Perhaps here's the answer to getting out the story on radioactive
materials going into Iraq.
Long but well worth it.
The People's Media Reaches More People than FOX Does
By Jim Hightower
Tuesday 15 June 2004
While Big Media is "simply in the business of selling products, the
people's media reaches more people than FOX does.
Democratic reformer Henry Adams, who decried the decline in
democracy as the robber barons rose to power in the nineteenth century,
did not mince words about the failure of the news media of his day:
"The press is the hired agent of a monied system," he wrote, "and set
up for no other purpose than to tell lies where the interests are
Imagine the verbal scorching Henry would give to today's media
barons, who are not merely hired agents of monied interests they have
become the interests, fully corporatized, conglomerated and
well-practiced in the art of journalistic lying to perpetuate the power
and profits of the elites.
A handful of self-serving corporate fiefdoms now controls
practically all of America's mass-market sources of news and
information. GE now owns NBC, Disney owns ABC, Viacom owns CBS, News
Corp. owns Fox, and Time Warner owns CNN; these five have a lock on TV
news. Of the 1,500 daily newspapers, only 281 are independently owned -
three companies control 25 percent of the daily news circulated in the
These aloof giants openly assert that meeting their own profit
needs is the media's reason for existence - as opposed to meeting the
larger public's need for a vigorous, democratic discourse. Lowry Mays,
honcho of Clear Channel Inc. (which owns more than 1,200 radio stations
- a third of all the stations in America), opines that: "We're not in
the business of providing news and information We're simply in the
business of selling our customers' products."
This single-minded mercenary focus combines with general corporate
arrogance to bloat the egos of media chieftains, leading them to think
that they really are the infallible gods of our daily newsfeed, with no
need to be accountable to the public: "We paid $3 billion for these
television stations," said an executive with a Fox affiliate in Tampa;
"We decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you it is."
Crude, corporate censorship of our news by these boardroom types is
less common than the subtle, internal self-censorship done by general
managers, top editors, and some reporters who avoid topics and dilute
stories that the corporate hierarchy might find offensive or simply not
comprehend. A 2000 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and
the Press found that a third of local reporters admit softening a news
story on behalf of the interests of their media organizations. A fourth
say they have been told by superiors to ignore a story because it was
dull, but the reporters suspected that the real motivation was that the
story could harm the media company's financial interests. And that's
only the reporters who confess!
If you detect a corporate bias in your news, don't feel lonely.
Two-thirds of Americans told pollsters last September that they believe
special interests or a self-serving corporate-political agenda infect
news coverage. We can all wring our hands and wail about this
corporate, monopolistic grasp on our news sources, but here's a better
idea: Let's do something about it. A grassroots flowering
A grassroots flowering
The Austin Motel is a refurbished, New Deal-era business on South
Congress Avenue near my home. It has an old brightly-lit marquee out
front that proudly boasts the credo of the current owners: "No
additives, No preservatives, Corporate-free since 1938."
Wouldn't that make a fine slogan for a new democratic media for
Oh, you say, Hightower, don't toy with us. It would take billions
and billions of dollars to build a broad-based media network outside
the established TV, radio, and newspaper conglomerates, so that's just
a pipe dream. Well, yes, it would take those impossible billions if we
set out merely to duplicate the media Goliaths. But what if we wanted
to develop a David ú a sprightly, nimble network of media outlets that
are not capital-intensive and not burdened with either
multimillion-dollar salaries or voracious conglomerate bureaucracies?
I have good news for you: This is already happening! Thousands of
hardy, grassroots people have been working steadily and creatively over
the years in every area of media, and the result of their combined
efforts is that a new media force is now flowering coast to coast ú a
force of hundreds of media outlets that is unabashedly progressive,
fiercely independent, diverse, dispersed, and democratic. Some of these
outlets are nationally known, others only locally known; some are brand
new, others have been plugging away for decades. But the significant
thing is that, collectively, they are a force to be reckoned with,
celebrated, strategically deployed and deliberately expanded.
I've known and worked closely with many of these varied outlets my
entire political life, but it was only last year that I realized what
can happen if we learn to connect the various components and tap into
the full power that they offer.
The occasion was a most modest one: The launch of my book, Thieves
in High Places. In addition to being about the monied kleptocracy that
has seized our people's democratic power, the heart of this book is
about the deeply-encouraging rise of you grassroots Americans out there
who're battling the thieves - and often beating them. These are
inspiring stories of democratic activism that the media establishment
largely ignores, and I wanted as many people as possible to know about
the stories, so that others might take heart and battle on.
Call me cynical, but I knew from experience that the barons of
media power were not likely to rush forward to embrace and disseminate
my antiestablishment message. I was right ú none of the morning TV
shows ("Today," "Good Morning America," etc.) allowed me to talk about
it; no evening newsmagazine show ("20/20," "Dateline," etc.) would
touch it; there were no reviews in the mass-market newspapers and
magazines (New York Times, Newsweek, etc.) and even NPR and public
television gave it the cold shoulder. It was a case of libra non grata.
