Friday, June 23, 2017

The Media is No Friend to Animals

The Vegan VinePresidents tend to have a love-hate relationship when it comes to the press. After becoming President, Donald Trump declared that the media is the "enemy of the American people!" In reply, Presidential historian Michael Beschloss noted that Richard Nixon secretly told Henry Kissinger, his Secretary of State, that "the press is the enemy, the establishment is the enemy, the professors are the enemy."

Now, let me be clear. I am not a Trump supporter, nor do I agree with the President's belittlement of journalists and the press, but for very different reasons, I connected with both his and Nixon's statements through my vegan frame of reference.

In Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media, Michael Parenti wrote "[T]he single most common form of media misrepresentation is omission." I notice this every day where animals are concerned. The local news station airs a story lamenting the closing of a famous New York City deli but fails to mourn for the myriad nonhuman animals whose bodies had been served up there as food; so-called environmental correspondents report on algae blooms and dead fish washing ashore but never connect it to factory farms and our meat- and dairy-centric diets; raging fires and floods attributable to human-induced climate change kill countless wild animals and ravage their natural habitats but all we ever hear about is the number of humans impacted and human homes destroyed, and while cute videos of black bears and cubs climbing trees and jumping into kiddie pools abound during the summer, gruesome photos of hunters smiling over their dead bodies during New Jersey's annual bear hunt rarely seem to make it on TV in the fall.

In an article in The Nation, "Progressives Need to Build Their Own Media," Mark Hertsgaard addressed the enormous power the media have in defining reality. "The journalistic choices of news organizations send a message, consciously or not, about what is—and isn't—important at any given moment and who should—and shouldn't—be listened to. . . . Such decisions shape the ideological air we breathe and the . . . actions we take."

The roots of our cruel and manipulative animal abuse culture run deep. Animal abuse is built in to our infrastructures, and packaged and sold through the media in everything from entertainment, news, and advertising, to sports and weather. Sure, the word vegan is thrown around in the media much more today than ever before, but the net gain to these shout-outs have been marginal at best because the ethics of veganism is rarely broached and being vegan is still seen as a personal lifestyle choice, not a rightful necessity. In the media's eyes, veganism is about restriction, turning mushrooms into burgers, and mocking tofu, purposefully devoid of any genuine discussion on animal rights and social justice.

Citizens have been largely transformed into consumers, conditioned to be passive stooges rather than active, critical thinkers. Soft fluff pieces are safer and more entertaining than the truth because they neither threaten the prevailing ideologies (humanism, speciesism, carnism, etc.), nor the financial interests of advertisers.

Media owners cannot risk offending big corporate advertisers like McDonald's, Tyson, and Smithfield with information and opinions that contradict the dominant viewpoint. Advertising dollars are the holy grail of media revenue and are necessary for corporations to sell their goods and services. For example, NBC has an extended contract with exclusive rights to air the Kentucky Derby through 2025. This explains why NBC affiliates will investigate the Banana Derby, a small operation that abuses and exploits monkeys and dogs as jockeys, but will not investigate horse racing injuries and deaths that are part of a larger, more profitable industry. If they did, NBC could stand to lose its Kentucky Derby contract and advertisers.

Regardless of the instrument or medium, the message sent is often one of duplicity and subtle complicity with animal abuse and exploitation. For example, individual animals are sometimes given consideration and will receive news coverage (a deer rescued from an iced-over pond), but those same animals (deer) are often ignored collectively, like during hunting season or by avoiding any discussion on habitat loss and human overdevelopment.

The press, the media, and universities are, indeed, the enemy when they uphold a status quo that condones animal use and exploitation. Many state universities, like my own alma mater, Rutgers University, use public monies to promote "animal science" programs that fill university coffers while serving the meat, dairy, fish, egg, pharmaceutical, animal-feed, agrichemical, and other animal-abusing industries. These institutions have enormous power with which to control, distort, and hide the realities of animal oppression.

"The media's power over how people think, feel, and act is ubiquitous, but it is exercised in such a routine manner that many do not recognize it as power," continued Hertsgaard. Which is why animals and ethical vegans need a countervailing independent-media infrastructure that reaches into all spheres of influence—sort of like the newly created Plant Based Foods Association (a vegan trade group devised to compete against animal-based foods by challenging government policies, practices, education, and the media)—but with a focus on laws, rights, and ending animal enslavement.

Just think of the impact one strategically-placed undercover video taken from a major meat, egg, or dairy supplier could have in a thirty-second commercial slot during a prime time television show like The Voice or Monday Night Football. The Animal Cruelty Exposure Fund understands this and is working to get the truth out to consumers, relying on donors to fund commercials uncovering animal-abusing industries. Nevertheless, even if they can muster the thousands, sometimes millions of dollars it takes to run such ads, networks may take exception to content that goes against the corporate, economic, social, and political interests of the animal-industrial complex that funds and sustains them and their advertisers. An independent public relations group with the means to continuously advance animal rights and ethical veganism, however, could pressure media outlets to reconsider.

Hertsgaard's recommendations for progressives also apply to building such an animal rights/vegan media group. Funding is of primary concern for such a group and can come from both individual donors as well from large groups and organizations, similar to endowments for public broadcasting. These extraneous groups will need to collaborate; however, an independent group must determine the focus of future media campaigns since welfarist organizations have shown an inability to advocate for animals rights when it conflicts with their own organization's livelihood and financial interests.

Finally, the AR/vegan media group will also need to develop new institutions to increase its reach across the mass media spectrum. It can neither be afraid of power nor be complicit with it, and it must serve up truth to citizens, not more propaganda.

"If an opinion prevails for any great length of time without benefit of critical examination or hard evidence . . . it is usually because of a durable ideological underpinning," continued Parenti. The view that animals are here for us—and not for their own reasons—to torture, wear, eat, test on, ride, enslave, or otherwise use in any matter deemed fit has been falsely sustained and promoted by various institutions (family, religious, gov't, educational) for centuries. Ultimately, the media continues to reinforce and profit from this systemic oppression, often making it an enemy—not just to animals and the entire planet—but to our core values of truth, justice, and fairness.

How Do I Go Vegan?

Photo © Dietmar Höpfl/

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