Tag Archives: corporations

Why We Need Independent Media

Tonight marks the second Presidential debate between Obama and Romney, and pundits have spent the last week trying to predict what the strategies of the president will be in order to make a comeback after a lackluster first debate performance. But if, like me, you’re getting a little sick of hearing the same talking points repeated over and over (Iran is bad, the economy is worse, and abortion, abortion, abortion) and wished that other issues you cared about were included in the debate, you might want to check out Democracy Now!, an independent media organization that will be including third-party candidates excluded from the debate!

Meeting Amy Goodman and Dennis Moynihan during her Election 2012 tour! So excited to get a signed copy of their book, The Silenced Majority.

Amy Goodman is one of my heroes, and her commitment to represent alternative voices in political debates that have been excluded or marginalized by the mainstream media is just one of the reasons why we so desperately need independent media outlets. Here are ten other reasons:

1) The American press is not ‘free,’ it’s Corporate.

Freedom of the press is a constitutional right, and Americans have always taken pride in our ‘unbiased’ media system that supposedly gives journalists freedom to pursue the stories they want without censorship. What many Americans may not be aware of, however, is that there are more subtle forms of censorship bias than the ones we associate with countries like China. As media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) documents in their article, “What’s wrong with the News,” advertiser sponsors and corporate ownership inflict their own kind of propagandistic influence on media outlets. Thanks to deregulation of the media industry during the 80s and 90s, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that allowed for corporate mergers, all of the media we consume is controlled by just six main corporations. SIX. So what does that mean exactly?

2) Ummm … conflict of interest, obvi.

So here’s the problem. When a news organization like NBC is owned by a corporation like General Electric, it’s going to be difficult for NBC to report on issues that challenge ideologies and practices held by GE. Perhaps that’s why you so rarely read stories on nuclear waste in any GE-owned outlets (thanks to GE’s investments in the nuclear power industry), and why, when it was revealed that the largest American corporation had avoided paying federal taxes (whoops!), every major news outlet reported on the story except … yup, you guessed it. NBC.

Watch this brilliant little skit from a Saturday Night Live episode called “It’s a Media-Opoly” that aired in the late 90s, and has since been banned. Was it perhaps because GE execs were uncomfortable with the critiques that SNL leveled at their parent corporation? Do I need to repeat ‘obvi’ again girlfriends?

3) Because Americans support climate change, the mainstream media does not.

When the Washington Post’s two-page story on energy policy excluded critics of the big energy giants, it was revealed by FAIR that the ‘debate’ was actually sponsored by an oil industry player, the American Petroleum Institute. Sigh.

4) Because Britney Spears shaving her head was a headline on CNN.

It wasn’t just BS because Brit-Brit showed the world her shaved head for like, two seconds before covering herself with a hoodie and then resorting to wigs for next six months (if you’re the main news story for the day, I’m going to expect you to rock it, just sayin’). But it was also just one more example of how our media is now fixated with increasing ratings to make money for their corporate owners, choosing to cut expensive funding for international reporting and focusing on entertainment-related news, also referred to as ‘info-tainment.”

Imagine going to school for journalism because you dreamed of covering hard news and possibly taking down people in power a la Watergate, and then being forced to report on Paris Hilton. If you’re like MSNBC reporter Mika Brzezinski, this realization might make you snap. Watch below.

5) Because media outlets like Fox are to News as Alexis Wright is to Zumba.

Alexis Wright used her Zumba studio as a front for prostitution, and Fox uses its ‘news’ station as a disguise for partisan hackery.

In an effort to increase ratings, ‘fair and balanced’ cable news stations like the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox have thrown nuance out the door and have instead resorted to distorting facts for the sake of supporting their singular partisan world-view. Maybe that’s why Fox viewers are notoriously uninformed on important issues. Check out this hilarious prank played by college student Max Rice, who wrote in posing as a ‘disillusioned former Obama supporter.’ Fox didn’t do any research on him, and he was kicked off mid-interview by a noticeably flustered Gretchen Carlson.

6) Because it’s not the media anymore, it’s the Media-Lobbying Complex.

