Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Liberating the "Liberal Media"

By Jason Miller

The Fourth Estate is in a tumultous state of evolution. The public's trust in the integrity of the mainstream media has become severely tainted over the last several years, and justifiably so. As Dave Helling, a local television journalist in Kansas City with a long resume' of outstanding work, suggested in a recent ACLU seminar, America is undergoing a significant paradigm shift in the way in which consumers get their news. Alternative media sources on the Internet, and a phenomenon called blogging, pose a significant threat to the long-standing reign of the evening news, the daily newspapers, and even cable titans like CNN. Recent Nielsen ratings indicate that 75% of American homes now have an Internet connection. According to the Pew Research Firm, network news audiences diminished by 50% from 1993 to 2000, and have declined slightly since then. About 32% of Americans get their news regularly via the network news. In 1994, 58% of news consumers read daily, mainstream newspapers. That percentage has fallen to 42%. Meanwhile, the percentage of those regularly drawing news from the Internet has risen to 29%. 22 million Americans regularly read blogs, an integral part of the delivery of information through the Internet. The nascent Internet media is challenging traditional, mainstream forms of news delivery, and in turn freeing the Fourth Estate from its servitude to corporate and government interests.

Why would the Internet pose a threat to the mainstream news entities, commonly referred to as the liberal media? The notion of a "liberal media" is a myth created by the power moguls behind the mainstream media as a red herring to lull an unsuspecting public into actually believing that the Fourth Estate is still standing watch as a guardian of their freedom. 29 multi-national conglomerates own the media sources that account for nearly the entire audience for mainstream news broadcasts, and over half of newspaper readers. To appreciate the absurdity of calling the mainstream media "liberal", simply consider the fact that powerful corporations control most of the mainstream media. What are the motives of the corporate masters to whom our news censors (the editors) answer?

One answer is profit, and to achieve this profit, they need to maximize the number in their audience to satisfy their advertisers. Sensational stories draw viewers. The higher the shock value, the bigger the draw. The moral, spiritual, or historical impact an event has on the world holds little meaning to the "gods of information" in the mainstream media. What is more important is degree to which it will shock viewers and how it will feed a media-inspired narcissitic, insular worldview that America is more important than the rest of the world. If 300 children were to die in India due to chemical exposure caused by poor safety standards in a manufacturing facility, and Michael Jackson was found guilty of his alleged crimes on the same day, the mainstreamers would inundate us with the Jackson decision until we were drowning in it, while including the tragedy in India as a footnote. More eyeballs mean more money from advertisers, and the editors who determine what stories "make the cuts" ultimately answer to colossal corporations, which demand dividends or increases in share value for their stockholders through increased profitability. Thus, our mainstream news is censored to feed the corporate machine.

More important than profit is the mainstream media ownership's interest in preserving the dominance of the corporation over the individual. Starting in the 1950's, post World War II America entered into a period of mass consumption and consumerism that has moved us into a dark period of unparallelled avarice and obsession with materialism. The corporate owners of mass media utilize both mainstream news, and its accompanying advertising, to entice Americans to buy things they do not need and to create an image of who a person "should be" if they want to attain success (i.e. thin, straight, tough, beautiful, young, wealthy). Through the medium of television, corporations have a captive audience to mass market their goods and services to people who neither want or need them, but buy them because they are psychologically manipulated into doing so (think Saturday morning cartoons and toy commercials). Reaching millions of receptive minds at once, the corporate puppeteers have learned to perpetuate the paradigm of white male patriarchy and blind patriotism. The power of television, print and advertising enables the wealthy elite to perpetually employ a variety of propaganda tactics to maintain their hold on most of the wealth and power in our society. Meanwhile, the power of labor unions continues to wane, real wages decline, the wealth gap widens, the national debt skyrockets, social welfare programs are cut, taxes on the wealthy decline, and the military industrial complex, including Haliburton, reaps obscene profits as people bleed red to keep corporations out of the red.

Despite the limitations imposed by the First Amendment, America's federal government still manages to slide its tentacles into the mainstream media and influence the news we receive. A flagrant example is the recent rash of journalists on the Bush administration's payroll to promote the administration's agenda disguised as "news". The US government spends a great deal of money to accomadate journalists by providing them with meeting facilities, carefully orchestrated press conferences, and propaganda. Government funded think tanks that disseminate "news", carefully censored press releases by the Pentagon and White House, and the use of government-compensated "experts" as resources to validate news stories further attest to the federal government's corrupt influence on the news supplied by the mainstream media. Why would this be a surprise? Mainstream media and the federal government, particularly under the Bush administration, represent a match made in heaven. Their interests in seeing the predominating paradigm of mass consumption and white male patriarchy continue to prevail are inextricably linked.

