Media Democratization

The Tradeoff Between Military and Civilian Outlays Is Undiscussible In This Corporate Pseudo-Democracy: We Need To Make Bolder Moves Toward Media Democratization

by Edward S. Herman

Dissident Voice

April 22, 2003


President George Bush has asked congress for $63 billion to fund the invasion, pacification, and occupation of Iraq, and there will almost surely be supplementary monies needed later.


Meanwhile, the states in this country, suffering from falling revenues and rising demands in a recessionary economy, face an estimated $70 billion deficit and they, along with thousands of municipalities, are scrambling to slash back outlays for education, health care, housing and public services across the board.


(With few exceptions, states by law cannot run deficits but must balance their budgets each year.) While Bush is asking for the $63 billion for military spending his January budget proposal did nothing to alleviate the domestic fiscal crisis, and he has proposed nothing since January to help state and local governments cope.


In order to get congressional and public approval of his military plans and priorities, Bush also spent several millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money propagandizing for the planned attack on Iraq, and with arguments that none of the world outside the United States swallows.


His argument that Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction posed a credible threat to U.S. national security is one that any moderately intelligent and informed high school freshman could refute; and Bush’s claim that he and his administration were devoted to liberating Iraqis from tyranny--increasingly stressed as the missing weapons of mass destruction failed to show themselves to the invasion forces--reeks of cynicism and hypocrisy, given the long U.S. support of Saddam Hussein as well as tyrants in his neighborhood and across the globe..


But although the Bush arguments have been puerile and eminently challengeable, and the internal crisis of the states and civil society needs are severe, with damage already being felt and likely to hurt millions more U.S. citizens in the future, the mainstream media of the United States and the national legislatures have not only not challenged the Bush priorities, they have not even discussed them or allowed them to be discussed. The media have cooperated with the Bush cabal in SELLING the Bush military adventurism and its lies, and the Democrats have joined the mob or lapsed into silence.


You might think that somebody with communication system outreach or political power would ask about the tradeoffs being imposed by Bush—about whether it is the best use of $100-200 billion of taxpayers money and resources to displace a regional dictator, formerly a valued ally of the Republican Party leadership, or whether it might not be better to use those resources to serve the domestic citizenry and protect them from increasingly severe public service cutbacks. Honest polls have for many years shown that, except in times of war or aggressive war propaganda, the U.S. public wants less "defense" expenditures and more for education and other public services (e.g., Steven Kull, Americans on Defense Spending, A Study of Public Attitudes [January 19, 1996].).


Given these public preferences, and given the grotesque Bush case for the Iraq assault and occupation, plus the pressing needs of the troubled states and civil society, at least debating these issues would seem to be a minimal requirement of a democratic community.


But we have not had that debate in any way, shape or form. The media have presented the Bush military buildup, invasion and occupation as an unchallengeable and meritorious given, the big questions being whether the UN would go along with this noble venture and whether we would be able to finish off another virtually defenseless target with celerity and minimal casualties.


The state and local fiscal crisis and daily and planned service cutbacks are reported as unconnected in any way with the federal budget decisions being made. The costs of the Bush wars are accepted without question and the tradeoffs are not discussed and not subjected to debate. And the Democrats are too afraid of being called unpatriotic and offending powerful lobbies to even squeak mouselike as the interests of their voting constituencies are traded-off.


This is another reflection of the fact that we don’t have a democratic community in the United States, we have a plutocracy, a two-party system that is subject to "golden rule, "with the fragmented general citizenry onlookers and sometimes pesky protesters, the citizens interests simply ignored.


In his outstanding book Golden Rule, Thomas Ferguson argues that in a money-driven political system, where the major funders of parties agree on an issue the parties won’t compete on it--so if those investors all approve of a fat military establishment and the way George Bush is serving their own interests, both the Republicans and Democrats will go along with him and give him his gigantic military budget and even actual wars; and where no effective constituency exists to force an issue like the crisis of the states and civil society onto the public agenda, it won’t get on it "no matter how many little investors or non-investors might benefit."


The mainstream media are an integral part of this golden rule establishment, ruled themselves by investors (proprietors, advertisers), and just as they decided that Bush and Gore were all the candidates needed to present the issues in a national debate in 2000, so they feel that nobody outside the investor-dominated establishment is needed to discuss Bush’s aggression or national priorities.


These trade-offs have been widely discussed on the Internet and in labor and other citizen venues, but in a highly fragmented way, without coalescence or link to political action. They are not going to be given much attention or make their mark in the political area without an independent media and strong grassroots organizations that can mount a mass challenge.


As regards the media, we desperately need our own. A hopeful lesson may be drawn from recent South Korean experience, where a startup free online newspaper OhmyNews, which began only three years ago with four employees, was registering 20 million page-views a day in late 2002, and is widely regarded as having helped transform Korean politics from conservative to liberal "almost overnight" (Howard French, "Online Newspaper Shakes Up Korean Politics," NYT, March 6, 2003).


OhmyNews simply ran around the country’s overwhelmingly conservative newspapers, found a receptive audience, and made a difference. Such an enterprise here would be an important step toward democratization. We should be making such moves before it is too late.


Edward S. Herman is Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and a contributor to Z Magazine. He is author of The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Global Capitalism with Robert McChesney (Cassell, 1997), Triumph of the Market: Essays on Economics, Politics, and the Media (South End Press, 1995), and Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media with Noam Chomsky (South End Press, 1988). This article first appeared on ZNET (www.znet.org/weluser.htm).




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