Guest Opinion by Matt Reedy*
August 24, 2014
There is no liberal or conservative media. There is only corporate media and independent media. Independent media can be liberal, conservative, conspiracy oriented and can report factually accurate, uncomfortable truths (e.g. see Democracy Now!, Truthdig and The Real News). It is actively consumed on the internet and can shine a light into the darkest corridors of power. Independent media can say what it likes, explore unpopular ideas, and challenge conventional wisdom because it is not accountable to other interests. However, corporate media is mainstream, passively consumed, always serves power and privilege and, in one way or another, censors those who present a narrative that threatens it.
In 2003, while almost every news program beat the drums of war, there was one cable news show that was openly opposed to invading Iraq. It was MSNBC’s The Phil Donahue Show and it was cancelled on February 25th, 2003. At the time of its cancelation the The Phil Donahue Show was the highest rated program on MSNBC. What possible reason could the liberal media have for cancelling its highest rated show that also condemned the war? There were corporate interests that didn’t want that point of view reaching the public— as if General Electric, the corporation that owned NBC, stood to make absurd profits by invading Iraq.
G.E. is not alone. They are one of six companies responsible for virtually all of the news and information we receive. G.E. (owns Comcast, NBC, Universal Pictures etc.), News-Corp (owns Fox, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post etc.) , Disney (owns ABC, ESPN, Miramax), Viacom (owns MTV, Comedy Central, BET, CMT etc.), Time Warner (owns CNN, HBO, Time etc.) and CBS (owns 60 Minutes, Showtime, The Smithsonian Channel) effectively control about 90% of all media in the United States. While these six companies are different, they all have the same goal: to attract advertisers from other business. To do that, they make sure their information and programing portray a world conducive to their goal and goals of their advertisers. So which way would that programming and information slant?
To find our answer first we have to ask ourselves, who are the media? We’ve already established they are corporations. So what are corporations? They are the zenith of large business and businesses are usually conservative, right? So why would enormous mega-businesses ever promote a “liberal” agenda thus subverting their own interests? And why would a media that had a liberal bias identify it? Wouldn’t they assert the opposite and call themselves the “Conservative Media”? By asserting the opposite they eliminate mountains of evidence against themselves. It would completely change the conversation. Suddenly people would be asking “Is the media too conservative” and “How conservative are they”? Operating under the guise of “being too conservative” would allow a liberal news media to implement their agenda with much less scrutiny. Why would they call themselves what they are and give away their game?
As a response to Fox News, MSNBC implemented a faux-liberal stance with dismal results. This gives the illusion of debate, but in reality, it binds it. MSNBC, which is a mega-phone for the Democratic Party, sets the standard of how far you are allowed to go in your critique of power. The Hobby Lobby case is a perfect example. Fox framed it as a triumph for religious freedom and the rights of business owners while MSNBC framed it as religious encroachment on a secular nation and a war against women. Both outlets fulfilled their respective institutional roles by binding debate along those acceptable topics. But neither outlet addressed the real issue which is the ever expanding rights and power of corporations. Why? Because the media are corporations that sell audiences to other corporations. Think about that the next time you see an advertisement and remember the object being sold is not the product on TV; it’s you.
With the exception of Bill Moyers, host of Moyers & Company on PBS, true liberals have been essentially purged from the mainstream media. They cannot be found on corporate TV. Faux liberals, like Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and Ed Schulz worship Obama and the Democratic Party and play their role as partisan hacks. They dedicate hours to Republican scandals but don’t challenge corporate power. This is acceptable as are liberal comedians like Stewart and Colbert who poke fun at the hiccups in the system but do not condemn it as a whole or allow radicals on their shows.
Today’s leading left-wing dissidents like Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Amy Goodman, Cornel West, Naomi Klein, Richard Wolff, Sheldon S. Wolin, Michelle Alexander, Heidi Baghosian and Dave Zirin, are completely anonymous in corporate news culture. Yet, right-wing radicals like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingram and Rush Limbaugh are household names and have their own shows. True liberals are seldom, if ever, invited as guests on cable news shows and the idea that a corporate news network would allow them to host their own program is downright absurd. Could you imagine The Chomsky Factor? Their critique of the system does not conform to an acceptable corporate narrative.
