News & Politics

The Corporate Media Isn't Coming Close to Holding Trump Accountable

Increasingly, the media are simply compliant patsies to whoever is in power.

Photo Credit: Evan El-Amin / Shutterstock.com

One of Donald Trump’s first official acts as president was to sign an executive order that will make it more expensive for first-time and low-income homebuyers to buy and keep their homes. His second act was to, among other possible effects, tell the IRS to quit trying to collect the Obamacare tax from people with incomes over a million dollars a year (and begin taking the Affordable Care Act apart in other ways).

But the big media story?

“Trump claims the media lied about the size of his inaugural crowds.”

Increasingly, it appears that the media are simply compliant patsies to whoever is in power, with a higher commitment to sensationalism than to issues that impact everyday Americans.  

Throughout the primaries and the general election we finished last November, the media were committed to “issues-free” coverage (except when Bernie came on and took them to task). No discussion of climate change. No discussion of GOP efforts to destroy the social safety net. No discussion of Republican candidates (or, for that matter, Democratic candidates) who were in the pockets of particular billionaires or industries. No discussion of net neutrality (the companies that own our big media are unanimously opposed to net neutrality, so their millionaire News Stars never, ever discuss the topic). No discussion of corporate consolidation or control over Congress. No discussion of the role of billionaires in the election.

Instead, we got a reality show, filled with drama and name-calling, and devoid of information necessary to know who’d govern on behalf of whom.

The average person watching the news would never know that the billionaires almost certainly got a big tax cut (ultimately at the expense of poor working people on Medicaid/Obamacare) while first-time homebuyers just got screwed with two of Trump’s first official acts in office. And Fox News viewers, of course, will probably never know such things.

Throughout the campaign season, Donald Trump (and team) displayed both their contempt for and their domination of the corporate media in America. Whenever things started to get serious in ways that might actually bring up issues, Trump was off with another new tweetstorm, and the millionaire TV News Stars ran, stampede-like, to cover it.  

There’s a simple reality here: The Republican Party is the wholly owned front for billionaires and transnational corporations. The Democratic Party, since the creation of Al From and Bill Clinton’s DLC, have aspired to become the same only for the “white collar top 10%” (as Thomas Frank so brilliantly documents in his new book Listen Liberal!) – although there are still Democratic politicians who are relatively or entirely independent of corporate/billionaire control.  

But the press won’t ever tell you this. Why? 

Why won’t the press point out that our national debt is also the principal place for private savings to be safely parked – but Wall Street banksters want competition for a place to put savings ended by ending the national debt? Why don’t they even bother to note that the one and only time the national debt was paid off and thus the only place private savings could go was to the banks, during the administration of Andrew Jackson, brought us the longest and deepest depression in our nation’s history?

Why won’t the press point out that the same Wall Street banksters (at least five of them within Trump’s inner circle) also want all retirement savings to be in their hands via the privatization of Social Security? Wall Street looks at the $2.7 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, thinking that if they could just skim even 1% or 2% in fees off the top, that they’d be soooooo much richer, and nobody in the press thinks it’s even worthy of mention.

Similarly, there’s no mention whatsoever in the media about the role Big Pharma and the health insurance banksters (they only handle money; no “insurance” company employee ever treated anybody medically) play in skimming hundreds of billions of dollars out of our economy. Even Democratic senator Corey Booker recently voted on the side of Big Pharma, one of his major campaign contributors, and while the vote was noted, the money he’s taken was rarely mentioned in the mainstream media.

The Republican Party is largely a racket controlled by big industry and a few hundred very, very wealthy people. This same cancer has similarly infected the Democratic Party, although it’s at least salvageable.  

The reason the corporate media isn’t pointing out what, in previous eras was called “political corruption,” is because the media is part of the same corrupt system. Between Reagan and Clinton (Fairness Doctrine and Telecommunications Act of 1996), the media has gone from literally over 10,000 owners all across the nation to a mere dozen or so. And, public companies all, their interest is not in having an informed public, but in making the most money they can.

Today’s corporate media bears little resemblance to our Founders’ notion of a free press – which they argued was necessary to a functioning democratic republic – for the same reason our legislators make laws that benefit the top 1% with consistent regularity, but largely ignore the bottom 90%’s needs and desires altogether.  

This is not the result of “bad people” in either party or in the media. It’s cooked into the system, thanks in large part to Lewis Powell and our Supreme Court.

A year before Richard Nixon put Lewis Powell on the Supreme Court in 1972, Powell authored the now-infamous (although largely unread) “Powell Memo” to his friend who ran the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  

That memo urged business – which at that time was largely apolitical – to get actively involved in every dimension of American life.  Create “think tanks” to get the “pro-business” (and pro-billionaire) point of view embedded into everything from our media to our schools. Privatize everything possible.  

In The Crash of 2016 (a book about how the Powell Memo has flipped the entire nature of our nation), I pointed out:

As Powell wrote, “Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.” Thus, Powell said, “The role of the National Chamber of Commerce is therefore vital.”

In the nearly 6,000-word memo, Powell called on corporate leaders to launch an economic and ideological assault on college and high school campuses, the media, the courts, and Capitol Hill.

