***Op ed is down below***

All of the corporate media (large for-profit conglomerates) are pro-neoliberal globalization. All of their other companies, advertisers and shareholders either own sweathops, multinational corporations, or have other investments in the Third World. That's how the US has been able to carry out imperial activities without the knowledge of the public.

What's Wrong With the News?

Independent, aggressive and critical media are essential to an informed democracy. But mainstream media are increasingly cozy with the economic and political powers they should be watchdogging. Mergers in the news industry have accelerated, further limiting the spectrum of viewpoints that have access to mass media. With U.S. media outlets overwhelmingly owned by for-profit conglomerates and supported by corporate advertisers, independent journalism is compromised.

Issue Area: Corporate Ownership

Almost all media that reach a large audience in the United States are owned by for-profit corporations--institutions that by law are obligated to put the profits of their investors ahead of all other considerations. The goal of maximizing profits is often in conflict with the practice of responsible journalism.

Not only are most major media owned by corporations, these companies are becoming larger and fewer in number as the biggest ones absorb their rivals. This concentration of ownership tends to reduce the diversity of media voices and puts great power in the hands of a few companies. As news outlets fall into the hands of large conglomerates with holdings in many industries, conflicts of interest inevitably interfere with newsgathering.

FAIR believes that independent media are essential to a democratic society, and that aggressive antitrust action must be taken to break up monopolistic media conglomerates. At the same time, non-corporate, alternative media outlets need to be promoted by both the government and the non-profit sector.

Issue Area: Advertiser Influence

Most of the income of for-profit media outlets comes not from their audiences, but from commercial advertisers who are interested in selling products to that audience. Although people sometimes defend commercial media by arguing that the market gives people what they want, the fact is that the most important transaction in the media marketplace--the only transaction, in the case of broadcast television and radio--does not involve media companies selling content to audiences, but rather media companies selling audiences to sponsors.

This gives corporate sponsors a disproportionate influence over what people get to see or read. Most obviously, they don't want to support media that regularly criticizes their products or discusses corporate wrongdoing. More generally, they would rather support media that puts audiences in a passive, non-critical state of mind-making them easier to sell things to. Advertisers typically find affluent audiences more attractive than poorer ones, and pay a premium for young, white, male consumers-factors that end up skewing the range of content offered to the public.

It is becoming harder and harder to escape from the propagandistic effects of advertising. Many students are now forced to watch commercials in school on Channel One. Even supposedly "noncommercial" outlets like PBS and NPR run ads-euphemistically known as "underwriter announcements."

Issue Area: Official Agendas

Despite the claims that the press has an adversarial relationship with the government, in truth U.S. media generally follow Washington's official line. This is particularly obvious in wartime and in foreign policy coverage, but even with domestic controversies, the spectrum of debate usually falls in the relatively narrow range between the leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties.

The owners and managers of dominant media outlets generally share the background, worldview and income bracket of political elites. Top news executives and celebrity reporters frequently socialize with government officials. The most powerful media companies routinely make large contributions to both major political parties, while receiving millions of dollars in return in the form of payments for running political ads.

In this incestuous culture, "news" is defined chiefly as the actions and statements of people in power. Reporters, dependent on "access" and leaks provided by official sources, are too often unwilling to risk alienating these sources with truly critical coverage. Nor are corporate media outlets interested in angering the elected and bureaucratic officials who have the power to regulate their businesses.

Issue Area: PR Industry

The drive to maximize profits compels corporate news outlets to produce more and more news with fewer and fewer reporters. With less time to do each story, journalists are increasingly pressured to rely on the public relations industry to do much of their work for them: Reporters can rewrite press releases rather than do their own independent research, and TV stations can broadcast promotional videos that are designed to look like news footage. This symbiotic relationship between news outlets and the industries they cover, however, is a bad deal for the public.

Issue Area: Narrow Range of Debate

Given that most media outlets are owned by for-profit corporations and are funded by corporate advertising, it is not surprising that they seldom provide a full range of debate. The right edge of discussion is usually represented by a committed supporter of right-wing causes, someone who calls for significantly changing the status quo in a conservative direction. The left edge, by contrast, is often represented by an establishment-oriented centrist who supports maintaining the status quo; very rarely is a critic of corporate power who identifies with progressive causes and movements with the same passion as their conservative counterparts allowed to take part in mass media debates.

Issue Area: Censorship

Since governments almost always have an interest in controlling the free flow of information, official censorship is something that must be constantly guarded against. In our society, however, large corporations are a more common source of censorship than governments: Media outlets killing stories because they undermine corporate interests; advertisers using their financial clout to squelch negative reports; powerful businesses using the threat of expensive lawsuits to discourage legitimate investigations. The most frequent form of censorship is self-censorship: Journalists deciding not to pursue certain stories that they know will be unpopular with the boss.


ON THE MEDIA Fawns Over Sweatshop-Loving Kristof

On the Media with Brooke Gladstone in the anchor chair is always a good deal more than a diversion while cleaning the garage or running weekend errands; she explores many topics that are otherwise not covered, or didn't even appear as problems, opportunities, &c. But, when you do an interview with someone like Nick Kristof -- whose audience dwarfs your own -- you ought to be especially prepared to "afflict the comfortable." She needn't have searched too long to find controversy in this man's last decade of columns and, no, it is not because he practices "advocacy journalism" unless -- and here's the point -- he's advocating for sweatshops.

He "flinches" when he hears his work called advocacy (I believe that he meant "wince" or "cringe" but, hey, who gets the big bucks for putting words together?); she countered by pointing out that he often directs readers to his favorite charities when riding his Sudan hobby- horse. This is certainly not to say that we hear enough about Darfur or even to denigrate the notion of journalist-as-advocate, but there is a back-story here.

The brutality of the global, outsource-everything economy was being covered very well by Kristof's colleague, Bob Herbert. In nearly ten searing anti-sweatshop columns in the mid-Nineties, he captured Americans' disquietude about corporate-led globalization while pointing out the tone-deaf callousness of Bill Clinton's team; the latter was summed up nicely by James Carville when asked about his Nike deal (by another journalist, not Herbert): he berated the reporter for deigning to ask, snarling, "I own stock in Royal Dutch Shell, too." This was just like saying that any Democrat who was internationalist and concerned with human rights ought to just get with the program; just go get "yours" and don't worry about the other guy. Carville dismissed concern about abused workers as "protectionist."

So, it was clear that Herbert was out of step -- especially the trenchant truth-telling which left the named shoe and toy brands with nowhere to hide. When Phil Knight (Nike's prickly CEO, at the time) asked for a meeting with the NYTimes' editorial board in 1998, the multi-billionaire was accommodated. Herbert never wrote another anti-sweatshop column and Nick Kristof reformulated the Times' editorial page position to "pro-sweatshop."

What do you think would happen if a consumer or anti-sweatshop group would demand a meeting with the Times' editorial board to complain about Nick? This is the type of question one might ask to get down to the nitty-gritty (which OTM usually does). An additional quibble: Kristof explains his work as "reporting" and he is not challenged on it. In fact, he is an opinion-monger -- with no need to apologize for advocacy, quite the opposite!