November 14, 2002

The Crisis of the Fourth Estate

In "Mainstream Journalism: Shredding the First Amendment", Jon Prestage in Online Journal points out the accentuated importance of an independent press when all three branches of government are controlled by the same extreme faction of the Republican party. Unfortunately, the dismal reality is that the fourth estate is also controlled by the same oligarchy. What then are we to do?

Obviously, alternative media is absolutely essential if democratic government is to have any future, and its importance cannot be overstated. No matter how it is done, information that is outside the system of information controlled by the ruling oligarchy must be circulated. There is an impressive grassroots movement of this kind in progress now. The results of the alternative media may not seem very impressive when you look at how bad things are now in this darkest hour. But seen in terms of the vigor of the alternative media that has sprouted out since the coup of 2000, it is quite an impressive phenomenon.

I believe it is becoming apparent to more and more Americans that the glitzy production values of TV news, or the large news organization and profitability of the New York Times are of little value if the media will not -- or cannot -- tell the truth. This is the ultimate value that could be offered in that market. But it is the one thing that is almost universally not offered in the commercial media.

True the established commercial media can tell the truth about some things, just not anything that might offend the powerful. The realm in which those media can tell the truth is diminishing just as the need to talk about what does offend the powerful is increasing to crisis levels.

From the people I talk to, I get the impression more and more people are losing trust in the big media, just dropping out in a sense. As one consumer, my "media consumption" has greatly decreased since the not-election of 2000. And I encounter many others who have also turned away from the media in disgust. It amounts to a media boycott and if it gains momentum, it could force those institutions to change.

The ongoing diet of crisis the majors spew out does cause their numbers to spike, but it is questionable how sustainable that strategy is. People will adapt to anything, even war all the time. They have done it many times before and are doing it in various "trouble spots" around the world now. There is a limit to how much the rulers can manipulate the population through fear. People will grow virtually immune to all the crisis after a while.

CNN's loss of ground in the ratings war against Fox is a reflection of the defection of middle of the road, working Americans. CNN responded by becoming more right wing, similarly to how the Democrats played this last election. It seems that rightward is the only direction any of the establishment knows how to move anymore. I can't help but suspect that if any of them did cater to those abandoned middle-of-the-road Americans, they would reap a great bonus in customer loyalty. But they don't seem interested in that market. Why?

If they are losing at least some of their audience, and are not adjusting by offering the view of the real political majority, then we have to consider that their purpose may be something other than serving their viewers. And in fact, if we look closely we realize they make more of their money from their advertisers than from their audiences, then it becomes apparent that they may have little motivation to cater to their real interests. Brainwashing may ultimately be more profitable than catering to the needs and wants of your audience.

Those who explain all the crap in the media by saying, "They just do whatever makes money," are missing the fact that the major corporations who sponsor the news -- e.g. control it -- may make more money from the political agenda than from anything their audiences are buying. In that case the media would have primarily one purpose, to help facilitate the political agenda of their owners. It seems likely that that is pretty much the case. To be able to take a reasonably sane approach to a very unsane world, we have to keep it clearly in mind that the media's primary function is not to inform us, not even to entertain us. Even the traditional motivation of wanting to sell to us may be less important to their bottom lines than keeping us distracted while they hustle tax breaks from politicians they paid to elect, or international exploitations that reap them billions in booty.

Just don't believe them. They are not to be trusted.

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