Media Mind Control Doesn’t Work Like You Think It Does.

The media isn’t good at telling people what to think. The media is good at giving a false impression of what others — the general public — think. This isolates people and allows false consensuses to prevail while true consensuses are functionally suppressed.

Austin G Mackell
6 min readSep 12, 2023

This effect, rather than being diminished by the Chomskyian tradition of media-critique, is magnified. We are all aware of the media’s power to brainwash other people. And so when we see them pushing, however ham-fistedly, a particular message, we tend to assume their success, often in its absence.

The myth of their power is their power. At least partially, it’s a Tinkerbell effect.

How do I know? Polling.

Take the poll conducted in April of this year by the Australia Institute, ahead of the federal budget. It focussed on housing. Among the key results were the following:

  • An overwhelming majority (80%) of Australians agree that in the next federal budget the Government should spend more money to directly build affordable housing.
  • Twice as many Australians disagree (51%) as agree (25%) that the Federal Government’s proposed investment fund would provide enough social and affordable housing.

Other polling is not so overwhelmingly negative, with 41% of respondents to a Guardian Essential Poll saying the government’s promise of approximately 30,000 new affordable houses over the next five years, was “about right”.

The difference between these two results can be pretty easily explained by the wording of the questions.

The Guardian Essential poll mentions 30,000 houses that will be built. The Australia Institute’s polling cites this number too, but also includes the phrase “shortfall of 650,000 social and affordable properties”, and emphasises that the 30,000 number is an approximation. Regardless, in the Guardian 41% approved the number as “about” right, with 30 percent saying it was too low, 20% that they didn’t know (how could they, without a value for the current shortfall?), and only 9% saying it was too much.

A poll by the same company, around the same time, found 50% supported rent freezes, while only 17% opposed them.

More recently, they included an option where landlords would be allowed to raise rents, but only in line with inflation. The combined votes of the nominal and inflation adjusted freezes formed an overwhelming majority in favour of strong rent controls.

Rent controls are something the government has not endorsed, but which The Greens, whose votes the government needs to pass the bill through the senate have demanded, along with various other stronger interventions. Rather than cede on this front the prime minister threatened to call a snap election, presumably indicating he was confident that doing so would help his party gain an outright majority in the senate, allowing them to proceed with the bill unaltered.

But why on earth would they be so confident about an election called on an issue where the Greens’ position is overwhelmingly popular? Surely they would risk increasing the Greens’ presence in the legislature, and lessening their own?

That’s not what the Greens’ think, apparently. On Monday, they blinked first. Accepting a paltry 1 billion dollar increase to the total Housing Affordability Future Fund (HAFF) package, and promising to vote it through, otherwise unchanged — with no measures at all to limit rent increases.

Why would this minor party, with everything to gain, back down in the face of a government with everything to lose?

A video bibliography, capturing my research for this story.

The immediate and obvious answer, which floats effortlessly to all our lips, including the PM’s, is the word “blocker”. The government, after all, is “trying” to “do something”. The Greens should be “realistic” — and accept that their policy prescription — the one with overwhelming public support — has no chance. And now they have.

They presumably don’t accept that they are blockers. But they accept they will be perceived (by whom it is not entirely clear) as blockers. This is, I think, correct.

Those who agree with the Greens (i.e. most Australians), falsely believing themselves to be members of a progressive fringe (when they are in fact entirely mainstream) will expect the Greens to capitulate to an imagined majority and a non-existent consensus — and will punish them for not doing so.

This effect, let’s call it meta-perception (perception of other people’s perceptions and/or preferences) is, I think, where the media exerts its most significant power on politics.

What’s more, with cleverly designed polling we could probably measure this effect, or something like it. In fact, on at least one occasion, people already have. In 2009 a survey was conducted by, asking people from 20 countries to choose between two statements.

  • “Our nation should consistently follow international laws. It is wrong to violate international laws, just as it is wrong to violate laws within a country.”
  • “If our government thinks it is not in our nation’s interest, it should not feel obliged to abide by international laws”

Majorities in all but five countries came down in favour of international law, with an average majority of 57 to 36. In the US it was even higher, with sixty nine percent of respondents taking the side of international law.

However, as a 2011 report by the Council On Foreign relations noted,respondents to this poll:

… tended to underestimate the extent to which their fellow citizens feel obliged to abide by international law. The same poll asked respondents.. a follow-up question on whether, compared to the average citizen of their country, they are “more supportive or less supportive of consistently abiding by international laws.” If a public as a whole were to perceive itself correctly, one would predict a balance between those saying more and those saying less. But this did not prove to be the case, particularly in the United States. On average, by more than a two-to-one ratio (66 percent to 30 percent), those Americans saying that they were more supportive outweighed those saying that they were less supportive. This indicates that respondents underestimate other citizens’ support for abiding by international law. This misperception appeared in fifteen out of the twenty countries in the poll.

People imagine an “average citizen” who is more reactionary than the true average.

My hypothesis is that if this kind of positional and relational question was included in more polling — asking respondents to define themselves relative to the general population — we would see this effect repeated, again and again, in poll after poll. Such a finding would confirm my suspicion that the strong majority of Australians and Americans who support a basic income, for example, don’t realise they are a majority.

The same goes for the progressive majority of Australians who support bold action on housing, or the “overwhelming” majority who support wage growth that keeps up with the cost of living. Meanwhile real wages have been falling at the fastest rate on record. Yet Labor doesn’t feel any need to sure-up their leftward flank, and the Greens don’t seem intent on punishing them for that.

The Australian voting public, in turn probably won’t punish the Greens, and probably wouldn’t have rewarded their courage had they forced the issue.

They (the voters) see a media industry that is hostile to their views, and assume that this industry is successful in pushing its pro-landlord, pro-boss agenda. They have, apparently, been reading their Chomsky, they know about Manufacturing Consent. They aren’t chumps, you see. But everyone else, outside their progressive “bubble” is. And they, being serious grown up people, expect their politicians to be savvy enough to navigate this imaginary terrain of ignorance.