Thursday April 24th, 2014, 4:27 am (EDT)

Robert W. McChesney

The Escalating War Against Corporate Media

A recurring issue for the left historically has been how to address the capitalist media. In recent years the problem has grown ever more severe, and no small amount of attention has been given to examining the problems of the commercial media and how closely they reinforce and accentuate problems within the broader social order. The logic of this criticism has become clear: progressives need to work on challenging the corporate domination of media as part of the broader struggle for social justice. If changing media is left until “after the revolution,” there will be no revolution, not to mention fewer chances for social reform. But politicizing control over media has proven to be extraordinarily difficult for activists. That is why the massive and largely unanticipated 2003 campaign in the United States to stop further media concentration, which almost overnight reached a scale not seen in media reform struggles since the 1930s, is so important and instructive. This article chronicles that revolt… | more |

Kipling, the 'White Man's Burden,' and U.s. Imperialism

Kipling, the ‘White Man’s Burden,’ and U.s. Imperialism

We are living in a period in which the rhetoric of empire knows few bounds. In a special report on “America and Empire” in August, the London-based Economist magazine asked whether the United States would, in the event of “regime changes…effected peacefully” in Iran and Syria, “really be prepared to shoulder the white man’s burden across the Middle East?” The answer it gave was that this was “unlikely”—the U.S. commitment to empire did not go so far. What is significant, however, is that the question was asked at all… | more |

The ‘Left-Wing’ Media?

If we learn nothing else from the war on Iraq and its subsequent occupation, it is that the U.S. ruling class has learned to make ideological warfare as important to its operations as military and economic warfare. A crucial component of this ideological war has been the campaign against “left-wing media bias,” with the objective of reducing or eliminating the prospect that mainstream U.S. journalism might be at all critical toward elite interests or the system set up to serve those interests. In 2001 and 2002, no less than three books purporting to demonstrate the media’s leftward tilt rested high atop the bestseller list. Such charges have already influenced media content, pushing journalists to be less critical of right-wing politics. The result has been to reinforce the corporate and rightist bias already built into the media system… | more |

What Recovery?

Only a few years ago it was widely suggested that the capitalist economy had entered a new economic era. The rapid economic growth experienced during the brief period of the late 1990s, we were told, would become virtually endless, spurred on by rising productivity led by high-technology and the New Economy. The circumstances that now confront us following the bursting of the speculative bubble could not be more different. The country is once again mired in economic stagnation. In the present “recovery”—if indeed we can call it that—new jobs remain few and far between. Of the four sources of demand that create economic activity—personal consumption, business investment, government spending, and net exports—it is mainly consumption, backed by increasing debt, that is currently keeping the economy from slipping deeper into stagnation. Indeed, many business leaders and economists fear the return of recession—referred to as the likelihood of a “double dip.” Behind this fear lies excess capacity in almost every industry, the absence of new growth stimuli, slow growth or recession in most of the rest of the world, and the aftereffects of the bursting of the speculative stock market bubble. All of this suggests that there is more at stake than the traditional business cycle. At the very least, there is reason to expect the continuation of the tendency of stagnation… | more |

The Commercial Tidal Wave

For a long time now it has been widely understood within economics that under the capitalism of giant firms, corporations no longer compete primarily through price competition. They engage instead in what economists call “monopolistic competition.” This consists chiefly of attempts to create monopoly positions for a particular brand, making it possible for corporations to charge more for the branded product while also expanding their market share. Competition is most intense in what Thorstein Veblen called the “production of salable appearances,” involving advertising, frequent model changes, branding of products, and the like. Once this logic takes over in twentieth and now twenty-first century capitalism it is seemingly unstoppable. All human needs, relationships and fears, the deepest recesses of the human psyche, become mere means for the expansion of the commodity universe under the force of modern marketing. With the rise to prominence of modern marketing, commercialism—the translation of human relations into commodity relations—although a phenomenon intrinsic to capitalism, has expanded exponentially… | more |