Yet, a funny (and fun) thing happened: Thieves rose into the top 10 of
nearly every best-seller list across the country, including the New
York Times list. You could almost hear the incredulous compilers of
sales data asking: "How the hell did this thing get on our list?"
It got there, quickly reaching a mass-market audience, by way of
your and my very own rag-tag, patchwork media network, which most of us
don't even know we have. I stumbled on the breadth and depth of this
network because Sean Doles and Laura Ehrlich in my office had organized
a guerrilla campaign to get the word out about the book. Working with
community-radio stations, alternative newsweeklies, independent
bookstores, web-active organizations, progressive (and aggressive)
magazines, websites and publications of grassroots organizations, local
organizing groups, some upstart television rebels - and, of course, you
scrappy Lowdowners - we found that progressives are not voiceless in a
corporate-media wasteland after all if only we recognize that we have
powerful media assets of our own.
My book doesn't matter, but the concept of connecting this
patchwork of assets does matter greatly. Any particular piece of this
progressive media patchwork is small (and too often scoffed at by
progressives themselves as "insignificant"). But add the pieces
together and we have a far-flung network of outlets that - each and
every day - is reaching tens of millions of people.
Also, the people who are tuning in to our progressive outlets are
not just cumulative numbers to be sold to advertisers; mostly they're
readers, listeners, online clickers, and viewers who give a damn and
are looking for action. We saw an example last year of what can happen
when even some of these components connect. The FCC, led by
laissez-faire nutball Michael Powell, was ramming through a rules
change that effectively would allow one or two media conglomerates to
control the TV, radio, and newspaper outlets in every U.S. city.
Essentially, this unregulation of media ownership would lead to the
full-scale monopolization of our news sources. Corporate lobbyists and
government lawyers had holed up in a dark back room to whisper sweet
legalese to each other, and we Joe and Joline Schmoes would have known
nothing about it until after the fact, when we would've heard that wet,
smoooooooching sound coming from Washington that tells us - uh-oh -
another dirty deed has been done to us.
This time, though, was different. Several public-interest
organizations picked up on the FCC's back-room move and alerted such
grassroots groups as Common Cause, which sent up red flares to engage
its 200,000 members. Then, like the pamphleteers of old, dozens of
community- radio stations plastered on-air broadsheets all across the
country, translating the FCC's regulatory gobbledygook into
straightforward rallying cries. They pounded the issue day after day.
Next came the Web-active group MoveOn.org, which gave this growing
grassroots opposition the mechanism it needed for a targeted response -
and some 170,000 emails poured into Washington.
The result was that, last July, the U.S. House of Representatives
voted 400 to 21 in favor of an amendment by Rep. David Obey to stop the
FCC's media-monopolization rule. The decisive 400 House votes were from
Congress critters (Democrats as well as Republicans) who had taken
buckets full of campaign cash from the very media barons they suddenly
decided they had to vote against.
The battle is not over, but the fact that this arcane issue of
media-ownership regulations could, in such a short time, ignite a
prairie fire of popular rebellion is a testament to the power at our
As I've learned from the past dozen years of on-air experience,
radio can be a very democratic little box in part because it's
ubiquitous (in our bedrooms, cars, showers, etc.), and also because
people tend to hear what's said on radio, as opposed to TV, where they
get an image but don't much follow the story being told. The bad news
is that the radio dial is fast being bought up by Clear Channel and a
couple of other conglomerates. The good news, however, is that we still
have hundreds of extremely important stations in our hands, beaming out
a steady progressive message to millions every day.
Since 1993, my own two-minute radio commentaries ("little pops of
populism," we call them) have aired every weekday, now being heard on a
mix of 130 commercial and community stations coast to coast, plus
Alaska, Hawaii, and - get this - Armed Forces Radio, as well as on the
web (JimHightower.com). But I'm the least of it. From Amy Goodman's
sassy Democracy Now to Working Assets Radio with Laura Flanders, from
New Dimensions to Latino USA, from Counterspin to RadioNation, from
ACORN Radio to Alternative Radio with David Barsamian, from Media
Matters with Bob McChesney to The World - there's a wealth of national
and local broadcasters putting forth progressive issues and insights
Because of the corporate bias of its owners, commercial radio is
the hardest nut to crack, but we have such voices as Enid Goldstein at
KNRC in Denver, Sly Sylvester on WTDY in Madison, and Mitch Albom on
WJR in Detroit. And now, Air America is making a bold play to bring 17
hours a day of progressive talk radio through its burgeoning network,
broadcasting such live-wire hosts as Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo,
Randi Rhodes, Chuck D, and Rachel Maddow. This brand-new upstart is
already in 15 cities, and is drawing millions more listeners each day
on the web (AirAmericaRadio.com).
