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National Conference on Media Reform Panel: News, Information and Corporate Media

Norman Solomon, Institute for Public Accuracy

Given the stakes, given the suffering because of the configurations of media ownership and control, we have huge challenges.

We have constant pressure to self-marginalize, and intersecting pressure to accommodate. When we transcend those, that's when we're getting somewhere. Our possibilities are being constrained at every moment. But the cracks in the wall can be widened. We need to keep finding out what's possible, on the ground, doing the work.

When we talk about terrorism, I wrote a column about using the word in a non-Orwellian way. A single standard is essential for journalists of integrity. I got an email form a reporter at a large East Coast daily, 'we'd be sunk in months, the outrage from advertisers would be huge.' When the US bombs civilians, that's terrorism .

We're talking about the separation between press and a warfare state. The news media themselves are brought to heel. It's more acute, insidious, and horrific than ever. The allusions to authoritarian power leading the way. We need the debate about how to dismantle the war machinery.

[MS-NBC's] In-house memo: Phil Donahue will present a difficult public face in a time of war. He seems to delight in putting on guests who are anti-war, the danger that his show could become a home for the liberal agenda at the same time our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.

Before the invasion, there was a modicum of anti-war sentiment, As soon as the invasion started, those calls stopped coming into our office. Almost all [the remaining calls] were from media based in other countries

Where are the senators who say 'I have no intention of having the blood of our youth on my hands [as Senator Wayne Morse said in 1968]?

You wonder when will it be that there will be full recognition and action [from MoveOn.org, which has backed away from much of its original loud public stance against the war] that the bombs in Iraq explode at home. And they're told to pipe down, focus on domestic issues.

What about the toll taken in language? The lies on the front page of the New York Times. To not report the human suffering that is the war is to spite journalism itself.

We need media outlets that challenge the 'warnography' of video games that glorify the technology of mass killing. I am talking about the New York Times. The New York Times ran a color photo, page 1, and an unbylined statement [about the grace and panache of US air weapons].

My driver in Iraq said 'All about oil.' The media can pretend...

To the extent that we accommodated that silence, we failed. We need to give voice to those inside the prisons, outside the class barrier. We're so used to racism, classism, chauvinism, sexism that we'd keel over if the voices were included from all of the human family.

Our task is to demand the same standard for all, Salinas, California [home of John Steinbeck] was gong to close all its three libraries. These are the people who gather our food. Books are media. Here was a projector on the wall showing the rolling numbers of how many tax dollars had been paid by the people living in Salinas toward Iraq. It was $82 million. And they are told by the powerful that there is not enough money to have their public libraries open. The New York Times article forgot to mention anything about the war. But there was a follow up that because of the compassionate response of the companies in the area, they'd be able to keep two libraries open 8 and 10 hours a week.

Phil Donahue, former TV talk show host

How is it that the Democrats hid under their desks? Kerry never mentioned Abu Ghraib once. How can this be? The administration believes all men are created equal unless we're scared. If we don't dissent, we have wasted the lives of all those people who died in Iraq.

My own experience with corporate media: they re terrified of being seen as liberal. That means unions and that means lower stock prices. The head of CBS ran with hat in hand to Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay saying, 'we're not liberal!'

Juan Gonzales, New York Daily News/Democracy Now!: This struggle has continued for two centuries We should be glad of the victories, but not complacent.

I always wished that the Latin journalists would adopt a more progressive platform, and that [the social change] movement would be more multicultural. But we will get there, as those of us who think both are important continue to push for that.

2003 and 2004 were watershed years. A huge movement was able to hold the media and the government's role in controlling the worst impulses of these corporate media. However, it is not a recent phenomenon, it's since the birth of this republic. We need to learn from those who came before us, [overcome] a few mistaken perceptions.

First, this media and democracy movement. Most people have never hard of C. Everett Parker, head of the United Church of Christ communications department for many years. In the 1950s, UCC and NAACP began to create a more democratic media. They went after a station controlled by the KKK and White Citizens Council, in Jackson MS. Any time any programming from the networks came down, Thurgood Marshall, Nat King Cole, they would cut it off. They began to document the systematic failure of WLBT TV to meet the needs of the African-American community, The FCC ruled that the public did not have the right to challenge the public interest requirements and denied the challenge. In 1962, WLBT helped to foment the riots against the desegregation of the University of Mississippi. Even the FBI complained. Finally, an appellate court revoked the license in 1966. This was a path-breaking, pioneering battle. He's still alive. I've never hard Parker mentioned at any of these conferences

And the battle goes back even further,. In 1929, NBC Blue network launched Amos & Andy. 750,000 protested and called for it to be taken off the air. A Cherokee newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix, [was launched in] 1828. Freedom's Journal, the first black newspaper. 1827. The first Chinese-language daily paper in the world was published in the US, in Sacramento.

4 [organizable] pillars of the democracy movement:
1. Public Accountability movement
2. Media workers themselves: 300,000 people: newspapers, TV, magazines, radio: 1/10 of 1% of the US is involved in news and information. You can organize through their unions, through the professional associations, minority professional associations—but most are unorganized, frustrated, and angry. They came in thinking they were going to do something better with their lives, but they don't believe they can do anything to change [the system]. When those people decide to move, they will change the industry.
3. Independent noncommercial media
4. Commercial, nonmonopoly corporate media: family owned papers, ethnic papers, the labor press, etc. I don't believe the arguments of commercial vs. noncommerical—Frank Blethem [Editor/Publisher of the family-owned paper, Seattle Post-Intelligencer] is upholding the same battles as Pacifica, the Nation. One of the first radio stations to get a license was WCFL, Chicago Federation of Labor, they wanted to tart a national labor radio network, in 1927. The CIO didn't even exist yet.