The objective was simple: the revival of the Royalist-controlled so-called “free market” system.

Or, as Powell put it, “[T]he ultimate issue…[is the] survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people.”

The first area of attack Powell encouraged the Chamber to focus on was the education system. “[A] priority task of business—and organizations such as the Chamber—is to address the campus origin of this hostility [to big business],” Powell wrote.

What worried Powell in 1971 was the new generation of young Americans growing up to resent corporate culture. He believed colleges were filled with “Marxist professors,” and that the pro-business agenda of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover had fallen into disrepute since the Great Depression. He knew that winning this war of economic ideology in America required spoon-feeding the next generation of leaders the doctrines of a free-market theology, from high school all the way through graduate and business school.

At the time, college campuses were rallying points for the progressive activism sweeping the nation as young people demonstrated against poverty, the Vietnam War, and in support of civil rights.

So Powell put forward a laundry list of ways the Chamber could retake the higher-education system. First, create an army of corporate-friendly think tanks that could influence education. “The Chamber should consider establishing a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system,” he wrote.

Then, go after the textbooks. “The staff of scholars,” Powell wrote, “should evaluate social science textbooks, especially in economics, political science and sociology…This would include assurance of fair and factual treatment of our system of government and our enterprise system, its accomplishments, its basic relationship to individual rights and freedoms, and comparisons with the systems of socialism, fascism and communism.”

Powell argued that the civil rights movement and the labor movement were already in the process of rewriting textbooks. “We have seen the civil rights movement insist on re-writing many of the textbooks in our universities and schools. The labor unions likewise insist that textbooks be fair to the viewpoints of organized labor.” Powell was concerned the Chamber of Commerce was not doing enough to stop this growing progressive influence and replace it with a pro-plutocratic perspective.

“Perhaps the most fundamental problem is the imbalance of many faculties,” Powell then pointed out. “Correcting this is indeed a long-range and difficult project. Yet, it should be undertaken as a part of an overall program. This would mean the urging of the need for faculty balance upon university administrators and boards of trustees.” As in, the Chamber needs to infiltrate university boards in charge of hiring faculty to make sure only corporate-friendly professors are hired.

But Powell’s recommendations weren’t exclusive to college campuses; he targeted high schools as well. “While the first priority should be at the college level, the trends mentioned above are increasingly evidenced in the high schools. Action programs, tailored to the high schools and similar to those mentioned, should be considered,” he urged.

Next, Powell turned the corporate dogs on the media. As Powell instructed, “Reaching the campus and the secondary schools is vital for the long-term. Reaching the public generally may be more important for the shorter term.”

Powell added, “It will…be essential to have staff personnel who are thoroughly familiar with the media, and how most effectively to communicate with the public.”

He then went on to advocate that same system used for the monitoring of college textbooks be applied to television and radio networks. “This applies not merely to so-called educational programs…but to the daily ‘news analysis’ which so often includes the most insidious type of criticism of the enterprise system.”

Prior to 1976, giving money to politicians or political action committees or their equivalents was considered a “behavior,” which could be regulated.  From the George Washington administration until 1976, money in politics was repeatedly tightened and loosened (invariably by or after “bribery” scandals).

But in 1976, in a Supreme Court case titled Buckley v. Valeo, Lewis Powell succeeded in laying the foundation for changing virtually all the rules governing money in politics.

Attacking legislation passed in the wake of the Nixon scandals (which included Nixon taking bribes), Powell and his colleagues wrote in the Buckley case:

The Act's contribution and expenditure limitations operate in an area of the most fundamental First Amendment activities. Discussion of public issues and debate on the qualifications of candidates are integral to the operation of the system of government established by our Constitution. The First Amendment affords the broadest protection to such political expression in order 'to assure (the) unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people. …

A restriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign necessarily reduces the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached.

Within a decade, an explosion of now-familiar right-wing/pro-corporate, pro-billionaire think tanks and groups had formed, and they’ve largely shaped the contours of our American political dialogue. Using Buckley as its basis, the Court then extended the logic – blowing open the doors to corporate and billionaire money – in 2010’s Citizens’ United case.

Given that Trump will almost certainly appoint to the Supreme Court justices who will extend and expand “corporate personhood rights” and “billionaire rights” to own politicians and political parties, perhaps for the next generation or more (and given that these “rights” have never, ever been put into law by any legislature), it’s unlikely the deep, systemic corruption of our government by petrobillionaires and their friends will be uprooted. Thus, it’s similarly unlikely that Congress or the president will do anything to push our “news” organizations back to covering the news, instead of providing us with bread-and-circus infotainment.

Which leaves us with only one option: organize, with the ultimate goal of reclaiming political power.

As legendary talk show host Joe Madison loves to point out, we have to take this “moment” and turn it into a “movement.”

Now is not a time to tune out or move to Mexico. It’s time to organize, speak out, and take control of the Democratic Party, and build a broad and deep progressive grass-roots infrastructure outside the Party as well.  

Show up. Volunteer. Bring your friends.  

Although President Jimmy Carter told me last year on my radio show that American is now “an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery,” there are still shreds and remnants of democracy left in our society.  It’s up to us to bring them back to life.

Tag, you’re it.  

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and author of over 25 books in print

 

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