I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on I go into another room and read a good book. –Groucho Marx
Think about it: when it comes to the stuff that really affects you– your daily life, your job, your relationships, economic, political and social stances— you’re not very much like Rupert Murdoch. The lifestyles of the men and women at the pinnacles of fame, fortune and power in America today scarcely resemble anything considered normal for the rest of us. A power elite exists that is primarily self-interested.
The concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the few squeezed from the works of many is nothing new in world history– every society has displayed the tendency to one magnitude or another. Yet one of the most important features of the American experiment has always been the role of the free press as the people’s instrument for conducting oversight of the power brokers. Throughout American history the media was the place where leaders were held accountable for their words and deeds. From Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to Edward R. Murrow versus Joe McCarthy to the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, the press has frequently been the People’s finest platform for political debate and rooting out corruption. Things change…
Over the last thirty years there has been a dangerous consolidation going on in the media world. We have reached a point where most of the country’s news and programming is controlled by a handful of super-corporations like Sinclair, Gannett and Fox. So if the watched own the watchers, and their interests rarely line-up with those of the little people, I for one will question the information I receive through the camera obscura of their massive information distribution outlets.
Television is easily the greatest tool of mass influence civilization has ever seen. Most Americans get all of their news and opinions from the box– it generates their world-views. Through its reach elites have acquired the power to dictate culture, politics, events, thought and destiny to millions– they determine the flavor of the month in America. To achieve commercial saturation, the media lulls the masses with seemingly innocuous programming; the campaign begins at the earliest possible age, television advertisers for example oftentimes succeed in altering the opinions, beliefs and thoughts of a person by exposing them to thousands of product commercials before they’ve ever spent one day in school. Thus, the goals of the owners of capital are furthered and their values get ingrained into their unsuspecting targets.
Because it has become such big business, the information industry is now dominated by the profit motive more than ever before. The big media cannot exist a day without advertising. Advertising means money from big business. To get money from big business media corporations agree to promote big business ideals and values—i.e. their own interests. It’s not that complicated. The profit motive affects the handling of all news about labor, wage increases, pollution, health care, taxation, social security, trade policy, immigration, defense spending and wars.
Thomas Jefferson once declared that “the basis of our government is the opinion of the people” and if given a choice he would prefer “newspapers without government” over “a government without newspapers.” Unfortunately Jefferson could not have anticipated that the modern American media would become almost exclusively a tool for billionaires to create and manipulate opinion through the control of language and images. It’s clear that nearly all media, most particularly the television media, serves private interests rather than public ones. That’s just a fact.
As an example– there is a story currently in the news about a class action suite against WalMart brought by a large contingent of women employees who claim they have been discriminated against in pay, promotions, and basic respect by WalMart over the years. Here is the intro from an Associated Press report run by Fox News from March 28, 2011:
“Christine Kwapnoski hasn’t done too badly in nearly 25 years in the Wal-Mart family, making more than $60,000 a year in a job she enjoys most days. But Kwapnoski says she faced obstacles at Wal-Mart-owned Sam’s Club stores in both Missouri and California: Men making more than women and getting promoted faster.”
The report goes on to discuss some of the facts of the case in a seemingly objective manner. Upon closer examination though it is not a balanced report– for example, only one person’s story is given to illustrate the plaintiffs’ side, and that person is one of the best-off of all of the plaintiffs (most of whom no longer work for WalMart). Meanwhile the company’s point of view is well represented and then equal weight is given to the experiences of one woman at WalMart, a rare female executive, who sides with the company. Remember there are thousands of women in the class action suite. At one point the author casually refers to the data upon which the suit rests as “dated.”
I am not here to argue the merits of the lawsuit, just the coverage of it by the media. WalMart is the biggest employer in America and as such they have clout. Here is something that I have not heard any media outlet mention when covering the suite:
The Walton family (WalMart heirs) are worth over $90 billion dollars. That is as much as the bottom 40 percent of Americans– that is 120 million people.
Fair and balanced?