Sunday, April 10, 2005

Amy Goodman and David Goodman: Why Media Ownership Matters

Why Media Ownership Matters
by Amy Goodman and David Goodman
Orignially published in the Seattle Times and reposted at Common Dreams

George Bush must have been delighted to learn from a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that 56 percent of Americans still think Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the start of the war, while six in 10 said they believe Iraq provided direct support to the al-Qaida terrorist network — notions that have long since been thoroughly debunked by everyone from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee to both of Bush's handpicked weapons inspectors, Charles Duelfer and David Kay.

Americans believe these lies not because they are stupid, but because they are good media consumers. Our media have become an echo chamber for those in power. Rather than challenge the fraudulent claims of the Bush administration, we've had a media acting as a conveyor belt for the government's lies.

As the Pentagon has learned, deploying the American media is more powerful than any bomb. The explosive effect is amplified as a few pro-war, pro-government media moguls consolidate their grip over the majority of news outlets. Media monopoly and militarism go hand in hand.

When it comes to issues of war and peace, the results of having a compliant media are as deadly to our democracy as they are to our soldiers. Why do the corporate media cheerlead for war? One answer lies in the corporations themselves — the ones that own the major news outlets.

At the time of the first Persian Gulf War, CBS was owned by Westinghouse and NBC by General Electric. Two of the major nuclear weapons manufacturers owned two of the major networks. Westinghouse and GE made most of the parts for many of the weapons in the Persian Gulf War. It was no surprise, then, that much of the coverage on those networks looked like a military hardware show.

We see reporters in the cockpits of war planes, interviewing pilots about how it feels to be at the controls. We almost never see journalists at the target end, asking people huddled in their homes what it feels like not to know what the next moment will bring.

The media have a responsibility to show the true face of war. It is bloody. It is brutal. Real people die. Women and children are killed. Families are wiped out; villages are razed. If the media would show for one week the same unsanitized images of war that the rest of the world sees, people in the U.S. would say no, that war is not an answer to conflict in the 21st century.

But we don't see the real images of war. We don't need government censors, because we have corporations sanitizing the news. A study released last month by American University's School of Communications revealed that media outlets acknowledged they self-censored their reporting on the Iraq invasion out of concerns about public reaction to graphic images and content.

The media organizations in charge of vetting our images of war have become fewer and bigger — and the news more uniform and gung ho. Six huge corporations now control the major U.S. media: Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation (FOX, HarperCollins, New York Post, Weekly Standard, TV Guide, DirecTV and 35 TV stations), General Electric (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, Bravo, Universal Pictures and 28 TV stations), Time Warner (AOL, CNN, Warner Bros., Time and its 130-plus magazines), Disney (ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN, 10 TV and 72 radio stations), Viacom (CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster and 183 U.S. radio stations), and Bertelsmann (Random House and its more than 120 imprints worldwide, and Gruner + Jahr and its more than 110 magazines in 10 countries).

As Phil Donahue, the former host of MSNBC's highest-rated show who was fired by the network in February 2003 for bringing on anti-war voices, told "Democracy Now!," "We have more [TV] outlets now, but most of them sell the Bowflex machine. The rest of them are Jesus and jewelry. There really isn't diversity in the media anymore. Dissent? Forget about it."

The lack of diversity in ownership helps explain the lack of diversity in the news. When George W. Bush first came to power, the media watchers Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) looked at who appeared on the evening news on ABC, CBS and NBC. Ninety-two percent of all U.S. sources interviewed were white, 85 percent were male, and where party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent were Republican.

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, there was even less diversity of opinion on the airwaves. During the critical two weeks before and after Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations where he made his case for war, FAIR found that just three out of 393 sources — fewer than 1 percent — were affiliated with anti-war activism.

Three out of almost 400 interviews. And that was on the "respectable" evening news shows of CBS, NBC, ABC and PBS.

These are not media that are serving a democratic society, where a diversity of views is vital to shaping informed opinions. This is a well-oiled propaganda machine that is repackaging government spin and passing it off as journalism.

Read the entire essay for even more disturbing reports about the continuing consolidation of big media and Michael Powell's destructive rein as FCC chairman.

To see what a real news-reporting media station looks like--check out Democracy Now where Amy Goodman works as a journalist.

