Media Critique #2

Fear mongering: The Emotional Manipulation of The Masses

            There is something wrong with America today; a sickness has burrowed down into the very core of our society. Free speech is censored as the media plays the part of the manipulated and manipulator. Zones are established where within that specific area and only in that area can you voice your opinions without fear of reprisal. Move outside of the designated area and serious repercussions can happen. We are being surveyed around the clock by foreign and national intelligence agencies monitoring for “terrorists.” We are led to believe lies from our government and media through targeted manipulation that allow our basic human rights to be violated and push agendas that are not in the public’s best interest. How is this possible? Who could give someone the power to do those and other things similar to it? There are many parties responsible with varying degrees of guilt but the main offenders. Well that would be you and me.

Understand that fear is a powerful emotion that is easily manipulated. Through that manipulation one can achieve a strong emotional response which would overcome any chance for a smart and calculated decision to be made. Over time the government, media, even ad agencies have used a tactic known as fear mongering to push their agendas. We will start at what is considered the most effective and iconic presidential ad in history, moving towards September 11th and the PATRIOT act. Through each of these examples you’ll see what happened and how it was used to push an agenda or specific goal often overcoming the rationality of the American people.

The American atmosphere was dripping in fear and uncertainty. President Kennedy had been assassinated recently and the Cuban Missile Crisis was still fresh on many Americans minds. It was at this time during the nineteen sixty four presidential election that President Lyndon Johnson unleashed what the New York Times called “…probably the most controversial TV commercial of all time.” The ad simply known as “Daisy” was a brutally effective and at the time startling piece of political propaganda. President Johnson’s opponent was Republican Barry Goldwater. Goldwater had what many described as an itchy nuclear trigger finger. In a number of interviews he stated how he favored the use of nuclear weapons. During an interview on the Vietnam War he is quoted as saying “There have been many suggestions made. I don’t think we would use any of them. But defoliation of the forests by low-yield atomic weapons could be done. When you remove the foliage, you remove the cover.” Goldwater also suffered from some mental issues as his wife stated in interviews that he suffered not one but two mental breakdowns.

The thought of a mentally unstable man with a willingness to use nuclear weapons scared President Johnson. After hearing of the interview he remarked to a friend “I just shudder to think what would happen if Goldwater won it. He’s a man that’s had two nervous breakdowns. He’s not a stable fellow at all.” President Johnson’s campaign hired the firm Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) and from that partnership sprung many unique attack ads against their opponent none like daisy though. “Daisy” was approved on August 20th during a White House meeting and on September 7th “Daisy” premiered on NBC prime time television. “Daisy” was a game changer.

The ad was simple and yet evoked a sense of forthcoming dread. That dread was aimed towards Goldwater and to say it was a success would be an understatement. A description of the ad is as such “It starts out with a little girl no more than three or four years old. She is standing in a field picking a daisy similar to the he loves me he loves me not game. The difference is she is counting, fumbling her way through the numbers. When she reaches nine an ominous sounding voice is heard counting down a missile launch. The girl turns towards the sky with the camera pulling in until only her pupils are shown blacking the screen out. At zero a flash and mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion occurs. President Johnson then narrates how the stakes are the highest they have ever been. That we must love each other and that you should vote for him instead of Goldwater.”

The ad only aired one time on NBC primetime but it struck a nerve and was picked up by ABC and CBS and multiple radio shows discussing it. Republicans were quick to defend themselves but only seemed to attach the stigma to them even more. Fifty three percent of women and forty five percent of men believed Goldwater would lead the United States to a nuclear confrontation. With this fear and idea instilled within the American people President Johnson won by a landslide and many attribute it to the image painted of Goldwater by “Daisy” and the fear it produced within the American psyche. “The landslide majority did not vote against the conservative philosophy, they voted against a false image our liberal opponents successfully mounted.” President Ronald Reagan would later write about “Daisy.” “News is a window of the world. Through its frame, American learn of themselves and others, of their institutions, leaders, and life styles, and those of other nations and their peoples” (Tuchman, lecture notes p. 5)