It doesn’t matter the political affiliation really. Both Republicans and Democrats have appeared on media programs critiquing or promoting certain issues without revealing their conflicts of interest. So “NBC Military Analyst” Barry McCaffrey appears on MSNBC to promote more military spending on Afghanistan, without revealing his investments in DynCorp, a global government services provider that received billions of dollars to aid U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Other ‘analysts’ have appeared on the show to critique the health care plan, without revealing their ties to pharmaceutical companies. I could wax poetic, but you get the idea.

7) Because lack of critical media coverage helped fuel the Iraq War in 2003.

Americans were actually pretty ambivalent about invading Iraq in the weeks leading up to the war. You would think this complexity in public opinion would reflect in the mainstream news coverage. But according to a FAIR study, in the two weeks leading up to the invasion, only 3 of the 393 sources that were cited in mainstream media outlets ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS (yes, even PBS) on issues relating to the Iraq War were identified with anti-war groups. THREE. Of the THREE HUNDRED AND NINETY THREE.

While the world gets a critical take on Afghanistan, Americans get a celebrity photographer.

What is even more distressing is that while Americans are fed fluff by our news organizations, the international versions of these outlets will often prominently feature global issues on their covers. Check out this comparison of the domestic and international versions of Time and Newsweek.

Last I checked, wasn’t the media an institution that was supposed to inform us on various aspects of different issues? This exclusion of critical voices has serious implications. How could the public gain any understanding of the ramifications of war, both in Iraq and at home, if they weren’t exposed to alternative viewpoints?

Below, Amy Goodman’s phenomenal half-hour documentary, Independent Media in a Time of War, explores the mainstream media’s mishandling of coverage in Iraq.

You can also watch part two and part three.

8) Because the mainstream media has a history of marginalizing protest movements.

Just look at Occupy last year. As I documented in a recent post, the media’s coverage of Occupy was condescending at best and utterly dismissive at worst. Are media organizations really going to write fairly about an anti-corporate movement when they are themselves owned by corporations?

9) Because the mainstream media supports politicians.

Amy Goodman recently interviewed Guardian blogger Glenn Greenwald and Open Debates founder George Farrah on the ‘faux objectivity’ of mainstream journalists, highlighting the recent debate moderators. Their main point was that the moderators asked questions based on assumptions which the candidates had to take as a ‘fact,’ such as the notion that “there is no greater security threat than Iran” (laughable when you consider that Iran has an anemic military budget compared to the United States).

As Greenwald noted: “So you don’t just have third-party candidates being excluded by—as a result of these rules; what you have is the vast bulk of political opinions and political facts being excluded because these moderators are chosen very specifically to ensure that they will embrace only the orthodoxy shared by both parties while posing as objective, neutral and non-ideological actors.”

Jon Stewart made a similar point when he appeared on CNN‘s now defunct show Crossfire, in which a Republican and Democrat basically just yelled at each other for an hour. Hilariously, and without raising his voice, Stewart accused the hosts of partisan hackery and serving politicians and corporations instead of the public.  The show was cancelled a week later 🙂

10) Because in a democracy, you need dissent.

If the mainstream media is failing to provide alternative voices, than we desperately need independent media. We need to support movements and protests that critique the growing corporatization of our media, schools, and public space. We need to support the media as an institution that informs citizens, instead of selling advertisements and corporate interests to consumers. We need to figure out how to take the public discourse back, and we need the media to help us do this. Dissent, and embracing a diversity of viewpoints and ideologies, is the foundation of the very democracy upon which America was founded. So let’s embrace democracy, now!

To check out Amy Goodman’s book, The Silenced Majority, that recently made The New York Times best-seller list, click here.

Here are some of my favorite independent media sources and media watchdog group, feel free to suggest more:

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A homeless man named Dwayne: Occupy, one year later

Just three hours ago, I had no intention of writing a blog post about the meaning of Occupy one year later. It certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t empathize with the movement; in fact, I was involved with local activities and even took my ‘Critical Media’ students to a sit-in with protesters so that they could gain insight that wasn’t filtered by the corporate media. But, it has been an exhausting week. Driving home after treating myself to a much-needed massage, I was daydreaming of an evening filled with pop culture magazines, chocolate and a relaxing bath.

