Thus, explaining away attempts to understand the information ecosystem as merely the theater the Establishment needs “to build a political world that still makes sense,” as Bernstein does, is just as much of a simplification as the Big Disinfo theory. Even if Bernstein’s own conspiracy is true, and politics and advertising have been nothing but theater the whole time, the Establishment has been remarkably successful at guiding everything from the stage for centuries, and large parts of it are having little trouble adapting to whatever’s going on now.
Berstein’s piece is right as far it goes, but it goes too far.
I can’t help but quibble with what is a much smaller detail in the Harper’s story:
[I]n the late 1930s, the Rockefeller Foundation began sponsoring evangelists of a new discipline called communication research. The psychologists, political scientists, and consultants behind this movement touted their methodological sophistication and absolute political neutrality. They hawked Arendt’s “psychological premise of human manipulability” to government officials and businessmen, much as the early television ad executives had. They put themselves in the service of the state.
There’s some truth here—lots of mid-century communication researchers worked for the state, hawking their “psychological warfare” expertise. But their main, public-facing finding was that media have limited effects. They wrote, and re-wrote, Berstein-style correctives long before he was born.