The Media and Manipulation (Schaeffer – 1976)

How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture L'Abri 50th Anniversary Edition  By Francis A. Schaeffer cover image

One thing that has again become clear in the past twelve months is the power mass media has over our culture. From Facebook to major news websites, to TV news stations, to Twitter, media is extremely powerful. In a matter of days or even hours these media sources can create fear in the hearts of millions. Without breaking a sweat, these media sources can get the public to believe half-truths and even outright lies. And many people today have no discernment when it comes to ingesting mass media. On top of this, there are layers and layers of serious manipulation going on in the media. These media sources have agendas that drive their reports and news.

Francis Schaeffer understood these things very well already back in the 1970’s (minus the internet, of course). In his 1976 book, How Should We Then Live?, Schaeffer wrote an entire chapter on the topic. The chapter is called “Manipulation and the New Elite.” It’s a brilliant chapter that would take too much space to summarize here. I’ll have to come back to it later. For now, I’ll note a few things Schaeffer said:

“…For a long time in philosophy, and popularly in some of the mass media, people have been taught that truth as objective truth does not exist. All morals and law are seen as relative. Thus people gradually accept the idea of manipulation, and a bit more gradually open themselves to accept the practice of the varying forms of manipulation.”

Exactly! If people do not believe in objective truth, it opens the door to manipulation. More than that, a rejection of objective truth makes people accept manipulation and live accordingly. In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s terms, this is when people daily participate in lies. Here’s Schaeffer again:

…One must never forget that every television minute has been edited. The viewer does not see the event. He sees an edited form of the event. It is not the event which is seen, but an edited symbol or an edited image of the event. An aura and illusion of objectivity and truth is built up, which could not be totally the case even if the people shooting the film were completely neutral. The physical limitations of the camera dictate that only one aspect of the total situation is given. If the camera were aimed ten feet to the left or ten feet to the right, an entirely different ‘objective story’ might come across.

And, on top of that, the people taking the film and those editing it often do have a subjective viewpoint that enters in. When we see a political figure on TV, we are not seeing the person as he necessarily is; we are seeing, rather, the image someone has decided we should see. And if Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘Triumph of the Will’, a documentary on the 1934 Nazi rally at Nuremberg, could be a terrifyingly effective propaganda vehicle as it was for that authoritarian government, what can a properly managed TV schedule, with its edited illusion of reality, be as it enters every home and is watched for endless hours by both young and old?

Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?, 243.

Again, this is great insight and completely applicable in our situation today (which includes the internet). And from a Christian perspective, of course, we are called to be discerning and not believe lies. What we see, hear, and read in the news we should not simply drink in without thought. We are to stand for the truth, live in the truth, speak the truth, seek the truth, love the truth, and oppose lies. We need courage and fortitude to resist manipulation even if costs us comfort and conveniences.

As Solzhenitsyn said, we should have a “personal nonparticipation in lies”:

Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me! And this is the way to break out of the imaginary encirclement of our inertness, the easiest way for us and the most devastating for the lies. For when people renounce lies, lies simply cease to exist. Like parasites, they can only survive when attached to a person.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Live Not by Lies.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

1 thought on “The Media and Manipulation (Schaeffer – 1976)”

  1. I recall when I was first being drawn by God I bought some of his books on recommendation of a student at Westminster-Escondido around 1980,who worked at their book store, his books like this one were eye openers.

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