Movie Review: The Brainwashing of My Dad

This is not only a must-see documentary, it is an engaging, tender personal story, told by a daughter, Jen Senko, who lost her dad to the right-wing media. It is a fascinating yet sad and all too common tale about the observable personality changes that took hold over her father after he accidentally happened upon right-wing radio and became addicted to it. Once a happy, non-judgmental, easy-going guy, he became an angry, embittered person that no one in his family recognized after he started spending more and more time listening to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

The movie weaves together the daughter’s personal narrative with the history of the growth of right wing media in the United States. Going back to Nixon and beyond, the film did a thorough job of tracing the forces within the Republican party that used the Supreme Court and political manipulation to establish their own media in order to influence elections in their favor, as a reaction to the liberalism of the 60’s.

The film covers  the Powell Memo of 1971, that laid the groundwork for conservatives to undermine institutions they saw as against the “free enterprise” system such as college campuses and the news media.  It mentions the demise of  The Fairness Doctrine under Reagan that gave rise to right wing radio, The Telecommunications Act of 1996 that was signed into law by President Clinton and resulted in more media monopolization; and the right’s newly acquired ability to use biased language to purposefully keep people in a constant state of fear and anger in order to make them easier to manipulate. Frank Luntz, Roger Ailes, and Lee Atwater all make appearances as they were important figures because they understood how biased and inflammatory language works on the brain.

An expert explains that brainwashing does not have to involve force, that you can sort of slide into it. There are 5 factors that are involved – isolation, control, uncertainty, repetition, strong emotions. Right wing media creates uncertainty, fear and anger. And most people listen to right wing radio when they are alone – in their car, their garage, their house.

The film outlines recognizable tactics: 1 – lie and skew; 2 – create confusion and doubt; 3 – blame and divide; 4 – brand and label; 5 – language and framing; 6 – fear mongering and use of emotion; 7 – bullying and shaming; 8 – in your face! (it’s everywhere); 9 – non-verbal manipulation. It is very interesting to hear how how Frank Luntz coached Hannity to point and gesture for strongest effect and how O’Reilly feigns anger and rage.

And yet the movie leaves you feeling strangely hopeful about the unasked question:  Is it possible for someone to be de-programmed?   Happily, the answer is yes.

I’ll be a spoiler and tell you that the movie has a happy ending, as the dad comes back from his media-induced trance and becomes himself again. You’ll just have to watch to see how that occurs.

One thing we have all experienced and as George Lakoff has written about, arguing with someone who is addicted to right wing media just creates fights and makes them dig in even deeper. But if you too have a loved one or loved ones who have fallen victim to it, there is something you can do and this is it:  Interrupt their exposure to it in whatever creative ways you can, as much as you can, and find ways to expose the person to other kinds of input and activities.

For more help, check out,  a 501c3 non-profit fighting against the harmful effects that fake news, propaganda and misinformation have on our democracy, “working to make reason – not fear, cynicism or rage – the loudest voice in the room.”

You can order the DVD from Amazon, or watch on Amazon Prime. For more options, go to:

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1 Response to Movie Review: The Brainwashing of My Dad

  1. Jen Senko says:

    Thank you Trish Nelson and Blog for Iowa. This is a very well done review. You covered all the important points!


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