In this example it is abundantly clear that DDB framed the issue to bring to the forefront Goldmans open willingness to use nuclear weapons. The framing of the issue was brilliant. The description I gave doesn’t allude to the subtleness in it. By first having it be around a child it immediately triggers the thoughts of innocence. Having her play in a meadow surrounded by flowers was incredible imagery as it brings to mind the American Midwest. A simpler more natural America. The little girl “Daisy” also is seen picking the petals from the flower and messing up her number count. Imprinting in our minds more than ever the illusion of innocence. When the ominous voice presents itself after the shift to black it’s a jarring jump from the light of innocence into the darkness of destruction. The sudden nuclear explosion destroying all the innocence and beauty that had just been shown. In 1964 when television was new and this type of ad wasn’t common it was considered too much. In the ad they saw a reflection of two possible outcomes. One led to darkness and destruction the other the opposite. It was a brilliant ad and had earned it reputation.

September 11th 2001 there really is no need to say anything other than the date. It rekindles memories of helplessness, confusion, and most of all terror. Soon following that day a significant anthrax scare took hold of the country. Fear permeated through every pore of America’s body and President Bush and those in power galvanized the publics fear and anger to push through the Patriot Act. The act eliminated the checks and balances within the intelligence community and there was little if no government oversight on the Intelligence agencies collection of illegal information. James Bamford wrote “Without adequate oversight, or penalties for abuse, the only protection that citizens have comes not from Congress or the courts, but from whistleblowers.” (Bamford, NSA and me.) As a former Intelligence Specialist I sadly agree. A “YES” culture permeates the intelligence community and with it a rampant disregard for all rules. Nowadays we focus all our assets on prevention. In doing so we are placing guilt on someone before a crime even is committed. There is no longer innocent until proven guilty. To quote a phrase Captain America said in his recent film (which surprisingly enough dealt with the use of fear to gain power) “This isn’t freedom, this is fear.”

It’s even evident in Congress that fear was the primary factor in the Patriot Act and other bills passing. The Patriot Act passed the House of Representatives with 357-66 and 98-1 in the Senate. Republican Senator Bob Young commented about the Patriot Act to reporters saying it was “the worst act we ever passed. Everybody voted for it, but it was stupid, it was what you call ‘emotional voting.” Others have threw accusations that these new laws are being used to push through certain government agendas. The intelligence community saw a huge influx of funding, and the military industrial complex boomed with everything from the war, to extended surveillance capabilities and assets now at their disposal.

In seeking to prevent another terror attack from happening they also allowed for the term terrorist to be defined in dangerously broad terms. Multiple human rights activists and anyone that had a different political agenda than the one being pursued were targeted and watched. Whistleblowers were being convicted more than any time in history. We have been manipulated into a state of constant anxiety. Turn on the news and watch as broadcast journalist and politicians are using the Ebola outbreak to further their cause and rally supporters. Even now I’m willing to bet you can sense it, in the back of your mind you know you’re being watched. Being fed half-truths to help you form an opinion that toes the party line. Because it’s terribly obvious these “terrible illegal immigrants are here to steal our jobs, and overthrow our government if they are allowed to fight for America.” That Ebola will ravage the American people and bring us to our knees. While funny enough more people have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died from Ebola in America. Where is the aid and help for those poor men?

It is understandable to see why we allowed this to happen yet it is highly irresponsible that it has been allowed to go this far. Unfortunately as was stated earlier fear is an emotion that is quite easy to manipulate. So how can this end? Simply put, allow yourself to fear but don’t let it overwhelm you. A good bit of fear keeps you on your toes as long as it does not overwhelm. Use reason, sound judgment of character, intelligence, and most of all courage. It is always uncomfortable confronting what you fear or what causes fear. We can do it together as a people and show that courage not fear is the emotion that rallies the American people together. Can it be accomplished? That is another paper for another day but as a great man once said “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”


Hamm, Mark. THE USA PATRIOT ACT AND THE POLITICS OF FEAR. Indiana State University, 2000. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.

Rosen, Jeffery. The Patriot Act Gives Too Much Power to Law Enforcement. : New York Times, 2011.

Web. 18 Oct. 2014.

Bamford, James. The NSA and ME. The Intercept, 2014. Web. 02 Oct. 2014.


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