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New Media Monopoly
B en Bagdikian is the winner of almost every top prize in U.S. journalism, including the Pulitzer. He is the former dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. He is one of the most respected media critics in the country and has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. The New York Times has called him “an exemplar to a generation of journalists.” His landmark book The Media Monopoly is now completely revised and reissued as The New Media Monopoly .
BARSAMIAN: How does the new media monopoly differ from the one you first described in 1983?
BAGDIKIAN: When I wrote the first edition in 1983, the big companies were eager to get a monopolistic, dominant position in one media, e.g., Gannett in newspapers and Hearst in magazines. Now, they are dominant in all media: newspapers, radio, television, books, and movies.
They also have joint ventures with each other. So we don’t have what is considered a usual capitalist method of competing. They are a cartel: they deal with each other. They control what the great majority of Americans see and hear in news, movies, and in the formation of not just public opinion, but public values.
They have also dropped the veil of “We just give people what they want. We are neutral. We respond to what the public desires.” Their politics are overwhelmingly right wing. When I say right wing, I don’t mean just conservative. One of the big five—if you add General Electric, it’s six—is Fox, owned by Rupert Murdoch. It is very right wing and that was always something that these people denied. Murdoch thinks that he’s not right wing, he’s what the whole country should be. That’s their picture of what the middle will be.
Secondly, I think the veil was dropped when Disney, which owned Fahrenheit 9/11 through its subsidiary Miramax, produced this very effective movie, which showed the duplicity and the incompetence and the real goals of the Bush administration, and they refused to show it. It is not often that a major company puts millions of dollars into a film that is guaranteed to appeal to a very large part of the movie audience and then says, “We aren’t going to show it.” That was clearly because it would hurt Bush.
In the case of Fahrenheit 9/11 , Michael Moore reports that Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney, objected to the film not because of its content, but because Eisner felt that the release of the film might jeopardize Disney’s economic interests in Florida where the governor happens to be the brother of the president of the United States.
demonstrates something else, i.e., that when a major broadcaster
and moviemaker, like Disney, makes a decision, they aren’t
making a decision just about one program. They are making decisions
about other properties of theirs that might be affected and which
might be huge moneymakers. We see that with every one of the big
media monopolies. General Electric, for example, owns NBC and all
of its affiliates and cable companies and so forth. They also make
nuclear reactors. We haven’t seen a documentary on NBC about
the unsolved problem of nuclear waste and what to do with all of
the toxins that come out of nuclear reactors. So with the scale
of properties that are owned by these big companies, what they put
out is influenced by things that have nothing to do necessarily
with the programs, but with what is not seen. What is most harmful
to the U.S. public is the information they do not see and therefore
cannot react to.
You begin The New Media Monopoly with an interesting incident that happened in the small North Dakota town of Minot. Why did you select t hat?
It was such a tragic demonstration of unregulated media power. Minot, North Dakota, has six radio stations. They belong to an organization called Clear Channel, which has 1,200 stations and only 200 employees. The reason they can run 1,200 stations with 200 employees is they run canned material all day long, including Rush Limbaugh. What happened in Minot was that a train was derailed with tank cars carrying anhydrous ammonia. Anhydrous ammonia is terrible stuff. It causes blindness, it causes clothing to stick to your skin. The police said, “We’ve got to let the whole community know. Keep everybody inside. Schools, don’t let the kids out. Shut your windows, shut your doors.” They said, “We have six stations. Beautiful. We will go to them and ask them to announce that immediately.” They went to all of these stations that were broadcasting and found the doors locked. Their signals were from more than 1,000 miles away. That’s Clear Channel, which dwarfs all other radio and is run by a very reactionary organization that makes lots of money. It’s bigger than any other radio broadcaster. Even the wretched 1996 Telecommunications Act, which gave the big media people exactly what they asked for, says they’re supposed to operate in the public interest. Where else would they show their public interest except in the communities where they have their studios? Here was a dramatic case, when people died, they were hospitalized, they were blinded because the station disobeyed the law, with the blessings of the majority of the Bush FCC.
Clear Channel has 12 radio stations in Los Angeles, 8 in Denver, 4 in Eugene, Oregon, and 6 in this town in North Dakota. Clear Channel has also been implicated in organizing pro-war rallies around the country.
That’s one of the things I mean when I say they’re dropping the veil. They have right-wing politics and they display them openly. The majority of the FCC, which is appointed by the president of the United States, believes that we don’t need to regulate these corporations, they can regulate themselves. They know best what the public wants.
There are real consequences for this kind of media monopoly. People live and die by it. They do other things, too. They have to function in a world that is falsely portrayed in what they see and hear in their broadcasting and in most of their newspapers.
Ted Koppel is a senior TV journalist, longtime host of ABC’s “Nightline.” In early 2004, he attempted to produce a program where he would name the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. In some instances, he would show the photographs as well, with no commentary. It was a roll call. Nevertheless, a group of TV stations owned by Sinclair decided that this was inflammatory and hostile to the interests of President Bush and refused to carry the broadcast.
It doesn’t get more explicit than that. So there is evidence that the Bush people are denying people the fruits of democracy. No matter how much they complain, how much they demonstrate, how much the polls show that they feel differently than what the government is doing, the Bush people have the power. They are using it both in Orwellian terms in their propaganda and they are using it to favor those corporations which are useful to it. Halliburton is an obvious case, the vice president’s former firm. It got all of these contracts without bidding. It overcharged the United States Army and the soldiers that they’re supposed to feed. There are shameless ways in which the people in the White House can ignore what is legal and humane.
In the epigraph to your book The New Media Monopoly , you quote the chief justice of the United States Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia, David Bazelon. He says, “In this job, you have to ask the questions that tend toward greater fairness. Without the right questions, you’ll never get the facts that will lead you to better answers.” How do you get to the right questions?