Also as a citizen educate yourself about who owns our media companies and how media works in our society/world.

Peter Howe at Digital Journalist reminds us of a recent nationwide study:

...a recently published report that should give libertarians some sleepless nights. It was sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, conducted by researchers from the University of Connecticut, and published under the title "Future of the First Amendment: What America's High School Students Think About Their Freedoms." This was an extensive study involving more than 100,000 students, and 8,000 teachers at 544 schools. The results are alarming, to say the least. Here are some of the revelations it contains:

- Nearly three-quarters of the students interviewed either don't know how they feel about the First Amendment or take it for granted
- 75% of them incorrectly think that flag burning is illegal
- More than a third of all students think that First Amendment rights go too far
- About half the students interviewed thought that the government can censor indecent material on the Internet
- 40% of high schools that do not have student newspapers eliminated them in the last five years

Patriot on Board

Does the First Amendment have a future in a society of citizens that abdicates their democratic rights to a free media?


Susannity said...

Excellent post. The topics of our civil liberties and the "validity" of the information we see in the press are two areas I feel strong passion for. Ask anyone who knows me or bumps into me even hehe. "True Lies" by Anthony Lappe and Stephen Marshall also looked at the topics Peter Lowe wrote about - specifically how do journalists with integrity who want to make the public aware of the whole story do so. It also does some interesting investigation into some of our hot topics like election fraud, depleted uranium, anthrax, and Sep 11. I recommend this book. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to read more and more from mostly independent journalists saying "hey, what's going on with our media and WHAT DO WE DO?" Although they lay "blame" mostly on the media machines, I too think the public needs to take a really long look at itself and its laziness and stubbornness. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've told someone something that wasn't covered in the mainstream and they say "oh, you can't believe that kind of stuff" or "i didn't see that in the news" ergo it's untrue. We can be a naive and idealistic species. This weekend at the Pacific Science Center, there were lines if the exhibit had a monitor, none if you actually manually worked with something. We are a nation of trained digital consumers. Anyway, thank you for the post. PS - Love Phil Donohue, didn't always agree with him, but I loved that he was willing to ask some real questions and discuss topics of impact.

Michael Benton said...

I'm starting to move toward a gripe with the citizens--we need to take responsibility for our own development and engagement. Media sources are out there--so I'm critiquing, while smiling and lending a helping hand....

We can't just lay it all at the media's feet ... besides the (reactionary) neo-conservatives have sucessfully demonized the media so that many naive citizens do not trust the media anymore, perhaps instead of (me) just griping all the time, perhaps a better tactic (for me) would be to point out exemplary examples of media sources.

Cheers Susanne--hope you are doing good!

Sunshine outside--I'm all smiles!

Susannity said...

Some of the great sources of information out there don't usually have any corporate sponsorship and are therefore limited in how much they can present, as they rely solely on contributions. I feel sorry for public radio and independent media being forced to solicit donations all the time. I saw an episode of Oprah not that long ago where apparently she had asked viewers to buy a Lance Armstrong bracelet that costs $1. She was able to raise like close to $1M in one day of donations. If only everyone would give a few dollars to all the good media outlets...

Susannity said...

PS- I'm glad you are doing well. I hope life is back on the upswing for you. I have my open time back now as my friend's mother recently passed from another stroke. I was telling Allan over at camelsbackandforth that I thought about starting Susannity back up, but I've decided for now to be a heavy blog reader/responder. I'm a bit disappointed with how much work goes into so many blogs that the readership and response rate is so minimalistic, on so many great blogs. So, right now I think I'll be the busy reader haha. Although there are times I get really itchy to post something of import to me, but it's probably being said somewhere on the blogosphere by someone. =)

Anonymous said...

If you're a real student of big media, you should look into David and Amy Goodman's corporate ties. Their book is published by a company owned by Disney and is distributed by Time Warner. It's funny they didn't mention that in their piece, isn't it?

Michael Benton said...


No more annoying than people that post anonymously ;)

Amy Goodman has thrown her life into Democracy Now one of the most important free, independent, alternative news stations (now available on the web and NPR). She has impeccable street-cred, who cares if her book is published by a coporate entitiy--what does that have to do with anything?

You must really be struggling to find something to discount their arguments--try again...