While much of the mainstream media is corrupted by the influence of government and corporate interests, there are still mainstream journalists who practice a high degree of journalistic integrity, and who do challenge the prevailing social ideals with their stories and opinions. To make a sweeping dismissal of every journalist employed by a mainstream newspaper or television network would be both unrealistic and unfair. Once can point to numerous muck-raking stories aired on "60 Minutes" that expose government or corporate corruption as examples of truth-seeking in the public's interest, but even Mike Wallace and "60 Minutes" are constrained by corporate domination, as evidenced by the Jeffrey Wigand story. There are many well-intentioned journalists with high ideals working in the mainstream media, but as Dave Helling pointed out in the ACLU seminar I attended, they are becoming fewer and further between, and are often hand-cuffed by younger editors who are servile to corporate interests.

The Internet is the hammer and anvil with which one can shatter the shackles of psychological tyranny perpetrated by the likes of Fox, the Washington Times, and columnists like Jonah Goldberg. Media mavens such as Michelle Malkin pollute the minds of readers with ideas that are so emotionally-driven, devoid of logic, and packed with ringing endorsements of American hubris that that they leave critical thinkers who have a social conscience reeling with nausea. However, it is not difficult to visualize those who still believe that the mainstream media "preaches the gospel of truth" nodding their heads in silent assent as they read or listen to the abhorrent words of the likes of Anne Coulter. Mesmerized by the "power" of Anne's message, their thoughts might run like this:

"Yes, yes, Anne, the liberals are the scourge of the Earth, the cause of the numerous ills in our society, and above all, they control the media, and thus our minds. Thank God we have courageous conservatives like you to save us from moral decay that stems from atheism, socialism, and homosexuality."

The corporate ruling class does not tolerate assaults against the truths that "good Americans" hold to be self evident. They hire the Anne Coulters to preach the gospel that the Christian, white, straight male is the ideal, and that he rules the world.

If there is a "liberal media", it lies within the Internet. Americans now have unprecedented access to a smorgasbord of information. We are no longer limited to the steady, pre-determined diet of brain candy and propaganda served up by the mainstream media. The Internet is comprised of over two billion websites, providing a wealth of information drawn from almost unlimited resources that span the globe. A person can find still load up on brain candy to their heart's content on the Internet, but the Internet opens the mind to a rich plethora of solid nourishment for the brain. If knowledge is power, one's capacity to increase their power increases exponentially through navigation of the Internet for news and information. Search engines like Google and Dogpile are the sextant (or in today's world, GPS devices) to guide us through the oceans of information available on the Internet. With only a few keystrokes, one can access information on topics that span the spectrum of the human capacity to think and imagine. While responsible analysis of the source and content are necessities when sifting through some of the flotsam and jetsam of this ocean, if one is willing to do the work, the Internet's sea offers pearls of wisdom and treasures of knowledge that the limited scope of 30 minutes of television programming, or a limited number of print pages, could not begin to rival. If I watch ABC nightly news, I get one five minute synopsis of the events that unfolded in Iraq that day. If I go on the Internet, I can find hundreds of accountings and analyses produced by varying perspectives, cultures, news entities, nations, and individuals. As a consumer of news, I want to choose my sources, and my topics. The Internet allows me to do both. The mainstream media allows me to do neither.

The question is, can quality alternative news sources on the Internet continue to thrive without falling prey to the same ills as their corrupt mainstream counter parts? Many of the publications for which I write rely on free lance writers, like me, and on hard-working editors to contribute their efforts for no pay. They sustain their websites through donations and through a small amount of advertising. Many of these Internet publications share my writing's raison d' etre in that they believe in their cause and are willing to engage in it without monetary compensation. Their freedom from financial manipulation represents another refreshing distinction between many Internet news/oped entities, and those of the mainstream media. Hopefully, there are enough socially conscientious individuals to perpetuate the true "liberal media" by avoiding the pitfall of selling out to the elite. The last thing America needs to give the corporate elite is another means to assert psychological domination over the masses.

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