This is the genius of the American propaganda system. Unlike something like the North Korean propaganda system, the information and opinions disseminated in the U.S. are not mandated by state power. Journalists do not get their copies spiked, as they say. Our system of indoctrination is much more subtle and sophisticated. The news industry appears to be intensely competitive. To obtain a position where one’s point of view can reach a mainstream audience a person must rise through the ranks. Those who internalize the values of their institution or, have a world view within the acceptable spectrum, are allowed to move up while those who don’t are weeded out. No one has to be told what they can and can’t say. Those who reach positions of power within these institutions understand what is acceptable and what is not.
It’s a technical term called, “getting it”. Those who “get it” become stenographers of power. I suspect nearly all are conscious of their role. Do you think a reporter or anchor for NBC would ever run a story about how G.E., their parent company, made 19.6 billion dollars in profit in 2013 and “paid” an effective tax rate of negative 18.9% (according to Mother Jones)? The process is carefully designed to make sure the wrong ideas don’t get out. That is why liberal celebrities who voice their opinions are immediately condemned by the media. Because of their celebrity status, they have acquired a public platform without being vetted by the corporate filtering system and that is a threat.
Luckily for corporate America, most celebrities subscribe to the same liberal bankruptcy as MSNBC and the Democratic Party. What they say is not threatening. For example, that is why in 2003 Michael Moore was booed off the stage during the Academy Awards after condemning President Bush and his lies that led to an illegal war of aggression in Iraq. Remember, back then the Democrats supported the war. A room full of so-called Hollywood liberals, who spent all night congratulating themselves for the courageous choices they made playing dress-up and make-believe, denounced Moore’s truly brave critique of the president’s actions. Moore’s scathing criticism had crossed the line of acceptable debate. The faux liberals did their job. Hollywood booed Moore and the news media, including even the likes of Keith Olbermann and Al Franken, denounced him.
The truth is if the media had a liberal bias Michael Moore might have his own show on MSNBC or even CNN which is branded as “center.” Instead, when was the last time you saw Moore on TV? He demands that his appearances be aired in their entirety and unedited, except when regarding the obligatory commercial breaks. The corporate media knows Moore doesn’t “get it” and could say anything. Without the ability to edit his statements out of context or eliminate them altogether, he is too much of a risk and, therefore, essentially blacklisted from the mainstream.
In fact, long form, in depth interviews have been all but abolished or severely edited. Even though there are twenty-four hours to fill, you have five minute segments where six “experts” yell slogans at each other. Three and four minute time periods do not allow alternative ideas to be expressed without sounding crazy. A long form interview format would permit voices outside the system to challenge conventional wisdom and that is something power does not allow. Instead of providing context and analysis, corporations have reduced news to sound bites comprised of emotionally potent oversimplifications.
As Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays (who literally wrote the book on propaganda) understood, people are not moved by fact or reason, but rather by the skillful manipulation of emotion. They will confuse information with how they are made to feel. The corporate media are well aware of this so they invent outrage and exploit it at every turn. They play on our fears, divide us and turn us against each other through race, religion, gender and sexuality while they carry out the power-elite’s agenda of ultra capitalism. The incident involving Paula Dean comes to mind. The corporate news organizations took their predictable stances. The left was outraged and hid behind their self-righteous, political correctness while the right came out in favor of free speech (as they always do unless it’s the Dixie Chicks or Alec Baldwin). If there was a true liberal outlet anywhere in the mainstream media I imagine the coverage might have gone something like this:
“The rich own the corporations that control the 90% of the media and use meaningless events like this that have no impact on anyone’s lives to distract and divide us, thus silencing the majority and turning us against each other while the elite consolidate more power and control by enacting policies that serve the privileged few at the expense of the many. Instead of paying attention to, reporting on, or having an opinion about something as trivial as what a celebrity chef said, all Americans should immediately turn off their TV’s and take to the street against the opulent minority who have been systematically eliminating our freedoms and robbing our children of the American Dream while we’ve been watching shows about cooking.”
*Author’s Bio: Matt Reedy grew up in central Pennsylvania where he attended college at Penn State University. In 2005 he moved to New York City and began working in the film & television industry where he joined the D.G.A. (Directors Guild of America). Matt is a member of the Unitarian Church whose community and congregation are actively dedicated to matters of social justice. He currently lives in North Jersey with his wife, their daughter and their two dogs.