Ideological Hegemony Part II


1 Introduction
2 The Media
3 The Education system
4 Newspeak
5 The Objectivity Myth

The Media

There are many models about how the news media works.  One is the “fair and objective” model that asserts that, for the most part, the media objectively and fairly report on the events of the day and give an accurate picture of reality.  Overall, coverage is balanced and does not reflect any ideological bias.  One variant of this is the idea that the media are highly critical of the powers that be and act to expose government or corporate abuse & wrongdoing.  Another model is the “liberal bias” theory, which asserts that the media is biased in favor of liberalism.  A third theory is the propaganda model, which asserts that the media as a whole is neither liberal nor conservative but acts as propaganda for the interests of business, political and military elites.  Within the media, the “fair and objective” model is the theory promoted the most.  The “liberal bias” theory is not promoted by the media as much, but one can still find it advocated within the media.  The propaganda model almost never referred to within the media and most of the exceptions are criticisms of it.  The evidence favors the propaganda model by a large margin, and overwhelmingly disproves the “fair and objective” model.

In the United States the media are for-profit companies and usually owned by other large corporations.  Those who manage and control these corporations, the business elite, have common interests with other members of the business elite and with the state.  The media are also dependant on other corporations for advertising, from which they derive their main revenue.  The products they produce are not their shows; the products they produce are audiences, which they sell to advertisers.  Advertisers tend to prefer wealthier audiences to poorer ones because wealthier ones are more likely to be able to afford their products and to be able to buy larger quantities of their products.  You don’t see many advertisements geared towards homeless people.  Thus what the media produces tends to be geared towards attracting the wealthier, and tends to go along with their prejudices and beliefs.  The media also depends disproportionately on the government as a news source.  These factors act to mold what the media reports.  Coverage tends to stay within the liberal-conservative spectrum; things outside of it are marginalized.  Unlike a totalitarian system, they aren’t necessarily 100% excluded but are marginalized.

Corporate ownership of news media creates a huge conflict of interest.  Shortly after ABC (including the ABC radio network) was acquired by Disney Jim Hightower’s leftist talk show, which was very critical of Disney, was cancelled. [5]  In 1998 ABC cancelled a 20/20 story that investigated allegations that Disney allowed known child molesters to gain employment at Disney World without a background check. [6]  Things aren’t always that direct, though.  Only the wealthy can afford to set up a newspaper with a wide circulation or a major news network.  Others are excluded, and so the news tends to reflect the views of the wealthy owners while the less wealthy tend to be excluded even if there is no explicit censorship policy.

The dependency on advertising for revenue also influences coverage.  A survey of 55 members of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers at the society’s 1992 conference found that 80% believed advertiser pressure was a growing problem and that 45 percent knew of instances where news coverage was compromised by advertiser pressure. [7]  In 2001 NBC agreed to run ads for during certain programs, including news programs like Today, on NBC, CNBC and MSNBC in exchange for a percentage of the sales generated.  Riverside, California’s Press-Enterprise had a box in their March 8th, 2001 newspaper that read, "More than 125,000 daily Press-Enterprise readers have eaten at a Mexican restaurant in the past 30 days. Advertise your restaurant in Riverside and San Bernardino for under $250.00 and get a free feature story." [8]  The influence of advertisers isn’t always this direct and explicit, though.  A publication which ran stories critical of corporate power and which questioned the dominant socio-economic system could not expect to get much advertising from those same corporations, even if such stories were only a small percentage of content.  It would be unable to compete in the marketplace, thus the pro-corporate publications tend to dominate the media.

The media is also dependent on its supply of “raw materials” (information), which tend to come disproportionately from the government and, to a lesser extent, big business.  For example, the allegations about President Bush going AWOL when he was in the National Guard were known for years and circulated in left-wing circles in the run up to the 2000 election but were mostly ignored by the media.  It wasn’t until early 2004 that the media paid much attention to this, because a powerful democrat (John Kerry) decided to bring it up and attack Bush with it, causing it to become a big issue.  The media implicitly takes the point of view of the American government, referring to government military forces as “our” troops and “our” fighters, as if the networks owned them.  They identify with the actions of the government.  The invasion of Iraq provides another example of this.  Sixty-three percent of sources on ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Reports, Fox’s Special Report with Brit Hume, and PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer in the first three weeks of the invasion were government officials or ex-officials, giving it a strong pro-war slant.  Anti-war sources made up 10% of all sources and only 3% of US guests.  Polls at the time showed over 25% of Americans were anti-war. [9]

