Good News, Bad News
The good news is that – thanks to our readers – we did meet the grant challenge from a donor.
Counting that money, plus sums raised earlier for our spring fund drive, we are now about one-fourth of the way toward our goal of $40,000. [If you want to help us get the rest of way there, click here.]
The bad news is that many big donors are staying on the sidelines, not just for us but for other independent media outlets.
It is also very sad news that “The Peter B. Collins Show,” a high-quality liberal talk radio program on the West Coast, has announced that it is shutting down after today. Collins is a talented interviewer with a smartly formatted show offering three hours of interesting content a day.
A while back, I became a regular weekly guest on his Friday show. And it soon became clear to me that “The Peter B. Collins Show” was exactly the kind of radio programming that America needs.
But Collins encountered the same shortage of interest and support from wealthy liberals that has been the bane of independent media for years.
Indeed, one could argue that the disparity between how wealthy conservatives have lavished money on right-wing media outlets and how well-to-do liberals did the opposite – essentially starving progressive and independent media – goes a long way toward explaining the financial, political and strategic mess that the United States finds itself in today.
It is hard to envision eight disastrous years of George W. Bush and, now, six full years of the bloody Iraq War without factoring in the Right’s powerful media infrastructure, the fawning mainstream/corporate media, and the absence of any countervailing information sources that come close to matching up.
When I was researching a story this week about the decline of the Washington Post, I came upon a story that I wrote in June 2005 entitled “The Real Lessons of Watergate.” One of the lessons learned by the Right was that Republicans needed a system of media protection so they could prevent another catastrophe like Richard Nixon’s ouster for abusing his presidential powers.
In the late 1970s, Nixon’s former Treasury Secretary William Simon, then head of the Olin Foundation, began pulling together like-minded conservatives who made strategic investments in right-wing media outlets. They also poured money into attack groups that went after troublesome mainstream journalists -- and into think tanks.
Over the years, other rich right-wingers joined in, like South Korean theocrat Sun Myung Moon and Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Eventually, a vertically integrated right-wing media machine took shape, from magazines, newspapers and books to talk radio, cable TV and the Internet.
The right-wing attack groups also targeted mainstream journalists, like myself, who dug up information that didn’t fit with the propaganda that Republican administrations were dispensing to the American public. Many of us saw our careers damaged or destroyed.
In the 2005 article, I quoted longtime congressional staffer Spencer Oliver, who was one of the Democrats at the Watergate offices whose phone was bugged by Nixon’s operatives. Oliver said:
“What [the Republicans] learned from Watergate was not ‘don’t do it,’ but ‘cover it up more effectively.’ They have learned that they have to frustrate congressional oversight and press scrutiny in a way that will avoid another major scandal.”
Yet, while the American Right took away that lesson from Watergate – and acted on it – the American Left grew complacent, apparently expecting that the mainstream U.S. news media would continue keeping a watchful eye on government wrongdoing and that liberal money could go elsewhere.
So, as the Right was building a powerful nationwide media apparatus – influencing Americans from all regions and all walks of life – the Left was operating under the slogan, “think globally, act locally” and was focused on “grassroots organizing” or trying to cope with problems that the Right’s policies exacerbated, like feeding the swelling ranks of homeless and hungry.
For some reason that I never understood, what little media the American Left had was concentrated in San Francisco, a pleasant place to live but one of the least consequential news centers among major American cities. In short, on the Left, there was a lack of seriousness regarding this emerging media crisis.
Starting in the early 1990s, I began approaching wealthy liberals and left-of-center foundations to tell them about the dangerous media trends that I was witnessing. I would often get back blank stares. One foundation executive laughed and told me, “we don’t do media.”
Nevertheless, in 1995, I thought that perhaps the best way to proceed was to follow the old journalism maxim, “show, don’t tell.” So, I cashed out my Newsweek retirement account and – with the help of my oldest son, Sam – launched the Web site, Consortiumnews.com.
I hoped that once we showed how much quality journalism could be produced and disseminated over the Internet at a very low cost, some potential funders would get off the sidelines and into the game. But they didn’t.
Then, after the right-wing-media-driven Clinton impeachment mess, I again thought that more people would grasp the importance of media. But again, I was wrong.
After the fiasco of Election 2000 – when Al Gore was mocked regularly by the right-wing and mainstream media, which then accepted (or cheered) George W. Bush’s theft of the White House – I again trusted that the need for honest media would become obvious. I was wrong once more.
Then came the news media’s complicity in the WMD lies and the Iraq invasion, followed by the right-wing “swift-boating” of John Kerry and Bush’s second term. Surely, the large funders finally would understand the urgency of building honest media outlets and supporting honest journalism.
That was when I wrote the 2005 article, which had a hopeful – but skeptical – tone to it. I wrote:
“When asked about media these days, well-placed liberals will say, ‘now we get it.’ But there has yet to be much follow-through, as the need to establish independent media outlets remains mostly an afterthought among progressive funders.”
Remarkably, four more years later, even as right-wing and mainstream news outlets are ganging up on President Barack Obama – much like they did on President Bill Clinton – the progressive funders continue to grossly underfund media outlets.
Their hope seems to remain that the problem will somehow solve itself, that some metaphorical pendulum will swing, that some regulation might do the trick. But all that is “magic thinking,” unrealistically trusting that some supernatural intervention will happen before it’s too late.
The truth is that there is no answer other than doing the hard work and investing some serious money. Until liberal funders realize that they must engage fully in what the Right likes to call the “war of ideas,” there will be many more casualties among those who tried to do the right thing and were taken down for lack of resources.
People, for instance, like Peter B. Collins who developed a fine radio show from his own talent and grit – only to see his dream shattered.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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