Several commenters to Dear Media, Part I pointed to corporate ownership of media as the cause of media corruption. Corporate ownership certainly is an important factor, but the situation is more complex than that. And worse.
Don Hazen provides a glimpse of the bigger problem we’re up against:
Consider that the conservative political movement, which now has a hammerlock on every aspect of federal government, has a media message machine fed by more than 80 large non-profit organizations â€“ let’s call them the Big 80 â€“ funded by a gaggle of right-wing family foundations and wealthy individuals to the tune of $400 million a year.
And the Big 80 groups are just the “non-partisan” 501(c)(3) groups. These do not include groups like the NRA, the anti-gay and anti-abortion groups, nor do they include the political action committees (PACs) or the “527” groups (so named for the section of the tax code they fall under), like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which so effectively slammed John Kerry’s campaign in 2004.
To get their message out, the conservatives have a powerful media empire, which churns out and amplifies the message of the day – or the week – through a wide network of outlets and individuals, including Fox News, talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, Oliver North, Ann Coulter, as well as religious broadcasters like Pat Robertson and his 700 Club. On the web, it starts with TownHall.com
Fueling the conservative message machine with a steady flow of cash is a large group of wealthy individuals, including many who serve on the boards of the Big 80.
Needless to say, there’s not exactly a wall of separation between the right-wing media machine and corporate media managers, although it’s hard to say if media-VRWC relationships are primarily ideological or financial. In the case of the big publicly owned companies, sooner or later profits will trump all, I suspect. According to OpenSecrets.org reveals that many of the parent corporations, such as Time Warner (CNN, Time), General Electric (NBC, Newsweek), Disney (ABC), and CBS, donate more money overall to Democrats than to Republicans. On the other hand, and not surprisingly, News Corporation (Fox), the National Association of Broadcasters (an industry group representing commercial radio and television stations), and Clear Channel donate more to Republicans than to Democrats.
But if ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN, and their various print affiliates aren’t altogether in bed with the Right, why does right-wing ideology permeate so much of the news they produce? As explained here,
There is an important dynamic relationship between right-wing alternative media and the corporate media. Many of the conceptual frameworks and arguments used to marginalize left and liberal ideas in the media are first developed at think tanks funded by right-wing foundations and corporations. After these ideas are sharpened through feedback at conferences and other meetings, they are cooperatively field-tested within right-wing alternative media such as small-circulation newsletters and journals, and also by tracking responses to rhetoric in direct mail appeals. As popular themes that resonate with conservative audiences emerge, they are moved into more mainstream corporate media through columns by conservative luminaries, press releases picked up as articles in the print media, conversations on radio talk shows, and discussions on TV news roundtables.
Once the talking points are developed, right-wing operatives make sure the talking points permeate mass media. This Media Matters report shows how right-wing spin dominates Iraq War news and debate throughout mass media, for example.
And who are the operatives? A lot of them are grown in VRWC laboratories. In his book Lapdogs, Eric Boehlert describes the petrie dish Ann Coulter crawled out of:
Coulter wasn’t merely a controversial pundit; she was a pure product of the Beltway’s right-wing culture and career track. Coulter put in time clerking for Pasco Bowman II of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, litigated for the Center For Individual Rights, a right-wing advocacy group, and worked as a flak for Michigan Republican Senator Spencer Abraham. She then went on to write High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton; Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right; and Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism. [p. 113]
Several of Coulter’s books were published by Regnery, which has been accused of “promoting” books by arranging bulk purchases to push up sales figures and place books on best-seller charts. The authors then make the rounds of talk shows, repeating the books’ propaganda points as they go. Whether anyone actually reads the books is not really the point. Recently, other major book publishers have begun to publish for the right-wing market. Coulter’s most recent book, which has come under accusations of plagiarism, was published by Random House.
Thus Coulter, who had never exhibited so much as a spark of insight, wit, originality, or intelligence, is promoted to mass media prominence by the VRWC.
And this is something the Right does very well. It finds “talent,” or whatever it is about Coulter they find valuable, and mentors, grooms, and promotes that talent and gets it in front of the public. The Left? Fuhgeddaboudit.
The Right began to build its think tank-media infrastructure in the 1970s, This was, as I explained in the previous post, the same time that the Left was coming apart.
The story of the conservative rise that Stein portrays begins back in the early 1970s, when there was panic among conservatives, especially in corporate boardrooms, that capitalism was under serious attack, and something drastic had to be done about it. …
… The conservative right, starting with seed money from the Coors Brewing family and Richard Mellon Scaife’s publishing enterprise, moved forward … conservatives â€“ in spite of political differences, ego, and competing priorities â€“ were able to cooperate and develop a methodology that drives their issues and values relentlessly.
Starting with just a handful or groups, including the Heritage Foundation, in the early ’70s, the conservatives built a new generation of organizations â€“ think tanks, media monitors, legal groups, networking organizations, all driven by the same over-arching values of free enterprise, individual freedoms and limited government.
Hazen goes on to explain that various right-wing organizations work together to provide each other with speakers, guest “pundits,” and other resources. They also, apparently, work closely with producers of mainstream mass media talk shows on radio and television to provide bodies to staff the “roundtables” and other guest spots the programs need to fill.
And what are liberals and progressives doing to compete? As I explained here, not nearly enough.
Rightie media infrastructure isn’t the only reason why media is screwed up, however. More will be discussed in Part III.