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    Pluto and the Media

    by Jessica Murray

    Astrological transits serve to put a spotlight on something that is always there -- something which has become newly relevant. Saturn in the sky is opposing Pluto in the USA chart (1), keeping the spotlight trained on the plutocratic underbelly of a nation whose self-image is that of a democracy.

    Anything Saturn opposes gets subjected to a relentless third degree, as you know if you've had it transiting a personal planet. But when the planet being interrogated is Pluto, planet of destruction and overhaul, the examination takes on a life-and-death significance. We are forced to look at power at its ugliest. Those souls whose karma it is to tackle the Dark Mysteries are stimulated to expose and redirect this power.

    Implicated in this cycle is the USA's Mercury-Pluto opposition, which juxtaposes the mass media (Mercury) and plutocratic forces (Pluto) in a stressful dynamic (the opposition). The bumper sticker exhortation to "Kill (Pluto) your television (Mercury)" comes to mind as a succinct expression of the combination, if not the predominating one.

    Invisible power

    To understand the fraught topic of American power metaphysically, we must first strip it of its connotations. Interpreting a chart is like painting a still life: if we want to truly observe the object, we start by forgetting what we think we know about it.

    These two planets and the aspect between them suggest that the nation's information-dissemination system is being undermined by an underground power source.

    The system in question is the American mass media, a phenomenon whose immense reach extends well beyond this country into popular culture throughout the modern world -- from Shanghai street vendors hawking knock-offs of J-Lo perfume to Nigerian gangsters using street language inspired by Eminem CDs.

    And what is the underground power source? Who controls the media, how they do so, and what are the implications of this control?

    Intellectual property cartel

    One doesn't have to track sky patterns to know that America is undergoing an astounding crisis of self-revelation, a crisis astrology chalks up to the transit of Pluto over the USA Ascendant in 2001. One of the cats that has come tumbling out of the bag during this period is the truth about media hegemony, bias and corruption, which has been dutifully outed in a flurry of bestsellers ("Weapons of Mass Deception") and films ("Outfoxed") exposing the news industry as an intellectual property cartel.

    But we have seen that myths grow up around Pluto, keeping it strangely isolated in the chart, protecting it from scrutiny and integration. Collective myths surround America's Pluto just as personal myths surround an individual's Pluto. Myths about free speech (Mercury) in a plutocratic economy (Pluto in the second house) abound in our national ethos.

    One of these myths is that the availability of five hundred television channels means freer choice and higher quality programming -- a notion that falls away when we consider the ramifications of the same four corporations owning everything from TV satellites to billboards. As industry watchers know, these mega-companies do not really compete with each other. Like a mafia family (also ruled by Pluto), they form a cartel that operates through a carefully controlled arrangement: Fox movies have to be sold to HBO, Warner cable has to take Fox because they're the one with sports teams, and so on; all of which keeps the power locked in, and independent producers all but shut out.

    Secrets hidden in plain sight

    In previous essays, we have looked at Pluto's governance of secrets hidden in plain sight. Accordingly, evidence of what the American media has become is often openly flaunted. Take the example of political reactionary and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. He is now a household name, but though the public knows who he is, they do not seem to know what he is. His monopolistic holdings are more likely to be mentioned in popular magazines in the gushing tones of a personal-success story than they are to be condemned.

    It is hardly classified information that the media has become a corporate commodity with an entrenched lobby in Washington. Cheerfully reported in the news as if it were the most natural thing in the world is the fact that media goliath Clear Channel poured millions of dollars into Bush's reëlection campaign. Accepted as common knowledge is the fact that Colin Powell's son was allowed to run the supposedly apolitical Federal Communications Commission -- that august body set up to protect the airwaves, which were once seen as belonging to the common weal every bit as much as the oxygen we breathe.

    And in case we children of the 60s had not yet noticed the writing on the wall, it was announced a couple years ago that even Bill Graham Presents is now owned by the conglomerate responsible for the kind of radio and television broadcasting that would make old Bill spin in his grave.

    Connecting the dots

    Obviously there is power vested here, but where is the taboo? We know that wherever it is placed, Pluto points to a highly charged situation that nobody wants to name. The aspect suggests fear of discovery of the truth (Pluto) even in the discussion of known facts (Mercury).

