David v. Goliath
Amateur v. Millionaire Media

American Politics Journal

MIKE HERSH

November 6, 2001

Who controls what you see, hear and think you know

We need a free press to control public and private abuses of power. Unfortunately, right wing corporations control the news.

We cannot count on the millionaire media to inform us about Bush Administration abuses and failures. We are not getting the news from "the news." Who will fill the breach?

Professional reporters who tell the ugly truth about right-wingers lose their professional status, while those who attack unions, environmentalists, poor people, minorities, and liberal and moderate Democrats prosper.

Book publishers, networks, and newspapers risk retaliation if they question corporations or investigate Republican crimes, as right-wing pressure groups, corporations, millionaires and billionaires support biased reporters who, in return, support those very same right-wing pressure groups, corporations, millionaires and billionaires.

Industries and hard-right conservatives control the media various ways :

Examples proving media bias and craven capitulation to corporations are nearly endless.

Tobacco companies, grocery stores selling tainted food, and other business interests intimidate the media's "news" producers into dropping segments exposing perfidy. Oil and power companies engineered a cover-up after the Exxon Valdez catastrophe, suppressed reports of price fixing, and lied to the public about environmental threats from oil spills to global warming - as they continue to do.

"Public relations" is a gentle term for corporations paying billions of dollars to lie effectively. PR flaks outnumber reporters -- and considering that many reporters act as stenographers to these "lobbyists to the press", it is no wonder big businesses always manage to get their views reported -- and thus always get their way, even when their views are absurd and their actions harm and even kill innocents. [1]

Weapons makers General Electric and Westinghouse own and control NBC and CBS. Ultra-right media kingpin Rupert Murdoch owns FOX. Right-wing cult leader Sun Myung Moon owns The Washington Times and UPI. Corporations spend and withhold ad money -- the lifeblood of networks, newspapers, and magazines -- to reward favorable coverage and punish "bad press."

Next time you watch a "public interest show" such as NBC's Meet the Press, CBS's Face the Nation, or ABC's This Week, pay attention to the sponsors : defense contractors, energy companies, big polluters and corporate welfare price-fixers including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Georgia Pacific, Williams, Enron and Archer Daniels Midland.

Do you honestly think any of these shows will dare invite guests or make any comments critical of weapons, pollution, corporate welfare or crime?

Not even public broadcasting is immune. Conservative "foundations" increasingly exert influence, and right-wing politicians slash financial support.

PBS depends on corporate sponsors like the Exxon-Mobil, and hard-right "charities" including the Pew Charitable Trust and the John Olin Foundation.

These "charities" also sponsor right-wing "think tanks," writers including "The Bell Curve" author Charles Murray, and publications that promote extreme and even racist views.

This network of right-wing financial influence, along with pressure from right wingers in Congress explains the tilt toward private power in public broadcasting.

Corporations flood the media with propaganda that overwhelms evidence from legitimate scientists; often one sees a report on a serious threat to health and safety from unsafe products or practices, only to hear the opposite just days later. This is no accident.

To protect profits, corporations and "trade associations" sponsor pseudo-science to confuse us. They work to undermine our confidence in unbiased researchers warning us of real threats. Energy companies created a sham "institute" to lie about global warming. They patterned this on the Tobacco Institute's efforts to deceive the public about links between smoking and disease.

The Tobacco Institute is now known as the National Smokers Alliance and the Center for Individual Freedom.

"All we're going to do is change the name on the door. We're going to continue to do what we've always done," said Walker Merryman, Tobacco Institute Vice President ( see "Tobacco Institute workers confident of reincarnation," Los Angeles Times, June 24, 1997, quoted at : http://www.no-smoke.org/ ).

Corporate-hired liars are also tricky. Notorious fonts of disinformation keep changing their name, but not their game. The Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (the ANR Foundation) further report : "In January 2001, ANR reported that the Philip Morris-funded National Smokers Alliance (NSA) was dissolving and donating an unspecified amount of their assets to the Center for Individual Freedom (CIF). We knew then that both the NSA and the CIF were housed in the same building in Alexandria, VA, but the link between the two just became clearer. "

Having been exposed for advertising to children, lying under oath, destroying evidence, price fixing, and even "spiking" nicotine levels to deepen addiction and pad profits, tobacco companies are trying new lies.

