This will be crossposted at In Our Words, an awesome new project I’m incredibly proud to be a part of.
So, it’s been a minute since I posted anything on here. Might as well start again with a bang.
For my topic this week, I was given the question of why the media never covers protest movements, and whether or not the Occupy movement can change that. I’ll try to tackle both, but the answer, as it so often is, is simple: corporations suck.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit pejorative. What this post concerns is corporate media, and how it controls the airwaves, and thus the discourse, around current events in this country. This phenomenon is not a new one; corporate ownership of broadcasters has been a thing since television’s inception. However, what is not immediately apparent is what an impact on content in broadcasting it has; despite the fact that we live in an age of 24-hour news channels, a shocking amount of important stories go unreported, thanks in large part to our new sources being beholden to the money their corporate backers offer. This, I contend, has led to a severe dumbing-down of our news channels; one only need to watch CNN or Fox for five minutes, where they will invariably be showing funny YouTube clips instead of covering the Somali famine, and this fact will become readily apparent.
So how does corporate media work? Let’s start with this picture, which I found on Wikipedia (click to enlarge):
This is from 2004, but it shows how the boards of directors of various corporations interlock, meaning that directors of one corporation often serve on the boards of other corporations, regardless of whether the fields are related.. Circled in red are four major media and telecommunications corporations; as you can see, their influence reaches into all kinds of industries. But why does this matter?
It matters because what we have here are some seriously questionable conflicts of interest: for instance, this chart shows that in 2004 one member of Comcast’s board of directors is a member of the board of Northrop Grumman, a major defense contractor. Comcast owns several different media outlets, including the recently acquired NBC Universal (which is a whole other story of evilness). Now, when this person’s financial interest rests not only in Grumman but also Comcast, do you think that they will condone NBC covering negative aspects of the war in Iraq? If, say, a Grumman F-14 fighter jet has a serious mechanical failure in a combat zone and crashes, will NBC be allowed to report it that way? Or will they instead report exactly the Grumman press release, that says something like “The figher went down,” with no explanation? Or, when American soldiers kill innocent civilians, will those innocent civilians be passed off as insurgents? Or claim that the Americans were under fire?
As for the Occupy Wall Street movement, the mainstream media has realized that it cannot ignore it anymore (at least until Sarah Palin comes back on the teevee), but instead of covering it as a legitimate movement, they are resorting to making fun of it and passing it off as a hippy drum circle gathering. A few weeks ago, at the inception of the assembly at Liberty Plaza, Ginia Bellafante, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote a piece for the paper supposedly analyzing the movement. It was, to say the least, erratic. Here’s her opening paragraph:
By late morning on Wednesday, Occupy Wall Street, a noble but fractured and airy movement of rightly frustrated young people, had a default ambassador in a half-naked woman who called herself Zuni Tikka. A blonde with a marked likeness to Joni Mitchell and a seemingly even stronger wish to burrow through the space-time continuum and hunker down in 1968, Ms. Tikka had taken off all but her cotton underwear and was dancing on the north side of Zuccotti Park, facing Liberty Street, just west of Broadway. Tourists stopped to take pictures; cops smiled, and the insidiously favorable tax treatment of private equity and hedge-fund managers was looking as though it would endure.
Sounds like one big Woodstocky hippy funzone. I mean, come on, the girl in her underwear is leading the gang! This is clearly inane! Bellafante even calls it “air[ing] societal grievances as carnival.”
She goes on, just a paragraph later:
Occupy Wall Street, a diffuse and leaderless convocation of activists against greed, corporate influence, gross social inequality and other nasty byproducts of wayward capitalism not easily extinguishable by street theater, had hoped to see many thousands join its protest and encampment, which began Sept. 17. According to the group, 2,000 marched on the first day; news outlets estimated that the number was closer to several hundred.
So, after saying that silly hippy Zuni is the leader, now they’re “diffuse and leaderless?” Which is it? Or is Ms. Bellafante simply playing the ignorant, privileged, TV critic she’s been for a while now? Note that she barely mentions in the entire article anything about the arrests or police macings that had occurred; this article is like the group of rich teenaged girls at the mall who gather around and titter at the unpopular girl who shops at Hot Topic. It’s mean and lacks any worthwhile content.
This was the response on pretty much all of the major news outlets when Occupy began. Occupy was fluff, a two-minute video piece before the anchors got to talk about the Grammys or something.
I’m reminded of Matthew Prowless, a 40-year-old father of two, who attended the Occupy Wall Street protest, and who is as unassuming of a man as I’ve ever seen—not someone who would have caught Bellafante’s gaze. He wore a baseball cap and stood with his friend by a group of black bloc protesters, whom Matthew was eyeing curiously like they were exotic fish in an aquarium.
When I spoke with him, Matthew called the louder aspects of the protest (the black bloc, the “protest yoga,” etc.) distractions from the far more serious cause.
“My home has been seized, I’m unemployed, there’s no job prospects on the horizon. I have two children and I don’t see a future for them. This is the only way I see to effect change. This isn’t a progressive issue. This is an American issue. We’re here to take our country back from the corporations,” he said, adding he fears for the future of the United States where corporations can now spend unlimited, anonymous dollars to elect the candidates of their choices. After the protest ended for the day, Matthew couldn’t occupy the park because he had to go care for his two children.
I also spoke with a young man named Kevin Stanley, a nurse who made the trek to the protest filled with optimism and left feeling simultaneously elated and disappointed. He was alarmed that the protesters (he calls them “kids”) are held up in Zuccotti Park without the presence of medical professionals. During his time there, he treated three cases of hypothermia and a person going through withdrawal as well as infected wounds from not being able to care for open blisters.
That does not sound like a bunch of dumb teenagers skipping school to smoke pot and dance around for the hell of it. That sounds like real people with real issues.
So why would the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NBC, et al pass off this movement? How could they avoid talking about its legitimate concerns? Because their corporate masters won’t let them. Because if Brian Williams starts talking about how GE, Verizon, Apple, and Bank of America haven’t paid income taxes for years and owe this country billions of dollars, Average Joe at home might start thinking about how his life has been fucked over for the past three years. He might see those protesters marching around Manhattan, or Denver, or Boston, or Grant Park here in Chicago and think he could actually change something. He and his neighbors might get angry, and this movement might start to spread even faster than it already is. The ranks would close around Occupy, and the corporations who have lived off of the backs of the working and middle classes for decades would be in trouble. Then, their whole world would be in trouble, and we just can’t have that. They’re job creators, after all.
So, will Occupy change this? I highly doubt it. The mainstream media has started to cover it more frequently, but the only positive voices are coming from people like Rachel Maddow, and amazing as she is, she can’t do it alone. The vast majority of media is still mocking the movement, or passing them off as students and communist agitators. There’s a lot to be done before the full force of public opinion and action can change that.
So, what can we do, against such an enormous, entrenched foe? I’ll tell you what: SUPPORT INDEPENDENT MEDIA. Watch Democracy Now. Listen to Citizen Radio, The Young Turks, or Majority Report. Read Naomi Klein, JA Myerson, Glenn Greenwald, The Nation, The Guardian, and Mother Jones. All of these people exist without corporate backing, and so from them will you find the unreported news, the stories of the marginalized and the word direct from those on the lines at Occupy and from around the globe. Citizen Radio and Democracy Now, in particular, regularly hear from journalists on the ground in Egypt, Somalia, and other areas in the midst of huge conflicts that aren’t making the nightly news over here. Get yourselves educated, and then never stop devouring the news: this is how we can start actually making the world a better place.