News & Criticism

Media Critic Robert McChesney Panned in Small-Circ. Mag; Must Be Really Pissed Off That It Wasn't in Time Mag

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Univ. of Illinois Prof. Robert McChesney is one of the leading fretters about the concentration of media ownership. Surveying the contemporary mediascape, he generally sees nothing but darkness peering out of a total blackout of alternative views and freedom of expression that existed, well, some time in the fabled Golden Age of something or other.

Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Carlin Romano finds McChesney's most recent book-length whine worth thumbing through but unconvincing:

If American citizen "Jose Garcia" can get all the information McChesney or John Dewey might think he needs to be a fully effective citizen by regularly reading The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal-and In These Times, Mother Jones, and The Nation-how does dominance by corporate media frustrate the democratic abilities of citizens? McChesney endlessly cites Madison and Jefferson, but neither they nor any logic implicit in democratic political theory requires people to get their best information from mainstream media. It may not be pleasant for one's favored media to be small fry, but McChesney provides no argument for why mini truth-tellers among the maxi-deceivers don't meet the constitutional aims of the Framers, who were concerned with availability of ideas, not market control.

The whole essay is worth reading.

In 2004, reason talked about McChesney's and other folks' media "Domination Fantasies" in a great–and grotesquely illustrated–cover story by Ben Compaine.

More reason on media here.

Hat Tip: Arts & Letters Daily.

NEXT: In Stable Condition

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  1. The last time we had a thread that touched on this I looked up who owned the 68 cable stations I get and it was like 8 companies (because of course many different stations are often owned by one company [look up Viacom for example]).

  2. Mr. Nice Guy,

    That sucks, because cable TV is the only place anyone can get news nowadays.

  3. Do you deny that, whatever people could do, that many of them do get their news, and entertainment, mainly from TV? It’s perhaps not conclusive to remark about what people could do (communists did this all the time, I mean, people COULD overcome their self-interested ways and COULD put cooperation over competition, it’s just that most people DON’T).

    And is there not similar concentration among other mediums (like newspapers or record labels or radio stations)?

  4. The last time we had a thread that touched on this I looked up who owned the 68 cable stations I get and it was like 8 companies (because of course many different stations are often owned by one company [look up Viacom for example]).

    Is that better or worse than my youth? CBS, ABC, and NBC didn’t offer a lot of diversity in reporting or editorial content. We also got PBS (government funded) and CBC (a lot of the US didn’t get canuck TV back then).

    Of course now I have cable, the internet to supplement broadcast, and who the hell knows how many newsy magazines are available.

    If there is a problem, it’s that too many Americans are too damned lazy or stupid to get the information. We all know that. When somebody decries the “lack of diversity” or “corporate interests in MSM”, they are really saying that the unwashed masses aren’t smart enough and that they, the whiner, should be spoon feeding the ignorant masses the “important” or “relevant” information. What a bunch of egotistic blowhards.

  5. Mr. Nice Guy,

    You are changing the subject pretty quickly, but, sure, I agree, alot of people like watching TV.

  6. TV is a push-medium, and many folks are just too damn lazy to use a pull-medium like the internet effectively. News companies know that. But the tide isreally turning and hopefully we’ll see a paradigm shift and the MSM will only be relevant in their own little heads.

  7. Mr. Nice Guy,

    The last time we had a thread that touched on this I looked up who owned the 68 cable stations I get and it was like 8 companies (because of course many different stations are often owned by one company [look up Viacom for example]).

    Are you going to shock us with tales of how consolidated the auto industry is by comparing the number of car models to the number of manufactuers next?

    Perhaps some context, like the fact that that means there’s 4 times as many companies in cable television alone (and 1.5 times in news specifically since CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC are all owned by separate entities) as there were local large circ papers in most cities at the peak of the local large circ paper?

    The fact of the matter is that the number of independently owned media outlets has been growing substantially even despite some consolidation in within certain formats, most notably daily newspapers, which are more a casualty of faster means of transmitting information than newsprint being devised. Even if ignore the expansion of niche media and just look at the number of mainstream outlets (network news, major papers, cable news channels) available, it’s increased from around 1-3 (newspapers) to 4-6 (big 3 broadcast) to 5-6 (gain Fox affiliates, some paper consolidation) to 8-9 (national marketing of NYT, WSJ, USA Today) to 9-10 (CNN) to 11-12 (MSNBC and Fox News) to 12-13 (online news aggregators – only count as one because they’re mostly pulling from the same wire services). Even if we condense the overlaps in ownership and content sources and combine MSNBC and NBC affiliates and Fox News/WSJ/Fox affiliates, that’s still 9-10 total and an overwhelming trend of increasing outlets.

