Sunday :: May 8, 2005

[Fill in the blanks] Media

by eriposte

Monopoly media? Not quite the best terminology, even if were to be (partly) true.

Sean Paul of The Agonist (via Seeing the Forest) says we should stop using the term MSM (mainstream media) and pick a more appropriate term that reflects the corporatist bent of the media, such as monopoly media. I disagree for a few reasons.

He says, for example:

We all know the media has serious, dysfunctional institutional biases. These biases are not, per se, conservative or liberal. First and foremost they're corporate.
It's the corporate interests on Wall Street, the lure of easy money and suckers, not phantasmal liberal biases, that led MSNBC to give Kramer his own godawful show.

Corporate interests prevented ABC from doing an expose on Disney. Corporate interests, afraid of loosing important tax abatements in Flori-duh prevented Disney from releasing Moore's F-9/11. Corporate interests kept Jack Welch's outrageous retirement package out of the spotlight for so long.  

And of course corporate biases led to the failure to report adequately on Iraq. In an attempt to outscoop their competitors corporate interests led to shoddy reporting by Judith Miller at the Times. Same for Dan Rather at CBS. It wasn't liberal bias that led to the Rathergate fiasco.
These weren't liberal biases running amok. It was the profit motive in its most pure, simple and unadulterated form.
The problem with the media is corporate. So let's stop calling it the MSM and call it what it is: monopoly media.
In the end, I believe enough usage of the term "monopoly media" might create an environment where the big media monopolies can be broken up.

The media in this country is an industry ruled by economics.

Firstly, it is not at all obvious that the media's biases are "not, per se, conservative or liberal" - this is after all one of the things that I've been trying point out at Illiberal Conservative Media (ICM). There is ideological bias (more often than you think) - it is both intentional and unintentional, but its there all the same. This is not to say that bias is the only reason for the media's actions - obviously not, but it does dominate the media discourse on many important topics.

Secondly, the word "corporate" or "corporatist" may resonate with a certain percentage of the population (progressives in particular), but I have my doubts as to whether it really conveys to most people what progressives think it conveys. For example, I have referred to the ICM also as the Insidious Corporatist Media, but note that I specifically added "insidious" to qualify the word corporatist to at least alert people to the fact that you should not necessarily trust what you hear or see. But even with that, I don't think it automatically tells people how the media can mislead you (i.e., in what direction), especially considering that a significant percentage of the populace seems to think the media is biased liberal, and another significant chunk of the populace seems to think it is not biased one way or the other. Which is why, for the moment, I prefer the term Illiberal Conservative Media, despite the limitations of that term.

Thirdly, the term "corporatist" or "corporate" is actually more often synonymous with "conservative" than it is with "profit-driven" - and I think many progressives make the mistake of associating the media's motives solely or largely to a desire to "make profits". To assume that all of the media's actions are driven by profitability is to vastly oversimplify matters. At best they may be driven by the media owners' self-serving assertions on what is profitable and what is not - and as long as the owners have their own biases, it could easily overwhelm their ability to make fact-based decisions on how their company should be run to remain profitable (it's not as if every media company is making tons of money and turning out one quarter of incredible profitability after another!). It is also possible that the profit motive may have less to do with the company's profitability than to the greed of (some of) the media owners. For example, it may be quite profitable to run a media outlet that features left-leaning personalities and far more accurate news that holds the GOP accountable to their abysmal policies. Why? In a country that is split down the middle ideologically, the market for unbiased media (or even left-leaning media) could be significant. If media profitability was the main motive, there is no reason why TV and media outlets would virtually shut out progressive voices at a time when roughly half the country (plus or minus) supports Democrats and significant majorities do not support the Republicans on a wide variety of issues. Thus, for example, purely media-profit-driven decision-making cannot explain the canning of Phil Donahue's show, then the highest rated talk show at MSNBC. What would explain this and the general silencing or deemphasis of progressive voices, especially when conservatively-tilted talk shows in some cases get weak to poor ratings? Among other things - ideological bias (to the Right, in this case) or the fear that people will gradually not support the policies of an administration that is setting up a system where the wealthiest individuals (including media owners or CEOs) can amass even more wealth without being challenged much by the public - even if such wealth accumulation by the individuals comes at the cost of the media outlet's own profitability (after all CEO pay is hardly tied to company performance!). Let me just say that one can actually analyze this in much greater detail but for brevity's sake I'm going to simply note that we really cannot conclude that the American media industry is ruled by economics alone, or that the drive to profitability can largely explain its behavior. For these reasons, the term "corporate media" or "corporatist media" may not be the most appropriate (especially without qualification).

Fourthly, the term "monopoly media" suffers even more from the problem that the term "corporate media" suffers from. i.e., it does very little to make people aware that the media is inaccurate and tilts in a direction that most people don't realize. It may be a (partly) correct term (more appropriately oligopolistic media), but I don't see it being a significant help to the cause of making people understand why media reform is that important and how it needs to be reformed - especially considering people's perceptions of the media. Progressives would likely understand the significance of the term immediately, but a large chunk of the country (which is the group we are trying to reach) may not attach to that term the significance that progressives do.

Fifthly, Sean Paul points to a post by Ellen at BOPNews, who suggests that labeling the MSM as such risks identifying any alternatives to the MSM as non-mainstream. This is a valid point. But, I think in the short term this is really not something we need to worry about. (After all Faux News did become successful bashing the "liberal media"). What's more important is to call people's attention to what the MSM is today - it is inaccurate, unfair and unbalanced and skews far more to the Right than to the Left (as I will show in my upcoming series here titled The Media's True Colors). What is important right now is to make people recognize why the MSM (or ICM, as I prefer to call it) requires reform. Doing so requires that we catalog the media's behavior or coverage on a wide variety of topics, which is what I'm going to attempt to do in the next couple of months.

Sixthly, Ellen also suggests the term "institutional media" but this definitely would not work either because I doubt it says anything significant to the average person on the street who doesn't know much about the media. In other words, at best it suffers from the same limitations of the term "monopoly media", and at worst it's probably even less effective in pointing out what the media is.

eriposte :: 9:07 AM :: Comments (15) :: Digg It!