It’s the Media, Stupid!

Exclusive: Rich right-wingers, including the Koch Brothers and Rupert Murdoch, are eying the purchase of the Los Angeles Times and other major regional newspapers to create an even bigger platform for their propaganda, a media strategy that dates back several decades, as Robert Parry explains.

By Robert Parry

The U.S. news media was never “liberal.” At most, you could say there were periods in the not-too-distant past when the major newspapers did a better job of getting the facts straight. There also was an “underground” press which published some scoops that the mainstream media avoided.

So, reporters revealed the evils of racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s; war correspondents exposed some of the cruel violence of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s; major newspapers defied the U.S. government in printing the leaked history of that war in 1971; the Washington Post uncovered some (though clearly not all) of Richard Nixon’s political crimes in 1972-74; and the New York Times led the way in publicizing some of the CIA’s dirty history in the mid-1970s.

David and Charles Koch.

While such work surely offended the Right and many parts of the Establishment, the stories had a common element: they were true. They were not, in that sense, “liberal” or “conservative” or “centrist.” They were simply accurate – and they helped spur America’s other democratic institutions to life, from protests in the streets to pressures on the courts to citizens lobbying government officials.

It was that resurgence of participatory democracy that was the real fear for those who held entrenched power, whether in the segregationist South or inside the wood-paneled rooms of Wall Street banks and big corporations. Thus, there developed a powerful pushback that sought to both hold the line on additional (and possibly even more damaging) disclosures of wrongdoing and to reassert control of the channels of information that influenced how the American people saw the world.

In that context, one of the most effective propaganda strategies was to brand honest journalism as “liberal” and to smear honest journalists as “anti-American.” That way many Americans would doubt the accurate information that they were hearing and discard many real facts as bias.

As a journalist for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s, I encountered these hardball tactics while covering the Reagan administration as it sought to manage the perceptions of the American people mostly by hyping external threats (from Managua to Moscow) and demonizing some internal groups (from “welfare queens” to labor unions).

Reagan’s men described one of their central goals as “kicking the Vietnam Syndrome,” that is, the resistance among the American people to be drawn into another overseas conflict based on deceptions.

The Air Waves War

But the key to their success was to gain control of as much of the U.S. news media as possible – through direct ownership by like-minded right-wingers or by appeals to senior news executives to adopt a more “patriotic” posture or by intimidation of those who wouldn’t toe the line.

The tactics worked like a charm – and were aided by a simultaneous shift on the Left toward selling  off or shutting down much of the Vietnam-era “underground” press and instead concentrating on local organizing around local issues, “think globally, act locally,” as the slogan went.

This combination of factors essentially gave the Right and conservative elements of the Establishment dominance of the news. Like an army that controlled the skies, it could fly out and carpet-bomb pretty much anyone who got in the way, whether a politician, a journalist or a citizen. No truth-teller was safe from sudden obliteration.

The Right’s success could be measured at different mileposts in the process, such as the Republican containment of the Iran-Contra scandal in 1987 and President George H.W. Bush’s pronouncement after crushing the out-matched Iraqi army in 1991 that “we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”

This new media reality – as it expanded through the 1990s and into the new century – meant that the Right could put nearly any propaganda theme into play and count on millions of Americans buying it. Thus, President George W. Bush could make up excuses to invade Iraq in 2003 and face shockingly little media resistance.

Eventually a few voices emerged on the Internet and at some lower-rung news outlets to challenge Bush’s case for war but they could be easily discredited or ignored. It took Bush’s disastrous handling of the Iraq War and other domestic and foreign crises to finally put a wrench in this right-wing propaganda machine.

However, the overall dynamic hasn’t changed. Yes, MSNBC – after failing in its attempt to be as right-wing as Fox News – veered leftward and found some ratings success in offering “liberal” assessments on domestic politics (though still avoiding any serious challenge to the Establishment’s views on foreign policy).

There also are some feisty Internet sites that do challenge the conventional wisdom in support of U.S. interventionism abroad, but nearly all are severely underfunded and have limited reach into the broad American population.

Buying Up Newspapers

And, the likelihood now is that the Right will consolidate its dominance of the U.S. news media in the years ahead. In the very near future, some of the country’s most prominent regional newspapers may fall under the control of right-wing ideologues like Rupert Murdoch or the Koch Brothers.

Koch Industries, a privately owned oil and gas giant which has provided the means for Charles and David Koch to lavishly fund libertarian think tanks and Tea Party organizations, is now exploring a bid to buy the Tribune Company’s eight regional newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel, the Hartford Courant and the Chicago Tribune, according to a report in the New York Times last Sunday.

