Brandt On Leadership -- Conspiracy Revealed

Dec. 21, 2004
What you suspect is true: The media controls everything.

I was at another dinner party recently where complaints about pandering politicians and the Presidential election flowed like wine, and then somebody had to go and whisper the C-word. As in conspiracy. As in, specifically, the Media Conspiracy that controls the political news we receive and, consequently, our choices in Presidential elections. This conspiracy theory is nothing new. In fact, anyone who's been in the media more than 10 minutes (or at more than one dinner party) has heard it before. So as a card-carrying member of the media, I once again denied strenuously that the Media Conspiracy exists. But since no one at the party believed me (after all, what good is a conspiracy if it's not denied?) I've decided to put concerns about my personal safety aside to confirm what you Media Conspiracy theorists have suspected for years: It's all true. Every bit of it. We in the media really do control everything, including the Presidential election. Here's how it works: Each January thousands of us in the media get together for a big meeting in New York City to decide what will happen that year, from the performance of the stock market to election outcomes to which team wins the World Series. We discuss everything, and then take votes on how to direct the timing and coverage of each news event. All of these votes are, of course, unanimous, since as journalists we never disagree with each other, our editors, or our readers. To ensure secrecy, each one of us then signs a pledge, which I am now breaking, never to reveal our participation in this world-dominating cabal, on pain of death. This Media Conspiracy -- incredible in its vastness and complexity -- is, like most conspiracy theories, even more amazing when you consider the lengths to which we conspirators have gone to keep it a secret from you and your dinner companions. First, despite the intense competition in the media business -- reporters have been known to lie, cheat, steal, and deliberately sabotage each other, all for the sake of a single scoop -- not one of us has ever been tempted to blow the whistle on all the others. We seem curiously immune to the lure of undying fame and seven-figure book contracts that would surely follow revelation of the Media Conspiracy. This is perhaps less surprising when you consider how restrained we members of the Media Conspiracy have been in the use of our overwhelming influence. Given unlimited power to control elections and the economy, lesser groups might have yielded to the temptation to give themselves and their industries huge pay raises and vast wealth. Yet most of us media types still struggle in one of the lowest-paid professions an educated person can choose. Many journalists, in fact, earn less in a year than a CEO spends in a single month on his expense account. But we don't complain. We're just happy in the knowledge that it's us, not a bull market or the CEO's ingenuity, that really drove his stock options into the stratosphere. Similarly, you might think that those of us in the Media Conspiracy -- more liberal politically, studies show, than the people we cover or for whom we write -- would make sure that only liberal politicians were elected. Yet thanks to our inherent modesty and selflessness, we make sure that candidates both conservative and liberal get their terms in office. Look no farther than the Republication domination of statehouses across the U.S. for proof of our even-handed goodwill. I realize that all this talk of the media's restraint and good sense in how we exercise our incredible power might make some of you suspicious. Others might point to my continued health as further proof that the conspiracy might not exist. Yet before you discard the Media Conspiracy altogether, look at the Presidential choice you've been complaining about at dinner parties and consider this: If it isn't the media's fault, then whose is it? John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is now editorial director of the Chief Executive Group, publishers of Chief Executive and dotCEO magazines. He can be reached at [email protected]

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