  8. McChesney’s contention that a presidential censorship order would be similar to what’s going on with corporate media today is “Over the top, sure, but it makes you think,” Romano writes.

    It makes me think McChesney is a complete goof, and Romano isn’t far behind.

  9. I’ve never been much of one for the “good old days” generally, but one thing that has changed (and I would wager has *something* to do with ownership consolidation) is that TV news specifically has become way, way shittier.

    Back when people didn’t know better and treated TV news just like a fancy radio broadcast, you’d get people like Murrow basically doing a radio show, and doing it well. Then sometime later when they discovered they could actually make pictures appear on the TV doohicky, you suddenly become left with FOX/CNN flashy crap.

    The only reason I link this to media consolidation is that the only consistently good TV news outlet left (IMO) is PBS…which doesn’t participate in the market. Maybe I’m just spit-balling into the abyss, but it seems too convenient to be coincidence.

  10. Do you deny that, whatever people could do, that many of them do get their news, and entertainment, mainly from TV?

    Sure. So what? Even if there were a bunch of different TV news outlets owned by different people, why would people too lazy to get news anywhere but TV also be so inquisitive that they would watch a bunch of different news shows?

    And, speaking of which, aren’t there in fact “a bunch of different TV news outlets owned by different people”?

    I get at least five different cable news channels (CNN, MSNBC, HDNEWS, FOX, BBC) AND three national broadcast network news shows, AND three local news shows that are not owned by the networks (your local ABC/CBS/NBC/FOX affiliate is not owned by the network, in case you didn’t know).

  11. MSM will only be relevant in their own little heads

    At which point they will no longer be mainstream, but rather just another tributary.

  12. I get all my news from Reason.

    57 channels and nothin’ on.

  13. TV news specifically has become way, way shittier.

    And that’s precisely because of the absolute explosion of information that has occurred in the last 15 years. TV news has been forced to be a jack-of-all-shit, master of no shit, to appeal to the broadest audience it can. In other words, it has to be watered-down sewer juice.

  14. MNG sez …that many of them do get their news, and entertainment, mainly from TV?

    Nice conflation of news and entertainment – right out of Paddy Chayefsky.

  15. Do you deny that, whatever people could do, that many of them do get their news, and entertainment, mainly from TV?

    Do you deny that, whatever people could do back in 1240 A.D., that many of them did get their news from the Bible and horseshit-peddlers and their entertainment from peeling potatoes?

  16. LMNOP sez you’d get people like Murrow basically doing a radio show

    OK, so there was Murrow. And who else? Compare and contrast with today. You seriously going to argue you had more choice then? Or, are you going to argue that choice is bad, and hearing from the enlightened One is better?

    Funny thing to be nostalgic about.

  17. There are an absurd amount of sources for entertainment and news. One can only watch one or two things at a time without missing the message completely, and most Americans don’t even give a shit. They are doing other things, or being distracted by their kids.

    Why do you think the opinion pundits are given so much air time? A story is told by the anchor, that takes 2 minutes. Then they have a Republican and a Democrat argue for 8 minutes so you can know which way to believe. No one bothers to think for themselves anyway, so who gives a shit how many channels there are to choose from? They’re still only going to choose from two partisan opinions when deciding “what it all means.” Present company excluded, but then again, we all get our info from ONE source. Drink.

  18. I get all my news from Reason.

    It’s important to get your news from more than one source, which is why I get all my news from Reason, The Daily Show/Colbert Report News Hour, and The Onion.

  19. juris —

    No, you miss the point. My issue isn’t with media *choice* at all. Back then you had NBC, CBS, ABC. These days you have not many more; I’d say a pretty insignificant different difference in the quantity of choices.

    My contention, rather, is that across the board, news broadcasting is shittier now (Hume, Cooper, Olbermann, Scarborough) than it was then (Cronkite, Murrow, McGee, M. Wallace). With very, very few exceptions, mostly in public broadcasting (though an exception to the exception might be 60 Minutes).

  20. different difference….hmm, whoops.

