How do you get people to vote against their own interests? How do you get working people to buy-in to false beliefs, such as the theory of trick-down economics? How do you get them to fight against policies and institutions that will give them greater opportunity, such as progressive taxes, regulatory agencies, and workers’ unions? One word: Propaganda.
Since at least the early 20th century, the powerful and privileged have used propaganda, as Walter Lippmann said, to “manufacture consent.” Since the 1950s, one of the primary distribution channels that has been used to disseminate propaganda has been through conservative think tanks. These think tanks are usually privately funded by wealthy families and corporations. They engage in policy research, advocacy, and consulting. Some of the more prominent conservative think tanks include, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Hover Institute. Some have called these conservative think tanks a response to “liberal academia.” However, there is a fundamental difference between research conducted at the university and “research” published by conservative think tanks. These think tanks do not have the same level of institutional review that is required at the university. Moreover, think tanks are often exclusively funded by powerful interest groups that have a defined agenda. Not that university research is not funded by interests groups. But there is a code of research ethics and peer-review that helps filter out shoddy research. This is not the case when it comes to conservative think tanks.
This is not to say that all think tanks are negative or turn out poor research. Think tanks like the Brookings Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations are much more independent and bipartisan in their research. The problem with many of the conservative think tanks is that they are not held accountable for the lack of facts contained in their research. The function that they serve is to provide “research” citations—ideology-driven “facts”—for those who are pushing a conservative agenda; whether it is a conservative pushing a big business agenda on the Senate floor, a right-wing pundit trying to create a conservative reality for his listeners, or a columnist or author trying make push a philosophy of free market utopia.
There is nothing wrong with having many voices in a marketplace of ideas—in fact, it is preferable. But when ideas are placed on the alter of public discussion, there should be winners and losers—and ultimately, the facts should stand at the end of the day. Unfortunately this is not what is happening. Propaganda produced by conservative think tanks feeds the myths that reverse progress.
Although left-wing think tanks have also sprung up over the past decade—such as MoveOn.org, ActForChange.com, and TrueMajority.org—they do not have nearly the influence that the right-wing organization have. George Will wrote that liberals were “tardily trying to replicate that [conservative intellectual] infrastructure.” According to a FAIR report, in 2007, of the top 25 media-cited think tanks, the media cited conservative think tanks 37% of the time, whereas progressive were only cited 16% of the time. So much for the “liberal media” myth. As a result, many of the unsupported ideas of these conservative thinks tanks persist in the minds of many voters, leading them to vote against their own interests. Let’s look at one example. » Read more: Let’s Take On Right-Wing Think Tanks