(1) Long-existing technologies that could allow for development of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power, and the large-scale manufacture of electric or solar-powered cars.
(2) Billions of dollars stolen annually by corporations from U.S. consumers through fraud, rip-offs, product overcharging, and other forms of corporate crime such as government contracting fraud, pollution, and illegal toxic waste dumping.
(3) The U.S. economic system as a blatantly unfair game that favors the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else, and the huge increase in the numbers of the working poor and the overall rich-poor gap under Reaganomics.
(4) The ongoing concentration of mass media ownership into fewer and fewer corporate hands, and the threat it poses to democracy.
(5) Continuing and widening economic inequality between the rich, industrialized nations and the poverty-stricken Third World, its basis in multinational corporate exploitation of Third World labor and resources, and the system of U.S. military imperialism that supports it by propping up anti-democratic regimes around the globe run by elites who profit from the exploitation and continued impoverishment of their own countries.
Twin factors of corporate control and advertiser influence create inherent biases in the supposedly "objective" news we see and hear. Most channels of mass communication in our country are organized and owned by large media corporations. Some of these corporate entities are themselves directly owned by other conglomerates, such as General Electric, the company that owns NBC. GE "has long been a key player in the military-industrial complex...there are few modern weapons systems that GE has not been instrumental in developing." (Lee and Solomon, p 76).
Most are controlled by boards of directors whose members also own and control other large, non-media corporations - the so-called "interlocking directorates" of the corporate ruling class.
"The boards of directors of the Big Three (networks) are composed of executives, lawyers, financiers, and former government officials who represent the biggest banks and corporations in the U.S., including military and nuclear contractors, oil companies, agribusiness, insurance and utility firms." (Lee and Solomon, p 81).
"Seated on the board of directors of the company that owns the Washington Post (and Newsweek) are representatives from IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Bank of New York, Bankers Trust, Heinz, General Electric, and Coca-Cola." (Parenti, p 29).
Nearly all of the mass media are involved in business relationships with other large corporations who pay them to advertise their products. On average, magazines derive 50% of their total revenue from ads; newspapers approximately 75-80%; and network television, 100%. (Dominick, p 126-146.)
Corporate control and advertiser influence over the mass media cannot help but influence the selection and presentation of news. If news stories surface that reflect badly on companies owning mass media outlets, the stories will be ignored or minimized. The existence of interlocking directorates tying media boards of directors directly to dozens of other non-media corporations extends this aura of preferential journalistic treatment to business interests far beyond those who exercise direct ownership power over a particular media entity (such as GE's power over NBC).
It can be argued that the mass media's economic need to maintain advertising revenues by staying in good favor with corporate advertisers has made the entire corporate system into a "sacred cow." Occasional instances of blatant corporate wrongdoing, consumer fraud, or worker exploitation may be publicized, but (a) only enough to make people think the mass media is fulfilling its adversarial, public watchdog role, and (b) infrequently enough to perpetuate the illusion that such scandals are rare exceptions in a smoothly running corporate system rather than being the rule in a badly functioning, exploitative one.
As critics such as Ben Bagdikian have shown, increasingly concentrated mass media ownership by fewer and fewer corporations has undoubtedly increased the media's pro-corporate bias. However, it is not a new phenomenon. In a 1969 book entitled Don't Blame The People, media critic Robert Cirino exposed a catalog of pro-corporate, pro-system mass media biases that had existed throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Most were nearly identical to those Noam Chomsky speaks about in 1988's Manufacturing Consent or Michael Parenti's Inventing Reality (1993). Only the places and faces have changed.
And over time, these biases have functioned to rob most Americans of an honest, critical understanding of how and why our society is malfunctioning. They may know that things are going wrong, but they don't know who to blame, or why it's happening, or what to do about it.
Finally, another set of interlocking relationships function to bias the mass media even further against the public interest by failing to cover issues the public should know about. Just as corporate pressures of ownership and advertising bias the media towards the status quo of the corporate system, government influences create biases that favor the status quo in areas of public policy. Government influence over the U.S. press has little to do with the broadcast regulatory powers of the FCC, which have never been exercised in sustained, coordinated enough fashion to force the U.S. broadcast media to serve the public interest. Ironically, this lack of regulatory influence has itself influenced the mass media greatly by allowing them to pursue profits instead of informing the public.
Instead, government influence over the media comes from two sources. The first is government control over information, the raw material that news organizations need to function.
"A daily assembly line of proposals, tips, press releases, documents, and interviews rolls out of the White House and various federal agencies...the Pentagon alone employs a public relations staff of over three thousand people." (Parenti, p 63).