Then there are our community owned stations. Many people assume
that these are little one-watt nothings, but that's nonsense. Indeed,
some are powerhouse blasters in big cities, such as the Pacifica
Network's five flagship stations in Berkeley, New York City, Los
Angeles, Washington, DC, and Houston. Pacifica's KPFK in LA, for
example, is 110,000 watts, reaching from San Diego to Santa Barbara and
stretching inland to San Bernardino. Likewise, the independent
community station WMNF in Tampa is a 70,000- watt treasure that reaches
from Sarasota on the Gulf Coast almost to Orlando in the middle of the
Even the small-town community broadcasters pack a punch. WERU in
Blue Hill, Maine (pop. 700), for example, reaches clear to the state
capital in Augusta and is a beloved rallying point for the whole
Penobscot Bay area ("We-are-you" is how the station pronounces its call
letters). The same with KAOS in Olympia, KBOO in Portland, KGNU in
Boulder, and so many more‹people don't just tune in, they count on
these stations, trust them in a way no one would trust Clear Channel,
and are willing to act on the information they receive.
A democratic tool that Jefferson, Madison, and the other Bill of
Righters could not have imagined, but would gleefully embrace today, is
the world wide web. This computerized architecture of interconnected
hubs and spokes allows us to link our thoughts and actions instantly in
virtual space and produce tangible political results that would have
taken months before.
Every progressive group (even Luddites like me) now has lively,
interactive web sites through which we can share a gold mine of
information, forge coalitions, hold "meetings," and mobilize mass
actions (from local to global).
The growth of the net is explosive - 68 billion emails per day, for
example, and 10 million daily blogs by everyone from the kid next-door
to famous pundits to me! MoveOn.org, TrueMajority.org, and the Howard
Dean campaign have shown the phenomenal potential of the web, not only
for fund-raising and blitzing Congress with citizen opinion, but
especially for organizing people for action (a breakthrough that you'll
hear more about as the Lowdown itself develops a web-active program to
link all of us Lowdowners into more grassroots civil action).
The web gives us the means to bypass the corporate media, creating
our own low-cost, decentralized network of news that, say, The New York
Times does not consider "fit to print."
In addition to hundreds of specialized news sites, there are
"aggregators" that amount to news services for progressive content -
credible outfits like Alternet.org, TomPaine.com, Buzzflash.com, and
Some are creating their own virtual newspapers. Check out
iBrattleboro.com. For more than a year now, this Vermont website lets
the readers be the reporters on what's really going on in town. Anyone
can contribute, and anyone can comment on the contributions. In a town
of 12,000, the virtual pages of iBrattleboro are getting 260,000
viewers a year.
If reading the daily press depresses you, get a lift by going
beyond your "Daily Blather" newspaper to such spunky journals as The
Nation, Mother Jones, The Progressive, In These Times, American
Prospect, Ms., Harper's, and The Progressive Populist. Also, Utne
rounds up articles every month from more than 2,000 alternative media
sources. And two groups, the Independent Press Association and the
Alternative Press Center, give you access to magazines, newsletters,
and 'zines that cover every political and cultural issue imaginable.
Chances are your own town has one or more independent weekly
newspapers offering detailed coverage of progressive issues and events
that the monopoly dailies miss or avoid. The Association of Alternative
Weeklies plugs you into 120 of these local voices that, collectively,
reach 17 million readers a week. Even television, the feeblest member
of our democracy's media mob, is perking up a bit. PBS's Now with Bill
Moyers has been a blast of fresh air (though its direction is uncertain
now that he has announced his retirement), and C-SPAN continues to do a
great public service by simply clicking on its cameras and letting us
see events without edits or editorializing. And you can forget the
network news and go directly to The Daily Show for Jon Stewart's
irreverent, on-target satires, broadcast on Comedy Central.
Especially encouraging in TV-land are the insurgents of the air,
including Free Speech TV and WorldLink TV, reaching a combined 20
million homes. Grassroots rebels are also making their own TV, thanks
to Cable Access Television, available on some 600 public-access
channels, as well as a feisty group of Independent Media Centers that
are particularly good at streaming raw footage of protests and other
actions, with their media activists taking their web-driven videocams
right into the center of things, bringing you news as it happens.
Finally, don't discount the power of face-to-face networks. On any
given day, thousands of people are gathered in various-sized groupings
to listen, learn, discuss, interact, strategize, and organize. These
forums include the nation's 2,200 independent bookstores, which are not
merely book peddlers, but also community meeting places and informal
bulletin boards (go to booksense.com to find ones near you). Public
libraries, progressive speakers' series, pot-luck suppers, conversation
cafes and progressive festivals (Greenfest, Bioneers, Rolling Thunder,
etc.) are also part of this vibrant, high-touch outreach that goes on
daily in practically every city and neighborhood.
Years ago, my momma taught me that two wrongs don't make a right -
but I soon figured out that three left turns do. We must apply that
same kind of street savvy if we're ever to find our way around the
media blockages that the corporate interests have put in place to shut
out our voices.