In the introduction of her film, The Brainwashing of my Dad, Jen Senko shows early clips of her affable, loving Dad who respected all races and cultures and was the most popular Dad on the block. After her family moved and her Dad commuted alone to work and listened to talk radio during the drive, he began to change. When Jen visited from New York, she was shocked to experience a different person who was bitter and angry. He became isolated from his family and preferred to spend hours a day listening to radio and TV programs. One day they drove past Hooters and Jen realized something was severely wrong when he threatened to stop the car and make her hitchhike because of an off-handed comment she made that was in support of “Feminazis.”
What had happened to the kind man whose “live and let live” attitude had put Kennedy in the White House? Was he brainwashed? From investigating that question Senko learns her Dad was an unwitting victim of the Fox media network phenomenon, a living representation of transformation in his attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. During Senko’s Kickstarter campaign for the film, she was surprised to discover he was not the only one mentally entangled by the radio waves and digital bytes of the conservative networks’ tentacles. There were countless others who shared anecdotal stories about isolated, emotionally alienated family members who had been mesmerized into an almost cult-like adherence to Fox commentators’ views. Like her father their relatives would brook no other opinions and became infuriated if questioned or countered. One relative mentioned her uncle took out gun and shot bullets into the floor to silence her.
The Brainwashing of my Dad is an account of a brilliant propaganda campaign for the hearts and minds of average Americans to gradually move them toward one line of thinking on a number of issues with a dedicated result: to decrease their power, shrink democracy and empower and increase the wealth of the rich. The documentary is well edited and tells a fascinating story of propagandists, stealth and wealth. It is also the story of well-meaning Americans who have been derailed by a meretricious, power manipulative group to abrogate their freedoms and chain themselves to harmful, self-nullifying behaviors.
Senko, through expert interviews, archival footage and photographs points out that democratic ideals were the values uplifted during the 1960s and early 1970s when virtually every group was united in protest against the oppressive power structure set by wealthy white males that were the elites of the Republican and Democratic parties. It was an amazing social revolution for change that gave birth to the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and in 1972, Title 9. Her father and so many others of his generation supported such values which worked to expand democracy, help one’s neighbor and empathize with those less fortunate to give them a “helping hand” up the economic ladder and provide workplace equality.
However, experts (Claire Connor, Thom Hartmann, George Lakoff, Rick Perlstein, Noam Chomsky and others), relate in interview clips how democratic values were anathema to the wealthy. There was a backlash to the social revolution. There was a pervasive effort to overthrow the country’s move toward expanding democracy. The wealthy intended to shrink it back to a time (1900), when corporate hegemony was unfettered by income tax laws and government regulations. They wanted to go to the time before FDR’s expansion of democracy with Glass-Steagall, etc., and other legislation that protected the “little people” and narrowed the gap between the rich and everyone else.
Senko’s amazing, comprehensive documentary identifies the growth of conservatism through media and its resulting impact on our lives. She reveals the systematic way that conservatives from The John Birch Society, etc. once thought to be “nutty” gradually joined with others of a conservative bent to “legitimize” a way of thinking that would in increments move Americans from embracing democracy to shrinking it. Gradually, through extensive propaganda campaigns spearheaded by conservative talk radio and eventually the creation of the 24/7 conservative Fox news channel, without realizing it, some Americans were being moved toward supporting the ascendancy of corporate power and the interests of the wealthy by accepting a right-wing philosophy, state of mind, attitude and being.
How is it possible that some citizens would continually vote against their own interests and their own emotional, social and economic well being? Senko employs an army of journalists, writers, former Fox news people, historians, professors, relatives of the brainwashed and others. Where necessary she adds reports, charts, diagrams to emphasize and examine how the right-wing propaganda machine churned and still churns day and night to robotize the thinking of those like her Dad who might be lured into belief systems that are damaging. Senko’s is a prodigious, labor-intensive effort, backed up with research, scientific data (proportionate), and testimony.
The commentary and presentations in interview clips of those who worked for Fox News like David Brock, who wrote Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man (he has since been labeled as a Left-Wing Hit Man), and Jeff Cohen former Fox commentator now a journalism professor at Ithaca College and others who worked for right-wing media, provide a fascinating tactical analysis. Their comments are revealing. For example, Jeff Cohen discusses the skewed branding of the “Fair and Balanced” logo of Fox News. According to Cohen, Fox staff were sitting in the Green Room watching a news segment. After it was over one commented with irony, “Now that’s ‘fair and balanced!'” Everyone laughed hysterically, knowing it was anything but “fair and balanced.”
Senko exposes how the conservative media network (think tanks, internet sites, Fox News TV, conservative radio programs), burgeoned and grew from the views of influencers like Robert Welch (John Birch Society), and Lewis Powell (she sites his memo in 1971), to those who, during Richard Nixon’s campaign, seeded anti-democratic values by changing the issues to “morality and family values” diverting the focus from economic equality.
Insiders who once worked for Fox News and those who have written about the taking of American media by the right discuss everything from the relationship between Roger Ailes (the CEO of Fox News who commentators credit with being a TV genius), and Richard Nixon, to Ronald Regan’s “supply side trickle down economics” and the end of unions, all of which are touted on conservative news channels as the way to improve the economy. It is a fact that wages have stagnated and the only improvement occurs for the wealthy as the gap between haves and have nots has exploded exponentially. Senko includes the quote by Studs Turkle who suggested, “The only thing trickling down was meanness.” By that he referred to the lack of empathy and the “looking down one’s noses on people less fortunate” as country club mentality.
Senko’s documentary is both highly informative and entertaining. She lists 10 Rush Limbaugh statements that are proven lies (hysterical), that he touted as accurate. She interviews a student who reveals how the Grover Norquest Wednesday morning meetings manufactured consent by getting dozens of people who disagreed to agree on conservative issues like pro-gun, pro-life and anti-tax to prepare them to accept talking points. She reveals the extent to which conservative think tanks in concert with radio and Fox TV influenced education, politics, media (the Fox Effect which has news channels broadcasting misinformation from Fox to remain “current”) and judicial law. Indeed, Clarence Thomas who was at Rush Limbaugh’s third wedding admitted to listening to Limbaugh’s show. Antonin Scalia got “most of the news” on his drive back and forth to work listening to talk radio (not NPR).
Through Senko’s commentators one learns how conservative media became a megalith. Over the years democratic protections for a free press have been eroded. There has been the abolishment of the The Fairness Doctrine (1949-1987) which was a law that stated all points of view must be represented and complaints could be made to the FCC if they were not. The passage in 1996 of the Telecommunication Reform Act allowed 6 corporations to own all media (they own 9000 radio stations, 1500 TV stations and 2400 publishers). It was then Fox News (a strictly political news channel), was launched, Murdock’s News Corp grew larger and more powerful. It is an irony that when commenting on his oligarchy as a media giant from print to internet, he claimed that he, “likes to make a difference.”
Senko’s documentary is a must see for its revelations and perspective, and it does end on a positive note about her Dad; he was deprogrammed. This is a studied, informative perspective in how to lose one’s democracy and freedom of speech, especially when one is divided from one’s friends and family by media that is blatantly political and works to take over one’s ability to think and decide for oneself. Over the decades what amount of money has been spent to push media to the right? Certainly, that funding could have gone a long way to reduce levels of poverty, fund social security, create jobs and improve education at all levels. But as Adam Smith’s “vile maxim” infers, the wealthy want it all for themselves. Conservative media has been their stamp of approval, albeit with stealth.