But no longer do they deny links between their products and heart and lung disease -- now, Philip Morris cares about civil liberties. Their "CIF" is claiming to protect our "Individual Freedom." You almost have to hand it to them -- it takes real gall to claim laws to protect the public from the hazards of smoking violate civil rights!

Philip Morris cares about civil liberties just as much as they care about your health, but in a contest between corporate behemoths like big tobacco and the tiny, underfunded ANR, whose voice will the public hear?

Besides fake and extremist "foundations," corporations and their PR firms use "Greenwashing" and other tricks to hide abuse. They work through friendly media or direct purchase of ads. These advertising dollars have a secondary impact. As they buy time and space to lie to the public, they also bribe the media not to report the truth :

"DuPont, International Paper, the Chemical Manufacturers Association and others are spending a billion dollars a year to convince the public that today's transnational corporations have a deep, abiding commitment to a clean and healthy environment."

"Critics warn that these advertisements are part of a larger agenda designed to help polluting and extractive industries to 'greenwash' their image. At the same time companies are trying to convince the public that they are trusted environmental stewards, they say, their officials are working to gut environmental laws and regulations."

( http://faramir.sangonet.org.za/misa/articles/1996/dec/ips/15527-ips.html )

Writing at Online Journal, Carla Binion reports on the common roots and frightening parallels between corporate PR and the techniques of Third Reich propagandist Joseph Goebbels . Author, professional engineer and senior Science and Technology lecturer Sharon Beder offers this analysis :

[C]orporate front groups are a fairly recent phenomenon in America ... in response to the rise of genuine citizen public interest organizations. One front group, the American Council on Science and Health, receives funds from Burger King, Coca-Cola, NutraSweet, Monsanto, Dow, Exxon and other corporations.

Sharon Beder, author of "Global Spin", offers another example : "[T]he American Council on Science and Health is one of many corporate front groups which allow industry-funded experts to pose as independent scientists to promote corporate causes."

Under this underhanded technique, "Chemical and nuclear industry front groups with scientific sounding names publish pamphlets [not subjected to peer review] in established academic journals." [2]

Beder quotes Mark Megalli and Andy Friedman : "'Contrary to their names, these groups often disregard compelling scientific evidence to further their viewpoints, arguing that pesticides are not harmful, saccharin is not carcinogenic, or that global warming is a myth. By sounding scientific, they seek to manipulate the public's trust.'" [3]

Binion is an excellent amateur who puts media professionals to shame, reporting "The goal of pseudoscientific corporate front groups, says Beder, is to cast doubt on the legitimacy of authentic environmental problems. For example, the Global Climate Coalition is a front group for various gas, oil, coal, automobile and chemical corporations; and it has battled restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions."

( http://www.onlinejournal.com/Special_Reports/Binion042501/binion042501.html )

Right wing politicians also coerce and control the media. Bush lawyers and their allies in the media drove the hard-hitting James Hatfield biography of George "AWOL" Bush, "Fortunate Son", off the best-seller list and out of print.

When the right-wingers make corporations shun big profits, the fix is in, and there's more present than meets the eye. As independent magazine Bad Subjects explains, St. Martin's reported reasons for the self-censorship of "Fortunate Son" made no sense -- further evidence that right-wing media bias runs far deeper than we like to believe :

The suppression of Hatfield's book is chilling alone, but what makes it really remarkable is that it was carried out by the original publishers [St. Martin's Press] themselves, after the book had already become a New York Times best seller.

Despite the fact that St. Martin's had originally insisted on its meticulous fact-checking of the book, and that journalistic fact is not altered by its author's history, St. Martin's backed down in the face of pressure from the Bush campaign and ruthless exposure by the Dallas Morning News.

( http://eserver.org/bs/reviews/2001-2-1-12.11PM.html )

Editors and reporters with careers to build and families to feed know which way the wind blows. Fair minded investigative reporters cannot report on real news in the US, and relocate overseas. One such reporter, Greg Palast, works in the United Kingdom to avoid lawsuits from angry, litigious, well-heeled right wingers.

You can read Palast's reporting on topics including the stolen 2000 presidential election, corporate America's abuses, the horrors of globalization, Bush family corruption, power companies ripping off consumers and taxpayers, and the real stories behind the Exxon Valdez disaster, Microsoft, and Pat Robertson on his website.

