In the 1970s during the Watergate era, right wingers in Congress joined forces with big business (men like Rupert Murdoch) to lay the plans for a massive media takeover. Tired of the “liberal media’s” thwarting their attempts to control the flow and slant of information, they vowed never to let this happen again. After all, these were the days when the Washington Post and CBS News helped bring down an entire administration.
It took a long time, nearly 30 years, but they labored patiently. At first, during the Clinton years, radio station ownership was deregulated, which meant that fewer and fewer companies could own more and more stations. Then in 2003 under a new administration it happened. Congress and the FCC voted to loosen restrictions to allow newspapers and all broadcasting to be consolidated into fewer hands, sounding a death knell for independent journalism.
What’s the big deal? Media has long been owned by corporations. Think of William Randolph Hearst and his media empire that stretched from coast to coast. And it’s true that back in the early days of this republic, newspapers were largely party-based– that is, their purpose was often to promote the agenda of a specific political party. The New York Post, for example, was once a Federalist paper. Journalism as an industry owes much of its beginning to party politics. But at least there were two or more parties, which resulted in a diversity of opinion.
That was then; this is now. Never before in our history has so much information been in so few hands. Never before have Americans been so in the dark about what their government is doing and why. That is what is so troublesome. And with the current state of things, it’s not likely to get better.
Why wasn’t the story broken to the press at the time? Why weren’t Americans alerted to what was happening to our much vaunted freedom of the press? The answer is self-evident. Think of 2003, Iraq, and how easy it was for this country to go to war. Where was the media? How disastrous the consequences for freedom and democracy when government controls the flow of information and the message, and diversity of opinion is cut off the air. Our Founders knew an independent media and an informed populace were indispensable for the health of any republic. But apparently Congress, the White House and the FCC saw fit to dispense with both. I suppose they felt they could do a better job without our informed but meddlesome participation.
Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, who served during the Clinton years, shuddered at the vote and stated in a 2003 interview, “If Dwight Eisenhower were alive today, he’d be warning us about the dangers of the military-industry-media complex.” Hundt saw the move as a thinly veiled right-wing power-grab. “Conservatives hope … that the major media will be their friends,” he said. Now they have what they wanted.
I have to chuckle now when I hear people complain using the old shibboleth about “that liberal media.” I was at the gym last week and while working out on a bicycle was forced to listen to some cable news channel. Some puerile newscaster was talking with a reporter on the field about the enormous multi-million-dollar bonuses paid to corporate execs. Here’s a paraphrase:
Newcaster: But how do you justify such big bonuses to the American people?
Reporter: Well, you have to ask yourself, do you want that 11-million-dollar guy working for you or against you?
Newscaster: Wow. I never thought of it that way. Thanks so much for that.
Yes, I guess they really do think we are that stupid.
But politics aside, I wonder about those six Republicans on that committee who voted to dump the FCC’s long-standing rules about media ownership. I don’t like to question anyone’s patriotism, but how does one justify such deregulation as being good for America? My question to them would be, how much did you get? Exactly how much was America worth to you?
There is a way to fight back. Don’t watch major network news, or if you have to, do not trust what you hear. Always be thinking, “Why are they saying this? What’s behind it?” As you would ask of any commercial advertisement, question “What’s the gimmick? What are they not telling me?” The internet is one of the last bastions of independent thought. There are a growing number of independent news sites. Find one you trust. And preferably not one that always tells you what you like to hear. The news should challenge you to think, to grow, not massage your prejudices and make you feel comfortable. It should inform you and speak truth to power, not be a mouthpiece for official press releases and corporate control of government. Corporations already own Congress, the White House, and the media. Don’t let them own your mind.