No News, Good News


Robert McChesney does not suffer fools gladly. The author of Rich Media, Poor Democracy and co-founder of the media reform organization Free Press studies how journalism has been used, misused, and misunderstood by the public, pundits, and government alike. McChesney, who also hosts the weekly “Media Matters” AM radio talk show and teaches in the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, is a major figure in critiquing the role media plays in our society, and has choice words for those who misinterpret or manipulate this role.

I read a New York Times article from March regarding government-produced “news segments,” with their own video footage, that have been termed “good news reporting.”

In a more sane society, it would be the sort of thing that would get a
government thrown out of office if we took our Constitution seriously. When the Bush administration engaged in the explicit propaganda activities that violate not only the spirit, but the letter of the law, the so-called conservatives, who are supposedly in favor of small government, were absolutely stone cold quiet.

Does that silence suggest that they were complicit with it, or that they were embarrassed by it?

It just suggests that they are unprincipled because they weren’t outraged by it.

Is there a role that the government can play insofar as just providing the raw video that they have?

The government shouldn’t be doing this stuff. Period. I don’t understand what the point of that is.

Just trying to get at where the opposing viewpoint comes from—

The opposing viewpoint, in terms of those who are in favor of the government doing propaganda?

Having a role in the news reporting process.

The government has a huge role in the news gathering process. That’s not the question. The issue is whether the government should be aggressively doing PR and trying to shape the news by creating bogus stories. And that is indefensible. There is no “other side” of that one.

An op-ed piece from Adam Thierer, “What Ever Happened to the Big Media Boogeyman,” claims that “the age of scarcity has given way to the age of abundance,” and thus concerns of media overconsolidation are exaggerated.

The largest media firms and communications firms in this country, without exception, are the recipients of enormous government monopoly privileges and/or subsidies. They aren’t tinkerers out in the garage competing without any government role. The government’s in the kitchen making this media system.

The whole media reform movement is dedicated to the proposition that we have to have informed public participation . . . to weigh in on the
policies and subsidies that are made in its name, but heretofore without its informed consent.

A recent study published by the Pew Research Center suggests that Americans still have a pretty favorable opinion of newspapers.

I don’t think that Pew survey was meant to be a referendum on whether we need to change our media system, and it shouldn’t be regarded in such a way.

My sense is that there’s phenomenal concern in this country about media. We saw it with a massive outburst in public interest in the media ownership fight in 2003; we’re seeing it this year in the fight over PBS.

Had that been a huge challenge to overcome, convincing the public that there is a problem?

The thing that people hadn’t believed until recently is they could do anything about it. It was no more practical to try to change the media system than it would be to try to get rid of the Rocky Mountain range.
What’s changed in the last three years is that people understand that the media system isn’t natural. And we have got a right and a duty to raise hell about it.