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Op-Ed : Media Literacy | BATAVICK

Related: Frank Batavick


by Frank J. Batavick | CNBNewsnet

I was in the check-out line at the supermarket doing our weekly grocery shopping. UnknownAlongside of me screamed the headlines of the “National Enquirer”: “CORRUPT” was in 72 point type and accompanied by a photo of Hillary Clinton with arms outstretched and a “what-are-you-gonna-do” look on her face. The smaller headlines around her read, “On the Take: $139 Million for Political Favors,” “Fraud and Bribes: Foundation Used as Slushfund,” “Top Aide Exposes Crooked Hillary,” and “Breaking News: New FBI Indictment.” Talk about over-kill!

I then started to think about how many people would be media literate enough to read between these headlines and understand the background behind this vicious attack. Would they know that the “National Enquirer” is owned by David Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media, and long-time friend of Donald Trump? Would they also know that the “Enquirer” endorsed Trump for the 2016 presidency last March (“Trump Must Be President”) and has helped him by steadily denigrating his opponents? During the primaries, it was the “Enquirer” that accused Ted Cruz of extramarital affairs and suggested that Cruz's father was chummy with JFK assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Now that Trump’s GOP competitors have been eliminated, the tabloid has turned its sights on Clinton.

Even though the “Enquirer” has a circulation of only 370,000, it claims its purchasers pass it along to another 5 1/2 million people. Too, the tabloid’s key sales location next to grocery and convenience store check-out counters nation-wide makes it a highly influential medium. It’s as if Trump has purchased thousands of mini-billboards that shoppers can’t help but read as they bide their time.

At this crucial period in the election cycle, it is essential that voters learn to decipher the countless political stories and ads they will be exposed to so they can avoid manipulation. Though the “Enquirer” may be among the most egregious examples of media skullduggery, insidious propaganda-style techniques are practiced by proponents of both parties.

The Center for Media Literacy recommends that we understand the following five core concepts when confronted by broadcast and print messages. I’ll illustrate them using the “Enquirer’s” Clinton cover.

  1. “All media messages are constructed.” Find out who created them and why.  Does the fact that Pecker is a friend of Trump’s impact the message? 

     2. “Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules.” The “Enquirer” cover demanded my attention with a 72 point “Corrupt” headline in white on a red background and a wacky photo of Clinton. Even if Clinton is innocent of all of the charges in the smaller headlines, what seed has been planted in consumers’ minds? 

        3.“Different people experience the same media message differently.” I read the cover and scoffed at it because I know the “Enquirer” to be the same publication that has carried cover stories about why too much plastic surgery is wrecking Caitlyn Jenner’s looks.  However, I am not the target audience for this publication. According to its website, 63.7% of its readers are women. The median age of all its readers is 52.2, and they have a median household income of $49,728. A little more than half have had some college education. All of this suggests a vulnerable and perhaps a less discerning audience.

        4.“Media have embedded values and points of view, and these are not always correct.”   Though one of the small headlines said, “Breaking News: New FBI Indictment,” Clinton had not been indicted at the time of publication and has not been subsequently. Another sub-headline screamed, “Top Aide Exposes Crooked Hillary” and was accompanied by a photo of Dick Morris. Morris was manager for Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign, but he lost the job when it was discovered he allowed a prostitute to listen in on conversations with the President. This so-called “top aide” hasn’t worked for the Clintons in 20 years, is now a Republican pundit, and in 2012 ridiculously claimed that President Obama was using “mind control” techniques to create an UN-inspired Communist dictatorship. Also note the headline’s use of “Crooked Hillary,” Trump’s favorite nickname for Clinton. 

        5. Lastly, “most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.” What does the tabloid’s publisher hope to get out of a Trump presidency? Preferred access for exclusive stories and hence higher circulation? Tax breaks for newspapers? Might the power-seeker Trump have colluded with Pecker for this exposure?

This election season try using the five core concepts above to deconstruct the media’s many messages. Don’t be an easy target for manipulation.

Frank Batavick is a graduate of Gloucester Catholic (‘63) and La Salle University ('67) with over 40 years of experience as a television writer/producer/director for public TV and media companies in IN and NJ.  He has also served as adjunct faculty and visiting professor in Communications at colleges and universities in NY and MD. Frank now lives in MD with his wife Dori (GCHS, ‘63), where he is the vice chair of the Historical Society of Carroll County’s board of trustees, editor of the Carroll History Journal, and a weekly columnist and occasional feature writer for the Carroll County Times.