Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Beyond astroturf

Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and other superstars of the radio right use actors to portray "spontaneous" call in listeners. You probably read about the scandal on Raw Story, although the story broke in a Jewish magazine called Tablet.
“Premiere On Call is our new custom caller service,” read the service’s website, which disappeared as this story was being reported (for a cached version of the site click here). “We supply voice talent to take/make your on-air calls, improvise your scenes or deliver your scripts. Using our simple online booking tool, specify the kind of voice you need, and we’ll get your the right person fast. Unless you request it, you won’t hear that same voice again for at least two months, ensuring the authenticity of your programming for avid listeners.”

The actors hired by Premiere to provide the aforementioned voice talents sign confidentiality agreements and so would not go on the record. But their accounts leave little room for doubt. All of the actors I questioned reported receiving scripts, calling in to real shows, pretending to be real people. Frequently, one actor said, the calls were live, sometimes recorded in advance, but never presented on-air as anything but real.
Now we know how Rush managed to run a radio call-in program even after he became, by his own admission, "100% totally deaf." Limbaugh works for Clear Channel; Premiere Radio Networks is a Clear Channel subsidiary.

By the way -- the Tablet reader comments are pretty trippy. Apparently, any Jew who does not support the conservative views of Glenn Beck must be -- wait for it -- a "self-hating Jew." This, despite Glenn's zeal for the works Cleon Skousen, a noted anti-Semite. Of course, Christians who don't follow the conservative party often hear the words "not a true Christian." And during the run-up to the Gulf War, those who opposed Dubya were routinely asked "Why do you hate America?"

The underlying message: Think as I think, or I'll hit you with a bag of cliches.

Have I drifted from the original topic of this post? Not really. The underlying point concerns the smarmy tactics employed by the right to stifle dissent and maintain a hammerlock on the national psyche. Astroturfing the internet, as described in previous posts, is one tactic designed to create a false appearance of consensus. Faked radio call-ins are another method. A concomitant strategy involves the use of emotionally-charged insults to marginalize perceived opponents.

In all cases, the basic idea is to portray opponents as bizarre extremists, alienated from the national mainstream -- even when they espouse stances which command majority support, such as single-payer health insurance.

The propagandists have to pay a lot more for radio. The voice actors who call in to Limbaugh and Beck get 40 bucks an hour. The internet astroturf work can be farmed out to foreigners willing to work for a dollar an hour.

Added note: All of a sudden -- like, today -- there are ads for Tablet everywhere on the net. Apparently, it's "The Jewish magazine you've been waiting for." Someone put some money behind this thing.
I recently watched Philip Zimbardo's TED talk in which he summarizes Milgram's 16th experiment, "... where you see somebody like you go all the way, 90% go all the way." He was talking about directly inflicting pain on other people. I won't just assume that something like that applies to belief as well as behavior. However, I will at least entertain the idea that this is exactly how astroturfing and propaganda work when they're done well and that this is why it's self-propagating.
I've always wondered why the "Liberal" callers on some of these conservative talk shows were so lame. I had thought it was the screeners doing their jobs now I'm beginning to wonder if they were voice actors too.
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