Conservatives silence American reporters brave enough to buck the system; for example, investigative reporter Gary Webb exposed links between the CIA, the Contras, and cocaine at the San Jose Mercury News, but right wingers and CIA apologists in the media did their best to shout him down to shut him up.

"For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the US Central Intelligence Agency."

( http://www.pbs.org/newshour/forum/october96/crack_contra_11-1.html )

Eventually the CIA was forced to concede Webb was correct in his reporting. Nevertheless, the corporate media "spiked" this story and protected Reagan-era government thuggery, drug-dealing, and other illegal activity. This was one of the most obvious indications that right wing corporations owned and operated the mass media.

The media showed their right wing bias in their underreporting of Reagan and Bush administration crimes (including Iran-Contra) and their subsequent shift from protecting corrupt Republican administrations to attacking Democrats, bolstering a transparent dirty tricks campaign against the Clinton Administration.

The media reported and aired every outlandish attack against the Clintons, often reporting pure rubbish from known lunatics. [4] This culminated in a frenzy of media cheerleading for the impeachment by the lame-duck House.

This extreme bias continued as the media hounded Al Gore during the 2000 election while coddling George W. Bush. So called "liberal" bastions, including news divisions of the TV networks, the New York Times, and even the Boston Globe ran RNC attack faxes, which accused Al Gore of "lying" about all matters large and small, as news. It's hard to recall just how biased, vicious, and dishonest the "liberal" media were during the 2000 campaign -- but for a refresher, it's worth examining the archives of The Daily Howler.

In fact, the media is still bashing Al Gore with spin and lies, including the lie that Al Gore "lost" the election even as they delay reporting on the real results of the Florida vote. Howard Fineman continued bashing Al Gore in a patently absurd article in Newsweek, the vehicle right wing extremists used to inject "scandals" into the mass media throughout the Clinton Administration.

Even the New York Times is still bashing Gore. Richard Berke went to incredible lengths of shoddy unethical "journalism" as recently exposed by the Daily Howler :

"TEXTBOOK OF SPIN! Richard Berke said Dems are glad that Gore lost. His piece was a textbook of spin : Richard Berke said he spoke to some Dems. He just wouldn't tell us how many. Jim Moran didn't say he was glad that Gore lost. But to Rick Berke, it sounded just like it."

"Did anyone say he was glad that Gore lost? If someone said it, Rick Berke didn't quote him. The rules of engagement all favored Berke. He still couldn't give what he promised. Why, oh why, did Gore get 'Berked?' We suspect it all comes down to character." [5]

Who is watching the watchers? We cannot count on the media to inform us about Bush Administration abuses and failures. We must expect media / right wing collusion during the war against Terrorism and beyond. As William Greider famously asked in his book "Who Will Tell The People?", who will fill the breach?

It falls to the many underfunded, often unappreciated amateur and small independent journalists on the Internet to report the truth -- websites and publications including

We cannot do it alone, however.

Those who visit these sites and read these publications should do their part as well : consider what you're getting from alternatives to corporate media versus what you're paying for it. When we do anything you don't like, think before sending an angry message; instead of complaining, use that energy to call a talk show, or write a letter to the editor or to an elected official.

On the other hand, if you appreciate what we're doing, why not drop us an occasional e-mail saying so? We're working hard to keep you informed. We're operating on shoe strings. We're not getting paid. Many of us are not technical wizards. If you can't offer technical or financial support, at least give us your moral support.

Never forget, it's David vs. Goliath, "Amateur" ( in the literal sense of the word ) Media vs. Billionaire Media. We have a huge, uphill struggle against much better-funded,

vastly powerful right wing corporate special interests. Luckily for us we're at least as smart, and we have the truth on our side. We can also count on you, the smartest and most ethical readers.

Footnotes :

[1] For more information into these practices, refer to "Trust Us, We're Experts : How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles With Your Future" and "Toxic Sludge Is Good for You! : Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry" by John C. Stauber and Sheldon Rampton

[2] Sharon Beder, "Global Spin", Chelsea Green Publishing, 1997

[3] Megalli and Friedman, "Masks of Deception: Corporate Front Groups in America", 1991

[4] Joe Conason and Gene Lyons' "The Hunting of the President" documents these efforts in detail.

[5] http://www.dailyhowler.com/h103101_1.shtml and subsequent articles

Mike Hersh is an online activist and the web- and message-master of the Political Sanity News Group at http://www.smartgroups.com/groups/political_sanity


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