Since most reporters who cover government beats have to rely on long-term contact with specific officials for their stories, it is little wonder that over time they come to see things from the same general perspectives as the Establishment members who fill these positions at local, state and national levels.
The second is the revolving door that allows for constant interchange between media professionals and government personnel, specifically at the national level. The high profile cases include names like Pete Williams, former Assistant Secretary of Defense under George Bush, who now covers defense issues for NBC. William Safire, Pat Buchanan, and Diane Sawyer are all former Nixon staffers. Bill Moyers worked for Lyndon Johnson, and Pierre Salinger for John Kennedy. David Gergen has worked for Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and now Clinton. Links also exist at the top of media and government power chains.
"Former top officials like Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, Defense Secretary Harold Brown, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Attorney General William French Smith, and CIA Director William Casey have held executive or board positions in the corporate structures of major media like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, GE/NBC, and CBS...with rare exceptions like Bill Moyers, these revolving-door people share the ideological perspective of the national security state in whose employ they feel comfortable." (Parenti, p 63).
The U.S. mass media thus combines pro-corporate with pro-national security state biases. Is it any wonder that our press functions primarily as a permanent cheerleader for America's corporate and government ruling class?
Issues like the five mentioned here do not receive the sort of extensive, sustained coverage they deserve, no matter how helpful an understanding of them would be in helping ordinary citizens understand how the U.S. system is malfunctioning.
Stories about alternative energy sources and transportation technologies threaten the profits of the oil and automobile companies. Exposing the high levels of corporate crime that exist in our society undermines popular support for the corporate system. The same is true of stories about the inherently unfair nature of the U.S. economic system, and how government policies enacted by elites have helped mantain its injustices. The corporate-controlled mass media is certainly not about to devote attention to how profit-making defeats its own purpose for existence by perpetuating public ignorance about any issues that threaten the corporate system, or the system of U.S. government control by elites.
Finally, the multinational corporate system derives so much of its continued strength from modern day imperialism that it cannot afford to jeopardize its access to Third World labor and resources. People in the rich, industrialized nations cannot be allowed to grasp the true conditions of life that the vast majority of the world endures so that we may live as we do. It might disrupt the consumer culture with such unpleasant emotions as guilt.
We are supposedly a democracy, yet time and time again, decisions are made that only serve elite, wealthy interests. Companies downsize and move their production lines overseas, enforcing continued Third World poverty while lowering living standards for U.S. workers. Education and social service budgets are slashed, but we continue to spend $260 billion a year on weapons of destruction. Only the wealthy or those who serve the interests of the wealthy can afford to run for office, so we're governed by an entire class of elected officials who allow private interests to take precedence over the broader public interest.
Things will only change when corporate control of the U.S. mass media is smashed. Direct government control is also no answer to this problem. Only a new direction will provide true hope for returning the media to a mission of public service. There must be a third way.
The media must be wrested away from for-profit, private interests and transformed into non-profit organizations, but remain independent of government control. It will be difficult.
One method would be to focus attention solely on broadcast media and newspapers. First, nationalize all existing television stations, cable systems, and big city newspapers, and pass legislation designating them non-profit NGO's. Next, pass a constitutional amendment to provide these new media organizations with some levels of government funding, but independent of government controls over staffing. Allow advertising, which would continue at high levels (on television, at least, because advertisers need television), and provide the media NGO's with additional revenue. The removal of the need to realize profits and the addition of government subsidies would go a long way towards alleviating advertiser influence over programming. This is, admittedly, a radical scheme.
An equally radical approach, but one that functions within the confines of the capitalist system would be to attempt to establish broadcast media alternatives that are funded by advertisers who exist outside the dominant corporate system, and/or through public subscriber bases, profits from other business enterprises, etc. More creative approaches could be taken in attempting to topple newspaper monopolies. Competing papers could be established in one-paper towns and reader boycotts of the monopoly papers organized. Readers would be encouraged to split their subcription monies in half in order to provide financial support for two community voices instead of one. If such boycotts were successful, monopoly papers would have to cut back on their profits. They couldn't just stop delivering the paper to half their subscribers, because they would lose their advertisers.
However it happens, the mass media must become a set of institutions dedicated to truly informing the U.S. public if our democracy is to survive.
Dominick, J.R. The Dynamics of Mass Communication. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990.
Lee, Martin A, and Norman Solomon. Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1990.
Parenti, Michael. Inventing Reality: The Politics Of News Media. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.