There are many other examples of these factors acting to slant the news.  There is a major controversy over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but this is not the first time in recent memory that a President’s excuse for war has been proven false.  Clinton bombed Yugoslavia over the allegation that it was committing genocide in Kosovo, but a subsequent NATO investigation found fewer than 3,000 corpses, both civilian and military, on all sides.  NATO’s own figures state that 2000 people died on both sides in the year of fighting prior to the bombing.  Just as there is little evidence to support the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, there is also little evidence to support the claim that Yugoslavia was engaging in genocide in Kosovo. [10]  This failure to find evidence of genocide did not cause a controversy for Clinton, nor did the discrediting of Bush the first’s lies over the Gulf War create a controversy.  This is because of the guerilla war against American troops in Iraq, which did not happen in Yugoslavia or the Gulf War.  This has both kept Iraq in the news and caused a large portion of the elite (including the business class that owns and funds the media) to come to the conclusion that the invasion was a mistake and/or Bush bungled it.  Opposition politicians and dissatisfied government officials have brought attention to the failures to find WMDs and other controversies surrounding the war by criticizing Bush for it.  In Yugoslavia and other cases politicians & government officials didn’t criticize the President over the fraudulent nature of his pretexts for war, and so after the war the media followed the lead of the government and devoted little coverage to it.  Government officials & ex-officials still dominate news coverage, both positive and negative.  Seventy-six percent of all sources in stories about Iraq on ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News in October 2003 were current or former government or military officials. [11]

In the summer of 2003 the media started raising the issue of Bush’s “16 words” in his state of the union address alleging that Iraq sought to buy uranium from “a country in Africa.”  The documents used to support this assertion were shown to be a crude forgery by the International Atomic Energy Association in March, but the media didn’t pay much attention to it until the summer.  The reason is that prominent democrats ignored it until the summer when they used it to attack Bush, at which point the media then started paying attention to the story.  The democrats act as a left-wing limit to debates within the media and the republicans a right-wing limit.  If they both agree on something then there is usually little debate on the issue.

Western media rarely reports the names of the various groups engaged in the guerilla war against the US occupation.  This aids the government’s propaganda that they are all “Saddam remnants” and “foreign terrorists.”  Here is a partial list of groups involved in the insurgency:

*Active Religious Seminary
*Al-Anbar Armed Brigades
*Al-Faruq Brigades
*Armed Vanguards of Mohammad's Second Army
*Black Banner Organization
*General Command of the Armed Forces, Resistance and Liberation in Iraq
*General Secretariat for the Liberation of Democratic Iraq
*Harvest of the Iraqi Resistance
*Hasad al-Muqawamah al-'Iraqiyah
*Iraqi Communist Party-Al Cadre
*Iraqi National Islamic Resistance
*Iraqi Resistance Brigades
*Jihad Cells
*Liberating Iraq's Army
*Mujahideen Battalions of the Salafi Group of Iraq
*Muslim Fighters of the Victorious Sect (aka, Mujaheddin of the Victorious Sect)
*Muslim Youth
*National Iraqi Commandos Front
*Patriotic Front
*Political Media Organ of the Ba‘ath Party (Jihaz al-Iilam al-Siasi lil hizb al-Baath)
*Popular Resistance for the Liberation of Iraq
*Saddam's Fedayeen
*Salafist Jihad Group
*Snake Party
*Sons of Islam
*Unification Front for the Liberation of Iraq
*Wakefulness and Holy War
*White Flags [12]

As one can see just by looking at the names on this list, there are a variety of different groups involved in the insurgency; they are not all “Saddam remnants” and “foreign terrorists” as the government claims.  Most groups can be divided into three different factions: the loyalists (who are pro-Baathist/pro-Saddam), Islamists (who want to build a Muslim theocracy in Iraq), and nationalists (who are secular & anti-Saddam but want the US out).  Examples of the loyalists include Saddam’s Fedayeen & Political Media Organ of the Ba’ath Party, of the Islamists Armed Vanguards of Mohammad’s Second Army & Al-Faruq Brigades, and of the nationalists General Secretariat for the Liberation of Democratic Iraq & Al-Anbar Armed Brigades.

Discovering this isn’t hard even if you have few resources, just search the web for “Iraqi insurgency” and you’ll discover plenty of information.  The major news organizations, who have enough resources that they could actually go to Iraq and directly report on these groups if they wanted to, do not report on the facts of these groups because they rely almost entirely on government sources for their information about the insurgency, and government sources rarely mention the names or ideologies of these groups.  The failure to report on these resistance groups further illustrates the media’s tendency to take government statements at face value.

These cases aren’t limited to the Iraq war.  A classic example is the Cambodia/East Timor comparison.  Both Cambodia and East Timor experienced genocides at about the same time yet received very different media coverage.  In Cambodia the Khmer Rouge won a civil war against the US-backed government, after suffering from large-scale US bombing of the country that killed several hundred thousand Cambodians.  The Khmer Rouge was a brutal dictatorship that murdered huge numbers of Cambodians.  In 1979 the Khmer Rouge were forced out of power by an invasion from state socialist Vietnam, which brought their genocide to an end.  The US supported the Khmer Rouge’s subsequent guerilla war against the Vietnamese in order to hurt Vietnam, but it failed to bring the Khmer Rouge back to power.

