How Do We Democratize Our Media?

There's a huge debate going on right now about the role of the media in American politics.

And two of the main questions are: How much is the media to blame for fueling the rise of Donald Trump? And what's the real relationship between Trump and the media?

Nicholas Kristof recently gave his opinion on the matter in the New York Times.

He explains that, "Those of us in the news media have sometimes blamed Donald Trump's rise on the Republican Party's toxic manipulation of racial resentments over the years. But we should also acknowledge another force that empowered Trump: Us."

It's really not an either/or proposition though, those two things go hand in hand.

The prevalence of right-wing hate rhetoric and the rise of Trump make it clear why, now more than ever, we need to re-instate the Fairness Doctrine and democratize our media.

Between 1949 and 1987, the Fairness Doctrine was a longstanding policy of the Federal Communications Commission that required broadcasters to give air time to controversial issues of public importance, and to do so in a fair manner without editorial input from advertisers.

But after the FCC stopped the Fairness Doctrine under Reagan in 1987, broadcast corporations stopped having to worry about broadcasting in the public interest.

Because the main way that stations "programmed in the public interest" was by producing news, real, actual, non-infotainment news, once Reagan lifted that requirement, the news divisions of the various networks came under the sway of ratings and profits.

News was no longer the cost of keeping your broadcast license, instead, it became an opportunity to make more money with increasingly dumbed down and salacious reporting.

Perhaps coincidentally, just a few months after the FCC did away with the Fairness Doctrine, Rush Limbaugh launched his show, and in the years following, conservative-owned corporations put commentators like Sean Hannity and Michael Savage on stations nationwide, so that listeners could tune in to right wing hate radio from pretty much anywhere in the country at any time of the day or night.

This was given a huge boost by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as well as a few other smaller laws and changes in FCC policy, that let a small handful of corporations buy up all the radio stations, TV stations, and newspapers in communities from coast to coast.

Many of those radio stations were then programmed with hyper-corporate-friendly right-wing hate radio.

It's been a big factor in the rightward-shift of our country over the past 30 years.

And without the Fairness Doctrine and ownership rules in place, other broadcasters started to be more concerned about their corporate interests - their bottom lines - instead of the public interest.

Donald Trump's candidacy has forced every media outlet to choose whether to serve the public interest by challenging his outlandish and dangerous rhetoric, or to serve their corporate interest by simply turning on the cameras and letting the film roll every time Trump does or says something outlandish.

And they're choosing their corporate interests.

This isn't just speculation that the media is making this choice - it's exactly what CBS President Les Moonves recently told a group of investors.

That explains why Andrew Tyndall reported last year that Donald Trump got 234 minutes of free coverage on the major nightly network news shows in 2015, as opposed to Bernie Sanders who got less than 10 minutes of coverage from those shows over the same period.

And it explains why Trump has received nearly 2 billion dollars worth of free media during this campaign cycle, as opposed to Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton who's gotten less than half of that.

Les Moonves said it: the corporate media simply doesn't care about the well-being of America.

And the corporate media doesn't really care about covering real issues that impact the public - like climate change or net neutrality - let alone covering those issues honestly or objectively.

The corporate media only cares about its bottom line, about ratings, and about getting more money from their advertisers.

The fact is, the media didn't really create Trump.

The media has just been waiting for a candidate like Trump to come along ever since Reagan killed the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 and then Bill Clinton further cemented media consolidation with the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

In a speech at Syracuse University, President Obama rightfully pushed back against the profit-centric mentality of the media and the attitudes of network executives like Les Moonves.

The reality is, the corporate media has proven that when it's left to its own devices, it values its corporate responsibility to shareholders higher than its social responsibility to inform the electorate about controversial issues of public importance.

Without the Fairness Doctrine and a roll-back of the ownership rules in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, media companies have no reason to act in the public interest, and no reason to cover inform people about issues of public importance like climate change, the Transpacific Partnership, Net Neutrality, or runaway income inequality.

There's a reason our nation's Founders and the Constitution's framers wrote the press into the First Amendment: Democracy can't thrive without an informed electorate.

It's time to democratize the media, and that means it's time to bring back the Fairness Doctrine and to reinstate media ownership rules so a small handful of wealthy right-wingers no longer dictate our daily media diet.


MountainCatBob's picture
MountainCatBob 7 years 9 weeks ago

Trump's campaign was driven by the media since the beginning. I remember counting 5-6 articles about Trump every day! It became clear very soon that the media, the overwhelming preponderance of which is owned by a very few old, rich, white men, has been treating Trump exactly like any other product on the market today. Drugs, breakfast cereal, new cars, you name it: Trump is being old to the same idiots who slurp down all the other sugar-coated poisons, then beg for cheap chemo. Perhaps a large percentage of Americans really are insecure bigots who yearn for a sense of order, but you got the causal relationship all wrong. Media is not pandering to the masses as much as the media is SELLING Trump to the masses, for the very reasons you mention.

