Robert McChesney and John Nichols were part of a panel on February 3 at the Ethical Culture Society in New York City. McChesney and Nichols have just completed a book called “The Death and LIfe of American Journalism” (NationBooks), which is a fascinating, engaging read. David Carr of “The New York Times” and Pamela Newkirk from the NYU Journalism School were also on the panel. GRIT TV’s Laura Flanders and “The Nation” editor Katrina vanden Heuvel introduced the event. The room was packed and the conversation was riveting. I went alone, because while many of my friends are passionate political activists, no one seems to care too much about Big Media control. Health Care Reform, the Afgan war, Immigration Issues are the top of the list for most of the folks I know. John Nichols said “When people tell me what their number one reform issue is…health care, or the war…I say make Media Reform your number two”. I disagree. If media reform isn’t your number one, you will never be able to have a truly intelligent opinion about anything else. Why?
Without a free media, crucial parts of our political landscape will remain hidden to you on purpose–
1. Six companies own all the widely distributed news venues in the world. That’s thousands (and thousands) of local networks, papers, magazines, book publishing houses and internet sites that have to tow the party line and take orders from their owners (and now Comcast is trying to buy NBC!). These mega-companies are “affectionately” called The Big Six. (1)
2. Media conglomerates have never been interested in the old-fashioned, time-consuming, painstaking values of journalism. That stuff takes money, often takes more than an hour to put together and these big guys have to show profits every quarter or else. Yes, money and greed are the first plateau in the problem of corporate owned media. And the bottom line grows needier all the time; a “side effect” resulting in the laying off of thousands of veteran reporters each year to make bigger profits. Which leads to:
3. Less people are doing all the work. And what is the most profitable use for those lucky enough to still have a job in the newsroom? Following Tiger Woods around to report his marital infedelities, not digging through senate hearing papers on Health Care or unraveling the cause of a local chemical waste problem so YOU can make an informed decision next election. Which leads to:
4. The assumption that the public is too dumb to care about the details of the real world that affects them. Read: we will keep them distracted with the sexual life of celebrities so we can do what we want to them! Keep ‘em happy with beer and football and we’ll be able to walk away with the store.
5. Big Media conglomerates own so many other companies that reporting truthfully about one of their subsidiaries is not allowed. You don’t think you’d hear about the dangers of media conglomeration from one of the Big Six, did you? According to Ted Turner: “This ability to control the news is especially worrisome when a large media organization is itself the subject of a news story. Disney’s boss, after buying ABC in 1995, was quoted in LA Weekly as saying, “I would prefer ABC not cover Disney.” A few days later, ABC killed a “20/20″ story critical of the parent company.”(2)
6. Big Media is in bed with the government, which doesn’t allow them much room for objectivity. If you are powerful enough to get your government to give you what you want, you won’t want to make your government look so bad. The truth is often ugly and they’ve given you the right to rule, after all! In 2003, the FCC raised the national audience cap for media conglomeration to 39% (pulling back from the 45% they had originally approved because of public outcry).(3) This means that one company can own almost half of all the media, from print to internet in the marketplace, pushing out all the smaller, independent voices. In days long past, the FCC would not have allowed such a thing. I think, in those days, this was called a “monopoly” and we were all told by Uncle Sam that Americans deserved diversity in the marketplace. Smaller news outlets are barely holding on – this kind of massive conglomeration makes it harder and harder to compete; they simply don’t have enough money to do it.
The “death” of journalism is a sign the degradation of our communication systems. Rotting pipes delivering dirty water, or just so busted up that they don’t deliver anything anymore. This doesn’t mean it has to stay this way, but nothing will change until more people acknowledge that this problem is real and threatens our democracy. If you don’t know it’s happening, if you still get your news and opinions from the thousands of outlets owned by The Big Six you simply will not know the whole story. How can we argue politics with our friends when everyone is repeating what they heard on CNN (BTW, now owned by TimeWarner).
And yes, thankfully, we still have “The Nation” and people like Bob McChesney and John Nichols (who did see the importance of this 20 years ago), Freepress.org, NPR and other independent, underfunded seekers of truth. But New York City’s public broadcasting network, Channel 13, is cutting “NOW” (David Brancaccio/Bill Moyers investigative reporting show) so things are not really getting better on the public broadcasting front.
Don’t want to believe it?
Time to wake up and smell the propaganda. Beware of “bundling things together”, the root of the word “fascism”. It will look like the seamless combination of nationalism and corporatism and it’s here. Millions of us are goose-stepping right into it, too busy watching Snooki and Pauly D to see where we’re all going.
1. The Big Six: See http://www.freepress.net/ownership/chart/main
2. “My Beef With Big Media” by Ted Turner. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2004/0407.turner.html
3. “Sweeping Changes Proposed for Ownership Limits” hearusnow.org,
Learn more: See the Links page on this site and click on the Media Activism icon for lots of great resources.