In December 1975 Indonesia invaded and took over East Timor, with US support.  Indonesia’s following genocide in East Timor slaughtered between a fourth and a third of the population.  The worst of the genocide occurred in the first 5 years after the invasion.  The US supported the invasion & genocide and supplied East Timor with most of the arms used to carry it out.  As atrocities increased the US flow of weapons increased, to insure that the killings could continue and Indonesia wouldn’t run out of weapons.  All that was necessary for the US to stop this was to cut off the supply of weapons.  The government in Indonesia at the time was actually put in power by a CIA coup in 1965 that resulted in the murder of between 500,000 and a million Indonesians.

These two genocides occurred at the same time and had many similarities but had very different media coverage.  Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge was an official enemy and coverage of the genocide there was extensive, with little skepticism towards atrocity claims.  Coverage of the genocide in East Timor was far less and largely just regurgitated State Department and Indonesia lies.  Media coverage declined as the atrocities in East Timor worsened.  When they reached their highest point coverage declined to zero.  Between 1975 and 1979 the New York Times gave 70 column inches to Timor but 1,175 column inches to Cambodia.  The New York Times is on the liberal end of the spectrum and tends to be more critical of US foreign policy than many of its competitors.  To this day, most Americans have never heard of the genocide in East Timor.  When official enemies commit atrocities the media plays it up, but when the US commits atrocities the media plays it down.

There are many other examples of this pattern of marginalizing US atrocities while emphasizing enemy atrocities.  In the 1990s the US supported genocide in Turkish Kurdistan.  While suppressing the insurgency of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which was fighting for an independent Kurdish state, the Turkish state murdered tens of thousands of innocent Kurds, destroyed over 3,000 villages and outlawed the Kurdish language.  The US supported all this and provided 80% of the weapons to do it.  This genocide received relatively little coverage and most of the coverage it did receive failed to make the link to US funding of genocide.  One of the standard pieces of war propaganda against Iraq was that Saddam “gassed his own people.”  The people he gassed were also Kurds.  Between 1990-1999 the term “genocide” was used by the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, and Time to describe the actions of Iraq against the Kurds 132 times, while it was used by the same publications to describe the actions of Turkey against the Kurds only 14 times.  When an enemy, like Iraq, murders Kurds it gets lots of play but when an ally, like Turkey, murders Kurds it gets less play. 

At the end of this genocide in Turkey the US led a NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, using the pretext that Yugoslavia was committing genocide in Kosovo.  Turkey is a NATO member; the claim that NATO attacked Yugoslavia because it was committing genocide when one of NATO’s own members was committing genocide is not credible.  The media’s focus on the alleged genocide in Kosovo (which was later shown to be greatly exaggerated, after the media stopped paying attention) can be contrasted with the downplaying of US-supported genocide in Turkey.  In 1999 & 1998 the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, and Time used the term “genocide” to describe Yugoslav actions in Kosovo 220 times, while the same number for Turkey’s genocide against the Kurds was 14. [13]  The large focus on refuges fleeing Kosovo can also be contrasted with the ignoring of refuges fleeing Afghanistan during the US-Taliban war started a few years later.

This applies not only to genocide but also to the murder of dissidents.  On October 19th, 1984 Polish police murdered the priest and dissident Jerzy Popieluszka.  American media gave this brutal murder extensive coverage, much of it well deserved.  In the 18 months after the murder, the New York Times published 1183 column inches and 78 articles (10 on the front page) on it, Time and Newsweek gave it 16 articles and 313 column inches, and CBS news aired 46 news programs, 23 evening news programs on it.  On March 18th, 1980 the head of the Catholic Church in El Salvador, Oscar Romero, was murdered by the US-backed dictatorship in El Salvador for his outspoken criticism of that dictatorship.  It received much less coverage from American media.  In the following 18 months the New York Times printed 16 articles and 219 column inches on it, Time and Newsweek 3 articles and 86.5 column inches, and CBS news aired 13 news programs, 4 evening news programs on it.  In fact, the murder of 100 religious dissidents by US-backed dictatorships in Latin America between 1964-1985, including 4 American churchwomen, received less total coverage than the murder of Jerzy Popieluszka.  In the 18 months following each murder/disappearance the New York Times printed 57 articles (8 on the front page) and 604.5 column inches, Time and Newsweek 10 articles and 247.5 column inches and CBS aired 37 news programs, 16 evening news programs on these 100 murders.  The murder of a single priest by an official enemy, in this case a Soviet satellite state, received more coverage than the murder of 100 religious dissidents by US-backed dictatorships in Latin America. [14]

