“Publicizing Truths with Consequence: Independent Media Power vs. the Corporate Coup”
Quoting the Declaration of Independence is a tired cliche I never tire of…and neither have others throughout history when they found the republic in trying times.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
— from the Declaration of Independence, 1776
Wise words, indeed. And oft looked upon as impetus for momentum by the abolitionists, women suffragists, and working classes. In fact, fifty years after the Declaration’s public airing, others used those words to fight against new emerging tyrannies, especially those molded in the minds of the public by the nation’s ruling institutions.
The great social utopian reformer, Robert Owen, of the New Harmony movement, wrote in 1826 on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, that America was again under tyranny and desperately needed a new declaration. He called it a “Declaration of Mental Independence” and it was directed at what he called a Hydra of Evils that oppressed the minds of humankind: private property, institutionalized religion, and patriarchal marriage. Owen railed against institutional control over the public mind and stated that the only true independence comes from control of one’s own mind.
That was then. This is now. We still suffer these injustices that shackle the minds of many, but now we have an even bigger threat to add to the list: corporatism and corporate personhood. The rise of these developments are strangling our democracy. These same corporate institutions are poisoning the minds of the masses with establishment propaganda. These principles have not only infested civil government, but now a handful of corporations even own the people’s megaphone. They are the media. They dictate the grand narrative of our times. They fashion the public mind.
Even President Lincoln showed great concern for this then young corporatist threat to America while in the throes of the Civil War when he said in an alarming letter to Col. Wm. Elkins dated November 21, 1864:
“We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood…It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”
Lincoln’s vision was prescient. From our current perspective, enthroned corporations took control of our republic long ago. By the middle of the twentieth century, President Eisenhower warned us of the still growing threat of a corporatist tyranny in the Military Industrial Complex during his Farewell Address.
How could this happen? From the early 1900’s, a big part involved controlling public opinion by manufacturing consent. This was honed to an art by the Committee on Public Information and George Creel in WWI. Walter Lippmann, Harold Laswell, and Sigmond Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays furthered such paths of institutional information control and the new science of propaganda, as it was then called. By the 1930’s, the Nazis began to emulate that same system (Hitler and his Public Enlightenment minister, Joseph Goebbels, were staunch admirers of Bernays and the CPI). We all know how that turned out. Meanwhile, back in America…
Manipulation of public information was not only used to control opinions on foreign affairs, but on domestic ones, especially commercial consumer culture. As our ready access to relevant information was replaced more and more by advertising and institutional propaganda often connected to national security concerns, democratic discourse decayed. But, information is the life’s blood of a democracy. Without it we wither as a free society.
Even the founders knew that their the great experiment of self-governance relied upon the education and literacy of those that were governed, IF government represented the rule of the people as an instrument of populist power and not elite agendas.
“A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.” – James Madison, 1822
In the last twenty five years we have witnessed mass take over of public airwaves by major corporations. Former Dean at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, Ben Bagdikian warned that consolidation of information disseminators in private, for profit, corporate hands would further strangle diverse views. He stated this in his now classic work, Media Monopoly in 1983, which is now in its 6th edition with his predictions all coming to pass. Neil Postman, the late NYU communications professor, not only wrote about how Americans were Amusing Ourselves to Death but that Americans were the most entertained and least informed society in the modern world. This was largely the result of the spectacular success of corporate media propaganda and the commodification of information for profit to engineer consent and control the public mind. Even the means of measuring public opinion work to construct that which it claims to merely record. (For more information, see scholar Justin Lewis and the Media Education Foundation on constructing public opinion and the work of Retropoll on problems of public opinion research). Further, Project Censored has been showing the effects of these media control problems for over 30 years in their annual publications highlighting the most important news that didn’t make the news. Even a casual perusal of the top 25 story lists from previous years is a massive wake up call to rescue our democracy from the clutches of corporate media oligopoly. And it requires more than getting the people’s voice heard by the FCC.
We can break free from these ubiquitous media chains…
The time is now. We’ve gone from bad to worse. We must act to save our Republic from the tyranny of corporatist agendas. Tired of junk food news, celebrity tripe, and nationalist jingoism?
If not, watch this clip from Stop Big Media and see what passes for the news.
Let’s act. Join us in Santa Cruz, CA this January 25-27, 2008, where we’ll be:
STRATEGIZING FOR DEMOCRATIC SURVIVAL: A Collaborative Strategy Summit for Media Pros, Scholars, Activists and Whistleblowers Working for Truth, Transparency and an Informed Resurgent Democracy — See the banner link, contact and register, spread the news, and help save our democracy!
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“News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.” Lord Northcliffe
Declare mental independence from the corporate coup. Create an information commons. Let’s publicize truths with consequence. See you in Santa Cruz for the New Year.