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May 2003 • Vol 3, No. 5 •

Book Review

All the News that’s Printed to Fit

by Roland Sheppard

The Media Monopoly
By Ben H. Bagdikian

Beacon Press, 2000

Historically, Socialists have always considered the mass media to be one of the instruments of capitalist rule. Most liberals have countered this argument by describing the press as being the “Third Estate,” the defenders of a free press and democracy, and independent of the capitalist class.

The following is from the preface to the sixth edition of The Media Monopoly by Ben H. Bagdikian.

As the United States enters the twenty-first century, power over the American mass media is flowing to the top with such devouring speed that it exceeds even the accelerated consolidations of the last twenty years. For the first time in U.S. history, the country’s most widespread news, commentary, and daily entertainment are controlled by six firms that are among the world’s largest corporations, two of them foreign.

Even with the dramatic entry of the Internet and the cyber world with their uncounted hundreds of new firms, the controlling handful of American and foreign corporations now exceed in their size and communications power anything the world has seen before. Their intricate global interlocks create the force of an international cartel.

There are pernicious consequences. While excessive bigness itself is cause for economic anxieties, the worst problems are political and social. The country’s largest media giants have achieved alarming success in writing the media laws and regulations in favor of their own corporations and against the interests of the general public. Their concentrated power permits them to become a larger factor than ever before in socializing each generation with entertainment models of behavior and personal values.

The impact on the national political agenda has been devastating…. During these crucial years, the American economy was undergoing an astonishing phenomenon that the mainstream news left largely unreported or actually glamorized in its infrequent references: the largest transfer of the national wealth in American history from a majority of the population to a small percentage of the country’s wealthiest families.

This is an interesting book reporting on and explaining the far-reaching consolidation of the media that has occurred in the past ten years. It is but another example of the concentration of wealth, which is natural to capitalism, and which has greatly increased in magnitude in the past decade of “prosperity.” As Bagdikian states in his preface, during the recent period there has been “the largest transfer of the national wealth in American history from a majority of the population to a small percentage of the country’s wealthiest families.” Or as Karl Marx stated over 100 years ago: the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

Basically the consolidation of the mass media into a combination of six corporations, has destroyed any viability to the claim that the capitalist news media serves the defense of democracy. These international corporations use the media to act in the interests of its owners and the capitalist class as a whole. In this sense, Orwell’s concept of “Big Brother” is becoming reality.

Six “Big Brothers” now dispense the news as they see fit. If one clicks from news program to news program the same stories are on each network, sometimes at the same time. The concept of journalists being free to truthfully write about and investigate the news is now a farce. John Swainton, of the New York Times, explained it quite clearly at his retirement party in September 2000. He said:

“There is not one of you who would dare write his honest opinion. The business of journalism is now to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, fall at the feet of Mammon and sell himself for his daily bread. We are tools, vessels of rich men behind the scenes, we are jumping jacks. They pull the strings; we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are the properties of these men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”

Though there is a detailed account of the consolidation of the mass media over the past few decades, the author fails or refuses to explain that the mass media is the property of the capitalist class and an instrument of that class. The recent consolidations, revealed in this book, have now made this fact abundantly clear.

One program that tries to give the impression of “journalistic integrity” is the CBS show “60 Minutes.” Its fictitious character was exposed by the movie, “The Insider.” In that movie the show’s producers rolled over for the tobacco monopoly. In the past few years, powerful corporations like Monsanto has been able to call upon their corporate class brothers to disrupt the publication of books and to prevent broadcast journalists from exposing the problems of their genetically engineered agricultural products. It is now close to impossible to get the truth published by mainstream publishing houses. Investigative reporters, authors and scientists must rely on small publishing houses that cannot reach large sections of the population.

The “War on Terrorism” is also a demonstration of manufactured news. If you click from TV channel to TV channel, you see the same news. The Orwellian concept that “War is Peace” and “Freedom is Slavery” is the message of the day, as world imperialism terrorizes oppressed nations with bombs, cluster bombs, and radioactivity, and attacks the Bill of Rights to defend democracy. Last year’s “Freedom Fighters” are “Today’s Terrorists” and possibly next year’s “Freedom Fighters” once again!

The mass media is now openly the instrument of imperialism and the capitalist class, and no longer has any pretence of independence.

These facts apply to all of the organizations of the oppressed in this country. While they all moan about the loss of these rights, none have come forward to organize a campaign to publicize the infringement of our rights. The AFL-CIO has the money and the power to put out a national newspaper in the interests of working people to inform the working class of these events, to help organize solidarity. Unfortunately, it still reneges on this responsibility and leaves journalism to be the property rights of the capitalist class in the same manner that it supports Republicans and Democrats.





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