There are many other examples of the media whitewashing or ignoring US-backed dictatorships.  In the ten years prior to the overthrow of the US-backed dictator of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somozo, US television, all networks, devoted one hour of coverage to Nicaragua, all of which was on the 1972 earthquake.  Between 1960 and 1978 the New York Times had a grand total of 3 editorials on Nicaragua. [15]  When the Sandinistas overthrew Somoza in 1979 coverage increased and the media began demonizing the Sandinistas.  Sandinista human rights abuses, atrocities and dictatorial behavior were far less than the preceding Somoza dictatorship, and the surrounding US-backed dictatorships (which relied on extreme state terror to maintain control), but were given far more attention by the media.

Many facts that would make the government look bad, not only US-backed dictatorships, tend to be ignored or downplayed.  One of the less publicized conclusions of the official Dutch inquiry into the 1995 Srebrenica massacre was that the US backed Islamist terrorists in Bosnia in the early ‘90s and flew in weapons and Mujahideen (Muslim fundamentalist terrorists) from Afghanistan to Bosnia.  This was one facet of the US-NATO campaign to dismember Yugoslavia into several Western client states.  The groups the US supported in this operation were some of the same people it would later fight in its so-called “war on terrorism” several years later.  There were reports on this finding in European media, [16] but I have been unable to find a single report on it in American media.

Bosnia was not the first place the US supported Islamist terrorists; the US also did it earlier against the USSR in Afghanistan.  The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the American invasion of South Vietnam have many similarities.  In Afghanistan the USSR claimed that it had not invaded, that it was invited in by the legitimate government to defend it from terrorists sponsored by Pakistan and the United States.  Of course, the government that “invited” the USSR in happened to be a Soviet satellite state.  Once in the USSR repeatedly overthrew the Afghan government whenever it wouldn’t go along with Moscow’s orders.  In Soviet mythology there was no Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there was instead a Soviet defense of Afghanistan.

In South Vietnam the US claimed that it didn’t invade but was invited in by the legitimate government to defend it from terrorists sponsored by outside forces.  Of course, the government that “invited” the US in happened to be an American satellite state.  Once in the US repeatedly overthrew the South Vietnamese government whenever it wouldn’t go along with Washington’s orders.  In American mythology there was no American invasion of South Vietnam, there was instead an American defense of South Vietnam.

The stories spun by each government were very similar, as were the invasions themselves.  In Afghanistan American media ridiculed Soviet propaganda & lies and called the invasion what it was, an invasion.  Soviet media adhered to the government line.  In the invasion of South Vietnam American media never called it an invasion, instead they adhered to the US government line that it was not an invasion.  The common myth that the media were anti-war is just self-serving propaganda (see chapters 5 & 6 of Manufacturing Consent by Edward Heman & Noam Chomsky).  In reality the media overall stayed within the government paradigm, viewing it as a defense against foreign sponsored guerillas.  Criticism of the war within the media was limited to the idea that it was a “mistake,” that this “defense of South Vietnam” was not worth the costs and based on an erroneous analysis.  This differs from the position of the peace movement which argued that it was an invasion that was fundamentally immoral and wrong.  The later position was largely excluded from the debate within the media.

While American media correctly referred to Soviet satellite states as satellite states on many occasions, American satellite states were never identified.  When the USSR invades other countries and makes them do it’s bidding those are (correctly) called Soviet satellite states but when the US invades other countries and does the same thing not only are they not called satellite states but the invasions often aren’t called invasions.

The groups fighting against Soviet aggression in Afghanistan, supported by the US, were predominantly Muslim fundamentalist terrorists (Mujahideen), many of who would later go on to fight against the US.  Bin Laden was among their ranks, as were many other people who the FBI claims are members of Al-Qaeda.  During their war with the USSR the Mujahideen used many terrorist tactics, including targeting of civilians, assassination of soviet officials, and throwing acid into the faces of unveiled women.  While they were doing this against the USSR American media identified them as “freedom fighters.”  They were the good guys in Rambo 3.  After they started doing the same thing to the US they started calling them “terrorists” instead of “freedom fighters.”  Enemies are identified as “terrorists” and allies as “freedom fighters” even if their tactics remain the same.

One should not get the impression that American media functions as a totalitarian system, however.  The system functions primarily as self-censorship.  Because totalitarian press censorship is not in place there is occasional “leakage” of things through the media that do not otherwise conform to the liberal-conservative paradigm.  For example, on November 26th, 2003 the Washington Post website held an online discussion with Noam Chomsky on his latest book, Hegemony or Survival. [17]  Noam Chomsky is an anarchist and probably the best-known dissident in the United States.  In a totalitarian system his views would be completely excluded and suppressed.  Instead, American media marginalize it to the point where only a tiny number will come across it but do not 100% exclude it.  This can actually make the system more effective, as it makes the system look more open than it really is and disguises it’s function as a form of thought control.

