December 30, 2003

Their Media War and Ours in 2004

"It's the Media, Stupid."

Danny Schecter, Media Channel: In 2003, media that once was a casual complaint became an issue around which millions were organizing. The outcry against the pathetic cheerleading that called itself TV coverage of the war in Iraq, and the battle to stop new FCC rules demonstrated that there is a large constituency for media activism and organization.
Break Up the News Media Monopolies, Show Up for
Democracy in 2004: Defeat Bush (again!)

Their Media War and Ours in 2004
A Call to Educate, Organize and Mobilize

By Danny Schechter, The News Dissector

NEW YORK, January 1, 2004 -- In 2003, media that once
was a casual complaint became an issue around which
millions were organizing. The outcry against the
pathetic cheerleading that called itself TV coverage
of the war in Iraq, and the battle to stop new FCC
rules demonstrated that there is a large constituency
for media activism and organization.

Media activists led the fight. More than 2,000
converged in November on Madison, Wisconsin to signal
a commitment to make media reform a central concern.
It was impressive, energetic and a strong statement.
There were members of Congress, top journalists like
Bill Moyers, and legends like Studs Terkel. Comedian
Al Franken was there along with other best-selling
authors, pop stars and a who's who among media

The analysis was as powerful as the passion. But the
follow up has yet to result in a new organization or
coalition. And follow up is key for 2004. The
conference was not important as an event in itself --
it was important as a staging ground for a new
offensive on media issues.

Political maneuvers and compromises in Congress
blocked the total rebuke to the FCC in 2003 that many
hoped for. The tricks politicians play seems to have
taken the wind out of a well orchestrated citizens
campaign. It was a set back but not a total defeat
because the campaign showed that media has become a
mainstream issue and will not go away.

What the impressive mobilization of public sentiment
should signal to other activists -- who have tended to
denigrate media activism as somehow secondary to the
"real problems" -- is that this is one of the few
issues with national traction, and an ability to
galvanize support across the spectrum.

The FCC battle and the public rejection of proposed
deregulation was the first issue that the Bush
Administration threatened to exercise a veto against.
It was the first that brought Democrats and some
Republicans together. It signaled that media concerns
are not marginal or to be marginalized.

Moving the Movement

What's next? One email I received recently asked:
"What do we do when our TV and newspapers tell us lies
but insist we should regard this information as truth?
What do we do when the vast majority of people in our
society accepts these lies as truths and ridicule us
when we call these statements lies?"

These are good questions but there are also some good
answers. They involve hard work and real action, day
to day work in the trenches -- not just sending checks
to candidates in hopes that dumping Bush is a panacea.
Bear in the mind that part of the mess we are in goes
back to the Telecommunications "reform" Act of l996
backed by the Clinton Administration and many liberal
democrats. The bill was supposed to foster
competition. It led instead to a massive wave of media

Notice how few candidates even focus on media
concentration or slanted coverage. All fear that will
lose their fifteen seconds of fame if they piss off
thin-skinned media moguls.

Turning the Camera Inward

If you recognize, as many in the global justice
movements do that real power is exercised today not by
governments but by private interests, then a focus on
corporate interests make sense. If that is the case,
the corporate media deserves more attention.

Media institutions, which report on the corporate
irresponsibility of others, like the endless stream of
indicted Wall Street operators, need to turn the
cameras on themselves. How socially responsible and
accountable are they? How transparent? Had activists
been paying attention, there would have been a protest
against revelations in 2000 by the Alliance for Better
Campaigns that showed how many local TV stations
violated federal laws by overcharging candidates while
reducing their electoral coverage.

What this points to is the need for activists
themselves to become better informed about the way big
media works -- and the way the government works with
it. That's where websites like and and the research of groups like FAIR
and Media Tenor come in.

Are you paying attention to the latest research and
analysis of media manipulation? Are you aware of how
media drives politics and why we can now speak of
America as a "mediaocracy" in which media rules, not a
democracy in which the people decide.

At year's end, Rupert Murdoch was given a thank you
present for services rendered by the FCC in the form
of a go ahead to take over DirecTV, the largest
satellite TV service in the United States. ( It was
owned by Hughes Electronics Corp. which had been
bought by General Motors ).