Upton Sinclair and the Contradictions of Capitalist Journalism

Beginning in the 1980s, there was a significant increase in awareness of the deep flaws of mainstream journalism among those on the U.S. left. Writers such as Todd Gitlin, Herbert Schiller, Gaye Tuchman, Ben Bagdikian, and Michael Parenti, each in his or her own way, drew attention to the incompatibility between a corporate run news media and an ostensibly democratic society. The work of Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, in particular, introduced an entire generation of progressives to a critical position regarding mainstream journalism. As the title of their masterful Manufacturing Consent indicated, the capitalist news media are far more about generating support for elite policies than they are about empowering people to make informed political decisions… | more |

The New Face of Capitalism: Slow Growth, Excess Capital, and a Mountain of Debt

For a long time now, the U.S. economy and the economies of the advanced capitalist world as a whole have been experiencing a slowdown in economic growth relative to the quarter-century following the Second World War. It is true that there have been cyclical upswings and long expansions that have been touted as full-fledged “economic booms” in this period, but the slowdown in the rate of growth of the economy has continued over the decades. Grasping this fact is crucial if one is to understand the continual economic restructuring over the last three decades, the rapidly worsening conditions in much of the underdeveloped world to which the crisis has been exported, and the larger significance of the present cyclical downturn of world capitalism… | more |

Global Media, Neoliberalism, and Imperialism

In conventional parlance, the current era in history is generally characterized as one of globalization, technological revolution, and democratization. In all three of these areas media and communication play a central, perhaps even a defining, role. Economic and cultural globalization arguably would be impossible without a global commercial media system to promote global markets and to encourage consumer values. The very essence of the technological revolution is the radical development in digital communication and computing. The argument that the bad old days of police states and authoritarian regimes are unlikely to return is premised on the claims that new communication technologies along with global markets undermine, even eliminate, the capacity for “maximum leaders” to rule with impunity… | more |

Media Giants Have a Pal at the FCC

All you need to know about Michael Powell, whom President George W. Bush promoted this week to chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, can be summed up by the statements of close FCC watchers.… | more |

U.S. Wouldn’t Tolerate Our Election in Nicaragua

Imagine the following hypothetical scenario: It is the Nicaraguan presidential election of 1990. On one side are the incumbent Sandinistas, on the other side their opposition, which is supported materially by the United States … | more |

Journalism, Democracy, … and Class Struggle

Socialists since the time of Marx have been proponents of democracy, but they have argued that democracy in capitalist societies is fundamentally flawed. In capitalist societies, the wealthy have tremendous social and economic advantages over the working class that undermine political equality, a presupposition for viable democracy. In addition, under capitalism the most important economic issues—investment and control over production—are not the province of democratic politics but, rather, the domain of a small number of wealthy firms and individuals seeking to maximize their profit in competition with each other. This means that political affairs can only indirectly influence economics, and that any party or individual in power has to be careful not to antagonize wealthy investors so as to instigate an investment strike and an economic collapse that would generally mean political disaster … | more |

The U.S. Left and Media Politics

American democracy is in deep trouble. Cynicism and distrust of the political system, fueled at least in part by imposed ignorance, have grown steadily in recent years. There are several reasons for this, but few as important as the condition of our media. Many Americans, especially those on the left, know that after a generation of rampant consolidation and conglomeration, the American media are dominated by less than twenty firms—and that a half-dozen or so corporate giants hold the commanding positions. These firms use their market power to advance their own and other companies’ corporate agendas. And they increasingly commercialize every aspect of our culture. By any known theory of political democracy, this tightly-held media system, accountable only to Wall Street and Madison Avenue, is a poisonous proposition … | more |

The New Theology of the First Amendment

The First Amendment stands as the crown jewel of the U.S. Constitution. Although it often has been ignored and violated throughout U.S. history, the First Amendment is the republic’s shining commitment to individual freedom of expression and to the protection of this institutional requirements for an informed electorate and a participatory democracy. Yet what exactly the First Amendment signifies and does has been the subject of considerable debate over the years. Currently or in the near future, any number of cases are and will be working their way through the court system that would seek to prohibit any government regulation of political campaign spending, broadcasting, and commercial speech (e.g. advertising or food labeling) on the grounds that such regulation would violate citizens’ and corporations’ First Amendment rights to free speech or free press … | more |