As a long-time professional journalist and labor activist, I have watched from the inside for thirty years now the constriction of the media and of the flow of information to the public-information which is critical to the function of a democracy.
We have reached a point today that half the people in this virtual Land of the Free think that it was Iraqis who attacked the World Trade Center, when in fact not one Iraqi was among the suicidal terrorists on those planes, where half the people in America believe not only that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but that the U.S. has found such weapons, when in fact there are none and were none, where half of American young people think that Social Security will be bankrupt before they reach retirement, where in fact no such thing will happen.
Important news is routinely blacked out or buried, while administration lies, such as Bush’s latest whopper that “research” shows that children do better being raised in families where there is a mother and a father than in a gay household, or his much bigger whopper that the Social Security system is going “bankrupt,” are simply run as fact, with no effort to evaluate their veracity,
I’ve been witness to this collapse of mainstream American journalism. When I broke a story (in Salon Magazine and Mother Jones) definitively proving that President Bush had a device hidden under his jacket during the three presidential debates, it was because both the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as the Los Angeles Times, had first rejected that story when it was brought to them by my source, a respected senior NASA photo analyst and astronomer.
When it comes to reporting on critical issues facing working people-the flight of jobs overseas, the security of the national retirement system, the destruction of the right to organize and join a union, declining job safety, environmental destruction, a safety net for the unemployed or underemployed–the situation is even worse. When the media do report on these topics, it is almost always from a management perspective. Attacks on Social Security are called “reform,” just as the destruction of welfare was called “reform.” The obvious mega-crisis of global warming is covered “even-handedly,” giving know-nothing critics (including our president) equal billing with the overwhelming scientific community’s warning of disaster as if it was commentary at a football game. As for covering workers’ views during labor disputes-forget it. There is hardly a labor reporter left in America, so most labor stories are now covered by the business desk, which takes management’s perspective as a given.
In such a situation, it is no wonder that organized labor is being left out in the cold politically. No wonder that most Americans don’t even really know what a labor union is. No wonder that in many people’s minds, unions are seen as little more than gangs, or at best as just “special interests.”
Yet the union leadership continues to squander untold millions of dollars on publicity campaigns and publicity departments, trying to get its story told in this biased and uninterested media.
It’s time to take at least some of that money and put it to much better use, by subsidizing the creation of an independent but pro-labor daily newspaper-a publication that would have its own reporters in Washington, D.C., New York, and key labor areas like Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and that would cover all the news in the country and the world from a perspective that takes working people and their viewpoints into account.
I propose that such a paper be published on-line, not on paper. Why? The cost of printing a newspaper, and of getting it delivered to millions of homes across the country, would be prohibitive, and the money would be better spend on having a crack staff of reporters and editors. These days, working families for the most part have computers and online access, so there’s really no need for paper. An added advantage is that if the publication obtained a mass list of union members’ email addresses, members could receive a brief news summary of the day’s headlines each morning as an alert message, with a link to the publication.
Having the seed money for such a daily news journal come from the labor movement would free the publication from the constraints that have sapped the will and integrity of the corporate press. A few million dollars might seem like a lot of money to the unions, but since the many millions more spent on publicity for the most part just go into media office wastebaskets, it’s really not a big new expense-just a shifting of funds to a much more productive use.
The key to the success of such a publication would be its independence. It would have to move way beyond the traditional captive labor media, and even be ready and able to write critically about the labor movement when necessary. If there were not this independence, the venture would be doomed from the start.
As an independent, labor-funded daily, however, it could compel a renewal of the competing national corporate media, which would be forced to change or be exposed as biased or worse-captive of conservative politicians and corporate interests.
I envision a newspaper that would be so relevant to American workers’ lives, covering not just politics, economics and labor, but sports and entertainment too, that it would be read every day, replacing the daily paper in most households.
Imagine the difference such an aggressive and independent media voice might have made in the 2002 run-up to the disastrous invasion of Iraq or in the recent election, or the impact it would have on the coming battle over Social Security. Imagine the impact it would have on progressive organizing in general!
Some union movement people-rank-and-file and leaders and particularly activists within the International Labor Communication Association-are starting to look into the possibility of such a venture, but there is really no time, or need, to wait. Too much has been lost already because of the lack of an honest media in America.
It’s time for a labor-oriented daily newspaper.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org