You’d have to be living in a cave not to have noticed that public opinion in America has become incredibly polarized in recent decades. The “middle of the road” seems to have vanished. The cataclysm that has swallowed it up can partially be blamed on the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 by a Federal Communications Commission dominated by Reagan appointees. That policy, which had formerly prevented the renewal of broadcast licenses to “news” stations that refused to represent more than one side of controversial public issues, was, by a bizarre twist of legal logic, proclaimed an infringement of the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. In effect, that decision led to the suppression of diversity of information to American TV-watchers and radio listeners – and to a generation of voters who are unfamiliar with global issues and easily swayed by heated rhetoric and disinformation.
On Wednesday, Upstate Films in Rhinebeck will screen The Brainwashing of My Dad, a documentary by Jen Senko, in which the filmmaker explores the historical roots of the media trends that transformed her own father from a non-political, lifelong Democrat into a right-wing fanatic after listening to talk radio. Through interviews with linguists Noam Chomsky and George Lakoff, media luminaries Steve Rendell and Eric Boehlert and activist groups STOP RUSH and HearYourselfThink, among others, Senko unravels how media manipulations over the past 30 years have led to fewer voices, less diversity of opinion, intentional misinformation and greater division in our country. As she investigates the Powell Memo, which urged business leaders to influence institutions of public opinion in the ’70s, the dismantling of the Fairness Doctrine under Reagan and Roger Ailes’ recent plans for GOP media via stations such as Fox News, Senko points to questions about who owns the airwaves, what rights we have as listeners/watchers and what responsibility our government has to keep the airwaves truly fair, accurate and accountable.
The Brainwashing of My Dad will be screened at 8:15 p.m. on Wednesday, October 26 at Upstate Films, located at 6415 Montgomery Street (Route 9) in Rhinebeck. A question-and-answer session with the filmmaker will follow. To view a trailer for the film, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8PIZrCA3tA. For more information about the event, visit https://upstatefilms.org/coming-soon/the-brainwashing-of-my-dad.