Throughout history, the media has also been influential in persuading people’s opinions on different topics by circulating information that is fashioned to show the beliefs of one group. In the United States, corporations dominate the media; these elite groups influence publications, advertisements, and present information that best supports their interests.
The importance of the media has been well documented throughout American history. For example, according to McChensey, President James Madison once stated, “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both…” (Robert W. McChensey, Making Media Democratic). Thus, media acts as facet for politicians to hear public opinion and act accordingly. However, history also shows that politicians have used public opinion in the media in order to advocate for their own agenda. For example, in the later part of the nineteenth century, newspapers such as the New York Journal, led by William Randolph Hearst, and the New York World, published by Joseph Pulitzer, began publishing dramatized stories of Spanish cruelty towards Cuban rebels in order to stir the emotions of the American public and lean them towards the rebels’ fight for freedom. At the time, President McKinley recognized the financial benefit of acquiring Cuba, and sent a battle ship, the USS Maine, to observe the situation. When the ship mysteriously exploded, newspapers accused Spain of attacking a US ship, McKinley used this event to formally declare war on Spain. This example demonstrates how the United States government can use propaganda in the media in order to influence foreign policy.
Progressing through the twentieth century advances in the media to include radio and television have promoted and enhanced corporate control of the media. For example, according to McChensey, when the Telecommunications Act was passed in 1996, there was a surge of giant corporations controlling massive amounts of different media outlets (McChensey, Making Media Democratic). The act was passed to ensure competition between the different communication systems such as radio and television that provide media coverage of different topics. One of the main ideas of the act was to use the competition to drive the market with government assistance (McChensey, Making Media Democratic). However, this proved to be detrimental since only large corporations managed to dominate the media. For example, Disney grosses a large sum of money from its different advertisements and movies that are played on multiple TV stations such as ABC network and other cable channels (McChensey, Making Media Democratic). Thus undermining the attempts to expand diversity within the media circuit and placing control of the circuit in the hands of one group.
Edward S. Herman’s article, The Propaganda Model: A Retrospective, discussed the propaganda model and the discrepancies within the media. According to Herman, the propaganda model refers to the “behavior” of different media outlets, as well as their beliefs and attitudes towards particular material that can impact what the media chooses to portray (Edward S. Herman, The Propaganda Model: A Retrospective). Herman’s article assesses that this model affects how the media discusses world news. For example, the media found and reported the Polish government’s crackdown on the Solidarity Union in 1980 and 1981 was extremely newsworthy. However, they did not report the Turkish military government’s “equally brutal” crackdown on trade unions in Turkey at about the same time to be “newsworthy or reprehensible”(Herman, The Propaganda Model: A Retrospective). During the administration of President Ronald Reagan, journalist, such as those associated with the New York Times, reported anti-communist sentiment about Sandinista government. This rhetoric was in part due to the anti-communist message spread by President Reagan and his administration (Herman, The Propaganda Model: A Retrospective). However, the papers did not include analysis of the crimes of the Contra rebels in Nicaragua fighting against the Sandinistas, or the death machines in El Salvador and Guatemala, which all had connections with the United States government (Herman, The Propaganda Model: A Retrospective).
In order to ensure fairness and diversity within the media, McChensey proposed several solutions. For example, McChensey discussed the expansion of nonprofit and noncommercial media, or independent media. This type of independent media would promote diversity within media circuit because it would be excluded from the laws and regulations made by different corporations, which allows for more open discussion and analysis of news that does not include the agendas of different corporations (McChensey, Making Media Democratic). Another solution that McChensey discussed was implementing public broadcasting. He posed that each media system “should include national networks, local stations, public access television, and independent community radio stations…” in order to prevent overall corporation control and influence from major political parties (McChensey, Making Media Democratic). In order to promote diversity, McChensey also suggested allowing third parties to have free airtime on television during electoral campaigns. Paid TV advertising by candidates should either be strictly regulated or banned, as the cost of these advertisement and their content, he stated “destroyed the integrity of electoral democracy” since third parties cannot afford the high prices of TV advertisements unlike their democrat and republican counterparts (McChensey, Making Media Democratic). Lastly, the government should use the Sherman-antitrust laws to monitor corporations such as Time Warner, News Corporation, and Disney from monopolizing and increasingly influence the media (McChensey, Making Media Democratic). Through these changes the media can become more diverse and provide unbiased news to American citizens.
The media is a significant tool in projecting mass amounts of information and shaping people’s opinions about certain topics within the United States or globally. However, due to the overwhelming influence by corporations and the American government the media has transitioned into a phase where the news that is being reported and projected to the public is altered to fit the agenda or attitudes of those running that particular media outlet. These two articles demonstrated pertinent examples of how the media has been corrupted and used within the United States. I feel that the solutions McChensey discussed should be reviewed and considered due to the political ramifications and influence the media has had on United States through history, and to ensure better media use in the future.
Robert W. McChesney, “Making Media Democratic,” Boston Review; A Political and Literary Forum. Available at: http://bostonreview.net/BR23.3/mcchesney.html;
2. Edward S. Herman, “The Propaganda Model: A Retrospective,” in Against All Reason, December 9, 2003).http://www.archivio.formazione.unimib.it/DATA/Insegnamenti/11_2418/materiale/herman_2000%20a%20retrospective.pdf
The New York Times, THE PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE: “The War in Cuba Must Stop,” He Says, After a Review of the Whole Situation. ASKS POWER TO INTERVENE Spain’s Request for Arbitration Over the Maine Disaster Absolutely Ignored — No Safety in Recognizing Cuban Independence Until a Stable Government Is Established.”).