Apart from supine politicians, the greatest friends of the elite are those who control much of the mass media. The elite have proved exceptionally adept at persuading politicians, with whom they share a desire for power, that their interests also coincide. They are less good at persuading the mass of ordinary people of the benefits of elite power. They leave that task to their chums in the media, who follow a depressing but quite successful strategy to confuse, confound, divide and disempower their audience.
If Rupert Murdoch has been the most influential media mogul in recent times, delivering crucial votes to whichever political party promised not to rain unhelpful legislation on his empire, then others have not been far behind. It would be premature to think the problem has been solved by the partial neutering of Murdoch’s power following revelations of phone hacking at the News of The World. The alignment of editorial output with a world view that supports and reinforces elite power and undermines democracy is a major threat to progress. Perversely, millions of people are persuaded to pay good money to read elite propaganda, celebrity tittle-tattle and invented stories peddled as news. This gives some idea of the size of the task ahead.
Across the mainstream media, and not just in the imaginary world of the tabloid press, recent times have seen newspapers and purveyors of web-based content play a key role in encouraging the polarization of opinion. Extreme and controversial views are encouraged because argument sells newspapers and draws traffic. When professional journalists and commentators can’t provide controversy, the websites of leading newspapers provide space for anyone to publish their ill-informed vitriol. Newspapers argue that such community participation enhances their product and the experience of their readers. In reality the anonymity of the internet allows people to project their prejudices to an audience of millions. It gives voice to the unreasonable and the extreme.
The polarization of public opinion, especially in respect of politics and economics, is the surest way of keeping the elite safe in their castles. There is a profound difference between defending free speech and encouraging vituperative disputation on the websites of respectable newspapers in pursuit of greater advertising revenues.
– Excerpt from Four Horsemen: The Survival Manual.