Still Decompressed

This is an addendum to the post on the YearlyKos and Take Back America conferences I published yesterday at Unclaimed Territory, in which I complained that there was much talk of building progressive media infrastructure but no real plan for doing it. Robert Perry writes at Consortium News:

Some e-mailers and friends have asked why I didn’t attend some of the recent progressive conferences – like “Take Back America” or the “Yearly Kos Convention” – where media was on the agenda. The short answer is that I have been to progressive meetings in the past where media was discussed – and almost nothing gets done.

As the Right has built up a vertically integrated media infrastructure that stretches from newspapers, magazines and books to talk radio, cable news and well-funded Internet sites, wealthy liberals mostly have sat on their hands. Even now, as the Right expands that infrastructure horizontally down to state, district and local levels – with ominous portents for Election 2006 – well-heeled liberals remain mostly passive.

And this pattern has been going on for years.

In the 1990s – after I left Newsweek over internal battles about what I viewed as the magazine’s mis-reporting of the Iran-Contra Affair – I talked to executives of leading liberal foundations about the desperate need for building honest media in America. I often got bemused looks. One foundation bureaucrat laughed and announced, “Oh, we don’t do media.” Another liberal foundation actually banned media-related proposals.

It’s as if American liberals and possibly some tribe in Borneo are the only groups on earth who don’t understand the transformational power of media.

I believe we have progressed to the point that American liberals — the ones at the conferences, anyway — now understand that in the long run “building honest media” is our biggest and most essential task. Without this, even though we might win elections here and there, liberals cannot expect to take back any real political power or have any influence in American policies. But how do we do this?

Perry explains the steps taken by right-wing think tanks and foundations to build the Wingnut Echo Chamber that would assimilate most of the “MSM.” He continues,

Indeed, in the treatment of Clinton during his presidency and Gore during the pivotal Election 2000, it was difficult to distinguish between the hostility from the right-wing media and the venom from the mainstream media. Yet, wealthy liberals – including many who made their fortune in the entertainment media – just couldn’t get their brains around the need to build strong media outlets for honest journalism.

There were always reasons why that couldn’t happen. One plan was too ambitious; another plan wasn’t ambitious enough.

Other times, perfection became the enemy of the good. There were esoteric debates about how media outlets should maintain their purity by not taking commercials, even though that guaranteed that under-funded operations couldn’t pay professional salaries or achieve necessary technical standards.

Or there were self-absorbed discussions about how liberals don’t need media the way conservatives do because liberals are more free-thinking. Or there was the defeatism about how liberal talk radio couldn’t succeed. Some activists even thought one answer was to get Americans to stop watching TV (after all, the strategy to get Americans to turn off their radios had worked so well).

There was also a strange embarrassment on the Left about the importance of money in achieving what needed to be done. The reason we put the word “consortium” in our title was to stress our view that the only hope for achieving the honest media needed to address America’s political crisis was to pull together substantial resources for building strong media outlets and producing quality journalistic content.

But whenever I’d attend one of those progressive conferences, I left with the feeling that the people who had the money were not serious about doing anything with it, at least not on media. Or maybe they just didn’t see media as all that important.

Even in the past year when some liberal foundations have told me that “oh, we now get the media thing,” what they really wanted to do with their money was put it into activism on media issues, such as organizing demonstrations to oppose funding cuts at PBS.

When I spoke to two foundation officials a year ago and made my pitch for the need to support journalistic “outlets and content,” one of them responded, “oh, those are just words.” What they decided to do with their money was to support “media reform,” i.e. organizing around media issues.

After this year’s “Take Back America” assemblage of liberal activists had ended in Washington, I sat down with a West Coast friend who had attended the conference. He had been there pushing the need for investments in media and had concluded, “All they care about is organizing.”

Yeah, pretty much. That said, I think the YearlyKos media panel, which consisted of real smart people I had actually heard of — Jay Rosen, Christy Hardin-Smith, Jamison Foser, Duncan Black, and Matt Bai — was way better than the TBA media panel, in which some polling consultant took up most of the time. But without money there’s not much we can do but organize.

9 thoughts on “Still Decompressed

  1. As a commenter said the other day it is time to buy a cable station. and then push the message.

    sorry but I could not help compare this weeks mendacity to previous examples

    Bush on Kenny boy:” he contributed to the Richards campaign…”

    Bush on Plame: ” I don’t think we’ll ever find the leaker”

    Bush on Mine safety: ” Here’s a new law to keep guys like you from having to be asphyxiated’- had the nerve to suddenly care about safety after his administration quit enforcing the regulations…

    Snow: ” The president wants to end the war…” yeah like he couldn’t tomorrow, like his decisions didn’t put us in a can’t win can’t leave position.