By buying the Tribune newspapers, the Koch Brothers would give themselves another strong platform for delivering volleys of right-wing propaganda and wreaking havoc on political adversaries. I remember in my days covering Capitol Hill being told that what a congressman fears most is the determined opposition of the hometown newspaper.

Another expected bidder, at least for the Los Angeles Times, is media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who already owns Fox News and powerful newspapers in the United Kingdom and the United States, including the Wall Street Journal.

On the other side of the bidding are some liberal-oriented businessmen eying the Los Angeles Times, but it is not clear if they can compete with the fat wallets of the Koch Brothers and Murdoch. The New York Times reported that Koch Industries might have an edge in the competition because it would take over all eight newspapers at once.

Some on the Left mock the idea of investing in the “dinosaur” industry of newspaper publishing and question the value of owning even some of these prestigious names in American journalism. It is certainly true that those newspapers have declined in recent years due to poor management and shifts in advertising dollars.

But they still influence how people in those metropolitan areas learn about the world. The newspapers also help set the news agenda for local TV stations and bloggers. The Baltimore Sun, for instance, produced some of the most important reporting on the Reagan administration’s human rights crimes in Central America, as well as publishing groundbreaking stories about domestic spying under George W. Bush.

Yes, some of these newspapers have disgraced themselves in recent decades, such as the Los Angeles Times’ shameful attacks on journalist Gary Webb after he revived the Reagan administration’s Contra-cocaine scandal in the late 1990s. [See Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

But Internet sites – even ones like Consortiumnews.com with a strong interest in doing investigative journalism – lack the financial resources and the editorial support to carry out those kinds of costly investigative projects, at least with any regularity.

Without major investments by honest Americans in honest journalism – whether the Old Media of print or the New Media of electronics – the United States will continue to drift into a made-up world of right-wing paranoia and pretend facts. And that is a danger for the entire planet.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

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15 comments on “It’s the Media, Stupid!

  1. Lynne on said:

    I have always believed the corporate right realized the power of controlling the message and have been building a powerful vertical infrastructure for the last 3 decades starting with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 86…No coincidence that RUSH came on the scene in 87
    Joseph Goebbels recipe(paraphrased) You can control a people any where at any time by doing 3 things
    1. Always have an enemy (GOVT, Obama, illegals, gays etc)
    2. Always be the UBER Patriot (see Tea Party group names or listen to Fox and AM RADIO)
    3. Always have the means to saturate and repeat and repeat and repeat your message until it becomes the “truth” (see talk radio) It may be old technology but over 20 million listen DAILY

    • Frances in California on said:

      Your observations are astute, Lynne: The only hope lies in the verticality. All Empires crash – this one will be no exception. The problem is, we’re underneath them.

  2. F. G. Sanford on said:

    It may be difficult to swallow, but Americans may have to face the reality that mediocrity and willful ignorance have become the norm in our society. If the Kochs can buy these papers and keep them in circulation, it just proves they have a better handle on America’s sentiments than those of us who find the idea repulsive. The great conceptual fallacy of the “Occupy” movement was the idea that it represented 99% of anything, let alone the political mood of the country. Of course, the delusional notion that anything could succeed without stating goals, aims or a strategy didn’t help. Nobody bothered to look into the bankrupt ideology of its feckless progenitor, David Graeber. No social movement succeeds without disrupting something. Just ‘being there” was Occupy’s apparent strategy. Thousands of people volunteered to get bludgeoned, brutalized, pepper sprayed and arrested for no specific goal. Those memories, in conjunction with the visual impact accomplished by the lockdown of Boston by martial law, have solidified in the public psyche the futility of the “right to assembly” and the “redress of grievances”. Unions once wielded power because they could exact a financial toll by stopping production. The Kochs have thus taken great pains to subvert unions, and the electorate, mind you, voted for the politicians that helped them do it. America, my friends, appears to despise even what little is left of its own freedom. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t keep voting against its own interests. If “Occupy” actually represented even 50% of anything, it could have bankrupted McDonalds, or CitiBank, or WalMart, or Kentucky Fried Chicken. It could have picked a minimum wage sweatshop and boycotted it nation-wide. With the political clout that would have inspired, it would have gotten immediate media attention. Jackass politicians fighting over gay marriage and gun laws instead of unemployed, sick, and poverty stricken Americans would have been trembling in their collective alligator shoes. Instead, Americans will likely be reading about the shortage of beds in “for profit” prisons and the need for more assault weapons, helicopters and armored military vehicles to maintain law and order in our crumbling cities. They’ll be reading about that in the Koch Brothers’ newspapers, because what Americans REALLY love is not their freedom. What they REALLY love is seeing somebody punished for being less fortunate than they are. If I’m wrong, they’ll simply boycott those newspapers…but don’t count on it.