  21. I see, this kind of sounds like the old folks talking about kids these days. If we could find someone old enough, he’d surely complain that all of today’s media doesn’t hold a candle to the Hearst papers.

    BTW, if you haven’t seen “Broadcast News”, you will likely appreciate it, particularly from the Albert Brooks point of view.

  22. Can anyone confirm or deny that Jane Fonda said “cunt” twice live and unbleeped on the Today Show this morning?

  23. Was she talking about herself?

  24. SugarFree | February 14, 2008, 2:02pm | #
    Can anyone confirm or deny that Jane Fonda said “cunt” twice live and unbleeped on the Today Show this morning?

    here’s the video

    http://www.hecklerspray.com/video-jane-fonda-says-the-c-word-on-the-telly/200812467.php

    As far as “media consolidation”,…

    Mr. Nice Guy | February 14, 2008, 12:29pm | #
    Do you deny that, whatever people could do, that many of them do get their news, and entertainment, mainly from TV?

    I think half a dozen people have already torn the ass out of this truism, and pointed it out to be entirely besides the point.

    if TV news sucks, than there are 1000s of other options. I get most of my good news from PBS (news hour) and the Economist. I also read magazines like reason for analysis and perspective. I also watch Al Jazeera English from time to time to see how the other half lives. Your point has nothing to do with the ‘marketplace’. The marketplace is robust and diverse and responds to what people want. If “most people” dont choose ‘better’ venues for their media consumption, you might as well ask why McDonalds etc are popular. Should we decry the state of Mass Restaurants? Regulate the balance of nutrition in people’s diets? its the same BS. If you want to eat well, you can eat well on the same nickel. If you choose to get your news from TV networks, and dont read anyting, then you’re a boob. We are not responsible to help the boobs or tell them what to think. That would take time and money. I like to keep my time and money, let them be idiots, and be able to get what I want from the vast array of information sources at my disposal without some agency promoting one source vs another.

  25. and p.s.

    just looked at that Jane Fonda clip, and it’s so gayzors that anyone gets in a tizzy over crap like this. It was in context, if thats any exuse, of the name of her section of the Vagina Monologues. If you bring the Vagina Monologues writer and actors onto a show, and then ask questions, expecting answers to be Vagina-Reference-Free, i dont know what the hell the purpose is. That fucking play was so stupid anyway. It was really just an excuse for some menopausal women to demonstrate their Liberatedness by saying a lot of boring shit about their personal relationship with their genetalia. Its like =

    ‘we debated feminism and gender issues for 40 years, and all we got was this stupid play’

  26. I’ve never been much of one for the “good old days” generally, but one thing that has changed (and I would wager has *something* to do with ownership consolidation) is that TV news specifically has become way, way shittier.

    Out of curiousity, how old are you?

    What’s scary is that, back in the day, a lot of people believed Walter Cronkite when he said “and that’s the way it is.” No countering voices to the Big Three existed. TV news has always been shitty, precisely because it’s a terrible medium for delivering news. If you take a news broadcast and boil down the actual amount of factual content delivered, it’s shockingly small.

  27. Thanks, GILMORE

  28. If you take a news broadcast and boil down the actual amount of factual content delivered, it’s shockingly small.

    Your Local news broadcast –
    Headlines, Weather, Celebrity sightings, Weather, Sports, Weather, Stupid Local News Item, and finally the Weather.

    People actually watch this nonsense.

  29. Oh, To be more precise, delete Weather, insert “Your Forecast with Doppler Radar and Traffic Updates From Captain Bob and the SkyCam Helicopter”.

  30. ‘we debated feminism and gender issues for 40 years, and all we got was this stupid play’

    The Penis Monologues.
    A play in one Act by J sub D.

    Damn she’s ugly.
    Need a beer.
    I’ve seen worse, but she sure is skanky.
    Another round over here.
    Y’know she really does have a cute (insert anthing) here.
    Fill ‘er up, bartender.
    Hello, can I buy you a drink?
    Yes? I’ll join you.
    You are so funny and intelligent.
    Just one for the road, waitress.
    Would you like some company tonight, gorgeous?

    Curtain Falls.