    Bush on Gitmo: ” I’d like to close it down but can’t because the countries of origin won’t take them back…” like it was their country of origin’s bad decisions not his.

    Bush: ” I’m the CIC, my lawyers tell me that means I can do anything” But I can’t end the war close Gitmo or fix FEMA and when the birdflu hits( our favorite phrase, the corporate world has truly sold the public a turd here) ” You’re on your own”

    and the last phrase sums it up. We are in debt , governmental and personal,up to eyeballs in trade deficit, dependent on slave labor from mexico and in china, and interestrates, fuel, healthcare, education all jump higher every day and yes folks we are own our own. We are no longer a republic but a corporatocracy.
    We need our own media

    I started reading blogs in 2001 before 9/11 when I knew we were in deep shit. It has only gotten worse in 6 years. We blog and point out their lies spin adhminem lack of facts while they merrily screw us all and send our military to do an impossible job. The news still does not report the stories but makes up a line to keep certain people from ever looking bad( like Karl doesn’t have to testify in exchange for his butt getting covered) or ever using the L word( liar) or the I word( impeachment) because we must all focus on politeness. Usually when the focus on the surface is about such niceties, there is invariably a load of criminal and immoral behavior beneath
    Organizing is good and necessary and has to start locally etc but without media, without a megaphone, and with Leno and Oprah giving certain people/politicians a free access, we blog away in obscurity. It has been said over and over for 6 years but it will have to get very very bad economically and politically to get the sleeping masses to wake up and smell the stinch.

  2. “Some activists even thought one answer
    was to get Americans to stop watching TV
    (after all, the strategy to get Americans
    to turn off their radios had worked so well).”

    As far as I know there has never ever been
    any kind of movement to get Americans to
    turn off their radios. Plus there is no
    evidence that radios are harmful. With
    TV, on the other hand, there is a mountain
    of scienfic studies showing the harmful

    On our health:

    On our minds:

    On our democracy:

    The only way we can ensure consistent voter
    turnout, and a gentler and kinder America,
    is to encourage liberals and progressives to
    turn off the tube (or at least seriously
    curtail it).

    I agree that asking people to turn off
    their TV’s should not be the *only* Liberal
    strategy to reform media. But if we
    succeeded in getting a substantial number of
    people to cut back or eliminate TV it would
    have a huge beneficial political effect.

  3. The only way we can ensure consistent voter
    turnout, and a gentler and kinder America,
    is to encourage liberals and progressives to
    turn off the tube (or at least seriously
    curtail it).

    That makes no sense at all.

  4. I know it’s counter-intuitive, especially since
    TV is such a huge part of our lives.

    But, perhaps not that surprising considering
    that Americans watch (on average) over 4 hours of
    TV a day. That is about 2 hours a day for those
    working full time, and 6 to 8 hours for retirees,
    the unemployed school children, etc…

    Here’s a quote from:

    “Membership records of such diverse organizations
    as the PTA, the Elks club, the League of Women Voters,
    the Red Cross, labor unions, and even bowling leagues
    show that participation in many conventional voluntary
    associations has declined by roughly 25 percent to
    50 percent over the last two to three decades.
    Surveys show sharp declines in many measures of
    collective political participation, including attending
    a rally or speech (off 36 percent between 1973 and 1993),
    attending a meeting on town or school affairs (off 39 percent),
    or working for a political party (off 56 percent).”

    The more people are involved in civil society, the more
    they are involved in politics.

    From the Wikipedia definition of Civil society

    “They argued that the political element of many civil
    society organisations facilitates better awareness and
    a more informed citizenry, who make better voting choices,
    participate in Politics, and hold government to account
    better as a result [7].”

    “More recently, Robert Putnam has argued that even
    non-political organisations in civil society are vital
    for democracy. This is because they build social capital,
    trust and shared values, which are transferred into the
    political sphere and help to hold society together,
    facilitating an understanding of the interconnectedness
    of society and interests within it [8].”

    And there was another study linking the TV with
    low voter turnout.

