The MSM and Swimming Naked
There’s a Wall Street saying about what happens to traders who have taken too many chances, when the stock prices ebb: “When the tide goes out,” it’s said, “you see who’s been swimming naked” – what might be called the ultimate consequence of a bear (or bare) market.
But the same lesson may apply when the existing mainstream media fades out to sea. Today, even as many Americans rightfully disdain the MSM, its rapid contraction could inflict even more damage on an already battered American Republic.
That’s because the MSM has been providing information – albeit with many flaws – that has allowed others, including bloggers and independent Web sites like ours, to derive substantial information from working reporters who are sent off to cover a multitude of stories.
When those mainstream reporters dwindle in number amid endless budget cuts, the tide of basic facts will retreat and – metaphorically speaking – we’ll discover which political groupings have been swimming naked, relying too much on the work of the MSM.
The answer today seems clear. The conservatives, right-wingers and Republicans will be as well-covered as some of those bathers in the Victorian Era. The liberals, progressives and Democrats will be left trying to cover up.
The logical result of a fading MSM – combined with a robust right-wing news media and a miniscule progressive one – will be the relative strengthening of conservatives who already possess a vertically integrated media infrastructure for developing and disseminating information, from newspapers, magazines and books to radio, TV and the Internet.
Even now, we see the impact of this right-wing media on the budget debate over key issues such as national health care and a “green” economy. Though the Republicans are in a distinct minority and seem to have few constructive ideas, they are, in many ways, driving the debate by popularizing the notion that Obama is a socialist out to bankrupt the country.
That, in turn, emboldens Republicans and intimidates some Democrats, especially from states where the right-wing media is all-pervasive. So, while Republicans present a solid phalanx of opposition to President Barack Obama’s plans, a “centrist” Democratic caucus has emerged to split Democratic unity.
Many of these “centrists” oppose use of a parliamentary device, called “reconciliation,” to enact some of Obama’s agenda by majority vote rather than lose in the face of Republican filibusters. To get some Republican support, these “centrists” are signaling a readiness to water down the President’s proposals and possibly jettison key features, like a public entity that would offer national health insurance.
As the MSM grows weaker – and the right-wing media becomes relatively stronger – this ideological asymmetry is sure to become even more imbalanced. Just Thursday, for instance, the Washington Post announced a new round of staff buyouts and the New York Times underscored its financial difficulties by laying off 100 employees and imposing a 5 percent wage cut on everyone else.
Reversing the Tide
The only way to stop this rightward tilt of American media is to build a counterforce of independent and progressive news outlets. To address this challenge is why we created Consortiumnews.com in 1995. The early signs of today’s media crisis were already apparent.
The idea, then as now, was to pull together resources so we could hire and deploy quality journalists to gather news of national and international interest – and to use the Internet as the primary means of distributing this information, though we also intended to make stories available in other media forms, from print to radio to TV.
We felt, too, that it was important to support the journalists with solid editing and fact-checking, so the material was as reliable as possible. And we insisted that the operation be based in the Washington, D.C., area where most of the news is generated, rather than in cities such as San Francisco, far removed from the front lines of what the Right likes to call “the war of ideas.”
Over the past 13 years, though we’ve succeeded in demonstrating that good journalism can be produced and distributed at very low cost, we have fallen short in convincing concerned citizens with substantial financial resources to join the hundreds of small donors who have kept our operation alive.
Indeed, that may be one of the most remarkable differences between the American Right and the American Left. Right-wingers – from foundations like Olin, Smith-Richardson and Scaife to wealthy individuals such as Rupert Murdoch and Sun Myung Moon – spend billions of dollars subsidizing conservative media while wealthy liberals and progressives shy away financing media, especially news outlets with any kind of edge.
It’s like they don’t really want to engage in the battle. They prefer putting what little money they do spend into “safe” outlets – like NPR or PBS – or into “media reform,” i.e. organizing around media issues, rather than into building tough, honest, courageous news outlets that will take on the powers that be and will shake up the status quo.
Unless that pattern changes – unless people of means who care about the future of the nation – set aside their fears and join the fight, the likelihood is that the media imbalance will only get worse, that Republicans will be emboldened and that timid “centrist” Democrats will wilt under the pressure.
And as the tide flows out on the MSM, liberals and progressives will find themselves even more uncovered than before.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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