We've made great progress but we have long way to go.

Why did Trent Lott, Olympia Snowe, Ted Stevens, other Republicans from small states, rebel on media control? Because they understand that they aren't able to get [their own message out].

This also concerns honest religious people on the right: the enormous exploitation and violence and sex on TV and radio, If we build an alliance, our movement would grow exponentially regardless of ideology. The masses want a media system to inform them about how to deal in a complex world and represents these perspectives. If we don't understand who composes this movement, we will narrow our focus, be sectarian, and ultimately be defeated. I'm accustomed to winning mass struggles, and I don't think we have to lose this one.

Naomi Klein: No Logo (sold to 27 countries): Media—what messages get amplified and which ignored—is the meta-issue. Daughter of US expats in Canada (draft resisters). Canada has to deal with the pressure of US corporatism and militarism. Anyone who lives outside the US knows this issue is global,. We all have to live with the effects of US—the absence of media democracy.

When American democracy is in crisis, when Americans learn war and torture, the world is in crisis.

Media is the meta-issue. No matter what issue turned us into political activists, we came up against the concrete wall that is the American corporate media. That wall celebrates militarism and corporatism 24 hours a day, confirms our worst prejudice, stifles thought, is credulous of power and contemptuous of the powerless. This wall blocks the sunlight we need from all our social movements, Until that wall is torn down, our movements don't have a hope. Our task is not to beg for a pass, not for reform, but revolution.

One crucial piece is rooting our movements in the resistance to the war and occupation in Iraq. It reminds us why we're fighting, gets the administration and the media monopoly where it is weakness.

There is great reporting going on in the mainstream press, tremendous courage every day. They have to convince their editors to let them [follow a story]. The real change is we're not just talking about representation, but the whole structure of power. We're not ever gong to be represented in a system so deeply built on inequality. It's about amplification: what story gets treated as important. We have enough damming facts every week to bring down this government, but we don't have amplification. It reaches the culture on the subliminal level, This is why military recruiters are missing their targets. We hear absolutely scandalous stories that can't seem to get any traction.

Electronic media has become a system of managing people's outrage and compassion. People are worked up all the time, just about extremely odd things They are gatekeepers of the amplification of outrage: deciding when to scream, but more important, when to shrug.

The ACLU has 39,000 pages of documents about Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib. A lawyer asked me, 'you're a journalist, how do we make people care about torture?' Attacks by dogs, homicides, prisoners who have lost the capacity to speak, electroshock...

I don't think people have lost the ability to be compassionate. We saw the outrage, the demand for accountability, for justice, empathy, when those photos were released. We saw the amplification machine decide that this was pranks. They slowly started to turn down the volume, and they got lot of help from the Kerry campaign, as they couldn't say the words. And as the much worse information came out, it was greeted with that shrug.

You have the shows where stories are selected by whether they can raise the host's blood pressure (e.g., O'Reilly). I am struck by the wave of emotion that passes for news.

When people are outraged together, you have a scandal. But those who are outraged alone are "crazy." We need to have our own mechanisms of amplification, and we need to be able to tune this up and down.

We heard from the man in the hood [in the Abu Ghraib pictures]. He said those wires were live. It was on PBS, only. The response: Macauley Culkin thinks the charges against Michael Jackson are ridiculous.

There have been riots in Afghanistan about the desecration of the Koran, and a bunch of Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo have been released and gone back and are talking, Afghanistan is supposed to be the success story. You'd think this would be major news. This is one of the most powerful arguments against torture. Here is an absolutely causal relationship between acts committed in Guantanamo and a fierce anti-American groundswell, in the supposed success story. But the news was, what if the Cessna [flying into restricted airspace near the White House] had been a danger?

Then you have these ritualized collective mourning moments: Terry Shiavo, the Pope's funeral. I think of them as compassion release valves. All that pent up compassion is directed at one individual. These spasms of moral outrage.

A genuinely free press is arguably incompatible with war. When the camera lens trains its eye on a mother who has lost a child—we saw this in the tsunami. We've been told that Americans don't care, We sell ourselves short.

The first siege of Fallujah, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia televised from the hospitals, they were unembedded. That was the beginning of the real national uprising, and not just the Baathist holdout.

The second seige, they waited five days after the US election. They banned Al-Jazeera, and arrested the one Al-Arabia journalist. The first day of the siege they go to the hospital and classify it as a center of propaganda, arrested the doctors, confiscated the cell phones. There are nine Iraqi journalists in jail for things like showing the long gas lines. Nothing puts the lie to [the myth] that we went in to free them like the way the US has treated Iraqi journalists. Because they represent such a profound threat to the military, We should also demand that the war be covered in this country, That should be a central demand. The messiness of the war; we can shame them with heir frivolity. We can use their jingoism. The war has basically disappeared.

The war resisters are natural leaders, we need to make common cause with them. And the mothers. We need to hear the demand from them. Can you imagine coming back, and you can't get news about your battalion, only Michael Jackson. We can't bring the troops home if we can't see them. We need to join with the resisters and make a simple demand: show us the war.

Shel Horowitz is the editor of Peace & Politics and Down to Business, the author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, and the founder of the Business Ethics Pledge campaign.

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