So I’ve had a couple of interactions recently in which the people I’ve been talking to have indicated that they didn’t support a cause because of one face or another of that cause in the media. In one case, a friend in Britain is on the fence about the EU referendum on Thursday but dislikes the negative campaigns on both sides. (Image below nicked from Stephen Watt on Facebook.)

Disclaimer: My bias might be obvious. For a variety of reasons I support the UK remaining in the EU. There’s a personal interest in that my residency in the Netherlands is currently tied to being the partner of a non-Dutch EU citizen. My partner is English. Should push come to shove, we both have ways to stay in the Netherlands (where we purchased a house four years ago), but she’s not keen to give up her UK citizenship either.

That said, my friend who dislikes the negative campaigns on both sides is one of the sharpest tacks and has been roped in to the media version of the campaign. The problem is that those who can afford to get their position across to you in the media are arguing their own interests, not those of (in this case) the people of Britain. And I’m not the first person to note that the very rich these days won’t be affected negatively no matter the outcome, but they stand to gain quite a lot if the vote is in favour of leaving. Boris Johnson, for example, might pull off being the UK’s next prime minister. Rupert Murdoch sells lots of papers whipping people into hatred of some group or other (in this case, immigrants). He’s been quoted as follows: ‘When I go into Downing Street, they do what I say. When I go to Brussels, they take no notice.’ Murdoch’s papers aren’t denigrating EU membership on their front pages daily because of any principled editorial stand; they’re doing so because British leaders are afraid of how they’ll be portrayed. (Note: This is one of the reasons I like Jeremy Corbyn: He could give a monkey’s what the tabloids call him – he’s got bigger issues to tackle. I’m also an old-school lefty.)

Somewhat less recently, a family member in the US expressed exasperation and some degree of hostility at the Black Lives Matter movement. Said family member is damned smart, politically savvy, and almost as left as I am. She’s for Hillary and I’m for Bernie (for what that’s worth). I’m not so steeped in the US media as this person, and my understanding of BLM is that it’s a movement consisting of a large number of people with different agendas, different levels of media savvy, and a whole lot of frustration, anger, and grief. It’s not a monolith anymore than the Republican or Democratic parties are monolithic. A news outlet showing a few images of Black people with BLM placards protesting or trying to disrupt a gathering is doing nothing more than selling advertising. And those people with the placards aren’t any more clones of one another than Howard Cosell is a clone of Roy Cohn just because they’re both dead white men.

One more example: A few years ago during riots in England, a photo made the rounds of a young man in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans kicking in a shop window. It was only after about a week of seeing this one photo repeated in several stories as if it was representative of the behaviour of multiple people, that I saw an uncropped version of the same image: One person indeed kicking in a window surrounded by about 20 photographers. 

Again: What you see in the papers and on the news reflects the interests of the people who own the media or have bought a portion of its time, not yours.