In his recent book, The Assault on Reason, former Vice-President Al Gore describes how “the potential for manipulating mass opinions and feelings initially discovered by commercial advertisers is now being even more aggressively exploited by a new generation of media Machiavellis.” The concentration of broadcast media ownership is indeed a real threat to democracy, as we learned the hard way when more than 70 percent of Americans were convinced, falsely, that Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks of September 11 – thus enabling the launch of a disastrous and unnecessary war in
The problem is even worse in
Although Correa ran without a political party or candidates for the Congress, his mandate was strongly reinforced when the government won a referendum to draw up a new constitution by an even larger margin of 82% percent. As in a number of other countries in the region, which has seen a record economic failure over the last 25 years, voters endorsed the sweeping institutional and political changes they saw as necessary to enfranchise the majority.
But on May 21 the opposition TV media launched an assault on President Correa’s finance minister, Ricardo PatiÃ±o. In a seven minute grainy video clip from a hidden camera, they showed the minister meeting on February 12 with two representatives of a
It turns out that the video was authorized by PatiÃ±o himself, an odd thing to do if one is meeting to plan a crime. PatiÃ±o claims that the purpose of the meeting and the taping of it was to investigate corruption. And indeed the rest of the video – not shown on TV but presented in a transcript published in
But the TV media’s repeated, propagandistic images – playing on people’s cynicism from decades of corrupt government — had the most influence. This emboldened the opposition to make more wild allegations of secret deals with foreign banks, and vote to censure PatiÃ±o in the Congress – which they control. All of this has been done without anyone presenting evidence that the finance minister was involved in any wrongdoing.
If all this seems Orwellian, it is.
Correa remains immensely popular, and he has defended PatiÃ±o, who has now taken another cabinet position. The government will survive this assault, and move forward with its agenda. But the opposition, led by the traditional elite and corrupt politicians, will use this “scandal” – with the help of the media – to undermine the government and the reforms that the voters have chosen.
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in