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It’s the Media, Stupid

by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney

It’s the Media, Stupid excoriates the media from the left. The authors argue that fewer than a dozen corporations deliver the overwhelming majority of media information. Nearly everything in the media is there because it is marketable or special interests want it there, not because of importance. The media act as if Americans are merely a crowd to be tricked or entertained or both.


Uncomfortable arguments are anathema. Most controversies in the media are so petty that no matter which side is more accurate, it matters little. Individuals view themselves as chosen people for holding the right beliefs on trivial, controversial issues, then demonize others. As long as they hold the “correct” views on emotively loaded controversies, they feel free to excuse their own fecklessness.


The top spinners persuade Americans they are anti-spin. One-sided snippets pass for thorough arguments. Citizens think they are informed when not even aware of better alternatives.


The media have little interest in making an issue of their roles [read: misbehaviors] in society. The alleged right of a few corporations to dominate the informational landscape appalls. Many media celebrities believe public policies matter little because in their safe, rarefied lives they do matter little, at least in the short term.


The mass media are so pathetic on rights some dictatorships seldom bother to censor the Western media entering their countries. Corporatized media are excellent at getting citizens to turn off their immorality detectors.


Most well-reasoned arguments do not have a chance with the mainstream conservative media. Their message is tough luck; go buy your own conglomerate. The media have startling anti-democratic tendencies, yet promote the chitchat of celebrity talk as “town meetings.”


Infotainment and economic conservatism dominate mass media.


The authors argue that some media should be publicly owned. The airwaves belong—or did belong—to the people before they were stolen. Where almost all content is commercialized, commercial values dominate, at the expense of individuals and social relationships. Boring, thorough investigative reporting costs too much. Ignored are the rights of children to develop in media environments that help them now and provide a basis for successful adulthoods. The authors argue that neither the democrats nor republicans offer hope for reform. Nichols and McChesney claim various liberal groups offer the best alternative.


The authors recommend:

·        Expanding public broadcasting.

·        Increasing the amount of public-access programming.

·        Regulating and taxing advertising.

·        Limiting the amount of media one corporation can own.

·        Encouraging and protecting media ownership by minorities.

·        Increasing the requirements in broadcast licenses, for example, prohibiting paid political advertising during campaigns. (This will be hard to implement because in Buckley v. Valeo the supreme court declared that the corporate right to a kleptocracy outweighs the citizen right to a democracy.)

·        Subsidizing paper media and media related cultural activities.

·        Protecting labor unions in the media.


The authors allege liberal groups will create a diverse public media, a doubtful claim not supported by this book. The public media that currently exist are not diverse. NPR is a mixture of multiculturalism and conservative business news--not my idea of moral diversity. The authors quote egalitarian platitudes from liberal groups, as if that ensures diversity. The authors imply that merely because one shows up on the street with a brick or a banner one deserves lots of media attention. Trading Michael Eisners media for street protester media or NPR media is unlikely to improve the world much. NPR is often as superficial as the corporatized media, except NPR has soothing, caring voices. The media have a herd mentality. The media in Europe regularly excludes well-reasoned critics. And the multiculturalists promote censorship.


Liberal establishments may not get as much coverage as those who deliver the corporate worldview, but their worldview is also seriously flawed.


Someone said the conflict in East Timor was mentioned only once in 15 years by ABC, NBC, and CBS. The war massacred 200,000. Yet arbitrary trivial protest marches got lots of coverage. It’s also the politicians, stupid, too. Politicians often dictate issues to the press. Repetition makes issues. If any president had mentioned East Timor in front of the press a handful of times or more, East Timor would have received much more coverage. Politicians mention quarter-baked schemes (Social Security cronyization, the estate tax, among many) and suddenly issues get covered. Worth skimming.        


book review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated June 29, 2009


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