As Space News explains, "the deal gives News Corp. a
television-distribution platform in the United States,
where it already operates TV stations, the Fox
television network and several pay-TV channels." News
Corp. immediately transferred its stake in Hughes to
its majority-owned Fox Entertainment Group, which owns
TV stations and other media properties in the United
States, the statement said.

This is also part of a global strategy, as the trade
newspaper explains: "In addition to DirecTV, which
claimed 11.85 million subscribers as of the end of
September, Hughes operates a satellite hardware and
networking company, Hughes Network Systems of
Germantown, Md., and controls DirecTV Latin America, a
satellite TV provider in Central and South America.
Hughes also owns 81 percent of Wilton, Conn.-based
satellite operator PanAmSat Corp."

Could this FCC decision have anything to with comments
by FCC Chairman Michael Powell (son of the Secretary
of State and originally a Clinton Administration
appointee by the way) that one reason we need big
media is that "only big media can cover the war the
way this one has been covered"?

The Bad News -- More Bad Coverage

Did you know that a dictionary website that tracks
words found that "Embedding" was the most used new
word of 2003? During the invasion phase of the Iraq
war, Jingoism fused with journalism and news biz while
show biz morphed into what TIME magazine called

Can it get any worse? You bet. It took a week for us
to learn, for example, that the capture of Saddam was
not as reported a US military intelligence coup, but
rather the work of Kurdish groups bent on avenging the
rape of a woman, not the country. Lesson: You can't
trust mainstream news.

We can expect more disinformation and misinformation
next year with renewed efforts by the US government to
leapfrog over any semblance of a critical media with
news feeds bypassing the news networks and fed
directly to local stations. Media control will
intensify as perceived "bad news" threatens to disturb
the domestic tranquility that the Administration is
hell bent on preserving.

This is part of the privatization of and a
synergization with a strategy adapted by the US
military called "information dominance." David Miller,
editor of an important new book called "Tell Me Lies"
(Pluto) explains:

"As Col Kenneth Allard has written, the 2003 attack on
Iraq 'will be remembered as a conflict in which
information fully took its place as a weapon of war'
the interoperability of the various types of
'weaponized information' has far reaching, if little
noticed, implications for the integration of
propaganda and media institutions into the war
machine. The experience of Iraq in 2003 shows how the
planned integration of the media into instruments of
war fighting is developing. It also shows the
increased role for the private sector in information
dominance, a role which reflects wider changes in the
armed services in the US and the UK."

The Beacon of Independent Media

It is important that independent media outlets educate
their audiences about this type of insidious strategic
planning. As important as exposing it is resisting it,
Happily a cultural resistance is emerging with theater
groups lampooning the news. The New York Times reports
on a new play in New Haven which ridicules coverage of
a war that "is being fought somewhere against an
unknown enemy because the Pentagon has decided that to
reveal whom and where American forces are fighting
would be a security risk."

The play, "A New War" by Gip Hoppe "satirizes a
television broadcast from a newsroom at a network very
similar to CNN, is a ridiculing send up of the Bush
administration and a kowtowing news media. It owes a
great deal to the "Weekend Update" feature on
"Saturday Night Live,"

There is even a version of "Crossfire," here called
"Crosshairs," John Stewarts Comedy Channel news show
and many articles in "The Onion" that testify to how
popular and commercially successful this type of
assault on mainstream media has become.

We are all living in the crosshairs of powerful media
institutions. Their fire is "incoming," into our
living rooms -- and then into our brains. We need more
than self-defense. We need collective action to
challenge mainstream media assumptions and push back.
We need to support independent media, with our
eyeballs, dollars and our marketing know how. We need
to encourage media literacy education in our schools.
We need to challenge candidates to speak out on these
issues, and media outlets to cover them.

The short trusism is -- we can all do more than we are
doing to ensure that next year is not just happy but
happier than 2003. is launching a major new initiative
called "Media for Democracy 2004" to monitor and
challenge political coverage next year -- and to
mobilize voters around a campaign for better media
practices. Timothy Karr,'s executive
director is leading this effort and can be reached at if you want to help and have
time, resources or skills to contribute.

-- News Dissector Danny Schechter is the executive
editor of His most recent book is
"Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception: How the Media
Failed to cover the war in Iraq." (Prometheus), 2003. All rights reserved.

Posted by richard at December 30, 2003 07:05 PM