And then I met a man named Dwayne.

Right at the intersection, before I got whisked off into the highway with other tired, irritated drivers making their way home during the height of rush hour, I was stopped at a red light for about three minutes. When I turned my head, I saw him at the intersection. He was holding a sign, with an orange vest on and I immediately felt a mixture of empathy and guilt. Empathy because of his situation, and guilt because I was in no position to help at the moment, trapped in my car in the middle of a highway, with no money of my own to give.

And then, he smiled at me, and pointed to my long dangling earrings that were made of seeds from Brazil, tinged in a vibrant shade of orange (when I do fall colors, I do fall colors). He gave me a thumbs-up, and I felt a rush of disbelief overcome me. Here was this man, clearly struggling, trying to remain visible to a stream of people in moving vehicles, many of whom were probably pretending that he was not there, noticing something about me and wanting to make a connection. I was immediately grateful.

I rolled down the window, and we talked, for two short minutes. His name was Dwayne, and he had been homeless for the last six months. He was looking for work, he told me, but not having a driver’s license made it difficult to get to job interviews. He then acknowledged that “everyone’s struggling, so no one is really able to give me much money” and that this month in particular had been the hardest for him. He asked me for my name, and I told him, in the midst of honking cars that indicated the light had turned from red to green. When I was forced to drive away, he shouted ‘God Bless’ and blew me a kiss.

I thought of Dwayne the entire drive home, while standing in the checkout line at Food Lion, and as I sat on my futon at home, reflecting on our conversation and his comments about shared struggle. And it was then that I suddenly felt inspired to write about Occupy.

An Occupy Wall Street campaign demonstrator stands in Zuccotti Park, near Wall Street in New York (photo courtesy of Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

When Occupy Wall Street erupted last September, it was one of the most exciting protest movements my generation had witnessed since the WTO protests in 1999. Building momentum from both the Arab Spring and the public frustration over the debt ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011, at the heart of the seemingly disparate movement were two main points of critique: that the distribution of wealth and opportunity in our culture was inequitable, and that the media system, controlled mainly by the ‘big six’ corporations, contributed to that status quo.

And not surprisingly, the media lived up to its reputation as an institution that never disappoints in its marginalization of activist causes. Media watchdog groups like Free Press and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting published stories on how Occupy was denigrated as a ‘hippie movement’ that didn’t have any idea what they wanted. Instead of interviewing the people who were involved in the movement, the media chose to rely on a stream of ‘experts’ and scholars to speak on behalf of the protesters, who were labeled in different media outlets as ‘crackheads’ (Bill O’Reilly for Fox, 10/14/11), ‘boring’ (Bill Keller, former executive editor for the New York Times, 10/14/11), ‘indignant indolents’ (Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, 10/17/11) and ‘Milquetoast Radicals’ (David Brooks, The New York Times, 10/11/11).

And in a way, it makes sense. Mainstream news organizations are often reticent to report favorably on anti-corporate movements because they are themselves, owned by corporations. It creates a conflict of interest. Take Erin Burnett, a CNN reporter who was lambasted for her derogatory remarks towards the protesters. Guess where she worked before her tenure at CNN? Goldman Sachs and Citigroup—the same financial companies that profited from the bailouts the Occupiers were protesting!

To be fair, the media did start to portray the movement more evenly, as public opinion revealed a majority who were sympathetic to the Occupy cause. Even then though, the political media’s attempts to frame politics in a bipartisan manner often resulted in Occupy being labeled as a counterweight to the Tea Party, which conflicted with the anti-establishment message of a movement that freely critiqued Obama as much as it did the banks.

Jonathan Wall releases his statement on how a sports bar in Raleigh kicked him out for no reason.

