Further Thoughts on Media Mind Control.

How the Schwartz Media crew get it wrong.

Austin G Mackell
7 min readOct 4, 2023

Last month I wrote a blog post in which, using the example of rent controls, I argued that while the media does block progressive action, that, in many cases, it does not do this by preventing majorities in favour of action from forming. Rather, it prevents people within those majorities from realising they are part of a majority. This leads to apathy and disengagement. The left wing media, which presents itself as an antidote to this establishment disinformation, by applying Chomsky’s critique, and focussing on the media’s supposed ability to “manufacture consent”, actually helps to demobilise these progressive majorities, who presume the media has done its job and the mind control is working. And they have, and it is, but not how you think.

I have since drawn up this diagram to help clarify the point, which I have been made aware was lost on several readers amid a sea of polling data which I, very indulgently, included.

I was unaware at the time I published of an episode of the 7am podcast which had been released the day before, and which serves as a perfect example of what I am talking about. The episode was called “Why didn’t Labor agree to a rental freeze.” The host, Ange McCormack, interviews Dr Kate Shaw, an honorary research fellow in Geography and Urban Planning, and a contributor to the Saturday Paper — which, like the 7am podcast, is owned by Schwartz Media (which also publishes the highly prestigious Quarterly Essay series).

The first half of the podcast discusses whether “experts agree” that rental controls don’t work, as claimed by the housing minister in parliament. There’s nothing particularly offensive, or enlightening, about this section of the podcast.

The whole second part of the podcast moves away from the policy itself, and into a discussion of the debate around policy. Shaw says the anti-rent control position is an article of faith among neoliberal think tanks and real estate lobbies, and that it is “perpetuated by mainstream and conservative media”. It’s important to note that this is a mainstream which the Shwartz, a company founded by real estate mogul, Morry Schwartz, is apparently outside of and distinct from.

She goes on:

I don’t know if its laziness. I don’t know whether it’s a slight of hand. It’s hard to examine the motives of people that perpetuate this orthodoxy, but there is a lot of disinformation, as well as misinformation around

McCormack audibly nods along. Adding:

There’s always tension in housing policy, politically, I guess for renters to win, someone an investor or a landlord, has to lose which is an uncomfortable idea for politicians who want to win elections

This strongly implies, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that rent controls would be a vote loser.

Shaw responds:

It’s not that we have to affect political decisions by mobilisation, because it’s impossible actually, Because, I mean, unless we’re talking like serious revolution *scoffs*, those who are powerless just do not have the resources and the the wherewithal and the structures and to enable them to affect political decisions on a regular and consistent and comprehensive basis”

What will win this for the tennants is the strength of the argument and for enough people to see the inequities

Then the music plays.

The question I would like to put to Shaw is, what is the threshold for enough? Would an outright majority of 51% be enough? What about a super majority of two thirds? Well the most recent polling we have shows a majority of 79%. Nearly 4 in 5 Australian voters support either a nominal or inflation adjusted rent freeze. This is not mentioned in the episode. Nor is any other polling.

There are three possibilities

  1. Shaw, the expert, doesn’t think a threshold of 79% is “enough” and that we need to convince more people.
  2. Shaw the expert, and McCormack the journalist who is presenting on the politics of rent control did not look for any polling data on the issue before producing and releasing the episode.
  3. They do know about the polling and are concealing it from their audience in a deliberate effort to demobilise people.

I am pretty sure it‘s number 2. To use Shaw’s terms, it’s laziness, not sleight of hand.

The big problem with journalism isn’t bias. It’s quality — or the lack of it, which flows from a lack of methodological accountability.

But the end result is that McCormack and Shaw function as the good cop, telling people they aren’t going to get a better deal, so they might as well go along with the one on the table. Don’t mobilise, there’s no point. Just keep making the argument, by which I mean reposting my content and attending my next book tour. The left is not a political movement, it’s a publishing/media franchise, with revolutionary scribes as the main characters, bravely speaking truth to enlighten an ignorant and brainwashed population. Looking out the windows of their inner-city homes, walls lined with fine art, sighing over $6 coffees and thinking (of the unwashed masses) if only they could see what I see.

Shaw in particular, considers herself, I am almost certain, a revolutionary, of the inner-city, fine art, red wine variety perhaps, but a revolutionary nonetheless. When she scoffs at the idea of a “real revolution”, she is not doing it because she thinks it would be a bad idea, but because she thinks everyone else thinks it would be a bad idea. Everyone else, you see, is misled by all that disinformation. So, since that is the problem, the first step is to combat this disinformation, to “raise awareness” as we all love to say. What comes after that, but before actual corrective action by the state, is never made clear. It’s like the underpants gnomes from South Park.

Instead of collecting underpants though, we are all stuck “raising awareness” of one injustice after another, then watching as they flow downstream on the river of time, impervious to all that awareness. Guantanamo bay is still open, and let’s be honest, we have all given up trying to close it.

One obvious step towards correcting this dysfunction would be, as I argued in my last blog, the practice of measuring meta-perception when conducting polls. In the example I used, respondents were asked about their support for international law (large majorities strongly endorsed its legitimacy), and also where they thought they sat in relation to an “average” citizen. This is where it gets interesting. 66% of americans said they were more supportive of international law than an average citizen. Only 30% said they were less supportive than average. That’s a greater than 2–1 ratio of people who are “more supportive” than “average”, which is obviously impossible. If people accurately perceived the beliefs held by others within their own political communities, you would expect this ratio to be 1 to 1.

I suspect you would find a similar distortion (one which Shaw and McCormack contribute too) in relation to rent controls, basic income, and many other progressive causes. A majority of people would support these policies, but they would not know that they are a majority. So we sit, waiting for a wave of illumination which has already come.

But we do not see ourselves as members of a progressive majority, a progressive society. The media, including the so-called progressive media, reflects back at us, like a carnival mirror, a distorted image of society, in which we are more ignorant, greedy, and fearful than we really are.

We live in a post-pavlovian world, where we are encouraged to think of each other as cowed, conditioned creatures, easily manipulated by signals from our masters, salivating brainlessly for red meat. But we are more than that. We are. Even the dumb bogans among us, who have never read a Quarterly Essay in their lives, have a strong sense of injustice, which objects to the obvious outrage that defines Australia’s extortionate rental market.

Here I am making a similar point to that made by Irami Osei-Frimpong, AKA The Funky Academic, in an interview two years ago, where he challenged the implications of Maslow’s famous “hierarchy of needs”, which, by putting “self actualisation” implicitly “translates into a hierarchy of rights that puts self-determination at the bottom”.

He mentions talking to students about about “how people risk for freedom”, and how

Every time someone would say ‘well… you-know… Maslow, you know, we cant expect people to do this. We can’t expect people to risk their jobs. We can’t expect people to risk their lives we can’t expect people to risk their shelter although even at the with the declaration of independence it ends with them pledging their lives honour and wealth.

Maslow’s famous pyramid, Osei-Frimpong argues, encourages us to think of people, ourselves and others, as animals first, people second. This gives those who are anywhere but the very top of the pyramid — and therefore free from concern about their base needs — or at the very bottom, who are fighting for those base needs, a “risk holiday”, where they are not expected to take risks to advance the needs of others or their vision of a just society.

Similarly, by thinking of people in general as easily manipulated, as complacent, we give a holiday to our leaders, who are not expected to act boldly to solve our problems, since they are already doing the best they can in the face of overwhelming public apathy and ignorance.

See how this story came together…