BMetcalfe's picture
BMetcalfe 7 years 9 weeks ago

One could aptly say, "Reagan Strikes Again From Grave!" He wasn't a good Govenor, and most Californians knew he would make a lousy President. But everyone with a little Cowboy in their hearts voted for him, and the Republicans got what they wanted - a well-loved actor/old man, on the outskirts of dementia they could manipulate, and the three-letter organizations had their patsy. He destroyed the Pilots' Union; he allowed the mental instutions to let the crazies go free. He couldn't accept his gay son, and hence, when the GRID/HIV-AIDS Crisis needed a Leader/Champion, Reagan snubbed his nose at all of them, truly believing that this was a plague being visited upon them for their corruption, even if his own child might have to be sacrificed to the Vengeful God of the Bible. So here we are again. Media corporations are controlling which Presidential Candidates get the most time... and of course they're going to go with the one person whose rhetoric brings out the most hateful, bigoted and fearful worries in everyone. Gov. Kasich is by far the most noble of the Right's candidates, but he doesn't play well for the stockholders' earnings because he's too well-informed and logical. We have seen the rise of news shows that scew the stories they report with a slant toward the Right. Then there are the rebuttal news groups that do the same for the Left. There is no middle ground of reporting anymore. I have stopped watching CNN and the local news channels. I can't stomach the ugliness Mr. Trump provokes in people who, under any other conditions, would be civil and caring. This Mob Mentality should have been left buried in the 20th Century, not dragged from a shallow grave to (again) make the rich far richer, and dismantle the walls of self-respect and dignity we've spent so many years cultivating for the rest of us.

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 7 years 9 weeks ago

Why hasn't this huge debate about the role of the right-wing hate machine and the collapse of our democracy been going on since 1987? It's been very obvious for decades that the corpse media has been used by the Teapublic Party Fascists as their own propaganda machine.

Outlets like Fox News have done untold damage to the general welfare of working class citizens. No american worker in their right mind would vote for the Teapublic party if they were armed with political and economic facts. The kind of facts Bernie is communicating to the electorate.

Guys like McConnell, Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Tom Reed, Paul Ryan, Brownback, Kasich, Cruz, Christie, etc. ...all elected because citizens bought into political/economic misinformation desseminated by outlets like Fox News.

Misleading citizens into voting for their own economic suicide in order to facilitate continued concentration of wealth for billionaires is as un-american as the Fascism it promotes.

Tom Reed should be especially ashamed of himself....he represents a part of rural america that has taken a severe economic blow thanks to his continued teabagger austerity, trickle down, reduce tax on the rich, privatization, obstuctionist, anti-union, shrink good government, beliefs. He loves socialism when it comes to his own health insurance though...I'll give him that.

Intermittent Instigator's picture
Intermittent In... 7 years 9 weeks ago

The internet has maybe helped democratize our media... ...hope we can keep it.

The blatant disregard for democracy and decency this time around is something.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 7 years 9 weeks ago

A nice, intelligent, working stiff friend of mine from Tennesee who listens to Fox News told me in all seriousness the other day, "The Republicans are for the working man, the Democrats are for the rich." The disinformation gets pretty willful and involved.
In the Western European social democracies the media is generally, publicly - that is, state - owned, and thus, democratically controlled. It is an important factor, as is publicly (state) financed election campaigns, in the success and reelection of social democracy in those parts of the world.
The minds and campaigns of the public are not corrupted so they have more freedom. They are allowed to choose what they want and can choose socialism. Here we have people like Kend in charge and we are not allowed to choose what we would like.

Kilosqrd's picture
Kilosqrd 7 years 9 weeks ago

Here we go again. It's the Fairness Doctrine and it's all Ronald Reagan's fault. Do you lefties know any other tune? The ideas the left promotes have failed time and time again. Look no further than Obama's policies. Go ahead and quote the unemployment numbers if you wish but knowledgeable people know the real truth behind those numbers and they aren't good. But I digress.

No, this is nothing more than Thom complaining, and the left as a whole, about the fact that the left no longer has a monopoly in the media. There are other points of view, and the left knows nothing but to try to silence opinions it does't agree with. Grow up.

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 7 years 9 weeks ago

Progressive media has never, "ever," been more than tiny tiny fraction compared to the amount of conservative hate speech media available....look up the facts. Well over 90% of the corpse media is owned and controlled by right-wing concerns. The fascists fully realize that control of the message is control of minds like yours.

For god sakes this country needs a massive intervention thanks to the millions of foxmerized citizens thinking they know what the f is going on.....holy crap, give me a break!

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 7 years 8 weeks ago

Kilosqrd, what are you smoking? How did the Fairness Doctrine silencing anyone's opinion? Quite the opposite, as the name implies, when the media doesn't have to provide disinterested news then opinions are not given voice.

Do you righties do anything but lie?

spiraldaddy's picture
spiraldaddy 7 years 6 weeks ago

I remember when the 1996 Telecommunications Act was passed through Bill Clinton. Our favorite station REV 105 in Minneapolis was bought out by Clear Channel. Almost overnight, all the independent media disappeared and the public broadcasting stations lost their funding and became dependant on corporate donors. This to me seemed the nail in the casket moment that completely disregarded the 1934 telecommunications act by FDR so the large and few corporations could control all means of information. Luckily 1996 was a landmark year in the development of the world wide web and as a result we can bypass TV and radio that has completely become corrupted. In order to fix the problem with the media - we need to fund public broadcasting and repeal the 1996 communications act - this would break up the media monopolies and allow independent non-corporate views on politics and news. I attribute the media blackout to Clinton's act more than anything else. There were still independent news sources in the mainstream media after Reagan but 1996 was the year that ended it all and it is because Bill Clinton sold us all down the river. Neoliberalism has been worse for our country than the Republicans because they have betrayed us whereas Republicans never pretended to care about anyone else but rich people.

spiraldaddy's picture
spiraldaddy 7 years 6 weeks ago

Can someone tell me one positive piece of legislation Bill Clinton passed during his presidency? From NAFTA, to DOMA, to DADT, to his Telecommunications Act, repealing Glass-Steigel, and prison bills - as far as I am concerned Bill Clinton is the enemy of the people - I literally don't know 1 piece of legislation that has been positive under his administration.

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