Now, celebrating its one-year anniversary, Occupy finds itself again denigrated by a media establishment that never really understood it. FAIR published a story on the different news outlets that proclaimed the Occupy Movement to be a failure and a fad. While there is some truth to the claim that Occupy was not able to create legislative and regulative change in the banking system (more likely due to the barriers in our political climate than any real issues within the movement itself), it succeeded in other important ways. Most notably, it helped to change the national conversation on wealth and inequality, creating the Twitter meme of #occupy and spurring occupy movements across the country that responded to local needs and issues. One local example I can personally cite was the ‘Occupy Downtown Sports Bars’ in Raleigh which was organized after a black Harvard graduate student got kicked out of a downtown bar for no apparent reason.

My students attend a local Occupy sit-in.

And since when do protests have to achieve everything they hope to accomplish in a span of one year? If the Occupy movement hoped to deliver a marked critique of inequality, and call for a government that represents the needs of citizens instead of the big banks or corporations, then I would argue that they did a pretty decent job in 12 short months. They centered this question of economic inequality in national discourse for the first time since the 1960s, were involved in movements to protect citizens from evictions and foreclosures, pressured President Obama to ease the loan burden, if marginally, to current recipients and focused the attention on police brutality towards marginalized communities. They bravely critiqued the corporatization of society, including that of the mainstream media, and encouraged people to become active citizens by seeking out alternative sources of information and media. As an instructor of cultural and media criticism always trying to instill the importance of societal and political engagement, I couldn’t have asked for better inspiration for my students.

So yes, one year later, a man named Dwayne is still homeless, and many people, as he himself so compassionately put it, are struggling. But that doesn’t mean that this revolution has failed. It has started a conversation about shifting the national paradigm to one of connection, to an inclusive society, to one that focuses on the needs of the people, to the 99%. It was about creating a world that works for everyone, including the 1%, who are also implicated in our society’s loss of community and intimacy.

Occupy reinforced my belief that the worst crimes committed are the ones that happen when we don’t ask questions. After decades of apathy that helped to create our current economic and cultural crisis, we can no longer stand to look the other way. So here I am writing at 2 a.m., wishing that I could forget about Dwayne and lose myself in the mindless world of celebrity magazines, but knowing that I can’t, because the conversation must go on.

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Critical Media – An Intro!

For me, I am far less concerned with political ideology of left vs. right, as I am with the corporatization of culture, which includes (to give a few of many examples):

  • The shrinking nature of public space. Corporate expression in the form of advertisements has permeated every inch of our streets, parks and even  schools. When malls start to look like towns, and libraries are nestled in a shopping center, that to me, implies that we are losing the notion of the public and we are seeing ourselves as consumers, not citizens. And while advertisers bombard us in the public space with their consumerist propaganda, graffiti and street artists are arrested for making art that often expresses social concerns!
  • How this corporate culture has affected our notion of ‘free expression’ when those who are able to have a voice and frame the dialogue are usually the elites (those that have the money, political influence and power) who control our government, schools, and airwaves. Of course, these elites are a tiny percentage of the population, and are usually white, and male. Anyone who has been following the “war on women” in Congress probably would agree with me that these hateful conversations wouldn’t be happening if we had a more diverse political body.
  • Along those lines, the merging of media organizations into just five corporations that own the vast majority of the media outlets we get our information from has further excluded diverse voices that are so desperately needed in a democracy. This corporate influence has resulted in excessive advertising during programming, the rise of ‘infotainment,’ (where Britney’s shaved head is the main headline on CNN) at the expense of important foreign coverage so that these corporations can make more money by catering to the basest ‘bread and circuses’ mentality, which also saves on the cost of operating expensive foreign bureaus that could cover foreign policy stories. It has allowed powerful political and military lobbyists from both the Republican and Democratic parties to give ‘objective’ views on pressing  issues like the Iraq War and the Health Care debate without revealing their corporate ties and thus, conflict of interest.

If this sounds ridiculously depressing, don’t worry! I will also be covering movements that are trying to take back the public sphere from the corporations and politicians. These include independent media outlets and social media bloggers, to street artists and culture jammers. This is an issue that blurs partisan lines and I can’t wait to work on this project with everyone!

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