    It is in keeping with Pluto's operation that even where dots exist, they are not connected. Connecting them would be too disturbing. The notion that the free press we all learned about in 5th grade social studies -- one of the most frequently touted sacred cows of American democracy -- is in fact a mega-business in bed with the government seems to be one of those features of modern life that is shrouded in mass denial.

    Over the past two years, Big Media lobbyists have tried to gut the last few FCC restrictions that have safeguarded the media from total consolidation. This has provoked no widespread outrage, because the rulings have been virtually blacked-out by mainstream news outlets -- all of whom naturally support the effort to kill the safeguards. At issue is the threatened loss of an iconic American concept: that the airwaves are public property which cannot be bought and sold. But because the loss is already well underway, there is almost no coverage of what is going on.

    Last month the proposed rule-gutting was struck down in court, and the Bush camp, at this point not even bothering to hide its interest in the issue, has said it will hold off on pursuing it for the moment. This reprieve seems to be due to a small but vocal group of free-speech advocates who rallied a grassroots protest.

    It is telling that they used the internet to raise the alarm. It remains a fact of American life that corporate TV and radio are overwhelmingly the information-dispensers-of-choice in this country; and since they exclude themselves from self-disclosure, any details of how our government manages the industry remain the inside scoop of those folks who are web-savvy enough to know where to find it on their computers, or of those folks who read books and watch documentaries -- a tiny minority of Americans that is growing ever tinier.

    With Pluto obscuring the issue in typical don't-ask-don't-tell fashion, most of the country remains oblivious.

    No escape from escapism

    When they do appear, the mainstream media's much-touted attempts to observe itself are so unserious as to come across as intentional red herrings. For example, the novelty of "embedded" war reporters -- a self-parodying idea if there ever was one -- to cover the attack on Iraq in the Spring of 2003 suggested a deliberate attempt to steer viewers' attention away from the urgent and vital questions they had been in the process of asking about the war.

    More ghoulish entertainment than information-dispensing, the embedded reporters gimmick was paraded before the television audience and then lost its buzz as quickly as Peter Jennings' new hairstyle.

    One-Two-Three Rule of Pluto

    Pluto is about breakdown, followed by regeneration. Identifying the rot is the first step, whether in a souring carton of milk or in a human organization. We may get as far as raising the glass to our lips before we smell it and ask ourselves: Do I really want to drink this?

    Acknowledging our place within the system is the second step. I bought this milk; what am I going to do with it now?

    The third step, for those Pluto-appointed souls whose path leads them further, is to take part in the regeneration phase, as when we make the conscious choice to compost food that has expired.

    To apply Pluto's 1-2-3 rule in the societal realm, we first unsentimentally identify the hidden sources of power in the system at hand. We cannot do this without going outside of the system for perspective. Then we focus inwards, equipped with fresh vision. After that, we work diligently, like a midwife, to tend the long, hard rebirth that must ultimately follow.

    Group charts

    The theory behind group charts is that the worldview they describe is held, on a consensual level, by those individuals who identify as members. If our wish is to transcend the folly of the collective in which we live, we must follow the same logic that accrues to transcending the limitations in the individual chart: first we seek out a dispassionate observer who can help us pinpoint our blindspots.

    Looking at the world through a foreigner's eyes, every once in a while, would be quite an eye-opener Americans who believe the corporate news describes The Way it Is. Those who read international newspapers and web sites are informing themselves outside of the Pluto-Mercury pattern, and are less likely to be in the thrall of their country's group-think.

    We would not expect viability from a rotting organism; and we will not get the truth about the mainstream media from the mainstream media. Putting one's credence in National Public Radio, for instance, without looking at where they get their funding, fails to take Plutonian logic into account; as does launching a liberal talk-radio station under the auspices of Clear Channel.

    Tale told by an idiot

    If a system of information is corrupted to the core, we would expect that it would share characteristics with other life systems in decay. In Nature, when an organism is about to die, it may go through a flailing disintegration, a penultimate frenzy of faux-vitality.

