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June 9, 2016
Sacha Sewhdat

Dr. David Altheide is an American-born sociologist and Emeritus Regent’s Professor at Arizona State University.  He has spent his career researching and writing about messaging in media.  His thoughts about the media and fear messaging are helpful in understanding that what we hear and consume on a day-to-day basis needs to be constantly interpreted in an educated way.

For the entire interview, click on the link below. 

Dr. David Altheide: Increasingly, there’s no longer a basic body of solid factually-based information that people can share. One of the few things we share in the United States is the Superbowl. It has become very difficult to have a discussion.  When you suggest something, it’s just opinion. My opinion’s as good as anyone else’s and I can even cite some sources for my opinion and if I can promote my opinion then I become a storyteller, too.

Sacha@CONTEXT: It sounds like there is almost less of a premium placed on understanding facts and that if we understand less, the facts, this fear narrative can be furthered.

Dr. David Altheide: Yes. Rhetoric trumps facts.  

“All I know is that there are terrorists out there! That’s all I know. That’s all that matters!” screams the politician.  “All I know is that Americans are under attack!” 

Facts become part of another narrative.  Anything that smacks of analysis and reflection is often derided as being avoiding the real problem, the real issue and so forth.

The important thing you can know about someone is what they take for granted and the most powerful thing in the world, to me the definition of power, is the ability to define a situation.  So the language you use and the imagery you use associated with that, as long as it sets the definition of the situation, then half the battle is won.  

Sacha@CONTEXT: We have seen this, fact vs. opinion.  Facts are being treated as opinion, all over social media and now all over the news in some places. What is the end goal of treating facts like opinion?

Dr. David Altheide: It’s really about social control.  That is, getting people to do certain things and act in certain ways primarily to turn things over toward ‘trusted’ authorities that are in most cases going to keep us safe.

The issues get cast a certain way and a good way to illustrate that is Climate Change.  The phrase ‘climate change’ has been around for quite a while but it really became more popularized out of a practiced effort primarily by Republicans in the United States who worked very hard to diffuse the notion of ‘Global Warming’.

Climate Change became an accepted alternative to Global Warming.  You can track the use of it, and we’ve done this, you can track the change in the major news media.  I can’t give you a precise date but it happened over several months when climate change became part of the talking points. 

So now we’re dealing with climate change, it may be warmer, it may be cooler and it involves the climate but that’s really not the issue at all.  The issue is CO2 and the warming of the atmosphere and the consequences it has.  But that was science and scientific experts and if it became true, and it became gospel, that the globe was warming and that humans were the cause of it then that would not be good for certain economic and political interests.

For more, click on the link above. 

Connect with Sacha on Twitter @SachaInContext. 

Next week, we talk all about fear messaging in the Church. 


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