Media Cheerleaders

It is always best to look at things objectively and honestly in order to understand the true nature of things. Doing so will allow us to approach our problems with the proper mindset. But how do we view our own country? It is not as simple as looking in the mirror. Instead, the window through which the mass of society views their country is the media: television, radio, newspapers, etc.

In the United States, the media is made up of a group of large, multinational, conglomerate corporations, including AOL Time Warner (CNN), CBS/Viacom, Disney (ABC), News Corp.(FOX), and General Electric (NBC). Together, just a handful of corporations own over 90% of US media outlets: television, newspapers, book publishers, magazines, radio, music, and film…nearly everything you see, hear, or read is a product of these corporations.

They function with the sole purpose of any other corporation: to maximize profits for the shareholder. Take it from former Disney CEO Michael Eisner: “We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective.”

Wealthy business elites sit on the boards of these corporations, each with financial interests and business contacts in other corporations. For instance, GE and Westinghouse are enormous companies heavily involved in weapons manufacturing and nuclear power; they are owned by the same people as network TV stations NBC and CBS (respectively). There is a severe conflict of interest when the companies you trust for information are the exact same companies that are being awarded millions of dollars in contracts for manufacturing bombs and fighter jets to fight battles abroad.

For a real democracy to function properly, it is absolutely essential that its citizens are well-informed and that its leaders are ruthlessly held to account; in this respect, our media has failed. Most of the mass media serves as a diversion from issues that truly matter. Think of the last news program you happened to see; consider the time devoted to local stories, professional sports, or celebrity gossip.

Topics that fill the news hour are often trivial, blurring information and entertainment in order to boost ratings. The reporting on real issues is often a repetition of government press releases with little independent investigation. To ensure access to top-level government officials, journalists are pressured to accommodate the administration by reporting favorably and not asking tough questions.

Judith Miller’s front page articles in the New York Times relayed misinformation from government sources, and played a critical role in the lead-up to the illegal invasion of Iraq. She claimed: “My job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” Funny, I thought the specific function of a journalist was to independently assess information, question their sources and evaluate material before reporting it.

Her critical journalistic mistakes have since led to the selling of a war that has already resulted in nearly 4,000 American deaths (more than occurred on 9-11) plus 30,000 wounded, a cost of over half a trillion dollars to US taxpayers, the deaths of approximately one million Iraqis, and the departure of another two million Iraqis.

On one end US taxpayers have financed the cost of the military invasion and occupation, but on the other we are also funding government contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq, awarded to private corporations with ties to the administration and the media.

So keep in mind that the bulk of information you see, hear, or read in our country has been processed through the filter of a corporate media. Do you think we can trust the benefactors of war to provide us with objective information?

Richard Nixon had it right when he wrote: “Short of changing human nature, therefore, the only way to achieve a practical, livable peace in a world of competing nations is to take the profit out of war.”

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The Power of Money

We have seen that our political choices in this country are quite limited, but how did this occur? What are the forces that prevent the United States of America from becoming the model of democracy it claims to be?

The founders of our nation laid out a structure of government designed to preserve the power of wealthy landowners. As James Madison said at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the new government must “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” Control of political power in the new system was to be maintained by the “wealth of the nation,” for they understood the risk in losing their wealth for the benefit of society.

In the early years, only these white, wealthy landowners could elect their representative government. Over the next two centuries, the masses began to organize and exercise their Constitutional rights. Women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, and trade unions all struggled to increase the rights of the individual; they ended slavery and segregation, established minimum wage and the eight hour work day, and gave the majority of the population their first chance to vote. Despite these popular stuggles’ advance towards democracy, the wealthy classes remain in control of political power in our country.

The aristocrats of yesterday (those wealthy landowners) have been replaced by more powerful entities, known commonly as ‘corporations’. While they possess the legal rights of an individual person, corporations cannot be prosecuted as such and are only partially liable for debts. Their reach of power extends far beyond our borders, to the international markets of a globalized world, yet there is no set of international laws to keep them in check.

They use their influence to convince foreign politicians to privatize their country’s resources, auctioned off to the highest corporate bidder at the expense of the local community: public water in Bolivia, bananas in Guatemala, oil in Nigeria or Burma, just about everything in Indonesia, etc. Not only do these mega-corporations have a strong hold on world power, they have a stranglehold on US politicians and control our entire ‘democratic’ election process.

We have seen that our election choices are usually limited to two wealthy, business elites. The structure of this bipartisan system reinforces a sense of defeatism among the American people, making them feel as if their vote makes no difference or that they are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. In fact, we have one of the lower voter turnouts in the world; only 50% of eligible voters make it to the polls, compared with some other countries where voting is compulsory.

In reality, the system of government in the United States is what is called a polyarchy, in which mass participation is confined to choosing leaders in elections managed by competing elites of the business or corporate sector. This sector is in control of nearly all power and money in our country: banks, investment firms, oil companies, insurance providers, pharmaceutical companies, the technology industry, advertising, and let’s not forget, the corporate media.

We are told of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” but is it the will of the people guiding this great country to a better future? For now it may the almighty dollar that has the grip of power in our country, but we citizens cannot afford to sit on the sidelines while our quality of life is being deteriorated.

As the Declaration of Indepedence reveals, when our government becomes destructive to the will of the people, “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.” Our politicians and their corporate companions do not control the people; we control them, and we have an obligation to stand up and speak out when our government fails us. The crucial time has arrived for each one of us to pay close attention, get organized, and exercise our rights if we care to to see a better world for our children.