    In the fractured format of today's popular news programs, with their jumble of popping visuals and speed-crawling sound bites, we can infer a similar pre-mortem hysteria. The plan seems to be to pile on overstimulating production techniques to keep viewers from thinking about what they are seeing and hearing.

    In content as well as form, the fragmented inconsistency of the corporate-media worldview comes across as a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. Affecting the look-and-feel of sports programs, the nightly news reduces all information, no matter how tragic or globally significant, to the same level of glittering meaninglessness. Watching each week's breathless mini-drama crowd out the one reported the week before, one cannot help but conclude that the intention is to enable the public's amnesia and encourage its ignorance.

    When "investigative reporters" were covering December's assault on Fallujah, for example, they tried to rivet our attention on mock-scientific pie-graphs supposedly showing how much of the terrorized city had fallen, day by day, to US forces. At no point did they question why 500-lb. bombs would still be dropping on a place that had, in their reports from the previous week, been declared "pacified".

    Skewed press presentation

    This lack of cohesion extends to the print media, where story placement and frequency of mention betray the same corruption (a media-watch study found The San Francisco Chronicle to be twelve times more likely to report the killing of an Israeli child than a Palestinian child). It has become commonplace to find a story of considerable significance -- e.g. a communiqué from the Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda, claiming to be negotiating with kidnappers to spare Red Cross worker Margaret Hassan's life -- buried in the back pages of the paper, while inflammatory stories alluding to the same group's brutality are placed on the front pages.

    Though critical thinkers might view both reports with equal skepticism, at issue here is the fact that conclusions of any value are arrived at in spite of the way news is presented, not because of it.

    Faux scandals

    Inconsistencies such as these bespeak a systemic lack of integrity, in the classic sense of the word: the center cannot hold in an entity that is decomposing.

    One wonders how journalism departments in today's universities negotiate the disparity between the old-school tenets of ethics, neutrality, intelligent debate, etc. and the new realities of rightwing radio diatribes and news-as-infotainment.

    In a curious subplot, the demise of journalistic integrity in America has been the subject of a recent spate of mini-scandals (Pluto) involving plagiarizing reporters (Mercury), served up with the perverse glamour of celebrity crimes. It is almost as if we hope that by watching a B-movie about disgraced New York Times reporter Jason Blair's isolated malfeasance, we can staunch the deeper wound: that of a media whose all-encompassing lack of viability is too troubling to look at.

    The first casualty of war

    American historians will one day name the war in Iraq -- which coincided with Pluto's ingress into the USA's first house -- as having set a new precedent for government control of the news.

    Despite last year's New York Times mea culpa, in which the paper of record conceded that they might have been just a tiny bit hasty in accepting Bush's call to war, America's news media clearly continue to get their scripts from the White House; with any capacity for self-correction precluded by the fact that watchdog agencies have become thoroughly politicized, even as political agencies are being privatized.

    Facts (Mercury), buried but still available, seem to have been swallowed up by a far more formidable force: that of political power (Pluto).


    Individuals whose charts contain the Mercury-Pluto opposition may be possessed of an extraordinary focus of mind that can latch onto a chosen subject like a drill. But although this capacity can bestow an intense mental rigor, seldom does one see that free-ranging openness that gives Mercury its reputation for loving ideas for their own sake.

    In the U.S. chart, Pluto has overpowered Mercury, crippling its capacity for curiosity. The anti-intellectualism for which our country has long been notorious has deepened into a dumbing-down trajectory that is studiously aided and abetted by the business-government alliance that rules from Washington (Pluto in the second house).

    Without curiosity, we lack sufficient mental vitality to question ? let alone respond to -- what we are being told. What remains is numb credulity.

    Saturn and Pluto

    Saturn, the planet of censorship (2), is also clearly involved. Independent reports emerge in the newspaper and disappear from its pages the next day -- as happened after the coup in Haiti -- while Washington-authorized reports of the same event are copiously repeated. Saturn is associated with voices being silenced and facts being held back, giving the public less information to work with.

    But Pluto's operation is more subtle: the truth is not so much restricted, as bent and spun. The dark side of Pluto-Mercury, whether in an unenlightened individual or an unenlightened collective, is mind control. There may be an avalanche of information available, but its presentation is crafted to keep people from applying moral criteria to it, or even good old-fashioned logic.

