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 didnâ€™t attend some of the recent progressive conferences â€“ like â€œTake Back Americaâ€ or the â€œYearly Kos Conventionâ€ â€“ where media was on the agenda. The short answer is that I have been to progressive meetings in the past where media was discussed â€“ 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 â€“ with ominous portents for Election 2006 â€“ well-heeled liberals remain mostly passive.
And this pattern has been going on for years.
In the 1990s â€“ after I left Newsweek over internal battles about what I viewed as the magazineâ€™s mis-reporting of the Iran-Contra Affair â€“ 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, â€œOh, we donâ€™t do media.â€ Another liberal foundation actually banned media-related proposals.
Itâ€™s as if American liberals and possibly some tribe in Borneo are the only groups on earth who donâ€™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 â€“ including many who made their fortune in the entertainment media â€“ just couldnâ€™t get their brains around the need to build strong media outlets for honest journalism.
There were always reasons why that couldnâ€™t happen. One plan was too ambitious; another plan wasnâ€™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 couldnâ€™t pay professional salaries or achieve necessary technical standards.
Or there were self-absorbed discussions about how liberals donâ€™t need media the way conservatives do because liberals are more free-thinking. Or there was the defeatism about how liberal talk radio couldnâ€™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 â€œconsortiumâ€ in our title was to stress our view that the only hope for achieving the honest media needed to address Americaâ€™s political crisis was to pull together substantial resources for building strong media outlets and producing quality journalistic content.
But whenever Iâ€™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 didnâ€™t see media as all that important.
Even in the past year when some liberal foundations have told me that â€œoh, we now get the media thing,â€ 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 â€œoutlets and content,â€ one of them responded, â€œoh, those are just words.â€ What they decided to do with their money was to support â€œmedia reform,â€ i.e. organizing around media issues.
After this yearâ€™s â€œTake Back Americaâ€ 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, â€œAll they care about is organizing.â€
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.