Media Manipulation — How to Manage It

From: L. Michael Hall
2021 Neurons #66
October 4, 2021


The book that took the longest to write was Inside-Out Persuasion. Originally I planned it to be the second book in the Meta-Coaching series. I planned that because, if a coach is effective at anything, it has to be in influencing in setting goals and establishing an inspiration purpose and then persuading the client to persist in the activities that are required to succeed. I researched the field of persuasion, I even wrote more than a dozen chapters, then I got stuck.

I got stuck at a barrier—a barrier which to this day still exists in 99% of the works on persuasion. The name of that barrier is manipulation. Back in 2003-4, I had the heuristic and techniques that would enable one person to influence another, but I did not have a robust human ethical framework to put it in—a framework that would eliminate manipulation. So I waited. I waited nearly 15 years until I eventually found a framework— suggested by the title of the book, Inside-Out Persuasion (2017).

Now in terms of an anti-manipulation set of tools, there’s no better place to start than the NLP Meta-Model. Built originally from therapists helping clients get their heads on straight about the internal mental maps they had built about the world, themselves, others, work, life, etc., the Meta-Model distinctions point out problems in the mapping and questions to ask to straighten the problems out. Using the Meta-Model, manipulation inevitably occurs 1) when someone deletes key information and doesn’t provide a fully picture for “the whole truth. 2) When someone over-generalizes information so that it is too broad, too general, and one-sided. 3) When someone distorts the information, twisting it round, taking it out of context, changing words, etc.

This is also what the media does. Now that the media manipulates is not news. What is news is the extent of that manipulation and the many different forms that the manipulation takes. It’s not a matter of if the media manipulates, or when, but how. How does the media manipulate us and what can we do about it? Let’s use the three aspects of the Meta-Model to examine how the media does it’s thing.

A good example of over-generalization occurred last week. Just when 15,000 people had crossed the southern border and were camping under a bridge, some of the border patrol agents on horseback were video-taped trying to stop a horde of people from entering the US illegally. As they steered their horses back and forth, several used the reins to direct the horse to go this way and then that way. Nothing abnormal about any of that. But the way the news media picked it up, they changed “reins” to “whips” (!) and then evoked references to 50 years ago to instances where minorities were indeed whipped by police. That gave a completely false impression about what was occurring and sough to create an automatic emotional response of “How terrible!”

Of course, anyone who knows anything about horses and how you control a horse so it goes where you want it to, knows about reins and how to use them. They are not whips! You use the reins of a horse like you use the steering wheel in a car to drive it. It’s completely manipulative to over-generalize in this way, distorting the word “reins” and not on the illegality of the people but on the cruelty of the border patrol agents. On that day, no one was hit, no one hurt, no one whipped. But you would not know that from how the media presented it.

An example of deleting and simply not making critical information available occurred the weeks before the election in 2020. Hunter Biden’s laptop had just been found and lots of damning evidence was being reported from it. But the mainline media never said a word. They went on with other news and never even mentioned it. Three months later, polling indicated that 13% of those who voted for Biden, and who had read or seen the information about Hunter, said that they would not have voted as they did if they had known that information. The media manipulated by deleting critical information.

An example of distorting information has occurred this week in Durham’s investigations into the Russian collusion. The story that the media reported on for years has turned out to be a non-story about Trump and a disturbing story about the Clinton campaign. The only collusion occurred by the Clinton camp in what they were doing. Indictments are now being handed down about that and probably, more will be coming. But, of course, it is some four years late.

How can you and I handle all of the manipulations by the media?
1) Expect it.
2) Skeptically look for it. Don’t react to the first report. Because a great many news stories are eventually retracted, hold off on coming to a definite conclusion too soon. And even when you do, be ready to change your mind. A good bit of it may eventually prove to be media generated to sell papers and increase viewers.
3) Challenge stories using the Meta-Model questions. That will help to flush out the real facts.
4) Use the lists of cognitive distortions, fallacies, and biases to check out information.


Resources for understanding and dealing with media manipulation
Communication Magic (2001) for the extended Meta-Model.
Inside-Out Persuasion (2017) for persuading without manipulating.