  31. Out of curiousity, how old are you?

    I’ll be twenty-seven shortly, which oddly places me outside both the old-folks and the newbies. I grew up with Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and MacNeil/Lehrer. I get most of my news these days from print media (both on and off-line), and base how crappy TV is now compared to before by:

    a. How quickly I become nauseous after flipping on the channel on those goodly few occasions I do so (Jennings, whatever his other faults journalistic or otherwise, never made me nauseous)

    b. having seen a goodly bit of the really old stuff (a few media analysis classes will *do* that to you) and been comparatively impressed with the content both factual and editorial, compared to the news *I* grew up with.

    Thus, if a is worse than b, and b is worse than c, a is worse than c.

    I agree that regardless of the time and place, people uncritically accepting what talking heads say, whether they be Cronkite or O’Reilly, is unfortunate and unavoidable. And, quite so, there were fewer overall *media* choices back in the day.

    But, sticking to the realm of TV news only, it’s fairly hard to deny there has been a steady erosion of quality, and that erosion (either coincidentally or not) has kept in step with media conglomeration.

  32. My monitor is a bit on the low-res side, but that cover photo definitely looks like Murdock’s head has been superimposed on the body of a dominatrix.

    So, is Rupert also a cross-dresser?

  33. But, sticking to the realm of TV news only, it’s fairly hard to deny there has been a steady erosion of quality, and that erosion (either coincidentally or not) has kept in step with media conglomeration.

    I’ll just have to disagree with you, I guess. TV news today delivers about the same shitty content as it did 30 years ago. It just does so in a noisier and more titillating fashion.

    If anything, TV news is less consolidated than it was in the pre-cable era, considering that you have basically five separate ownership grounds competing against each other, versus three before (not counting public television or local news shows in either instance).

    Consolidation of *print* media has certainly occurred, and mostly to the detriment of newspapers outside a handful of the largest media markets. I grew up in Portland, and the Oregonian is but a sad shell of its former self, mostly delivering a bunch of wire service stories.

  34. Err, that should be “ownership groups”, not “grounds.” I think they spiked the coffee this morning…

  35. Univ. of Illinois Prof. Robert McChesney

    Woohoo! I-L-L!!

  36. But, sticking to the realm of TV news only, it’s fairly hard to deny there has been a steady erosion of quality, and that erosion (either coincidentally or not) has kept in step with media conglomeration.

    So, help me here. In the beginning, there were 3 networks. Today there are quite a few more, just on cable, sources of news. How is this a more concentrated market?

    However, there does appear to be a conundrum in that competition has NOT improved quality. Of course that “quality” is highly subjective.

  37. TV news has been forced to be a jack-of-all-shit, master of no shit, to appeal to the broadest audience it can. In other words, it has to be watered-down sewer juice.

    I’ll more or less agree with the sewer juice comment, although I think it’s unfair to sewer juice.

    The rest of it I think is backwards. I agree that the quality of TV news has gone down while the number of choices within TV news have gone up. Some of that could be causal as there are only so many ad revenue watching eyes available, but I think the majority of the problem recently is that all of the dynamic or smart people have pretty much stopped watching it. They are actually doing a fine job of serving their remaining market: old people and dumbshits.

    If you take a news broadcast and boil down the actual amount of factual content delivered, it’s shockingly small.

    Yes, it oscillates between minuscule and nothing. Of course the one time I pointed this out to a friend and we tested it, they actually did say something useful. 30 minutes for this: Turning your headlights on for a few seconds before starting your car in the cold helps rather than hurts, because it warms up the battery or some such thing.

  38. “Of course now I have cable, the internet to supplement broadcast, and who the hell knows how many newsy magazines are available.”

    “TV is a push-medium, and many folks are just too damn lazy to use a pull-medium like the internet effectively.”

    Methinks you guys vastly overestimate your imperviousness to being misinformed and manipulated, internet or not…

    But more to the point, it strikes me that many of you seem ignorant (in the classic sense, not perjorative) that many people in this nation do not have internet access (other than at their local public library, remember most of you guys are against that public boondoggle I should guess). The 2004 NTIA found about 54% had access to the internet in their homes. Heck, I think cable tv is available to about 95% of US households (that leaves millions out btw) and about 2/3 of US households subscribe. I bet there is some overlap between the households w/out internet and cable.

    I’m happy with the media choices out there. But I do think that consolidation would be a bad thing, not a good thing. To the extent that it’s on the uptick, that would be a bad thing. Now, I understand there is a debate about whether it’s on the uptick. Let’s have that debate.

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