Questioning Technology: A Sucker Born Every Minute

One of the saddest realizations to surface in this age of information is that many Americans will believe just about anything they are told by "authorities" from the government, media or well-known corporations. Emboldened by past success, the propaganda machine is now getting even more brazen in it's attempt to shape the map of reality for those who shun independent inquiry.General Electric's NBC television network has announced a new cable television program that purports to analyse the impact technology is having on people's lives. Called "Scan," the program -- to be broadcast on the CNBC cable channel -- will be owned and sponsored by IBM, a company with a clear interest in how technology is perceived by people.Incredibly, NBC will give IBM complete control over Scan's content. "At the very end of the day, if we see something that we really don't want aired, of course we have final veto," said Marianne Caponnetto, IBM's world-wide director of media strategy and operations, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.More incredibly, NBC is claiming publicly that Scan should be considered a fair and objective information program rather than a propaganda piece promoting IBM technology. The series "is not an infomercial for IBM," said Steve Carter, executive vice president in charge of advertising sales at NBC Cable & International, to the Journal. "It has to be editorially pure. One of the mainstays of NBC and General Electric is integrity."Even IBM couldn't keep a straight face in light of such babble. Big Blue acknowledges that the subject matter for the CNBC programs is similar to a current multimillion-dollar ad campaign the company is running called "Solutions for a Small Planet." In fact, one of the first episodes of Scan will feature a story on how Vatican priests digitize ancient art and texts in order to put them on the Internet. Not surprisingly, the Vatican uses IBM equipment and technology.This blurring of the line between propaganda and objectivity also extends to the History Channel, a high brow distributor of supposedly non-fiction programming on cable. The History Channel is owned by A&E Television Networks, which is owned by (you guessed it) General Electric, Disney's ABC Television network and Hearst.The History Channel recently announced it would air a new series of historical corporate profiles that would feature such names as AT&T, DuPont and General Motors. Each company was to serve as co-producer of the episode on itself, help fund the program and buy ads during the series, which was to be called "The Spirit of Enterprise." To insure that the content did not ruffle corporate feathers, each company was to be allowed to review their program in advance of broadcast and veto any content they didn't like.In announcing the project, executives of the History Channel actually claimed that this cozy arrangement with the denizens of corporate America would not interfere with its ability to present unbiased historical information to the public. When the laughter finally died down, the TV historians ran for the hills.Refusing to face questions from the press, Daniel Davids, general manager of the History Channel, bit the bullet through a written statement. He said that because of "recent concerns expressed which suggested the appearance of a lack of objectivity surrounding this work in progress, we felt it was in the best interest to abandon the idea."One can only imagine how much fun it would be to watch Mr. Davids squirm when pressed to explain why an organization that would even consider a project as outrageous as "The Spirit of Enterprise" should be trusted to deliver unbiased history in any context at all. Personally, I don't trust General Electric, Disney and Hearst to tell me the truth about anything, much less the history of the planet.Programs like "Scan" and "The Spirit of Enterprise" are graphic examples of what can happen when unchecked commerce corrupts public media. These are the products of corporate owners who care only about profits and not about people and their communities.The only remaining question is whether or not American TV viewers will buy it. Will they quietly "consume" propaganda programming in large enough numbers or will they reject such fare for crossing an unseemly line into their living rooms. If P.T. Barnum were alive today, I wonder how he'd he bet?#

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