A Role of the Corporate Media
Keeping the people bewildered, ignorant, and powerless
February 23, 2001
“Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to totalitarianism.”
Most people would probably and readily accept the popular image of the news media as aggressive public watchdogs and champions of democracy that they claim to present an objective presentation of events.
However, the close examination on media, whether in print, radio, or Television, would easily provide the people that the self-image of the media is about as true to life as a children’s fairy tale.
Walter Lippmann, a grand mufti of the American journalism, mentioned in his manufacturing of consent in the 70s that the public is such ignorant and bewildered herds that they must be put in its place, the interested spectators of action and not participants
As in the case of mass hysteria about spectator sports play, the public become more passive, obedient, non-participants, non-questioning, easily-controlled, and disciplined, because you are not doing it, but watching somebody doing it.
This may be a reflection of depoliticizing the public in the democratic process that people do not find meaningful fashion in voting, community activities, or social issues, but only in trivial fluff pieces, Oprah-style infomercials, or “fast-food” entertainment.
And the public is allowed to show up every couple of years to ratify decisions made elsewhere or to select among representatives of dominant sectors in what is called an election.
This depoliticization of the public has gained momentum naturally with the concentration of media ownership into so few hands of giant industrial mastodons, like Disney (ABC), AOL-Time Warner (CNN), Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (Fox TW), Viacom (CBS), General Electric (NBC), and Bertelsmann (a German firm that controls the publication).
Since the corporations are structurally totalitarian institution that the power flows from the top executives down to the employees and the executives are accountable only for their shareholders, the corporate media bears no resemblance to democracy and it is foolish to think that the news programs serve primarily as vehicle for the delivery of news and information to the public.
Like other corporations, the mainstream media are large corporations, owned and inter-linked with even larger conglomerates and they sell a product to a market.
The market is advertisers where the product—audience--is sold.
The agenda-setting media like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, hold relatively privileged and affluent audience as their product…therefore, these elite media tend to sell the wealthy audience at the biased market and do not reflect the picture of the world that the indigent people reside.
In addition, there are other factors that distort the news broadcast…first, many journalists are overwhelmingly dependent on sources, mostly government officials and advance their careers by working with movers and shakers in the political circles.
An investigative reporters like Bob Woodward or Seymour Hersch are the most compromised and servile in their reporting, because there are always tradeoffs behind the scenes exchanging quid pro quos.
Secondly, there is regular and high flow of people among government, corporation and media through a revolving door…a journalist’s collusion with power distorts the news leak that often depicts false and deceitful contents on behalf of the authorities.
Take one simple example, Pete Williams, NBC News correspondent, was on the screen for news analysis on the Supreme Court’s decision for picking George W Bush a president.
The NBC never reminded the TV viewers that Pete Williams was press secretary and legislative assistant for Wyoming Congressman Dick Cheney in 1986, appointed as the assistance secretary of Defense for Public Affairs when Cheney was Defense Secretary under the Bush Sr. Administration.
During Panama invasion during Bush Sr., Pete was a Pentagon spokesman and he vehemently denied that US bombings have caused massive civilian casualties of Panamanians.
Here are some highly incestuous relationships between bureaucracy and media: James Rubin, a spokesman at the State Department of Clinton Administration and Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent, are married couple, as Fed Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. Chris Matthhews of MSNBC and George Stephanopoulos of ABC came from the government, to name a few.
People watch, listen, and read news unaware of the histories and connections of those who tell them the stories, and the people do not consciously deconstruct the images they were told on the news—they trust it as reality.
In the first news conference on February 22, dozens of reporters hurled in unison a series of softballs to George W. Bush, focusing on the former President’s pardon or whether Clinton stole the silverware as they left the White House (five of the seventeen questions) more than the serious subjects on Bush’s tax-cut plan (four).
The compliant media never questioned the Bush’s legitimacy to his presidency or President’s shallow grasp of issues at hand.
During a news conference in Mexico on the US bombing of Iraq, Bush said haltingly: Saddam Hussein has got to understand that we expect him to conform to the agreement that he signed after Desert Storm. We will enforce the no-fly zone, both south and north.
The fact of the matter is that Mr. Saddam in 1991 signed an agreement pledging not to develop weapons of mass destruction, but the agreement said nothing about no-flight zones.
Bush did not know that the no-fly zones were established arbitrarily in the early 1990s by the US and British in order to protect Kurds in the North and Shiite Muslims in the South who had rebelled against Saddam, and a gaggle of reporters kept mum about it.
It is well known in the TV media that the anchorpersons and talkingheads chuckle and deride over Bush’s malapropism during the commercial break…during the press conference on Thursday, Bush again committed a verbal gaffe, describing “coca leaves” as “cocoa leaves”.
However, there is a bitter irony of source journalism that a reporter loses gain access to the sources if he or she does not working with the sources, and no reporter dares to challenge the powerful news sources with cranky inquiries.
Only print media expressed their opinion hiding deep in news analysis under the language of diplomatic understatement: Many of Bush’s answer were tentative and repetitive, and he did not put to rest questions about his command of policy and his ability to forcefully articulate his views on a variety of complex issues.
The collusion between government and corporate media are manifested amply in the administration of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), whose Commissioner, Michael Powell, son of Colin Powell, was promoted by George W Bush.
Since Congress established the FCC in 1934, the government has stripped away many regulations and handed the airwaves over to private broadcasters at no cost under the guise of deregulation and competition at the free market system.
However, the guise crumbles pretty quickly when one examines the airwaves market that is totally different from a traditional one which anyone with enough money can enter.
Radio, Television, and Cable companies are corporations built on government-licensed rights that were doled out the public-owned airwaves through picking the winner by the FCC.
Recently, Michael Powell driveled that the FCC must foster competitive market, unencumbered by intrusions and distortions from inept regulation and he opposed setting conditions to the AOL-Time Warner deal, which created the largest media firm on earth.
With his father’s holdings of AOL stock ($ 6 million), his inheritance chance would place his decision for the company clearly in the conflict of interest criteria.
The FCC is committed to eliminate the rule limiting companies to own multiple TV stations and newspapers in the same town.
When the government transfers the valuable resources (airwaves) from the public sector to the for-profit corporations, the media corporations should be required to serve the public interest.
The reality is quite opposite; they serve the public the information and news more and more loaded with trivial, crash, and burn stories, cops and robbers game, with not many social, political, and economic issues that affect the public life.
In corporate media, the truth is subordinate to corporate profit, political expediency and preservation of the existing social order, and in order to achieve this goal, the mainstream media endeavor keeping the people bewildered and ignorant, lest the public would ever become meddlesome in the binge of profit making.
And a parody of democratic media—a carefully manufactured self-image as an unbiased public servant and a noble steward of the airwaves—continues.