Film Night: The Brainwashing of My Dad



Film Night:  May 11 2017 

The Brainwashing of My Dad 


Why is the power and influence of the right-wing media so strong in the US? Why have so many fellow Americans been seduced by the false information and the rage and hatred the right-wing media promotes?

Come to our screening and afterwards, join the discussion led by the eminent journalist and academic Professor Charlie Beckett, Director of Polis at the LSE, and Karin Robinson, a social media strategist. 




The film’s starting point is the filmmaker, Jan Senko’s, own story as she watches grief-stricken when her largely apolitical “Kennedy Democrat” father, Frank, turns into a virulent right-wing conservative, spouting negative opinions about African Americans, gays, feminists, etc. She goes on a voyage to find out what was happening to her once kindly dad. And she finds the culprit. Her father’s altered thinking started when his job changed and he had a long, daily car journey to get to work. His companion on this commute was his radio and Rush Limbaugh! From Rush Limbaugh he began to access other right-wing outlets, like Fox News and email lists. Their opinions became his opinions. And she discovers his story is not unique.


She journeys to try to understand how her father, and the nation, has seemingly lost objective news sources and the effect that has had our politics. Along the way, she interviews many experts, including a neuroscientist, linguists and media analysts.


Looking historically, she finds that from the Nixon years onwards there were projects to build strong and influential right-wing organizations, networks, media messaging and media outlets. Nixon’s administration began nudging the middle to the right on moral grounds. Groups and issues have been “re-framed”: the poor became “takers,” the established media became the “liberal media,” government regulation  became “government takeovers,” etc. One of Nixon’s advisers was Roger Ailes, who went on to found Fox News in 1996. 


Ms. Senko’s journey also takes her to an Oxford neuroscientist, who argues that the brain can become addicted to the appeals of media outlets and incite angry responses. This ties in with the tactics and techniques of seduction these media deploy. Some would even argue that it is a form of “stealth brainwashing.”


David Alm wrote in Forbes, March 25, 2016, “…The Brainwashing of My Dad isn’t really about Frank Senko or even the media that hijacked his mind for 30 years. It’s about all of us and how easily manipulated we can be under the pretense of information.


Although The Brainwashing of My Dad concentrates on the well-established talk radio and television outlets, we shall be able to expand the discussion to other news outlets and talk about the importance of social media and the growth of the Alt-Right after the screening. Today’s media has become a polarising device. We have Trump in the White House. We need to find solutions.


Join us on May 11 (EventBrite Link) to discuss these issues, which are central to our very way of life.


For more information about the Brainwashing of My Dad, and for trailers, reviews and interviews and sources go to:


Date: Thursday May 11, 2017

Venue: Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building, London School of Economics, Lincoln’s Inn Fields WC2A 3LJ

Time: 7:00—9:30 pm

Tickets are now sold out!!!


Professor Charlie Beckett is director of Polis, the international journalism think-tank as the LSE. He is a specialist in the future of news and political journalism. He worked as a film-maker and programme editor at the BBC and ITN’s Channel 4 News before joining the Department of Media and Communications at the LSE in 2006. His books, SuperMedia and WikiLeaks: News in The Networked Era show how journalism is changing and its impact on society and democracy. As a journalist, he covered several US elections and at the LSE has researched and written extensively about US politics and media and the challenges of ‘fake news’ and President Trump.

Karin Robinson is head of social media for OgilvyOne London, a large advertising and communications agency. In 2008 she was the Regional Field Director for the Obama campaign. She has worked with DAUK through four presidential elections, served as Vice-Chair of DAUK and is currently on its Executive Committee. Throughout this last election cycle she was an informed and unflinching voice for DAUK on a wide range of TV and radio programs here in the UK. She continues to provide powerful critiques of the right-wing agenda of Trump and the Republican Party of our behalf.

Susan Schoenfeld Harrington will chair the discussion. Susan is a member of DAUK's Executive Committee, a former Vice Chair of DAUK and served on the DPCA. She has actively worked on political campaigns at the city, state and national level as both a volunteer and staff. In 2016 she was very active in the Hillary campaign.  Susan worked in the television industry and keeps a close eye on developments in international and US media. The Trump  administration and Republican dominance at federal and state levels have inspired her to sharpen her focus on ensuring that Democrats campaign effectively to set out their agendas for opposition, resistance and define  what Democrats want to achieve in preparation for the 2018 


Alm, David. "Review: The Brainwashing of My Dad Explores the Human Impact of Right-Wing Media." Forbes, March 25, 2016. 



