A closer look at the Bush record -- from
the war in Iraq to the war on the environment
take the exit ramp off the Bush presidency in November?
Colin Powell's Legend
Colin Powell's sterling reputation in Washington hides his life-long role
as water-carrier for conservative ideologues.
Recounting the controversial presidential campaign
Is the national media a danger to democracy?
The Clinton Scandals
The story behind President Clinton's impeachment
Pinochet & Other Characters
The Dark Side of Rev. Moon
Rev. Sun Myung Moon and American politics
Contra drug stories uncovered
How the American historical record has been tainted by lies and cover-ups
The October Surprise
The 1980 October Surprise scandal exposed
From free trade to the Kosovo crisis
Other Investigative Stories
Top Priority: Media
By Robert Parry
November 4, 2004
liberals and Democrats sort through what went wrong in Election 2004,
they should put at the top of their list the dangerous imbalance that
now exists in the national news media.
Over the past quarter century, the
conservatives/Republicans have built a huge, permanent media machine – a
vertically integrated structure that puts out the conservative message
on TV, with newspapers, through magazines, over radio stations, in books
and via the Internet.
Through all these forms of communication, in large
cities and small towns, the Right’s media is there for its listeners,
readers and viewers every day, year round, not just during election
cycles. Its impact is especially important in rural areas that don’t
have easy access to the variety of media found in urban centers.
Indeed, the conservative media’s role in firming up
rural America as a “red” Republican bastion is often overlooked. The
incendiary rhetoric on conservative talk radio has been a major factor
in convincing millions of these Americans that “liberals” are demons who
hate their country and love killing babies.
Meanwhile, trying to position itself in the center,
the mainstream or corporate media keeps tacking rightward to avoid
offending conservatives, who aggressively trash individual reporters and
news organizations if they are deemed to show any traces of liberalism.
Most notably, the major mainstream news outlets –
including the New York Times and the Washington Post – bent to George W.
Bush’s will when he was marching the country to war in Iraq in late 2002
and early 2003. But even earlier – during Bill Clinton’s administration
in the 1990s and Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000 – the
supposedly “liberal” mainstream press led the attacks on the Democrats.
[For example, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Gore
v. the Media.”]
Yet, as the conservatives were building their
imposing media infrastructure, the Democratic or liberal side was doing
next to nothing.
For various reasons, American liberals have opted
against investments in media, favoring instead grassroots activism and
various charitable endeavors. Some of the Left’s thinking goes back to
the early days of the labor movement when newspapers were seen as the
domain of plutocrats that could only be countered by the organized
What makes the liberal/Democratic strategy so
dangerous today, however, is that media saturates every corner of this
disparate American society. It has become the way for many millions of
Americans to understand the world around them and to bond with political
leaders and ideas.
Indeed, a great success of the
Republican/conservative movement has been to use media to organize
average Americans to vote for candidates whose platforms objectively
harm those very same Americans. They’re ready to follow Rush Limbaugh
because they have become comfortable with his daily message as they
drive to work, go out on errands or jump into a cab.
On another front, one cannot explain the pervasive
misinformation that is guiding much of the American population if the
conservative media is not considered.
Millions of regular listeners to Fox News, for
instance, base their judgments on verifiably false information, such as
the Bush administration’s propaganda about Iraq possessing weapons of
mass destruction and Saddam Hussein collaborating with al-Qaeda. Even
after those claims were debunked, recent polls showed that the
falsehoods were still accepted as articles of faith by large majorities
of George W. Bush’s supporters.
Conservative outlets also cooperate with each
other, achieving a “synergy” that some media corporations could only
envy. When conservative talk radio and TV promote a book by a right-wing
author – think Ann Coulter – it’s almost sure to hit the best-seller
list and get a prime spot in book stores. [For more on the Right’s media
strategy, see Robert Parry’s
Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]
So, a crucial challenge facing “blue” America now
is to get back in this media game, to challenge the current dynamic of
an aggressive conservative media forcing the mainstream press to scuttle
ever rightward. Given the conservatives’ quarter-century head-start, the
liberals have their work cut out for them. But here are a few
suggestions for making wise investments in media:
- Turn to professional journalists with a track
record of honesty and courage. The way to counter disinformation from
the Right is NOT to put out propaganda from the Left. Good journalism
that is both reliable and interesting will be the key – and
professional journalists are the ones who can best provide credible
information by maintaining high standards for accuracy.
- Invest the money where it is most needed, in the
information-warfare front lines, the media centers of Washington and
New York. For too long, what money liberals have put in media has gone
disproportionately to rear-guard cities, such as San Francisco, Boston
or even Madison, Wisconsin. By contrast, the conservatives invested
heavily in outlets based in Washington and New York, giving their
media operatives better access to government officials and TV
- Work with existing media outlets that have
national reach, including the likes of Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now,”
which airs both on Pacifica radio stations and on satellite networks,
Link TV and Free Speech TV. On the AM dial, Air America is
demonstrating how a liberal talk radio format can be both informative
- Perhaps most importantly, show urgency. The
warning signs about the power of the conservative media have been out
there since the 1980s. But alarm bells certainly should have gone off
in 1994 (the Gingrich revolution, which made Rush Limbaugh an honorary
member of the House of Representatives); in 1998-99 (the impeachment
of Bill Clinton); in 2000 (the stolen Gore-Bush election); and in
2002-03 (the Iraq War propaganda). Past delays have been very costly;
future delays could prove catastrophic.
The next four years are almost certain to be
dangerous ones for the American people and the world. The victorious
George W. Bush will interpret his three-percentage-point victory as a
resounding mandate to continue his right-wing policies at home and
abroad. After all, he lost the popular vote in 2000 and still treated
that as a mandate.
Though publicly the Bush victors are talking about
the need for national unity, privately conservatives already are vowing
to take a sledgehammer to the federal government and stack the courts
with reliably right-wing judges. In Iraq, Bush appears determined to
bring the full weight of American military might down on Fallujah and
other insurgent strongholds. Bloody crises are almost certain to follow
in other parts of Iraq and possibly elsewhere in the Middle East, such
In these next four years, more than ever, the
American people will need honest information, produced by courageous
journalists and delivered by media outlets that won’t flinch in the face
of political pressure. There is much work to be done – and it must begin
Robert Parry, who broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek, has written
a new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq. It can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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