Back in College I once took a Sociology course on Mass Media and Semiotics. Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols. Of the few things I seem to recall learning from that class was the following kernel of wisdom imparted by our professor: “Media doesn’t so much tell you what to think, as it tells you what to think about“.
Case in point, currently the mainstream news, the internet blogosphere and social media are being saturated with coverage on the recently convicted Stanford University rapist Brock Turner, whose actions are without doubt both reprehensible and indefensible. As a result of this coverage, many people are understandably feeling a sense of outrage over the news, the manner in which the incident has been handled and a comparatively lenient 6-month sentence handed out by Judge Aaron Persky. An online petition has been formed that now consists of over 1 million signatures calling for this Judge’s removal.
In the midst of the current barrage of reporting, op-eds, blogging, viral videos, and social memes, regardless of what you may think, while you are busy thinking about the Stanford rape case, you are however not busy thinking about the case of Felipe Peralez, a former La Joya, Texas cop who as of 2015 was charged and found guilty of raping a woman while she was in custody over a probation violation at the La Joya City Jail where he supervised. Like Brock Turner, Peralez also received just a six month sentence (plus 1 additional month in County jail).
Although this incident occurred in March of last year and was adjudicated in August, I don’t seem to recall a groundswell of outrage or the formation of any online petitions calling for the removal of the judge in this case.
Now, as of May 26, 2016, not more than two weeks ago, a docket for a lawsuit brought by the victim has been filed against those involved (both Peralez as well as his cohorts who looked the other way). In light of the current spotlight that is being cast upon the horrible crime of rape over these same past two weeks, one would think this ought to have been worthy of at least a soundbite from the mainstream media, given the fact that both the defendants received the same 6-month sentencing, and which in Turner’s case has been the source of much outrage.
Yet, despite the intense media saturation surrounding the Stanford/Turner case, there is almost no news of the La Joya/Peralez case to be found anywhere online, with the exception of a local news affiliate in McAllen Texas, one or two court-blotter and public-records style websites and a handful of alt media outlets. The horrible ordeal has received no national mainstream coverage, neither at the outset of the allegations nor at the apprehension of Peralez, nor following his subsequent indictment. Nor is it receiving any such attention following the recent lawsuit.
The point here is not to argue whether one incident is more or less abhorrent than the other, or that one is more or less deserving of attention. All rape is to be reviled. The point is merely to incite a question as to why it is that one such incident triggers a tsunami of interest while the other barely a ripple.
Shifting for the moment from the crime of rape to the financial world (though you’d of course be forgiven for attempting to draw certain parallels), you may recall when a media firestorm was ignited earlier this year over the tactics of 30-something entrepreneur and hedge fund owner Martin Shkreli for buying out the patent to a pharmaceutical drug vital to treatments for certain AIDs patients, and subsequently jacking up its price 100-fold. At the time, no one on earth was more demonized by mainstream and social media than Shkreli. He quickly became the poster-boy for the evil-cum-greedy-cum-ne’er-do-well capitalist if ever there was one.
Yet by contrast, nary a peep has been made from any of Shkreli’s many detractors as to recent charges brought against former Commissioner of the FDA Margaret Hamburg, who is alleged to have colluded with her husband, a board member at a multi-million dollar hedge fund investment firm with holdings in Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical, to keep a drug called Levaquin on the market during her tenure despite overwhelming evidence pointing to its danger, including hundreds of deaths and adverse reactions (of which is estimated less than 10% are ever reported).
If there is a reason you are not being bombarded with news or an onslaught of memes and viral videos in relation to such cases as an Officer-involved rape, or high-level FDA/Hedge-Fund/Pharmaceutical collusion, it is that such stories are selectively excluded by the mainstream media, and that is because whatever you might think of such cases is entirely irrelevant so long as you are not thinking about them.
Again, the point here is not to specifically weigh one act of wrongdoing over another and declare it better or worse. The point is in asking ourselves, if media gatekeepers control the flow of information by reporting on some stories to the exclusion of others, and thereby decide which of those stories will occupy the public consciousness, whether or not there is an agenda being served in, say, having the ire of the people focused exclusively upon the story of a guy the likes of Brock Turner, or an opportunistic heel like Shkreli, whilst at the same time not having it focused upon those who commit crimes from within the hallowed halls of institutions of government, and so by extension on the institutions themselves.
That such news as might be capable of arousing the same groundswell of anger we are seeing with this Stanford case but pointed instead toward figures of the establishment is roundly kept from public view by the mainstream media might just be a clue to where the true seat of power and privilege lies.
Fortunately there is no need to let the gatekeepers limit what you will think about, much less what you will think. With the internet, virtually every available resource of information is now at your disposal, but only if you choose to make use of them. For example, there are groups like We Are Change, The Anti-Media, and The Free Thought Project helping connect people to stories that go under-reported by mainstream media. Another organization that has been doing great work for decades is Project Censored out of Sonoma State University.
In conclusion, for some it is perhaps not so difficult to want to tar and feather a guy like Brock Turner, or Martin Shkreli, yet not so easy to bring the same outrage to bear against a Felipe Peralez or Margaret Hamburg. As is clear from this essay, social media denizens can be forgiven for not having an opinion on the latter for want of having ever heard of them before. Though, it is also worth acknowledging that the culture most of us inhabit has historically tended toward nurturing in us such long-standing and cherished beliefs as: ‘all cops are heroes’, and that ‘the FDA is there to protect us’, and any story that threatens to contradict or undercut those simple narratives threatens to disturb the psyche, is therefore unsettling, and may not be something people want to see or will enjoy looking at. Yet to the degree they are not brought to light and looked at; to the degree they are kept concealed from view and tucked away in the shadows, the culture that we continue to co-create each day forward will also continue to be a shadow of all that it could be; of what we have the power to make it, if we so choose. That choice begins in the willingness to look, in spite of fear.
If what we see is unsettling, so it goes. We are living through a time of great unsettling, though this is ultimately something to be thankful for, since it is only the illusions we cling to that are being shaken and stripped from us. In essence, we are being shaken free. Those who have sought to distort reality by limiting and confining it to a narrow view wherein the good guys always wear the white hats and the bad guys wear black, are also being shaken loose.