    • FoonTheElder on said:

      The Kochs don’t buy these to run them profitably. They run them as a propaganda tool to prop up their other interests that give them much more money and power than they would ever get from the newspaper business. They already own the state government of Kansas.

      Also, media is not there to inform or entertain. It is there to sell advertising, mostly to big right wing corporations. Who better to sell advertising to the right wing than another of their fellow propagandists (see Fox News & Fox Street Journal).

      It’s difficult to boycott monopolies and oligopolies when they are the only game in town. In almost all cases there’s no difference between any of them when it comes to product or treatment of suppliers, customers and employees.

  3. Angelo on said:

    Great comment Lynn, perfect and to the point.

    I always felt the media was in the back pocket of Washington. AM radio became their launching pad for the right when it began to change in the mid 80′s. How many times can you call the media liberal. Look who owns the media today, that should say it all.

  4. Rehmat on said:

    Koch and Murdoch want to make sure that there is no independent news media to challenge the Jewish lobby’s grip over westerners’ minds.

    Two years ago, the disgraced Israel-Firster media tycoon, Rupert Murdoch, was honored by one of America’s top Israel lobby groups, ADL, for his “stalwart support of Israel and his commitment to promoting respect and speaking out against anti-Semitism”.

    Christopher Bollyn claimed in 2003 that Murdoch has Zionist Jewish family roots and he had prior knowledge of 9/11.

    In June 2012, former British prime minister Tony Blair’s ex-communications director, Alastair Campbell claimed in his diaries published by British daily The Guardian – that Murdoch called Blair on March 11, 2003 – eight days before US invasion of Iraq – urging him not to do anything that could delay the start of the invasion (for Israel).

    Campbell said that Murdoch had pledged that News International — the division which runs his British newspapers — would support Britain if it backed the United States on the issue….

    http://rehmat1.com/2012/06/17/alastair-campbell-murdoch-pushed-blair-into-iraq-war/

  5. Marty on said:

    Forget this latest attempt to control ALL forms of information. This shit started back in the 70′s with a lot of people associated to the Nixon admin. The big money “men” all figured out that in order to win and HOLD power they had to control ALL the messaging. They started the think tanks, the big money mailing lists, the religious right AND the education system with finally the media. We ARE now a fascist state. The interesting for many of you to watch for now is the exodus of academics, professionals and skilled workers to other countries. I really hate to compare anything recently happening in this country to another regime/time, BUT an awful, awful of stuff that has been happening for the last 30-40 yrs looks like Germany in the 30′s.

    It was fun while it lasted folks.

  6. Bernice Vetsch on said:

    Might you, Mr. Parry, be able to contact Mr. Soros’s foundation to see if they would purchase the Tribune Company (which comprises not just the LA and Chicago papers, but several smaller ones and a number of TV stations) in order to help halt the spread of Foxification that has already infected so much of our media?

    The foundation’s purpose is to support a free press all over the world, which surely includes America. THANK YOU for your article.

  7. Marion Aird on said:

    “The power of the press belongs to those who own one.” -H.L. Menken

    Here’s hoping the power of the internet will hold off the vultures.

  8. RALEIGH MONROE on said:

    HAPPY DAYS ARE HEAR AGAIN THE SKY IS BLUE AND CODE BLUE IS ON THE WAY.

  9. YouPeopleAreFdUp on said:

    Wow, you people are nuts. Anyone with a different thought or belief than you is obviously a psyhcopath! And the whole time you claim YOU ARE THE ONES WITH OPEN MINDS!

    • robin woollacott on said:

      ‘You people are nuts’? Hmm,you might be in the wrong part of the internet,friend. 7th grade name-calling belongs on the play ground. I think you’ll find that the tendencies alluded to are sociopathic rather than psychopathic. You know,behaviour that lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.Please, make no mistake;the high-jacking of information streams to advance a minority groups agenda is exactly that by defintion.The majority of society is being influenced to a position that is contrary to their best interests. If you are ok with that then you are either a stool pidgeon peddling disinformation or sociopathic yourself. Maybe head over to Murdochland , friend.

    • robin woollacott on said:

      Oh,another thing;”YouPeopleAreFdUp”?? Have the courage of your convictions and at least use your real name.Unless of course your superiors have suggested not too hehe. Sorry,being goofy,i guess.Well,it’s either that or you’re a coward; neither option being all that palatable.

  10. air jordan on said:

    I guess no one here saw the report about the ‘person of interest’ that was and then wasn’t and then was in the news….