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Take This Media...Please! | The Nation

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Take This Media...Please!

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See a dramatic visual depiction of the vast holdings of the "Big Ten" media giants. Macromedia Flash required.

Hussein Ibish

Hussein Ibish is communications director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

By demonstrating the extraordinary concentration of media power in the hands of a few massive corporations, this chart goes a long way toward explaining the persistent pattern of distortions in both the news and entertainment industries and the dearth of alternative voices and ideas. This is, in fact, the schematic of what Adorno called "The Great Wurlitzer," the loosely coordinated light and sound show that entertains and confounds the American public.

In terms of news coverage, it explains the homogeneity of the concerns and perspectives reflected in reportage and commentary, the exclusion of alternative perspectives and the propagation of a worldview determined by various forms of official rhetoric. Such power is jealously guarded against both domestic and international challenges, as demonstrated by the campaign of vilification against the Arabic-language newschannel Al Jazeera, which rose to prominence during the bombing of Afghanistan. This attack on Al Jazeera culminated in the deliberate bombing of its Kabul headquarters by the US military in the hours before the Northern Alliance entered the city.

For Arab-Americans, this concentrated media power means an almost complete lack of interest or understanding on the part of major American news organizations of the experiences and concerns of the Arab peoples, and a general tone of condescension, hostility and bias. In its most egregious form, regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it means a persistent pattern of privileging Israeli lives, security and concerns over those of Palestinians, against whom unparalleled levels of racist vitriol from commentators is considered legitimate.

The key industries of American mass culture, Hollywood and television, for decades have been bastions of anti-Arab stereotyping, and have consistently resisted positive or realistic representations of Arabs and Arab-Americans. Negative representations in popular culture reinforce, and are reinforced by, hostile journalism, confrontational academic polemics and government policies that are informed by anti-Arab bias and at times even act out stereotypes received from popular culture.

The result is a self-perpetuating vicious circle of negativity about Arabs, Arab-Americans and Muslims, who have been all-too-successfully represented as "the enemy" in contemporary American culture. Such generalized negativity is what allowed so many Americans to conclude that the September 11 attacks were somehow representative of Arab culture and/or Islam, leading to a massive backlash of hate crimes and discrimination. The corporate monopoly on media power represented in this chart helps insure that such negative images dominate the popular culture and cannot be easily challenged by alternatives.

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