The inverse of the marginalizing of dissidents is the media’s tendency to rely disproportionately on the powerful and to reflect their views.  Between January 1st, 2001 and December 31st, 2001 more than one third of the quoted Americans (and more than one fourth of the sources) on ABC World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News were elite Washington politicians.  Seventy-five percent of those politicians whose partisan affiliations could be identified were Republican, twenty-four percent were Democrat, and only one percent was third party/independent.  James Jeffords, the centrist Vermont Republican who defected to the Democrats and was temporarily an independent during the transition, made up 83 percent of the independent sources quoted.  The 9-11 attacks increased the reliance on Republican sources.  Prior to it Republicans were 68 percent, Democrats 31 percent and independents 1 percent.  After the attacks, Republicans were 87 percent, Democrats 13 percent and independents .1 percent.  The slant towards Republicans is due to the fact that they control the executive branch of the government and the media tend to rely on it more, making more quotes, etc. from the President, members of the cabinet, etc.  When that is factored out, the ratio of sources is 51% Republican, 48% Democrat and 2% third party/independent.  George Bush alone was 9% of all quoted sources and 33% of all partisan sources.  Of the “experts” used as sources, corporate representatives and economists were the most common (at 7% each), while non-governmental organizations and organized labor were quoted very little (3% and .2%).  Representatives from big business were quoted 35 times more often than representatives of labor.  While business & economic issues made up 15% of total coverage, only 1% of total coverage was on labor issues and in labor stories business association representatives (26%), economists (19%) & politicians (15%) were quoted far more often than labor representatives (2%).  These news shows also tend to rely disproportionately on men and whites. [18]

This distortion of the news in favor of the powerful happens not only in foreign policy but also on domestic issues, such as the “anti-globalization” protests against the WTO, IMF and World Bank.  The media, not “anti-globalization” activists, invented the label “anti-globalization.”  The press generally prefers to focus on sensationalistic reports of protestor violence and assorted side issues rather than look at the critique of these institutions offered by activists.  When there is no protestor violence or property destruction the media largely ignores the story (even if there’s lots of police violence) but when there is violence or property destruction by protestors the media covers it but mostly ignores the issues they are protesting.  The average consumer of news would have very little idea of what the IMF, WTO and World Bank is, let alone why many oppose them.  On April 16 a story on the front page of the Washington Post, reporting on the demonstrations against the IMF & World Bank, discussed activists “body odor,” claimed that “the fad factor cannot be denied” and incorrectly claimed that the protests were "a demonstration without demands."  It was actually a demonstration with demands that the Washington Post (and most of the rest of the media) chose to ignore, preferring to focus on activist’s “body odor,” drinking habits and fashion.  The media often refers to opponents of “free trade” as “anti-trade,” which is a misrepresentation because most are not against all trade, just the form of trade currently being practiced.

The New York Times ran five opinion pieces against the April 16th anti-IMF/World Bank demonstrations and none in favor.  Opinion pieces in the Washington Post against the demonstrations totaled 3,780 words while supporters of the demonstrations had 1,825 words.  In addition, when “anti-globalization” views get in the media they are usually from the moderate wing of the movement.  The more radical segments are almost universally ignored.  Anarchists played a major role in these demonstrations yet anarchist views were almost never portrayed accurately in the media and anarchist opinion pieces never ran in the major papers.  Instead anarchists were portrayed as crazed bomb-throwing advocates of chaos.

The focus on violence is also very one-sided.  For the media, protestor violence is a big deal but police violence is not.  Police can bring body armor, tear gas and other weapons and the media thinks nothing of it, but if protestors brought the same equipment the media would demonize them over it.  Police are rarely referred to as violent, even when they are violent towards protestors or others.  They are assumed to be legitimate.  Police violence is played down (and usually isn’t even called violence), while alleged protestor violence is emphasized and denounced.  According to an ACLU report on demonstrations against the WTO in Seattle that began on November 30th:

