Keith's NO EMPIRE Blog

A radical dissident perspective on various topics. Comments welcome at

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I am becoming increasingly concerned that the anti-war dissatisfaction with the performance of the American news media may lead to a self-defeating overemphasis on media reform. Focusing on media reform at this point in time would be a waste of precious time and resources. Additionally, some of the reform assumptions are unrealistic.

Several factors need to be considered. First and foremost is that the media inevitably reflects the social distribution of power. In the former Soviet Union, the Soviet media primarily reflected the biases of the government bureaucracy and communist party. In the U.S., the corporate media takes its cues from the corporate advertisers and their governmental representatives.

An additional consideration is the effect that the entertainment media have in shaping attitudes and opinions, and the effect this has in how the public responds to news media messages. Warfare and warriors, heroes and heroics, the favorable depiction of empires, and extolling patriotism are all recurring themes which facilitate the maintenance of our violent and militaristic society. This provides a significant part of the cultural references within which the news is evaluated, and small amounts of news media reform will not change this pervasive social conditioning.

In a more egalitarian and pluralistic society, there is likely to be a wide variety of viewpoints in the media. In a militaristic, corporate oligarchy, such as ours, the media is predictably propagandistic, controlling the flow of information to facilitate social compliance with elite objectives. While some modest improvement in media performance may be achieved through concerted activism, it is unrealistic to expect significant media changes prior to significant changes in the distribution of social power.

While many (most?) would agree that the corporate media has been getting worse, an interesting anomaly is that I personally feel that I have never been better informed. Thanks to books, magazines and the internet, I am much more on top of things than I was 20 years ago. I’m not alone. Nowadays, many more people are aware of the ugly reality than in the early sixties when the murderous assault on Vietnam was perceived by most Americans as a noble defense of freedom.

How can that be? Vietnam was a watershed. The ugly reality finally penetrated the outrageous mythology. For many, what once was perceived as shining truth was now recognized to be vile deception and rank propaganda. The media message would never be viewed the same. Unquestioning acceptance gave way to critical evaluation and seeking out alternative sources. Many people’s awareness increased even as the media grew worse. The key is the shattering of the illusion.

What’s the problem? Most advocates of media reform are well informed, probably better informed than in the past, and have little difficulty in obtaining sufficient information to perceive reality more or less accurately. Most media critics are primarily upset over the effect that media bias and propaganda have on the attitudes and opinions of their fellow Americans and, in turn, the consequences that has for foreign and domestic policy. In effect, they are advocating that the media go against their corporate sponsors and other power elites to promote some lefty version of “unbiased truth.” Good luck.

Several questions come to mind. First, why do people who should know better keep preaching about unbiased truth, objective reality, and media integrity/responsibility? Media bias is reality. Deal with it.. Second, why do media reformers keep acting as if it is rational to expect the media to bite the hand that feeds them? Finally, why do many social activists feel that their desire for social change is best served by focusing on (unlikely) media reform?

The Soviet Union collapsed about 15 years ago. There were many causative factors, however, Soviet media reform wasn’t one of them. PRAVDA was propaganda. The people knew it and found other ways to inform themselves. The key is that the people knew that the Soviet media was propagandistic.

Many people know that the corporate media is largely propaganda. Unfortunately, many do not. The key isn’t to reform the media, but to get the majority of people to become aware of the extreme bias and propaganda. Among other things, the media are the disseminators of the official mythology which underpins the voluntary support of the population for the way things are. As soon as a significant percent of the population begins to question the justifying mythology, the system is in trouble.

We need to get the flag wavers questioning official propaganda. This is best done through direct (non-media) communication. To succeed, we must be creative. We need to develop alternatives. Pamphlets. T-shirts. Bumper stickers. Protest signs. Meaningful movies. Whatever. Time is of the essence. Iraq is critical. The empire must be stopped.

Seattle Keith 5/24/04