    Plutonian linguistics

    Throughout modern history, propaganda has been demonstrably effective in keeping the human repulsion to war in check. Propaganda is manipulation (Pluto) of the mass mind through words and ideas (Mercury). Nowhere is it more thoroughly evidenced than in the language used by the corporate news.

    As soon as the bombs hit Baghdad in March 2003, military monikers such as "Operation Iraqi Freedom" began appearing in newspaper stories without quotation marks or qualifiers, signaling that the government's version of the invasion was the only version we were going to get. Throughout the war (often delicately referred to as a "conflict"), the American media has kept up with the White House's shifting wordplay every step of the way.

    An example of Plutonian linguistics that has received an untypical amount of critical parsing is the tailored phrase "enemy combatant", invented to get around protections that international law would extend to these unfortunate men and boys, were they called something else.

    Under the radar

    Other official coinages are more covert. Pluto is in its element when under the radar; and it is a well-documented irony that propaganda is more persuasive the more unremarkable it is.

    When White House strategists decreed that non-military Iraqis should no longer be called "civilians" -- presumably because the term came across as too sympathetic -- newspapers dropped the word without missing a beat. Allusions to "insurgents" and "terrorists" started to appear with increasing frequency.

    White-House surrealism also dictates the language the press uses to refer to the various puppet regimes Paul Bremer & company have been trying to set up in Iraq over the past two years. Few questions were raised when the media started throwing around terms like "president" and "prime minister" to describe the dubious Mr Allawi, a hand-picked veteran of the CIA and British espionage, and his disgraced predecessor, Ahmed Chalabi, immediately after the Pentagon began trying to bestow these risible titles upon them..

    It is worth remembering that the media started to linguistically legitimize Iraq's ever-shifting gaggle of collaborators -- collectively referring to them as "the interim government of Iraq" (3) -- well before the ghastly charade at the ballot boxes in late January. Calling this committee of stooges a "government" -- let alone a "democratic" one (rulership by the people) -- is clearly meant to sidestep the ludicrously obvious question of whether such a thing can exist in a country under military occupation.

    In some instances the media's manipulation of language is apparently intended to be subliminal (Pluto at its most Plutonian). A recent newspaper photo in the S.F.Chronicle of a prisoner at Guantanamo referred to him as being "caught" on such-and-such a date. Given that this young man had been neither tried, indicted, charged nor even accused of a crime, it would seem that the accurate word might be "detained", or some variant thereof. But someone, somewhere, decided upon the verb "caught" -- a word associated with escaped convicts and rodents.

    Terms of debate

    The damage done by the media's skewed presentation of the war goes beyond misinformation. It has steered fatally off course the terms of the debate itself.

    At first, the debate was about whether the occupation was necessary, legal or moral. A surprising number of editorials came out denouncing the invasion as a mass-murdering snow job by oil profiteers. But gradually the debate changed. During last year's presidential campaign, it was not about whether but how troops should be in Iraq. For the past few months, the war debate, if that is what it could be called at all anymore, has centered around tactical details such as armor, provisions and numbers of soldiers.

    But even these quibblings seem downright trenchant compared to what our intrepid newsmen began busying themselves with after that: the Grand Guignol of the Iraqi "elections". It is difficult to imagine the degree of professional jadedness that must be calcyifying within the spirits of these network employees stationed in Iraq, dispatching bromides about The Will of the Iraqi People, while outside their secured hotel rooms a full-blown military occupation explodes in free-fall.

    Ignorance vs. stupidity

    Since November's presidential election, all over the world thoughtful observers have been scratching their heads, asking what could be going through the minds of the American electorate. What answer might be proposed by our study of Pluto opposite Mercury?

    As a multi-leveled archetype, Mercury governs more than just information acquisition. It has to do with the proficiency with which we use our minds: our intelligence, which a teacher of mine once defined as the ability to pay attention. Unconscious Pluto can impair the Mercurial ability to pay attention; to take in reality.

    Ignorance -- to not know enough -- is unfortunate; but stupidity -- to buy into polluted information out of intellectual laziness -- is dangerous.


