The fourth estate serves a vital role in a functioning liberal democracy. The news media and journalists are there to speak the truth to power.
"News is what somebody does not want you to print. All the rest is advertising." - William Randolph Hurst
The news media is meant to discover the truth that those in power are looking to hide from their electorate. Any aspiring autocrat is best advised to attack the news media as “biased,” “the enemy of the people,” “Lying Liberal, Lying Conservative Rags,” anything and everything to give your supporters an excuse to ignore the inevitable stories about your power-hungry, self-serving intentions.
When the public doubts the legitimacy of the news media, you’ll have extra insulation if anything egregious about your past deeds or your future comes to light.
Of course, as a cunning and skilled operative, you’ll know to use the news media to your advantage. It’s easier than ever as the corporate heads of the large media companies (usually some hedge fund suits) are focused on the bottom line rather than honest and fair reporting. They may offer lips service to keep their rank and file reporters happy, but they’re out for profits. They promote controversial editorials, left-wing vs. right-wing talking heads arguing over shit that doesn’t matter, and give fear-mongering nightly hosts their prime time slots. It's all money in the bank.
Depending on the size and journalistic ethics of the news outlet, use donor funds to pay to play with written op-eds, policy white papers or sponsored puff pieces on cable news.
However, if you need to earn your coverage, it’s important to understand the outlets you want to be seen; understand their political slant, does are they friendly or adversarial to your candidacy? Are the journalists and editors aligned in their thinking, or can you play one against the other?
Play to both the friendly and adversarial media by feeding into their audience biases. If you’re playing to a right-wing audience, you’ll need to talk about their fears of big government, out-groups such as LGBTQ+ or racialized citizens and non-citizens. Keep the fear high but give the audience a reason to support you. No matter how complex the problems, offer a little bit of old-fashioned common sense wisdom, something they get and those damn liberals can’t.
Remember, the liberal portion of the electorate will not vote for your candidacy, but there is a financial incentive for these liberal blogs and news outlets to cover your campaign; their audiences eat up the fear just as much as the right-wing. Your fear-mongering will give them something to talk about, but rather than mixing in the old fashion common sense wisdom, say something stupid. The liberal media already think they’re smarter than everyone, and they’ll amplify your “gaff” to their audience.
The benefits are two-fold. Their audience will feel click the stories to laugh and feel superior. These clicks satisfy the publisher's profit motives meaning you’re about to enjoy headlines every day, so make sure you give them something to write about.
Don’t worry about the negative press; your supporters will dismiss these as loony liberal attacks playing into the “enemy of the people” narrative.
Our goal is to make the disengaged swing voters take notice. They’re not all politics all the time. They won’t dig deep into the story, but they’ll know your name.
Recall the Solomon Asch experiment I discussed in the Political Campaign tips article. You’ll remember people are willing to support popular ideas and candidates against their own best interests due to the social pressures of being with the in-group.
Thank you, science, err, Q shaman, peace be upon him.
Use your Astroturf social media groups and paid influencers to boost every media appearance you have. The Astroturf groups will give your supporters the talking points, how the simplify and champion your message and how to undercut and attack anyone who dares question your policies.
Have confederates willing and advocating to appear on news talk programs to parrot your policies and agendas. This makes your ideas seem more prevalent than they are. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
If you’re a local candidate, jump on the national outrage of the day. Critical Race Theory is a topic du jour this election cycle as it’s given right-wing politicians the perfect combination of complexity and fear to motivate their voters to vote against something they couldn’t explain other than it’s bad, real bad.
If you’re a national candidate, work with your team to find the topic that will resonate with the voters and highlight you as the champion against the latest evil.
The complexity of the topic is important. Pick something the defenders can’t explain the issue's nuances in a headline. It forces them to waste valuable time educating voters, voters who want a slogan to yell and the dopamine hit that comes from it if we're honest.
Note: The news media must use your phrasing for the issue to maximize your ownership of the outrage.
They will come for you, be prepared.
We all have dirt in our past, my aspiring autocrat. We’ll have dirt in our future too, and we’re not about to let some Vickie Vale or April O’Neil publish a story that could derail our quest for power. No, we will treat every potential negative story like a rock fight.
Ethical journalists and editors won’t publish a story about you without getting your side of the story. Some will delay reaching out until the last possible minute to protect their piece against the counter-assault, but you’ll have time to start chucking rocks.
Get all the details, find out how much they know. Be courteous, offer to speak off the record. Use it as an opportunity to delay and place doubts about the facts.
“I’d love to help you with the story. You need the real story. We don’t want you publishing rumours and falsehoods.”
Figure out their source and disparage the source with rumours and innuendo that undercuts their credibility. Use “I heard” rather than anything direct. It removes your guilt from the statement, but the message still gets out there.
“James Joseph Johnson? It’s a sad story, he used to be very close to the family, but there was an accident on the farm. He was kicked square in the head by a horse. He ain’t been right since. Memories come and go, and I’ve heard he has these weird proclivities. It might be something to investigate.”
Talk in person or on the phone. No digital records.
Find the names and positions of anyone who influences the publication or broadcast of the story.
Despite the rhetoric, the mainstream media as a whole nor singular news organizations are monoliths in their political ideology. Right-wing outlets have liberals on staff, and liberal outlets often have right-leaning staffers.
You’ll need to reach out to these people, explain your side of things, and explain how there is no story. If they won’t kill it for whatever reason, it’s time to pick up the rock.
“Hi Robert, I heard your paper wants to run a false story about my candidacy. This is a personal attack. Our campaign purchases a lot of advertising with you, it would be a shame to end that relationship.”
“As I understand it, my largest donors is a significant shareholder in this company, publishing a false story like this seems like an attack against your bosses.”
If the financial pressures don't kill the story, it's time to start throwing those rocks.
Send in your best attack lawyers with threatening legal language.
Talk to competing news outlets, sharing rational-sounding objections.
Crank up the rumour mill. Send your social media attack dogs to create cracks in the journalist's credibility.
Use friendly “independent” media like blogs, podcasts and YouTubers to spread and amplify your version of the story before the news is published.
These potential bad news stories highlight the importance of dismissing potentially critical news outlets before something breaks.
Disparage, discredit and dismiss.
Please remember I’m writing these tactics so that you, your friends and your family will recognize them when they see them executed by politicians and other political operatives.
The news media is underfunded, the internet has savaged the legacy business models, and hedge funds are buying up outlets, gutting them and reselling them for profits.
There are still good journalists doing good work. Please support them with subscriptions and sharing quality reporting.