Random Thoughts


A frequently obscured and camouflaged fact is that the main purpose of the for profit media in a capitalist society, is to make money. There is nothing wrong or ignoble about this idea and yet it is clearly a matter of conflict of interest, which most readers and listeners are blissfully unaware of. The constraints of time, lack of interest and the lack of capacity for intelligent and informed analysis, leaves large segments of any population at the mercy of the media, in forming opinions, making choices and supporting policies that are often not in the interest of themselves, the nation or the world. It is therefore imperative that there be a plethora of diverse opinions and a lot of facts be available to the people, thus providing checks and balances to their biased natures and serving as a forum for the mix of interests to distill the final outcome for a greater or utilitarian good.

The FCC recently voted to allow a lethal concentration of media ownership in any single market, even to the extent of stifling of opinions and truth. The absurd rabid right wing fanaticism of the Fox network and the confession of CNN capitulation to Saddam, should send waves of panic and ring alarm bells in the minds of the thinking public. Statements by the Center for Public Integrity that FCC staff took nearly 4000 junkets at the expense of media companies, shows that the decision was neither transparent nor impartial. As Milton Friedman and others have repeatedly stressed the system is a revolving door where regulators make decisions favoring the regulated industries and often end up becoming officers or consultants with lucrative contracts in the industry they regulated, once their stint in public service is over. A similar unethical behavior is equally prevalent in House, Senate, Cabinet members and even Presidents!

Advertising which sustains the media conglomerates can be divided into

1) raising awareness which is a legitimate aim
2) espousing comparative advantage over other similar offerings, which may proffer selective or distorted facts and should be generally suspect and
3) emphasizing the need for a product by appealing to your insecurity or stupidity.

Let me expand on the third first. The endorsement of celebrities and the association of scantily clad
figures of the opposite sex or improving your sex appeal (cosmetics, perfumes, deodorants, mouthwashes, anti-aging creams, hair colors) are confirming your insecurity or stupidity. Designer sneakers or fancy creams will not give you the athletic ability or sex appeal of the endorsers and beautiful vistas or purring cats have nothing to do with the quality or performance of your car and the curvaceous woman is not an accessory that comes with the vehicle.

The second type of snake oil selling is what most dentists, doctors, mechanics, lawyers recommend. It is indeed a shame that the FDA, FCC and truth in advertising regulators permit the most outrageous lies to be aired without a modicum of control, in reference to over the counter medications. The claims for better laxatives, painkillers etc are often dubious and without merit.

The first rationale of informing the public about a product or its use is the least injurious to the consumer's health, psyche and pocketbook and even that is not without harm as our past experience with tobacco and alcohol ads should make us aware.

The moral of the story is Caveat Emptor meaning buyer beware, with ads, products, politicians and regulators! I am not trying to destabilize the psyche of my readers, but next time before a purchase or succumbing to any advertisement, spare a moment evaluating your insecurity or stupidity quotient before that impulsive purchase or acceptance. This applies to my article as well.  


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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