You will get it by having the media people who put on programs raise the questions and you do it by an opposition party that is free to openly ask questions. The Democratic Party for years has been dominated by the Democratic Leadership Council, whose policy has always been, move toward the center, move toward where the Republicans are and that way we will get more votes. That way what we have got is more Republican-like legislation and representation. The Internet has some independent outlets. In addition to MoveOn, there are alternet, tompaine, buzzflash, commondreams, znet, and many others. They are making a difference in the information flow.
You have to ask the right questions in order to get the answers. For example, before we went to war, Senator Robert Byrd gave a speech in the Senate in which he said that he grieves for his country because it is doing something so dangerous and irrational. He gave the history of what happened to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, of how there were these shifty deals that subsidized 24 U.S. corporations in the 1980s to supply Iraq with these weapons. Iraq used them against the Iranians, who were our enemy number one at the time and the poison gas to kill their Kurdish minority. Byrd put that whole history on the record.
What did the TV news show? They showed a picture of this elderly, white-haired senator saying he grieved for his country. They treated it as a kind of comical little episode.
What accounts for the plethora of journalists who have been exposed for plagiarism? Is this just one of the things that happened in the trade or has there really been an increase? There have been some very well publicized affairs at the Washington Post , the New Republic , the New York Times .
It was always kind of true, but now it is a national obsession. Get what you want any way you can. What happened in the early 2000s and late 1990s when JP Morgan and our biggest investment houses, like Merrill Lynch, were robbing people of their money by under-the-table deals, hundreds of billions of dollars? Not just the Enrons and the Tycos. Those were bad enough. But these are the big institutions. These temples were crooked. Winning is everything. You can lie and you can cheat and as long as you know the government isn’t going to do anything about it, why not? And I think that’s what happened.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has rules, which they chose not to enforce. What happens when most American working people discover that they’ve been robbed and cheated, have lost their pensions, and the economy becomes the economy of the poor and the rich is very frightening to me, because I don’t think the Bush people have any hesitation in using police methods that are well known in what we used to think of as banana republics and third-world countries, where tyrants ran things, of breaking up crowds, making them suffer. I think we are heading directly into that kind of situation with a second Bush administration.
Since Vietnam, every Administration has tightly controlled news reporting of war, starting with Grenada, Panama, the first Gulf War, and now in the Iraq war, there are embedded journalists. Did you ever think in all your years as a journalist that you would encounter a phrase that is so freighted with the boudoir?
I think it would be an interesting semantic analysis for this term “embedded,” as in bed with. What we were not told is that in this famous embedment, which I agree is a term that exposes itself, these people were not with the front-line troops.
The best Pentagon reporter I know, George Wilson, who writes for the National Journal , went to Iraq. He was not embedded and he told me that after the first few days, “Something is fishy, something is very strange.” We’ve been telling Iraq for months that we were going to invade them. There were no tank traps, there were no big mounds of earth to stop vehicles, there were no highly concentrated mine fields where the troops would have to go through. There was this cakewalk into Baghdad and no Republican Guard. It was perfectly obvious the Republican guard took off their uniforms and went back and formed a civilian militia.
What accounts for the timidity of most of the corporate media when it comes to critical issues like war and peace?
When you look at the boards of directors of the big media companies and you look at the benefits that they get from a permissive government regulatory structure, you begin to understand why they are not going to take a strong position against the Bush policies because Bush is giving them everything they want. I think it’s an alliance of our biggest, most highly organized conglomerates that cover news and background with the kind of antediluvian economics of the Bush White House, so that it favors the big corporations, of which the media conglomerates are a part. They aren’t going to disturb this great gift to them.
Going back to the journalists, many of them in surveys say that they are liberal, yet they work in structures that are hierarchical. Wouldn’t it be a great way for a young journalist getting into the field to make a name to debunk some of the propaganda that comes from the Administration? For example, just go back to a period you’re very familiar with, around the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, when two young guys at the Washington Post, W oodward and Bernstein, went up against the Nixon administration. You don’t see those kinds of young journalists out there today.
I think it’s because increasingly these big conglomerates, which include the news media, don’t want to rock the boat. The Pentagon Papers case would not be supported the way it was if it were repeated. Woodward and Bernstein would not be supported if they were going to rock a whole Administration because the owners have too much of an interest in what the government provides for them.
Journalists live and die by what gets into the paper, what gets on the evening news and on TV. If you write stories that either don’t appear or are on page 23 or are maybe 15 seconds at the last item on the radio or TV report or not at all, you quickly learn a lesson.
Periodically we have waves of losing our best journalists. They leave news reporting and go into writing books and writing magazine articles. For example, every time a newspaper has done what the LA Times did and what other papers have done, which is let the advertising department have a voice in what will be printed as news, they lose their best reporters.
There was a seminal essay in 1954 by Warren Breed called “Socialization in the Newsroom.” He shows how reporters are socialized. If you write a story about the abuses of used car salespeople, it’s not likely to get in the paper because they are major advertisers. If you do a story on a huge new housing development that is in fact on unstable toxic ground, it may not get into the paper because the developers are huge advertisers. Pretty soon you learn that if you step on the wrong toes, you’re not going to get in the paper. As a matter of fact, you will begin to be looked at as a troublemaker. You disappear.
It’s a simple way of socializing journalists into the doctrine of the organization they work for. Two things happen. Most of them conform—they have families, they have mortgages, they have kids who are going to college—or they quit. Both things are happening, and they’ve happened for some time. They’re happening more readily now because the news media have so many other interests besides informing the public.
David Barsamian is the founder and director of Alternative Radio. (www.alternativeradio.org). His most recent book is Louder than Bombs . His forthcoming book with Tariq Ali is Empire and Resistance .
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.