1. The Great Media Sell-Out to Reaganism
Mother Jones 1663 Mission Street, 2nd Fl. San Francisco, CA 94103 Date: May/June
1992 Title: "Journalism of Joy" Author: Ben H. Bagdikian
SYNOPSIS: During the 1980s, the big media owners had reason
to celebrate. Reaganism ushered in the era of giant, monopolistic media
Take, for example, the big three networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC. Each
was acquired by corporations that might have been deemed unqualified
under earlier FCC standards. In return, big media dispensed relentlessly
positive news about Reaganism and the great trickle-down dream. The
FCC also relieved broadcasters of traditional public service requirements,
made it almost impossible for citizens' groups to challenge station
license renewals and lifted limits on the number of stations a single
corporation can acquire.
Newspapers enjoyed the Reagan era as well. In 98 percent of U.S. cities,
the daily news business was already controlled by monopolies. But the
administration further sedated anti-trust laws to permit the biggest
newspaper chains to sweep up local monopolies. In addition, the National
Labor Relations Board, stacked with pro-management members, gave the
media giants permission to go on a ten-year union busting spree. And,
like all big business, the broadcasters and print publishers benefited
from Reagan's shifting of corporate taxes onto the middle class and
the poor -- but Americans did not see much coverage of that on television
or in print media.
self-satisfied climate of comfort the normal restraint, traditionally exercised
by most media owners, over inserting corporate propaganda into the news crumbled,
leading to some startling changes in the industry. For example, top editors were
made part of the business management team, responsible for keeping up advertising
lineage as well as overseeing editorial content. Many Time, Inc., editors received
stock options; not surprisingly, many editors started to think more like stockbrokers
Another disturbing management practice that evolved out
of that era was the policy of conducting systematic screenings of new reporters
to keep out journalists who might not readily comply with corporate wishes or
who might join newsroom unions. Some major news companies, including Knight-Ridder
(the nation's second largest newspaper chain), do such screening through mandatory,
lengthy psychological questionnaires of potential new reporters. Others, including
some papers in Gannett, the largest newspaper chain, order editors to be deliberately
blunt in interviews so that applicants know the company wants only "team
players" who won't rock the boat and who aren't in favor of unions. Hiring
reporters who are not inclined to question authority is one sure way to control
Ben Bagdikian observes, "During the degradation of the 1980s,
government lying was too willingly supported by the media; high crimes
and misdemeanors by the president of the United States became an acceptable
public boast; looting the public treasury and cheating the citizens
were treated by most editors as necessary for liberation of the marketplace.
For almost ten years, the media remained silent on the obvious -- that
Reaganite politics were taking a frightful toll in human suffering and
crippling the economy."
Ominously, Bagdikian warns,
"From that kind of public morality neither the country nor journalism will
SSU Censored Researcher: Amy Cohen
COMMENTS: This story about the capitulation of the nation's
watchdog press during the Reagan/Bush administrations is the appropriate
top Censored story of 1992 since it cuts to the core of Project Censored.
In brief, it confirms that the nation's major
news media have overlooked, under-covered or censored information about high crimes
and misdemeanors on the part of the administration, in return for "permission"
to create giant, monopolistic media empires. In other words, news today is defined
more with an eye on the bottom line than with a concern for the public's right
This extraordinary charge can be traced back to 1982, when Ben
Bagdikian completed research for his book, The Media Monopoly. At the time, he
found that some 50 corporations controlled half or more of the media business
in the U.S. By December 1986, when he finished a second edition of the book, the
50 corporations had shrunk to 29. By June 1987, when Bagdikian wrote an article
for EXTRA!, the number was down to 26. In the fourth edition of The Media Monopoly,
published in 1993, the number has dropped to 23.
"The Information Monopoly,"
by Bagdikian, was the top Censored story of 1987. It warned that the media's prevailing
concern with the bottom line, coupled with traditional publishers' tendencies
to avoid controversy, fosters widespread self-censorship among writers, journalists,
editors and news directors.
The threat of a media monopoly took on global
implications by 1989 when Bagdikian wrote "Lords of the Global Village"
for The Nation (June 12, 1989). Selected as the #1 Censored story of 1989, it
warned about the big five international media corporations that dominated information
dissemination in the global village. The corporations cited by Bagdikian were
Time Warner, Inc., the world's largest media corporation; the German-based Bertelsmann
AG, owned by Reinhard Mohn; Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, Ltd., of Australia;
Hatchette SA, of France, the world's largest producer of magazines; and the U.S.
based Capital Cities/ABC Inc.
At the time, Bagdikian warned that the basis for all liberty-freedom
of information is in danger of being polluted by a new mutation of that
familiar scourge of the free spirit: centrally controlled information.
And now, more than ten years after Bagdikian first tried to warn us
about the dangers of monopolization, he's back with the top Censored
story of 1992, revealing how some of those dangers have now taken their
Bagdikian reports that
his Mother Jones article was referred to or quoted or excerpted in some of the
alternative media, and that the response there was fairly active for a time. But,
he adds, "So far as I know it was neither quoted nor excerpted in any of
the standard, mainstream media."
He also points out the dangers of
ignoring the threats to a free flow of information: "If the flaws I pointed
to had not occurred in the major media, we might have avoided the worst of the
savings and loan disaster, the weakening of the rest of the banking system and
the general self-destruction of corporate America, with its subsequent unemployment
Further, he says, "If the main media's blind eye toward the accumulating
wreckage of Reaganite policies while he was in office had been broken
during the 12 years of Reagan-Bush, it might have changed the political
support of leaders who pushed these policies -- Reagan and Bush themselves
-- and it would have shown the vulnerability of the media and of other
large corporations to destructive greed."
Bagdikian notes that the limited coverage given
his warnings benefited the "main media, whose corporations made unprecedented
profits under the programs whose consequences on the economy they did not report
accurately, all of corporate big business, and the politicians like Reagan and
Bush who opened the floodgates to them."
PLEASE NOTE: Despite its criticism
of publishing monopolies, the 4th Edition of Ben Bagdikian's The Media Monopoly,
published in 1993 by Beacon Press, is now supposed to be in bookstores across
the country. Or, as Ben says, at least in discriminating bookstores across the
country. If all else fails, check a college bookstore or ask your local bookstore
to order it.