The Mass Media and Politics: an Analysis of Influence
"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"
The Wizard of Oz
"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one."
". . . to take apart the system of illusions and deception which functions to prevent understanding of contemporary reality [is] not a task that requires extraordinary skill or understanding. It requires the kind of normal skepticism and willingness to apply one's analytical skills that almost all people have and that they can exercise."
The Chomsky Reader
All of the American broadcast media, and most of the print media as well, are owned primarily by wealthy individuals. Direct ties to the biggest of big businesses are almost unbelievably extensive (see our analysis below), and, we believe, these ties cannot help but seriously bias and compromise news coverage. Moreover, the media empires are, first and foremost, profit-making corporations that conduct themselves like other corporations when it comes to corrupting American politics. That is, the parent corporations of many make so-called "campaign contributions" and also act against the public interest in other ways. As big winners in the corruption game, they show no signs of serious interest in political reform. (As large corporations themselves, the mass media want the same preferential treatment, and have the same desire to grow without bounds, as all other corporations.)
Allegations of political bias in the media are common, although there is considerable controversy concerning the nature of this bias: neither liberals or conservatives are pleased. Conservatives often allege that the media exhibit a liberal bias. On the other hand, liberals allege that the media exhibit a pro-corporate, plutocratic bias. However, we believe both charges rely on a faulty and simplistic analysis of the American political and economic spectrum (for a better understanding of that spectrum, see the linked diagrams, politics and economics). The truth is that the apparent liberalism of some of the mass media is primarily cultural, and rarely economic. In effect, and like most other American institutions, the mass media advance the economic interests of the wealthy few at the cost of the interests, and values, of the majority; and the self-indulgent, empire-building interests of the wealthy few are not those of either liberals or cultural conservatives.
At the heart of media pseudoliberalism is a shallow but highly serviceable relativistic ethic. We say "serviceable" because the fundamental corporate ethical premise, "if it's profitable it's good," is fully compatible. This form of "liberalism" nicely advances the corporate profit agenda. No matter how low the least common denominator, executives need feel no moral qualms. The media is being entirely consistent when it also manifests pro-corporate, economic "conservatism."
Against this, some have objected that the media often attack corporations. It's true, certainly, that this or that individual corporation may be subjected to media criticism, sometimes even harsh criticismbut it strikes us as significant that the sort of stringent and fundamental reforms needed to bring about real change are virtually never mentioned, let alone advocated. For example, how often are severe penalties for white collar crime advocated? How often is the revocation of corporate charters mentioned? And public financing of elections, arguably the single most urgently needed reform in America today, has made far less headway than it should despite overwhelming public support, largely because the mass media profit enormously from paid political advertisements.
Unfortunately, even public radio and television, which is supposed to provide programming in the public interest, is currently headed by former Voice of America executives. (Voice of America is the official American propaganda network of radio stations overseas, a relic from the Cold War.) Moreover, an ever accelerating commercialism has been evident in public radio and television for some time. While its news coverage is generally far less misleading than that of the corporate media, when NPR is used as a conduit to bring Americans the message that "globalization is inevitable", any pretense that it truly provides journalism in the public interest stands revealed as a sham.
However, none of this reveals the politics of the owners of the mass media as clearly as the topics which it regards as utterly taboo. Heading this up is the political activity of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), a lobby for corporate media. But almost equally as taboo are the other power structures of corporatists. So, while we hear often of, for example, the NRA, we hear virtually nothing of the Business Roundtable, even though this organization is almost solely responsible for the offshoring of American jobs, the runaway inflation of CEO salaries, and the destruction of American unions. (Nearly all of the boards of the biggest corporate broadcasters are intimately entwined with the BR.) The political agendas of the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Friends of Bilderberg, the Trilateral Commission, and Council on Foreign Relations also pass almost entirely without mention. Often cited by the media are corporate shills such as the spokespersons for the American Enterprise Institute, but their corporate funders are never revealed.
Equally taboo are critics of corporate capitalism. And, though they outperform corporations, and provide far better job stability and compensation to workers, Mondragon cooperatives go without mention in the corporate media.
The disgraceful involvement of US corporations in the corruption of the governments of other countries is systematically swept under the carpet. (See, for example, the involvement of United Fruit in Guatemala and Columbia.) And topics related to central banking are equally taboo: the true nature of the Federal Reserve is never discussed.
In addition to topics that are taboo are the many people who are taboo. Leading this list are representatives of unions, even though CEOs are often heard from. Americans have heard the opinions of Harvard drop-out Bill Gates concerning education, but the heads of the main teacher's organization are virtually unknown. Native Americans are almost entirely voiceless.
Where does this all-pervasive bias come from? The short answer is: the owners and heads of the corporate media, who clearly broadcast on behalf of their own economic interests.
The Mass Media and Corporate Interlocks
To illustrate how pervasive the corporate influence is throughout the major media, the table that follows identifies the interconnections between the six largest or most influential broadcasting companies and other major corporations.
In that table, corporations color coded in red are those that have connections with more than one broadcaster. Corporations coded in green also have connections to the top 28 most interconnected companies. (In addition, a few of the connections through social clubs for the wealthy and/or powerful are listed.) Thus, companies coded in red or green are in a position to exercise significant media influence; and companies coded both red and green, such as Chase Manhattan, are super offenders. We would also single out the former Citicorp (now merged with Travelers to form Citigroup) as a corporation deeply immeshed in secret FTAA negotiations, and which also has an exceptionally bad environmental record.
Unsurprisingly, and again consistent with a pro-corporate bias, all of the major broadcast and print media have been either directly involved in secret FTAA negotiations (which even Congress was kept ignorant of) or else had an interlocking directorate with a company that was, except for Viacom and Fox. As international trade and globalization are among the most important and newsworthy topics today, the failure to adequately inform the American people of their own role and interest in these matters is a severe rupture of journalistic integrity. Of course, corporations owning media corporations have no business whatsoever making "campaign contributions" (bribes) to presidential candidates. (Note: all analysis of bribes below refers to the first Bush campaign.)
Print Media Connections
The 28 most-interconnected corporations (via interlocking directorates), with media affiliations and other influential affiliations or practices are noted below. For insight into the nature of the Business Roundtable, follow this link.
Sources: Censored 1998: The News that Didn't Make the News, by Peter Phillips & Project Censored, The Center for Responsive Politics, stop-ftaa, www.ita.doc.gov/td/icp/isac.html, Who Rules America?by G. William Domhoff, When Corporations Rule the World, by David C. Korten.
In addition to the influence exercised by the corporations listed above, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) exercises tremendous political influence, and has virtually always acted against the best interests of consumers and American citizens in media-related issues. (For a brief account, see Ralph Nader's Cutting Corporate Welfare.)
For a glimpse into the media and Bohemian Grove, an all-male, private club for the immensely wealthy, with ties to prominent political figures, including every Republican president of the 20th century see this link.
For a summary of trenchant media critic Noam Chomsky's views (which we believe are supported in large measure by the analysis above) follow this link:
For Chomsky himself, see this link.
Those seeking criticism of Chomsky's views might read the reviews of his books at www.amazon.com to get the flavor of both critics and proponents.
And for other resources critical of the media see:
Genuinely mainstream media may be found at this link.
If you don't have access to at least a few of these alternative sources of information, you literally don'tand can'tknow what's going on in America today, nor can you hope to understand what the events of the day imply for the average person.