    Perhaps the most damning result of a corrupt government is that lying loses its ability to offend and disgrace. In America's current Plutonian crisis, the stigma (to say nothing of criminality) attached to presidential lying seems to have disappeared.

    Propaganda is capable of making people believe both everything and nothing at the same time, as Hannah Arendt has observed. (4) Fear-inflaming scenarios are fabricated by Washington, instantly repeated by all the news networks at once, and the next day refuted (remember anthrax?); but rather than protesting against the lies, the public retreats into cynicism. The last nail in Mercury's coffin will be when the public stops objecting to being deceived because we hold everything we hear to be a lie anyway.

    Cynicism vs. common sense

    Of the myriad social degradations of contemporary American life, cynicism is the most insidious. Not too long ago, cynicism was seen as a character flaw: among politicians, it was a grievous slur. But as popular culture has forsaken any muse but commerce, the media has lost credibility as a zone of ideas; and fewer and fewer systems of public accounting remain to represent and support us as ordinary citizens.. People feel powerless, and they get cynical. Cynicism is no longer merely an affectation of critics and teenagers. It has become normative.

    To be a conscious person in millennial America, we must detach from this deadening mass experience. We must maintain a distance from the toxic cacophony that is the mainstream media. To do so we must apply two basic traits of a healthy Mercury: curiosity and common sense.

    Curiosity and common sense are ours from birth. Astrology considers them part of our animal nature. The essential gift of Mercury is our everyday intelligence, our instinct to question, the voice in our head that would say to ourselves, "Okay, now the Bush administration spends 65 million in the Ukraine; the CIA has been there for some time. They say it was to insure an honest, impartial election over there. Does this sound plausible? Is that why the CIA usually goes places? Let's think this through. Does our government seem to care about rigorous accuracy here in American elections? Let's look at the track record. Have Bush's calls for democracy in other countries resulted in self-determination in those countries? Like, in even one of them? If I were to put money on it, what would I bet was most likely to be true here?"

    Living through our Suns

    When astrologers speak of living through one's Sun, we mean maintaining one's singular identity in the face of overwhelming pressure to surrender the self. Once we have accepted the idea that our soul must have had its reasons for incarnating into this particular group, benighted though it may be, we can settle into our purpose and apply our unique skills to the challenge. Sun-centered, we can remain detached, yet heartily engaged -- without being negated, harmed or even held back by the group's incapacities.

    Once we're centered in the Sun in our chart, we can meet our own needs; and this makes connection possible. We can now connect personally (Venus) and tribally (the Moon); we can connect through right action (Mars); we can find the will to believe in something (Jupiter). We develop a sense of living responsibly (Saturn). Staying rooted in the singular self (Sun), we can make sense of our nationality, assimilating it without becoming assimilated by it.

    Turning off the television would really, really help.


    1. According to the 7/4/1776, 5:10pm chart.

    2. Saturn' s ingress into Gemini marked Bush's ingress into his first term. See

    3. This confusion stems from a deeply rooted linguistic conceit whereby a country's name is used to refer not to the citizens of that country, but to its government. That there is a difference is something we don't usually think about, absent a marked opposition between that citizenry and their government. The phrase "the American people" clearly means you and me; but how about just "America"? When disgusted international observers use that single word, "America", do they mean Bush, or you and me?

    This convention of language has profound implications when it comes to selling the idea of war. Underlying the usage is a mental fusion of a specific group of rulers with a historic tribe of ordinary people, with whom we would otherwise instinctly identify on the level of shared humanity. Exploiting this subliminal equation, Karl Rove persuaded many Americans that because Saddam Hussein was evil, Iraqis as a whole deserved "shock and awe". The deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians would never have played in Peoria, so "the bombing of Iraq" had to be made to seem as if it meant "the bombing of Saddam Hussein".

    The media's current use of the singular noun "Iraq" (e.g. "Iraq clamps down on Sunni Triangle").is pointedly meant to refer to the current government-facsimile in Baghdad. Meanwhile the press has been increasingly referring to Iraq's actual citizens with terminology suggestive of criminality, outsider status and even vermin ("Fighting in areas infested with Sadr-sympathizers").

    4. The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951.

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