Liberating Thought

The present effectiveness of the United States propaganda system may well be without historical parallel. Its ability to shape public perceptions of events and issues and to garner support for ideologies that undergird the political and economic structures of society has been amply documented.

The Tea Party phenomenon is driven to a substantial degree by a consensus among media across the political spectrum to devote considerable coverage to it, far outside of what is warranted simply on the basis of its size. Yet far larger protest movements on the political left are routinely ignored.

The effect of this disproportionate coverage is to set the agenda for discussion in the country, even, to some extent, on the radical left. As the anti-war movement can attest, it is difficult to overstate the demoralizing impact of attending massive demonstrations, only to find that the media, and by extension the country, barely noticed.

It is far from the only example. Immigrant parents recently conducted a 43 day occupation of a Chicago elementary school’s property and successfully compelled the school to commit to building a library. It was a significant expansion of the occupation tactic beyond the workplace to public school issues. Yet the national media scarcely covered the story. The coverage blackout belies the purported objectivity of the media, revealing the interests which dictate what is deemed newsworthy.

Prospects for democracy are dependent upon the growth of an independent media with wide exposure in the general population comparable to that of the corporate press.

Little imagination is required to comprehend the impact of a mass circulation newspaper (or radio station; television would be a more substantial challenge) reporting daily on social movements and labor struggles, doing follow-up reports, not to mention investigative reportage. A large, independent media would have influence far beyond its regular consumers, compelling more extended coverage (even if negative in tone) from its corporate competitors.1

Certainly, there is precedent. The 19th century labor press was vibrant, diverse, and had considerable reach into the populace. The Labor Press Project at the University of Washington informs us that, “By the end of the 19th century, working-class newspapers proliferated in cities across the country. Between 1880-1940, thousands of labor and radical publications circulated, constituting a golden age for working-class newspapers.” The most successful of these papers had, at its peak, 750,000 subscribers. To put this in perspective, despite the nation’s much larger size the Washington Post currently only has some 665,000 subscribers, while the Boston Globe’s weekly circulation stands at 368,000.

Today, almost all remnants of the labor press have been wiped out. One of the last, the Racine Labor Paper, based in the city of Racine south of Milwaukee, folded in 2001.

Perhaps the most successful contemporary independent media program, Democracy Now!, is of uncertain utility as a replicable model. The program appears to be predominantly reliant upon funding by large donors. Whether such donations would expand to support an array of other sizable journalistic endeavors is doubtful.2

Many proposals have endorsed a public funding model to replace the severely contracted corporate newspaper industry. However, while this would likely be a positive step, it is evident from the records of National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service that public control, as well as funding, would be crucial in ensuring a modicum of independence from special interests connected to wealth and power.

One avenue, as yet moribund and long forgotten, would be to revive the once thriving labor press. The principle hurdle is that it would require the participation of at least one major labor union. American labor unions, dominated by conservative, bureaucratic tendencies for many decades, have shown no interest in such an idea.

Yet the financial wherewithal is there. When the New York Times Co. was desperately trying to sell the Boston Globe, the bidding prices were in the neighborhood of $35 million, plus $59 million in pension liabilities. In Philadelphia, the city’s two major dailies, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News tabloid, were recently sold for $139 million. For comparison, a single union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), spent $91 million on the mid-term Congressional elections this fall.

Rather than funding Democratic Party politicians across the board, regardless of their support for labor, why not use that money to purchase and subsidize a labor newspaper? Admittedly, the established unions are currently neither independent from the Democrats, nor much to their left. Yet precisely the sort of leftward social dynamics that would make it likely for unions to actually revive the labor press would also facilitate a shift in union politics further to the left, hopefully opening up spaces for views independent of the Democrats. One of the values vital to any mass community media is a big tent philosophy that encourages the airing of a wide array of views from within the left. No mass-circulation left media can really develop without a sustained uptick in social struggle. Part of what we on the left must build in preparation for and during rising popular struggle is the groundwork for this mass media.

Of course, a newspaper operating without advertising would run on very different business model, and many factors would impact the feasibility of a union purchase of a newspaper. Independent media, accountable to consumers rather than advertisers, must, by definition, be financially dependent upon their subscribers or cooperative members.

One option might entail partnering with the staff of a newspaper to purchase the property and run the paper with a lower profit margin, as was suggested in the case of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Much of the crisis in the U.S. newspaper industry results from requirements by media conglomerates like Hearst that newspapers increase their profits to new heights. Papers with merely respectable profits are shuttered.

Revitalizing the labor movement – radicalizing and democratizing it as well as expanding membership – must be a crucial component of any successful social movement for a more civilized society. The creation of an independent, mass circulation community and labor press should go hand-in-hand with that goal. The freedom and independence of the population from ideological domination by elite interests is dependent upon it.

STEVEN FAKE is coauthor of “Scramble for Africa: Darfur – Intervention and the USA” (Black Rose Books) and a member of Workers Solidarity Alliance.

This article was originally published by Ideas and Action.









More articles by:
March 21, 2018
John Steppling
It is Us
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?