How Crucial Is Media?

Perhaps the Right’s biggest advantage in U.S. politics is its advanced media infrastructure built over several decades and designed to reach the entire country on a variety of levels especially when it’s compared to the Left’s general neglect of a messaging system, an imbalance that Danny Schechter addresses.

By Danny Schechter

When do you feel like you are over the hill?

When you get letters like this one from Jose Hevia after writing an op-ed featuring an essay from your recent book Blogothon, recounting your experiences as a network-TV-insider-turned-independent-media-outsider. The essay offered a case study of how the nominally non-commercial network, PBS, turned its back on a human rights TV series I co-produced. It is about the challenges progressives face in offering a counter-narrative to parochial mainstream thinking.

My critical correspondent wondered what I was whining about: “Complaining that the old media is getting more and more monopolized Is … who cares about old media? Nobody is my inner circle under 30 watches old media any more. Bye.”

Occupy Wall Street poster for protest of the G-8 meeting outside Washington.

Take that, old man. Hahaha!.

I am not sure his view is totally true, what with the Comedy Channel, movie channels galore and unlimited sports coverage. The New York Times reports “Television is America’s No. 1 pastime, with an average of four hours and 39 minutes consumed by every person every day.”At the same time, Jose is right that Americans ages 12 to 34 are spending less time in front of TV sets. And, what they are not watching is traditional TV news, maybe because it is so uninteresting and disconnected from their lives.

One problem is that we live in a country where there’s plenty of news but little diverse interpretation, context and background. Viewers are interested when it is presented interestingly, not in canned infotainment-oriented formats. When it’s not, they’re not. Breaking news is everywhere only to be replaced by more breaking news that distracts your attention from what broke before.

It’s odd but almost all the most active and militant youth activists who disagree on so much agree that an 80-plus-year-old named Noam Chomsky is one of their heroes. Punk groups write songs praising him. His books are passed from hand to hand. They are the most popular titles in the Occupy Wall Street Peoples Library. Chomsky just released a pamphlet about Occupy.

A few years back, Chomsky got a rare long interview on cable TV. No, it wasn’t MSNBC or Fox or the Comedy Channel the networks that are widely watched but CSPAN’s Book TV. I stared at the screen for what seemed like forever to watch a scroll listing some 80 books he’s written go by ever so slowly. I am not sure how many people watched but it was fascinating.

I am nowhere near Chomsky’s prodigious output. I have ONLY written14 books not to mention essays published in scores of others. I am not sure it matters but I do what I can. And, yet, yes, as a journalist I am still a book guy because of my years as a student and immersion in a political culture that reveres ideas and intellectual thought.

At the same time I have also spent years inside the mainstream media machine where my work reached many more millions, even when I felt I was pumping it out into the maw where shows whiz by and are rarely remembered.

When I worked at ABC News, there was an expression that counseled producers not to get too detailed. The instruction was to avoid “MEGO” standing for “My Eyes Glaze Over.” That’s how they believe the audience reacts when exposed to too much analysis. They tune out!

So it’s not surprising that online media like You Tube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. are so popular. They are personal, quick, easy to upload to and snappy. The Occupy Movement has taken advantage of this technology, too, with websites and twitter feeds but to their credit, also longer-form outlets.

Old-time activists like one of my mentors as an organizer, Stanley Aronowitz, now a social theorist, believes many in this generation don’t understand the importance of reaching beyond their Facebook Friends and digital communities. He told me for a TV series I am doing about “Who Rules America”:

“We don’t have a Left that really continually, in an effective way, talks about who has power in America. The Occupy movement talked about ninety-nine percent being deprived of economic power and about inequality, but it is not even close to being an analysis that can be disseminated throughout the entire society.

“We don’t have a system of daily newspapers. We don’t have a weekly newspaper. We have Twitter. We have, you know, various other kinds of social media that we have access to, but it does not replace the kind of systematic analysis that can take place as a result of having our own media.”

Maybe that’s why I write a daily 3,000-word blog every day at and churn out books even though I know it’s a kind of Neanderthal pursuit in an age when even popular magazines and newspapers are facing enormous obstacles in reaching audiences. The book business seems to be barely limping along as a transition continues to heavily hyped digital nirvana.

At the same time, along with my younger critic, I do use and believe in the power of social media. I have had a computer since l981, and been online since ’86. I tweet (Dissector Events), have a Facebook page, use a smart phone, watch videos and relish the power of interactivity. I think we need to be involved in as many media outlets as we can be.

