I’m sure you’re familiar with the old adage that “you are what you eat.” Well, here’s a similarly important observation that you probably weren’t told as a child: you are what you read. Or, to put it in terms that the “Netflix and chill” generation can understand: you are what you watch.
This should be a pretty obvious insight. Why do you think one of Jeff Bezos’ first moves in his quest to become the real-life embodiment of a comic book supervillain was to buy The Washington Post? It’s sometimes said that money is power, but Bezos’ purchase of WaPo shows that owning a major press outlet is a way to leverage that power and stretch those dollars even further. Indeed, as I observed in How to Save the World (in One Easy Step!), narrative—the ability to shape people’s understanding of the world through story—is the most powerful weapon in the world. It should go without saying that owning a major media entity is the most effective way of wielding that weapon.
I say “it should go without saying” because the history of mass media is the history of rich and powerful people trying to shape entire nations’ understanding of the world. But, as usual, this is the type of history that is not taught in schools, so it’s entirely possible that this observation in fact does not go without saying.
So today let’s examine the story of some of the early media moguls and the effect that their control of the press had in shaping the history of the world in the 20th century.