“For several days, it was illegal publicly to express anti-WTO opinions in a large section of downtown Seattle. … Scores of citizens reported being prevented by police from engaging in peaceful, lawful expression within the zone.  Police ordered citizens to remove buttons or stickers from their clothing, confiscated signs and leaflets, and blocked citizen entry to the core of downtown … Despite police and media descriptions to the contrary, the protests during the WTO conference did not constitute a riot.  They were noisy and disruptive, yet demonstrators were overwhelming peaceful.  Not so the police. … [police] approved the use of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and clubs against people who were demonstrating peaceably, against demonstrators who had not received or who were trying to obey police orders, against bystanders, and to quell disturbances the police themselves had provoked. … The Seattle Police Department used massive amounts of tear gas against crowds even when such use was not necessary to protect public safety or the safety of officers. … [Police] used pepper spray repeatedly against nonviolent protesters who posed no threat to public safety or to the safety of officers. … Rubber bullets were used against people who posed no threat. … rank-and-file officers engaged in acts of brutality … The police made hundreds of improper arrests, detaining for days people who would never stand trial. … Individuals arrested during the anti-WTO demonstrations were mistreated and witnessed others being mistreated by jail officers.” [19]

This sharply contrasts with the picture painted by the media of officers reacting against rioting protestors.  The media inverted the chronology – putting the destruction of corporate property by a minority of activists before the use of pepper spray & tear gas by police and portraying police violence as a reaction against it.  Numerous eyewitnesses have reported that the police started attacking demonstrators prior to the destruction of corporate property and Detective Randy Huserik, of the Seattle police, admitted that pepper spray was used on non-violent activists prior to the attacks on corporate property.  The media instead blindly regurgitated a pro-police story. [20]  The media’s description of the destruction of corporate property as “violence” also shows how they implicitly assume the legitimacy of property rights.

Similar patterns existed in coverage of other “anti-globalization” demonstrations.  In the demonstrations against the G8 in Genoa, Italy the media largely ignored the positions of the demonstrators, again focusing excessively on violence, and whitewashed police brutality, which resulted in the death of one protestor.  During the demonstrations the media blindly regurgitated police defenses of their actions, but when these were exposed to be frauds the media ignored it.  Pietro Troiani, a senior police officer, admitted to planting bombs with demonstrators in order to justify a raid on activists but American media didn’t run a single story on it. [21]

PBS and NPR are structured a little differently but tend to stick to a similar line as commercial media.  Although not directly owned by corporations, they are dependant on corporate funding and also receive significant funding from government sources, including the Corporation for Public Sources.  As such they tend to slant things in manner similar to the rest of the media, although they are on the liberal end of the spectrum and aren’t quite as bad as some other outlets.

For example, twenty-six percent of sources on all weekday broadcasts of “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition” on NPR from September through December 1991 were government sources.  Fifty-three percent of Washington-based stories were led with a quote major administration official or a member of congress.  Representatives of organized citizen groups and public interests experts made up only seven percent of sources.  Twenty-six out of twenty-seven regular commentators were white and only twenty-one percent of sources were women. [22]

The sources on PBS’s NewsHour during the Kosovo conflict were slanted in favor of the government.  Between March 25 and April 8 1999 critics of the NATO bombing made up 10% of sources.  Only six percent of sources were Yugoslavian government officials, Serbians or Serbian-Americans, the groups most likely to criticize the NATO bombings.  Non-Serbian American sources against the bombing made up 4% of sources.  Thirty-nine percent of sources and 42% of live interviewees were current or former government officials.  Albanian refugees and spokespeople from the Kosovo Liberation Army (the CIA-backed NATO proxy army) made up another 17% of sources. [23]

Local media and student media overall tend to follow a similar line as corporate media but because they are structured differently do not always do this 100%.  In some cases large corporations directly own local news sources and in those cases they operate the same as the rest of the media.  In other cases they are owned by small businesses and are not owned by the elite.  The elite usually does not own student-run news sources, either.  However, both of these tend to follow the focus of the major (corporate-owned) news media.  If something is on the front page of the New York Times and other major corporate media the local/student editors will tend to put that on their front page as well, and focus attention on it.  In addition, they tend to rely on government sources, are dependant on advertising as a source of revenue and are susceptible to pressure from the local business community, local government and/or school administration.  These tend to act to constrain coverage within student and local media.  Leakage is a little easier in these media, however, as they are not directly owned by big business.  While a letter to the editor advocating Communism would have a very difficult time being printed in the major papers, local and student media are sometimes more open to printing various dissident views.

The effect of all this is to inhibit an understanding of events in the world in a manner that benefits the power elite.  It is not totally effective but has a successful record.  The Center for Studies in Communication of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst conducted surveys that found:

“those who watched the most television on the Gulf War were the least informed about basic facts of life in the region. Among the most frequent watchers, 32 percent thought Kuwait was a democracy; only 23 per cent were aware that there were other occupations in the Middle East besides Iraq's, and only 10 per cent had heard of the intifada, the most sustained revolt in modern Middle East history.  When queried as to which three nations vetoed the recent United Nations resolution calling for an international peace conference (the United States, Israel, and Dominica), 14 per cent correctly identified the U.S., but another 12 per cent thought it has to be Iraq. The Center's polls showed that only 13 per cent of these TV viewers were aware of what official U.S. policy was toward Iraq before the August 2 invasion." [24]