    “As evidence for this, I show that the entry of television
    in a market coincided with sharp drops in consumption of
    newspapers and radio, and in political knowledge as measured
    by election surveys. I also show that both the information
    and turnout effects were largest in off-year congressional
    elections, which received extensive coverage in newspapers
    but little or no coverage on television.”

    Al Gore makes a similar argument here:

    “But in spite of these developments, it is television
    delivered over cable and satellite that will continue
    for the remainder of this decade and probably the next
    to be the dominant medium of communication in America’s
    democracy. And so long as that is the case, I truly
    believe that America’s democracy is at grave risk.”

  5. Terry, dear, although I agree that it would be grand if people got their faces out of the tube and became engaged in social and civic functions instead, it’s going to take a lot more than liberals not watching television to inject liberal values into national politics.

  6. “Terry, dear, although I agree that it would be grand
    if people got their faces out of the tube and became
    engaged in social and civic functions instead,
    it’s going to take a lot more than liberals not
    watching television to inject liberal values into
    national politics.”

    I know it’s a long shot, but lets say we (the liberal
    blogosphere) were able to convince one million liberals
    to give up TV. So, assuming these liberals had been
    watching 12 hours of TV per week (much less than
    the US average), that equals 12 extra hours per week
    of their life back. Now out of that 12 extra
    hours, lets say they volunteered (for liberal causes)
    an average of 1 hour per week. That would be one million
    extra volunteer hours per week. That’s got to have an

    Lets also say, some of these liberals decided not to
    volunteer any extra time, but instead just got more
    involved in their community, say by joining a bowling
    team. When election time comes up and a bowling teammate
    is leaning towards either not voting or voting Republican,
    our intrepid liberal can set him straight. So even this
    would have an impact.

    But even if it had no political impact (doubtful as the
    less tv watched, the more likely someone is to be
    involved politically), at least we would be improving
    immeasurably the lives of one million liberals. And that
    is indeed a worthy goal !!

  7. Terry —

    While I think it is true that contemporary TV-watching habits have contributed to a general disengagement from social and civic activities, it’s not the only factor causing that disengagement. And it does not follow that if you cut off peoples’ access to TV they will automatically look around and say, by golly, I’ve got two hours to kill before bedtime. I think I’ll go do something to save the environment.

    And the problem is not with liberals who watch TV. The problem is with everyone else who watches TV and is saturated with right wing propaganda from watching TV. If we aren’t aware of and engaged in fighting the propaganda, we aren’t going to be effective, period.

    If you could stop everyone ELSE but liberals from watching TV, then you’d be on to something. Otherwise, if we disengage from news media we’re going to be in a worse position to counteract the propaganda.

    On the other hand, people who are inclined to volunteer for liberal causes are going to do so whether they watch TV or not. In fact, what they see on TV might be just the thing that inspires them to volunteer.

  8. I’m posting from the heart of reddest Phoenix, possibly the most conservative large city in the US. A year or so ago, an Air America affiliate started to air. The radio station was profitable in a matter of months, which would have been startling even in the bluest city – most stations take years to start breaking even.

    Then a Christian radio station conglomerate came along and bought the station (reportedly for twice the going rate) to turn it into yet another religious-right station in a market already saturated with them. Many people felt that there was a concerted effort to keep liberal views off the air in Phoenix.

    Then something even more extraordinary happened. The listeners dug deep into their pockets to support Air America, and it was back on the air in a matter of weeks!

    The moral: even in an ultraconservative part of the country, people are crying out for an alternative to the never-ending barrage of wingnut noise. And even when we’re up against people with infinitely deeper pockets, we can prevail!

    It makes me want to bang my head against a wall when the high-priced Beltway-bubble consultants write off media. In every part of the country, people are desperate to hear progressive and moderate viewpoints. Put it on the air and they will tune in!

  9. Maha

    Well it seems you don’t buy the argument that
    TV (all TV, including left-wing TV) is harmful.

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree…

    But something to consider would be give up
    TV for a month, and take note of any changes
    in your life.

    Or gradually reduce TV viewing. Which is easier,
    but harder to keep track of any changes.

    I found when I gradually gave up TV, that it
    freed up time and that I felt less rushed.

    Also for a long time I had wanted to stop
    procrastinating (but kept putting it off).
    After greatly reducing my TV watching, I finally
    bought a book on how to stop procrastinating,
    read it, and then made a point of getting
    organized. I also felt sharper and more
    sociable (a good thing for an introvert).

    Anyway, something to think about…


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