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The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the Twenty-First Century


The symptoms of the crisis of the U.S. media are well-known—a decline in hard news, the growth of info-tainment and advertorials, staff cuts and concentration of ownership, increasing conformity of viewpoint and suppression of genuine debate. McChesney’s new book, The Problem of the Media, gets to the roots of this crisis, explains it, and points a way forward for the growing media reform movement.

Moving consistently from critique to action, the book explores the political economy of the media, illuminating its major flashpoints and controversies by locating them in the political economy of U.S. capitalism. It deals with issues such as the declining quality of journalism, the question of bias, the weakness of the public broadcasting sector, the state of media studies as an academic discipline, and the limits and possibilities of anti-trust legislation in regulating the media. It points out the ways in which the existing media system has become a threat to democracy, and shows how it could be made to serve the interests of the majority.

McChesney’s Rich Media, Poor Democracy was hailed as a pioneering analysis of the way in which media had come to serve the interests of corporate profit rather than public enlightenment and debate. Bill Moyers commented, “If Thomas Paine were around, he would have written this book.” The Problem of the Media is certain to be a landmark in media studies, a vital resource for media activism, and essential reading for concerned scholars and citizens everywhere.

This masterful study leads the reader step by step from the fundamental principles that should guide a free press in a free society, through the process of transition from ‘a feisty fourth estate in service to democracy…to a commercial institution dedicated to the rule of big business,’ on to the latest government-corporate machinations to undermine the threat of functioning democracy that might challenge business rule, and finally to the growing popular movements that are challenging this attack on freedom and justice and the means they can employ. It is not only highly enlightening, but a real stimulus to constructive action as well.

—Noam Chomsky

Robert McChesney, in The Problem of the Media, follows in the great tradition of Upton Sinclair, George Seldes, I.F. Stone, and Ben Bagdikian in exposing the ruthless hold of corporate power on the nation’s media. He brings the analysis up to date in this revealing book, and suggests how we may work to create the free marketplace of information that is essential if we are to live in a democratic society.

—Howard Zinn

Anyone who doubts that media reform is essential for American democracy needs to read this compelling book. McChesney makes a convincing case that media reform is not only necessary, but that it may finally be do-able.

—The Honorable Michael J. Copps

The Problem of the Media is another of Robert McChesney’s important contributions toward a greater understanding of how the major media and government policy makers have denied the American public information they need to understand and protest damage to democracy inflicted by official and corporate communications policies. It is an important book produced at a critical time in contemporary politics.

—Ben H. Bagdikian, author of The New Media Monopoly

America’s broadcasters are charged with providing news and information that reflect the rich diversity of American public opinion. Bob McChesney — through his writing and his activism — is convincing America that corporate consolidation threatens that diversity. His book is a call to action for all of us.

—Rep. Sherrod Brown

One of the leading architects of the democratic revolution against media consolidation, Robert McChesney has written an inspirational and enlightening manifesto for the growing media reform movement—and for all concerned citizens who want to reclaim the media for our democracy.

—Katrina vanden Heuval, editor, The Nation

Today when we say that the press and media in the United States are free, all it means is that Rupert Murdoch is not yet in jail. Bob McChesney, in his beautiful, clear, and angry book, The Problem of the Media, tells why it’s the most dangerous of all the problems we face, and how democracy in the media might still be brought back to life. If you are scared—and you should be scared—by a media totally in the claws of a gang with Bennett’s morals and Ashcroft’s love for the Bill of Rights, this is a book to read and act.

—Jim Hightower

This is required reading for every student of the media and politics, and for every citizen concerned about why democracy in America seems so out of tune with the people. McChesney traces the history of how the media became barriers to public debate, why it is so difficult to discuss this situation in the media today, and what we can do about it.

—Lance Bennett, Director, Center for Communication and Civic Engagement, University of Washington



Chapter One — Political Problem, Political Solutions

  • Media, Markets and Policies
  • U.S. Media System Not “Naturally” Profit Driven
  • Subsidizing the Press
  • The Rise of Broadcasting
  • The Neoliberal Period

Chapter Two — Understanding U.S. Journalism I: Corporate Control and Professionalism

  • Journalism’s Great Crisis
  • Rise of Professional Journalism
  • Limitations of Professional Journalism
  • The Commercialization of Journalism
  • Covering the Corporate Scandal

Chapter Three — Understanding U.S. Journalism II: Right-Wing Criticism and Political Coverage

  • Conservative Critique of the “Liberal Media”
  • Right-Wing Political Campaign against the Media
  • Partisan Coverage in Peace and War
  • Journalism’s Litmus Test: Election Coverage
  • Missing the Story—From DC to Florida

Chapter Four — The Age of Hyper-Commercialism

  • Rise of Advertising
  • Hyper-Commercialism and Media
  • The Crumbling Wall
  • Hyper-Commercialism’s New Frontiers
  • Advertising and Policy

Chapter Five — The Market Uber Alles

  • Is the Media System a Competitive Market?
  • Conglomeration and Synergy
  • Is the Market Appropriate to Regulate Media?
  • Creativity versus Commerce in the Conglomerate Era
  • So Do Commercial Media Give People What They Want?
  • The Case for the Status Quo

Chapter Six — Media Policies and Media Reform

  • Technology and the Internet
  • Policy Making in the Internet Era
  • Media Ownership Policies
  • Media and Antitrust Law
  • Public Broadcasting, Yesterday and Today
  • Invigorating Public Media

Chapter Seven — The Uprising of 2003

  • Media Reform Movement Comes to Life
  • Powell and Copps Take the Stage
  • Beltway Opposition Stiffens
  • Powell’s Three Arguments
  • Opposition Grows Beyond the Beltway
  • Left and Right Unite
  • From FCC to Congress
  • Trench Warfare

Epilogue: The Hardest Battle Has Been Won



Robert W. McChesney is professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, author of Rich Media, Poor Democracy and Our Media, Not Theirs (with John Nichols), and co-editor of Monthly Review.

SKU: mrp1056 Categories: , ,

Publication Date: March 2004

Number of Pages: 352

Paperback ISBN: 9781583671054

eBook ISBN: 9781583673768