March 31, 2008
Last week Arab News printed in the “Letters to the Editor” column a letter by Ms. Lin Hansen Petro from Portland, Oregon, commenting on my article, “Peace & Stability: Pre-requisites for Reform” (March 7). Ms. Petro wrote that while writing her article, “Fatin Bundagji conveniently forgot, as Arab writers usually do, that the US was attacked by Arab terrorists which led to retaliatory action in the Middle East and out of America. All those glorious outreach programs she was describing that America used to do would still be in effect and there would be no war waging at the moment if the radical Arabs kept their opinions and hatred of American policies in the academic or political arena… the majority of Americans are getting pretty fed up with handling out billions of dollars in aid, education, medical care, technological advancements, and religious tolerance and so on to a world of egocentric ingrates”.
Ms. Petro has every right to her opinion. But as a citizen of a nation built on the values of liberty, equality and justice; a nation that regards a free press to be as important as its three independent arms of government, Ms. Petro also has the right to an accurate and unbiased media beaming into her home on a daily basis. This basic American right, the right to a free press, she, and most American citizens are systematically denied.
To most average hardworking and law-abiding Americans, their view of the international community is severely shortsighted and impaired. It is a worldview that is craftily fine-tuned, filtered and controlled by media outlets that are biased in favor of the sources that fund them.
In his article “None dare call it Censorship”, Jack Douglas, a retired professor of sociology from the University of California, writes: “All serious and intelligent journalists today know that the US government has massive media management brigades to carefully control what Americans see and, thus, what they are very likely to believe about things of which they have no direct experience, such as high-level politics, finance and foreign affairs. They also know that the government is extremely effective in secretly censoring the news by using devices such as ‘embedded reporting’ in nations like Afghanistan and Iraq which the US government invades, occupies, and governs. (If you do not know what ‘embedded reporting’ is, I strongly advise you to ‘Google’ it).”
Today, almost all media in the US are owned by for-profit corporations that by law are obliged to put the profits of their investors ahead of all other considerations. This goal of maximizing profit both jeopardizes the practice of responsible journalism and violates what the founding fathers of the US Constitution paid in blood to preserve: A free press — a free press that is protected by law in the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights; a free press that is regrettably being compromised by the elite on a daily basis.
The reasons for this compromise may vary but at the core, is the need for power and control. Power and control by US corporations, advertisers, and official agendas to name but a few. FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting), a US national media watch group. states that not only are most US major media owned by corporations, but that these corporations are becoming larger and fewer in number as the bigger ones absorb their rivals thereby reducing the diversity of media voices and putting greater power — and a narrow debate — in the hands of few.
According to FAIR, most of the income of for-profit media outlets does not come from the audiences, but rather from commercial advertisers who are interested in selling products to that audience. This gives corporate sponsors influence over what people see and read and all in favor of information that does not criticize the sponsors’ products or discuss any corporate wrongdoing.
As for the official agenda, FAIR states that despite the claims that the press has an adversarial relationship with the government, in truth US media generally follow Washington’s official line. This is particularly obvious in wartime, foreign policy coverage, and with domestic controversies. The owners and managers of dominant media outlets generally share the background, worldview, and income bracket of political elites.
Top news executives and celebrity reporters frequently socialize with government officials; and the most powerful media companies routinely make large contributions to both major political parties, while receiving millions of dollars in return in the form of payments for running political ads.
For true democracy to work, people need easy access to independent, diverse sources of news and information. The last two decades the US has seen a record corporate media consolidation. Whereas in the 1980s there were more than 50 media outlets nationwide, by 2000 they shrank down to a mere 6.
Big money buys big media and at the expense of the 1st Amendment. But luckily for the average American, the story does not have to end here. Independent news and media outlets are actively working at preserving a balanced coverage of the news so as to give the American public a broad and multidimensional aspect of what is being covered. FAIR, the one I mentioned above, is one of them, and Democracy Now is another. In addition, there are many more available online, and they are increasing in number and in national reach.
I urge Ms. Petro to Google “US media watchdogs” to empower herself to learn firsthand of whatever she chooses to be informed on.
This is her right, and I have to add her responsibility to her country, and to the world at large.
She may not know it, but by the sheer power and might of her country, any opinion she forms, however innocently, will by default affect the lives of millions of people in countries she may never have heard of.
I will conclude my article with a quote from Lee Atwater who masterminded media bias back in the 1980s and who created the most powerful Republican Media Propaganda Grand Strategy for controlling US pubic thinking.
On his deathbed he said,
“my illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: A little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The ’80s were about US acquiring wealth, power, and prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn’t I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn’t I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don’t know who will lead us through the ’90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.”