The journalist I co-founded Globalvision Inc. with, Rory O Connor, has a brilliant must-read book out on social media, Friends, Followers and The Future; How Social Media are Changing Politics, Threatening Big Brands, and Killing Traditional Media. (City Lights)

Yes, he’s right this “new” media is transforming our world and providing key tools that help organize revolts and even revolutions. It’s all very exciting, but also potentially dangerous as governments create cyber-war commands to use the Internet as a tool for aggressive intervention, spying, surveillance, information collection, and social control. Social Media also addicts us to big corporate brands with questionable commitments to change and democracy.

I am reminded of a poster I saw that was created by the students at the Beaux Arts College in Paris during the May-June 1968 uprising. The slogan was more of a mocking warning than a celebration. It read, “I Participate, You Participate. We Participate. They Profit!”

Democracy should not be about enriching a techno elite, giving us more toys and apps and devices to distract us from becoming the change makers we should be. (How much is Apple or Google giving back?) That’s why I wrote Blogothon with the title inspired by old TV telethons that once ran around the clock. I have been blogging almost every day since Sept. 11, 2001. I believe you need to have a regular presence to win influence.

If the progressive movement is to build support, it needs to be present in all media in an effort to reach and persuade the mainstream about why change is needed and how to go about it. It needs to critique old media and vitalize new Media. We have to build a mass audience for our ideas, not just focus on chatting with so-called friends. Outreach is essential without being condescending. We must influence the mainstream.

Then, we have to also go beyond media and get actively involved in the struggle to transform the status quo in an America of growing economic inequality, poverty and war. My Blogothon essays treat all of these issues with perspectives rooted in my long “career” in media and activism.

Have a read, and you tell me if they can contribute to the movement we need to build? Bye.

News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at In addition to Blogothon, Cosimo Books has also just published his Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street. His latest film is Plunder the Crime of our Time on the financial crisis as a crime story. ( He hosts News Dissector Radio Hour on Progrsssive Radio Network (, Comments to

3 comments for “How Crucial Is Media?

  1. May 20, 2012 at 03:24

    The social democratic Left” and those who have created its brave independent media achievements should not fault themselves for not competing well against the technocracy and consumerist culture.

    It is naive to believe that the unselfish compassionate few of our nation will ever win on any economic front against universal powerfully invidious narcissistic culture and society, against the ultra-commercialism, person-centered triumphalist heart of money-simbolist American culture and values.

    There are more urgent priorities that demand the main contribution of the left for its broadly well-informed, most preciously analytical peace makers and anti-war educators. For instance, those who work to make friends with the war-aversive Russians and the Muslims that we have provoked by a century long drive to control their energy sources and their imperialist or fundamentalist immortality projects.

    The mainstream citizens are intimidated by the let’s-fight and keep winning endlessly imperialistic half of our citizens.
    imperialistic half who dominate the left and the entire globe.

  2. May 20, 2012 at 01:32

    There are cultural and class realities that limit how popular the so called “Left” is likely to become compared to the conservative half of our nation.
    Foremost is the traditionalism of the “right,” which is fundamentalist about U.S militarism,for instance.

    The right believes that the wars and occupations that our military is forever creating are all necessary for “national defense.”

    They will not believe, for instance, that our nuclear-flaunted strategic policies are emerging nuclear genocide similar to the racist spiritual and ideological enthusiasm of inter-war Nazis and their allies.
    (Read “The Genocidal Mentality” by Robert Jay Lifton and Eric Markusen).

    The vast majority of conservatives and their allies are not aware that both the ten thousand Russian and the ten thousand U.S.”H bomb” missiles are all programmed to be launched in simultaneous vollies that will obliterate about two billion of the inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere and likely end human habitation of the planet by ten-plus years of “Nuclear Winter.”

    Conservatives cannot admit this is a thousand times more than patriotic “national defense.” For that reason alone they are threatening human survival naively propagandized with the dangerously comforting delusion that our anti-missile “Star Wars” program will shoot down the thousands of incoming Russian missiles. they are as deluded as the “invincible” German militarists of WWI and WWII.
    Read “How the End Begins” by Ron Rosenbaum. Keep an open mind and read about the real story of genocidal nuclearism.

  3. keyraul
    May 19, 2012 at 10:05

    as Tony implied I’m alarmed that some people can make $7325 in 1 month on the computer. have you seen this link

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