The corporate media has cast itself as a bulwark against the erosion of our democracy under Donald Trump. The president has declared the media the “enemy of the people” and routinely rails at the critical coverage of his administration, dismissing it as “fake news.” Democracy depends on a free and independent press that can hold power accountable, but sadly, the corporate media does not meet that standard.
Take The New York Times, a paper that famously claims it runs “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” A common advertisement for the Times, as seen on social media platforms like Facebook, encourages readers to subscribe by declaring, “The Truth is Worth It. Support Independent Journalism.” While it may be true that the Times is quite critical of Trump, to call itself “independent” is a stretch. The New York Times is a publicly traded company on the stock market, generating more than $420 million in revenue last year alone. In addition to its print and digital subscribers, the paper relies on advertising to fuel its corporate profits. The paper claims to report on the current economic system objectively and independently — yet it directly benefits from a status quo that has resulted in massive inequality. Can it truly be independent?
A critically important discourse on capitalism is taking place right now across America, embodied by the rise in popularity of candidates like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Both Sanders and Warren are openly challenging the configuration of the financial universe that Michael Bloomberg, Trump and The New York Times inhabit. The strength of movements behind such progressive presidential campaigns and their magnetic draw for supporters at the grassroots — measurable during Sanders’ blowout victory in the Nevada caucuses — has boosted the decibels of alarm bells on Wall Street and elsewhere in the top echelons of corporate America.
While the corporate media usually get their facts straight, it is the framing of those facts that reveals the bias. One galling example is a piece the Times published on the morning of Nevada caucuses by Lisa Lerer headlined, “Teflon Bernie: Why Is It So Hard to Beat a Democratic Socialist?” (The newspaper later changed the headline to “Bernie Sanders, the Teflon Candidate, Faces Sudden New Tests.”) Lerer dredged up numerous minute missteps or whiffs of controversy surrounding the senator since his early adulthood.
The Times writer raised a dubious intelligence report asserting that Russians may be trying to help Sanders win. She waxed on about how he “honeymooned in the Soviet Union,” had “secret plans to mount a 2012 primary challenge against President Obama,” “resisted detailing the costs of his signature policy proposal, ‘Medicare for all,’ ” how his health had suffered with a recent heart attack — and then the story complained unhappily that despite all of the (alleged) detrimental baggage, “Nothing sticks.”
Watching Fox News long enough, without a critical eye, is apt to inculcate attitudes that are racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, pro-police and pro-military. Watching or reading the supposedly liberal corporate media long enough, without a critical eye, is apt to inculcate the notion that programs like Medicare for All will destroy the American economy, that a candidate like Sanders is as dangerous as Trump, or that only a so-called moderate is “electable.” Former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein more directly expresses priorities than the corporate media, saying quite openly in a recent interview: “I think I might find it harder to vote for Bernie than for Trump.”
Truly independent journalism relies on facts, just as corporate media often does, but frames issues with a clearly stated bias — a bias that lights a fire under the powerful and roots for the vulnerable, amplifies the voices of working people to topple power and strengthen the powerless. The function of the press in a democracy is to pursue truth in the interest of progress, not in the interest of an unjust status quo. Seen through such a lens it isn’t hard to judge whether the likes of The New York Times (or CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, etc.) truly meet the definition of independent journalism.
A crucial way to fight back is to drastically amp up support for independent progressive media. Information flow is key, whether in small communities or nationwide. That flow is essential to the health of the body politic, but blockage is routine from massive clots of concentrated wealth and corporate power. Media organizations that are fueled by people power instead of money power can disrupt the dominant media narratives — and replace them with authentic stories about people’s lives and grassroots efforts to create a more humane society.
Engaged in challenging the power structures that make the rich powerful and the powerful rich, progressives have created a vast array of media organizations and projects. We have a lot to be proud of, whether online or offline. But let’s face it: We’ve got to gear up our strength as never before if we hope to effectively counteract the forces of corporate capitalism at this juncture.
Along with boosting financial support for media outlets that serve their interests instead of corporate America, progressives should help to promote those outlets by methodically sharing information about them with friends, relatives, neighbors, coworkers and others. Such person-to-person promotion of progressive media has become more important than ever — to thwart the Democratic Party establishment and its aligned media outlets as they keep stepping up propaganda assaults on the Bernie 2020 campaign.
On Super Tuesday (March 3rd), a three-hour TV and radio broadcast will bring together the voices of grassroots movement builders, labor organizers, independent journalists, voting rights activists and those working for economic, racial, gender and climate justice to analyze and articulate the powerful electoral changes sweeping across America. Watch the live broadcast online at Truthdig and via our media partners at KPFK Pacifica Radio, Free Speech TV, The Real News Network and RisingUpWithSonali.com.
EMBED SHORT VIDEO PROMO HERE: https://vimeo.com/393610956
Unfettered communication is how we learn from each other and build political power together. The historic achievements that movements are working for during this year’s elections require democratic communication. Vote, organize, protest, listen, watch and share.
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…