The Big, Bad Media and You

The Big, Bad Media and You

The Big, Bad Media and You

Our Big Ten media issue (


The Big, Bad Media and You

Our Big Ten media issue (Jan. 7/14) drew much mail. Letter writers were delighted with our “flashy” foldout Media Chart and with the three pages of alternative media sources nominated by our readers. (Even with the deadline long past, more flowed in, e.g., “I can’t believe no one nominated——–.”) Teachers ordered extra copies for use in their classrooms. “Maybe the Internet will save us,” hoped a reader. “Give me Ani DiFranco over Peter Jennings any day,” opined another. One reader suggested we start up a progressive news network–PNN anyone?
      –The Editors

New York City

What’s wrong with the picture is that Mark Crispin Miller is barking up the wrong tree [Miller, “What’s Wrong With This Picture?”]. And it is a very old one. We’ve been railing about media conglomerates for thirty-five years. What’s changed? Very little. Twenty-five years ago I published a book called Media Culture. It included extensive maps showing who owned the media then. After reading Miller’s piece I went searching for a copy.

I compared my aging, yellowed charts to your snappy, colorful “flash” charts. About the only significant difference I could find between 1976 and 2002 is that the conglomerates that now own the media seem to be more varied and more international than they were back in those earlier days. In the seventies, it was all-American. Now, with the rise of Sony, Bertelsmann and Vivendi, control is shared with Europeans and Japanese. Globalization.

To convince me that things are worse now than they were a generation ago, you’ll have to explain to me the difference between Gulf + Western and Viacom, or Liberty Media and TCI, or Coca-Cola and Sony. I can’t see any. (Miller actually knows this. Several times in the piece he alludes to the lack of significant difference; he just doesn’t confront the implications.)

Meanwhile, both the means of production and the means of distribution are vastly more democratic now than they were then. There are hundreds of channels instead of dozens. Anyone can write a book, make a movie, record a song and make it available to the world twenty minutes later. So why aren’t things any better? It’s the culture, stupid. And that is as much leading critic Mark Crispin Miller’s fault, and mine–and maybe yours–as it is Steve Case’s and Thomas Middelhoff’s and Rupert Murdoch’s.

Before it fades ignominiously from the scene, the generation of the sixties needs to confront its remarkable failure to move past the day the music died. We owe a big apology to our children. If I were them, I don’t think I would forgive us.


Tesuque, N.M.

I agree with Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols but sadly disagree with their conclusion [“The Making of a Movement”]. There is no lack of media coverage concerning the fact that some of our President’s biggest financial donors at Enron defrauded their stockholders, leaving Enron employees jobless while raking in millions in stock options. The problem is not that people don’t have outlets to find out this information; it is that they do not care.

I only wish the problem was the media and that by getting “the facts” into the hands of “the people” they would be outraged at the course our country is on. But sadly the problem is not so simple. I have not been so ashamed of the cowardly nature of my fellow citizens since the 1950s, when they lined up to “fight communism” and informed on their neighbors. It is hard to imagine that we are the same nation that fought the Second World War and took to the streets to protest the Vietnam War.

My greatest fear is that, having discovered how war has suppressed political discourse, the Bush cabal will lead our country down a course of war without end. We are still a republic. If we embark on this dark course, it will be the fault of the citizens of the United States, not the corporate media.


Issaquah, Wash.

As an analyst who focuses on interactive television, I believe that the vertical integration of the media companies goes much further. Television is increasingly delivered over two-way digital networks, making the network a vehicle through which the subscriber can now interact directly with TV programs and advertising content. Service providers harnessing interactive TV technologies can now automatically, and anonymously, build profiles of individual TV viewing patterns, so they can target advertising and direct “upgrade” messages to subscribers, while giving the media company a sort of “instant Nielsen” rating so it can further increase the revenues from advertisers.

Moreover, most of these media conglomerates have stakes in (or own) the technology companies building these interactive TV products, many of which are designed to personalize the TV viewing experience right down to the individual subscriber. Some examples of this complete vertical integration start with the positions stated in the article and extend from there:

AOL owns Time Warner, CNN, HBO; operates a major cable-television service company, and much more; has stakes in OpenTV, Liberate and TiVo; and also owns Netscape.

GE owns NBC and Microsoft = MSNBC (Microsoft offers its Microsoft TV Platform, though NBC doesn’t use it); Microsoft and NBC have both invested in Intertainer (video-on-demand technology provider); Microsoft purchased WebTV, rebranding it MSN-TV. It is now sold in partnership with many of the major telephone companies.

Vivendi owns Universal Studios, Canal Plus TV (France), USA Media and Canal Plus Technologies (Canal Plus MediaHighway interactive TV middleware).

Sony owns Columbia Pictures, makes consumer electronics equipment, including TV set-top boxes, partners with several interactive TV technology providers and has minority ownership in TiVo, investment in Intertainer.

In fact, each of the ten media conglomerates is busy creating a similar depth of technology/service provider/content integration. Subscribers will embrace this in the name of increased convenience and better service. In fact, the media companies in charge of this transformation will also create a “walled garden” of media content that’s so enticing that the general populace won’t care.

We are already seeing video on demand, analogous to renting a video without traveling to the store. We’re seeing services that allow pausing of live TV and storage for later. T-commerce is the integration of financial systems with the ability to use them with a remote control to buy, right off the TV. The possibilities are endless. So, yes, in a way, “the revolution will be televised”–it’s just that the revolutionaries are also the gatekeepers.



Regarding the articles on Big Media: The one oft-overlooked response is to hit the least used button on your remote–the power button. Turn it off. Cancel cable. Convert your satellite dish into a birdbath. Use the many excellent alternative news sources your readers submitted. To paraphrase an old slogan: What if we had Big Media and nobody watched? I haven’t watched TV in more than four years, and my life is far better for it.


Youngstown, Ohio

I think I’m in trouble. I bookmarked every alternative media source listed in your special media issue on my browser favorites list. Do you think John Ashcroft will be keeping an eye on me now? I’m waiting for that knock on the door.


Rogue River, Ore.

I’m sooo surprised not to see BushWatch ( listed in the alternative sites. Did I miss it?


Lubbock, Tex.

If you can stand one more nomination, links to articles in many different lefty publications, including The Nation. They’ve always got Molly Ivins, too.


Ross, Calif.

Project Censored ( at Sonoma State University is a very useful source for weekly updates on information our media omit or distort.


Cambridge, Mass.

You missed, whose constant watch on issues of censorship and online rights keeps people informed of the movements of large corporations.



I hope I’m not too late to add one of my favorite sources of news from a refreshing perspective, for those lucky enough to read Spanish: the Mexican daily newspaper La Jornada (



The Electronic Intifada ( equips you to challenge myth, distortion and spin in the media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Brisbane, Australia

In Australia the best website for wry political insights is Largely based on the UK’s Private Eye, it features astute commentary and an activist bent, particularly relating to corporate misdeeds.


Berkeley, Calif.

I cannot believe no one nominated the Anderson Valley Advertiser. It’s among the most democratic publications in the country–the editor publishes just about every letter sent to him–and it’s perhaps the most radical in its approach to just about everything.


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