The Importance of a Left Media
A jarring moment in the Philadelphia area propaganda outpouring in support of the bombing of Yugoslavia was a passionately prowar Op Ed column in the Philadelphia Inquirer by long-time local antiwar activist Mark Sacharoff ("NATO did what it had to do," April 1, 1999). It is of course noteworthy that Sacharoff's piece was selected for publication by the paper--antiwar offerings have not been welcome, and in past years Sacharoff's Op Ed entries were rare indeed. But what caused him to move into the prowar camp?
Speaking with Sacharoff on the phone about his views, I asked him if he read Z Magazine or EXTRA! or The Nation, and as I expected he didn't--he reads the Inquirer and other establishment media almost exclusively. I had a similar experience with another former peace activist, who has not been a supporter of the NATO war but has also not been antiwar; overwhelmed by the evil of Milosevic and the Serbs he has been neutralized. This individual, also, reads and listens almost entirely to the mainstream media, and does not read Z, EXTRA!, or The Nation. He was even upset at my denunication of Trudy Rubin, the bloodthirsty Thomas Friedman equivalent at the Inquirer, who occasionally qualifies her support of U.S. policy--on land mines, bombing anybody in sight, and anything else of importance--with minor flourishes of hopefulness ("This weekend's talks hold hope for settling the Kosovo crisis," Feb. 5, 1999) and even criticism (e.g., "U.S. slammed doors on Iraqis who stepped up to battle Hussein," June 23, 1999).
Of course, the fact that Rubin is considered reasonable by one of them, and that neither of these two individuals were repelled by the mainstream perspectives and felt any need to seek out left publications, suggests that they were moving rightward in any case. But once they allowed themselves to be confined to the establishment media it was only a matter of time before they would succumb to the flood of materials on atrocities and framing of issues that served the propaganda needs of the state. To avoid this they needed alternative ways of looking at the issues, as well as facts that did not fit the esablishment frames.
I have always been impressed by the case made by British media analyst James Curran on the importance of the death of the social- democratic press in Great Britain in the 1980s for the subsequent decline of the fortunes of the Labor Party and triumph of Thatcherism (most painfully, with the victory of Tony Blair). Three social-democratic papers--the Daily Herald, News Chronicle, and Sunday Citizen--died or were taken over by folks like Rupert Murdoch in the early 1980s, and were converted into rightwing or depoliticized scandal sheets. The Daily Herald especially "provided an alternative framework of analysis and understanding that contested the dominant systems of representation in both broadcasting and the mainstream press." Its loss and that of the other two papers surely weakened labor and social democracy by the absence of any contesting frameworks that represented the interests of the non-elite members of society.
In the United States and Britain today, the increasing concentration and commercialization of the media make them ever more potent as instruments of state propaganda. When wars come, the media operate like a military phalanx in demonizing the enemy, focusing on enemy misdeeds, lying without shame or uncritically transmitting the lies of officials on their having exhausted negotiating opportunities--"before resorting to force, NATO went the entire extra mile to find a peaceful solution" (Albright)--and ignoring historical context and the real bases of state policy. This is done in each case almost by formula, but with such unanimity and self-righteous indignation, and with personalized stories of victimization by the enemy, that it is hard to resist.
This is why the preservation and expansion of a left media is so important and easy to underrate. Without the alternative frameworks and contesting facts that they provide, even liberal and left veterans are easily swept into the establishment web or rendered inert. Those of us who get the left journals, or ZNet Comments, and are lucky enough to have other e-mail friends who supply the comments of Robert Fisk, Philip Hammond, and John Pilger in Britain, Nicholas Busch and Jan Oberg in Sweden, Johann Galtung in Norway, Saddharth Varadarajan and K. Subrahmanyam in India, and the generally anti-NATO war non-NATO media across the globe, live in a different world from the citizens faced by the mainstream media propaganda phalanx. And frankly, any serious opposition movements are going to require the buildup of ZNet and other forms of critical media; otherwise we are going to see a further attrition as more folks from the liberal-left communities are swept into the "humanitarian war" camp. _