Alterman, Eric. "The Perception of Liberal Bias in the Newsroom has Nothing Whatsoever to do with reality

Darcy, Oliver. "Donald Trump Broke the Conservative Media." Business Insider UK August 26, 2016.  N.B. the date and assumption that Trump wouldn't win.

Stern, Ken. "My Descent into the Right-wing Media Vortex." Vanity Fair. November 23, 2016. 

Benkler, Yochai, Faris, Robert, Hal and Zuckerman, Ethan.  Study: Breitbart-led right wing media ecosystem altered broader media agendaColumbia Journalsim Review. March 3, 2017. 


The "Alt Right" media

Salon series on the rise of the Alt-Right 

Sheffield, Matthew. "Rise of the alt-right: How mainstream conservatives' obsession with purity fueled a new right-wing radicalism."  Salon. December 14, 2016. 

                                "A History of Hate: How the alt-right became racist (Part 1)." Salon. December 8, 2016

                                "A History of Hate: How the alt-right became racist, Part 2: Long before Trump white nationalists flocked to Ron Paul." Salon. December 9,                                       2016

Grynbaum, Michael and Herrman, John. "Breitbart Rises From Outlier to Potent Voice in Campaign". New York Times. August 26, 2016. 

Benkler, Yochai, Faris, Robert, Hal and Zuckerman, Ethan.  Study: Breitbart-led right wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda. Columbia Journalsim Review. March 3, 2017. 


Fake news: 

Buzzfeed series on fake news

Silverman, Craig. "This Analysis Shows How Viral Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook". Buzzfeed. November 16, 2016.

Silverman, Craig and Alexander, Lawrence. "How Teens In The Balkans Are Duping Trump Supporters With Fake News". Buzzfeed. November 3, 2016.

Wardle, Claire.  "Fake News. It's Complicated." First Draft News. February 16, 2017.


Beckett, Charlie."Fake News: the best thing that's happened to journalism"  London School of Economics, Polis Blog.  

Beckett, Charlie.  "How Journalism is turning emotional and what that might mean for news"

Wardle, Claire.  "Fake News. It's Complicated." First Draft News. February 16, 2017. 


Zeitz, Joshua. Lessons from the fake news pandemic of 1942.  Politico. March 12, 2017.



Polis Journalism and Society  - London School of Economics

      Charlie Beckett. 'Fake News': The Best Thing that's happened to Journalism 

       Charlie Beckett. "How Journalism is turning emotional and what that might mean for news"



Brookings Institution.

        Kamarck, Elaine and Ashely Gabriele. "7 Trends in Old and New Media."  November 10, 2015.

        Dionne, E.J. "The Media Democracy Needs and Deserves:  A Response to 7 Trends in Old and New Media." January 2016.

        Podcast  "The Rise of Right-Wing Populism in the United States and Europe."         

Pew Research Center  Journalism and the Media  produces excellent research studies on a wide range of topics, for example:

          State of the Media 2016

         Gottfried, Jeffrey and Shearer,Elisa.  "News Use Across Social Media platforms, 2016."   May 26, 2016. 

         Gottfried, Jeffrey, Barthel, Michael and Mitchell, Amy. "Trump, Clinton Voters Divided in Their Main Source for Election News".  January 18, 2017 

         Mitchell, Amy, Gottfried, Jeffrey, Shearer, Elisa and Lu, Kristine. "How Americans Encounter, Recall and Act upon Digitial News". February 2, 2017  

         Mitchell, Amy, Gottfried, Jeffrey, Kiley, Jocelyn and Matsa, Katernia Eva. "Political Polarizationand Media Habits". October 21, 2016. 

        Mitchell, Amy, Gottfried, Jeffrey, Barthel, Michael , and Shearer, Elisa.  "The Modern News Consumer: News attitudes and practices in the digital era". July 7, 2016


Media Matters for America.