over the Racial Discrimination Act [RDA].) Free speech is not an absolute. No freedom is absolute in a civil society, because others must be protected and absolute freedom is anarchy. For this reason we have libel laws, laws preventing misleading and deceptive conduct in advertising and commerce, and clause 18C of the RDA must remain more-or-less intact (even if it’s tweaked a bit).

    For the same reason, it’s great to see Google being told, in no uncertain terms, that it has a responsibility to limit the openness that the World-Wide Web enables…..

    1. Yes. I would like to see more of this. Holding social media to account.
      The quality of debate has deteriorated as social media has grown. Investigative journalism in the news media has been replaced by reporting and editorializing as funds have dried up.

      I would prefer to leave the courts to strike the right balance, calling on the common law rather than statute. But not sure whether hate speech is a common law offence. Anyone care to contribute?

      I have only come across the commercial law equivalent of contra bonos mores – against good morals / harmful to the moral welfare of society.

  3. From The Age today:
    ….the recent problems opened Google to criticism that it was not doing enough to look out for advertisers. It is a significant problem for a multibillion-dollar company that still gets most of its revenue through advertising.

    “We take this as seriously as we’ve ever taken a problem,” Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer, said last week.

    “We’ve been in emergency mode.”

    Over the past two weeks, Google has changed what types of videos can carry advertising, barring ads from appearing with hate speech or discriminatory content…..

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