An October 2003 study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) looked at three common misperceptions among the public: that Saddam Hussein was directly link to the 9-11 attacks, that weapons of mass destruction have already been found in Iraq and that world opinion favored the US-led invasion of Iraq.  Massive evidence disproves all three misperceptions and even the Bush administration admits they are false.  It found that belief in these misperceptions correlates with support for the war.  These misperceptions are a by-product of the propaganda offensive launched by the Bush administration in late summer 2002 which attempted to use 9-11 to justify the war and successfully convinced Americans that Saddam was a grave danger to America who supported terrorism, had a deadly weapons arsenal to use on the US, etc.  It also piggybacked on negative perceptions of Iraq created by earlier war propaganda under Clinton & Bush the first (while the US was supporting Saddam there wasn’t anti-Iraq propaganda from the government, but after the US came into conflict with Iraq Saddam was demonized as “the next Hitler”).  That propaganda campaign was blindly regurgitated by the media, which, with a few exceptions, showed little skepticism towards it until after the completion of the invasion.  By September 2003 70% of Americans had come to believe that Saddam was directly linked to 9-11.

The PIPA study also found that for most news outlets watching more news did not decrease belief in these misperceptions and for some news outlets belief in these misperceptions actually increased as more news was watched, showing again the media’s role as purveyor of misinformation that benefits the powerful.  Belief in these misperceptions varied depending on one’s news source.  Fox News had the worst record, with 80% of viewers believing one or more misperceptions.  NPR & PBS had the best record, but even they did poorly with 23% of viewers believing one or more misperceptions. [25]

NPR & PBS, the sources that produced the lowest amount of those misconceptions, also happen to be among those sources most frequently singled out by conservative critics alleging the media has a “liberal bias.”  Much of the evidence in favor of the “liberal bias” model is flawed and most of what isn’t fits better with the propaganda model (of media subservience to the powerful) than with the “liberal bias” model.  The basic theory behind the liberal bias model is that most journalists are liberal and they tend to reflect this in their reporting.  Surveys have found that most journalists are moderates, not liberals, [26] but even if we disregard this the model is faulty because it doesn’t take into account where power lies.  The average journalist doesn’t have a great deal of control over the media; power is concentrated in the hands of the corporations who own the media.

In addition, liberals support capitalism, the state, private property, and the right of the US to intervene in other countries, as do conservatives.  Liberals support the main features of the current system; they just want to make a few modifications.  As liberals, conservatives and centrists all support capitalism (and the state, etc.) the number of journalists who believe in those things vastly outnumbers those who don’t.  By their logic, the media should have an extreme pro-capitalist (and pro-statist, etc.) bias that vastly dwarfs the alleged liberal bias.

A liberal bias, or the appearance of it, would actually help support the system as it would more firmly limit thoughts within an ‘acceptable’ range.  If the media is seen as being so liberal, adversarial and extreme in their opposition to power then anyone who questions it’s basic assumptions (private property, etc.) will be seen as going completely off the planet.  Accusations of the media having a “liberal bias” help to discipline the media and ensure that it continues to reinforce hegemony.  Whenever it departs from the liberal-conservative line critics of the “liberal media” pounce and pressure it back in line.

One example of this is the book Bias by Bernard Goldberg, a number one New York Times bestseller, which advocates the “liberal media” theory.  The book is very poorly researched and doesn’t even have footnotes/endnotes, a bibliography or an index.  Most of his assertions have little evidence to support them, just vague impressions.  “Instead of numbers or specific instances of biased coverage, Goldberg prefers broad generalizations.” [27]  Some assertions actually support the propaganda model more than the liberal bias model, such as the claims that news organizations are mainly focused on profit and oriented towards whites.  Many quotes are not footnoted/endnoted and do not give enough information to look them up.

Most of his assertions are focused towards the center and liberal wings of the media.  It is true that certain segments of the media are liberal (the New York Times, NPR, and others) but it does not follow that the entire media are liberal.  The appendix of Bias includes editorials he published in the Wall Street Journal accusing the media of having a liberal bias.  Does the Wall Street Journal have a liberal bias?  Do talk radio and Fox News?  He presents no evidence to support such a claim.  Showing that even the more conservative sections of the media are liberal is important to prove his case – if even they are liberal then obviously the rest of the media is liberal.  The inverse holds true for the model presented in this essay, that the media is subservient to the powerful.  If that is the case then even those publications that tend to be more critical of the powerful, like the New York Times, should tend to slant the news in favor of the powerful.  Evidence to show that this is the case was presented earlier, such as the East Timor/Cambodia comparison.  Goldberg, however, fails to present evidence to show that the conservative wing of the media (Wall Street Journal/Fox News/Talk Radio) is biased against conservatives.

Some may object that corporate media gives people what they want and the current state of journalism, biased or otherwise, is the result of people wanting it.  This is based on the myth that anything having to do with a market is a reflection of “what people want” and somehow democratic.  No doubt slaves, bought and sold on the market, would have disputed such an idea.  Markets tend to skew towards those with more wealth because more profit can be made by catering to their desires and needs.  It’s “one dollar, one vote” and those with more dollars have more influence.  In the case of the media the customers are not the general public but advertisers.  Those advertisers tend to prefer customers with more wealth because they can sell more products that way.  There aren’t many advertisements directed towards homeless people.  Thus the media tends to reflect the views & prejudices of the advertisers, the wealthier strata they are oriented towards and the business elite that controls the media.

In addition, there are several examples of media bias not reflecting the views of the general population.  In the invasion of Iraq, only 10% of sources used were anti-war while over 25% of the population was anti-war (see above).  In the debate on healthcare in the early ‘90s the media mainly presented the debate as one between Clinton’s proposals and his conservative opponents.  The majority of the population favored the single-payer option but, with a few exceptions, the media largely ignored that idea.  The debate was restricted and excluded the position supported by the majority of Americans. [28]  These show that the media is not simply reflecting public opinion.  Although the media is often effective at molding public opinion, it is not always so as demonstrated by the healthcare debate.  Americans didn’t decide that they don’t want to know the names and platforms of the various groups fighting the guerilla war against American troops in Iraq.  Nor did people decide that they didn’t want to know about the US-sponsored genocide in East Timor.  They couldn’t have – most didn’t know about it because the media gave very little coverage to it.

This media system didn’t just appear out of thin air, it has been evolving for a long time.  In the late 19th century as industrial capitalism was taking hold and industry was being concentrated into smaller and smaller hands the media also became more concentrated.  Large corporations began buying out newspapers and/or withdrawing advertising from publications that were too critical of corporate power.  This wasn’t the result of a giant conspiracy of business owners but of many people acting in similar ways because they were in similar situations.

The First World War was a major step towards creating the media system we have today.  The Wilson administration, “established a government propaganda commission, called the Creel Commission, which succeeded, within six months, in turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war-mongering population which wanted to destroy everything German, tear the Germans limb from limb, go to war and save the world.” [29]  The Creel Commission pioneered Public Relations techniques used to manipulate public opinion and the use of corporate media to whip up war hysteria.  It found that flooding news channels with “facts” (official information) allowed them to control news coverage.  During the war the government stepped up censorship and actively suppressed anti-war publications and groups, many of which were socialist or anarchist.  The previously growing Socialist Party, USA was broken, never to recover, and the anarchist-leaning Industrial Workers of the World was turned into a shell of it’s former self.  Repression against dissidents continued after the end of the war as similar propaganda techniques were used to create the Red Scare.  By attacking dissident organizations and publications this repression accelerated the concentration of the media into corporate hands.

As new media came about government intervention also played a significant role in keeping it primarily under corporate control and loyal to the government.  In the late 1920s the predecessor to the Federal Communications Commission granted licenses to operate radio stations primarily to commercial sources, largely excluding non-commercial stations.  Prior to that there was relatively little regulation of radio and non-commercial groups, especially educational institutions, tended to dominate radio.  Over the next several years there was a popular movement attempting to reverse this decision but it was defeated. [30]  Similar principles favoring corporations over non-profit organizations were later followed for television station licenses.  Corporations dominate broadcasting because the government chooses to have corporations dominate broadcasting.  Government policies and laws, such as the 1996 Telecommunications act, along with various subsidies, including the use of publicly owned airways free of charge, have continued to influence to structure of the media up to the present day.

Most of this is the result of the way the media and society is set up.  Heads of the media don’t get together in a big smoke-filled room and scheme how to fool Americans.  Bias is the outcome of the institutional structure of the media, not some giant conspiracy.  Some groups do consciously attempt to manipulate the media and sometimes these take the form of conspiracies (a group of people working together in secret to achieve some goal).  For example, the CIA has been known to infiltrate media organizations and keep journalists on its payroll.  It “also owns dozens of newspapers and magazines the world over.” [31]  The CIA altered the movie versions of George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm” to tone down Orwell’s “pox on both houses” message, making them more anti-Communist and less anti-capitalist. [32]  In 1999 CNN allowed Army PSYOPS officers, government propaganda experts, to work in the news division at CNN’s Atlanta headquarters. [33]  CNN eventually admitted this, [34] but most of the media ignored it.  These are exceptions to the norm, however.  Most media bias is the outcome of institutional structure.  That same structure also makes it easier for powerful groups to manipulate the media through conspiracies or other means, magnifying their effect.