The Media Monopoly

Bernie speaking on the media
Bernie speaking on the media
Compare this 1983 book review for The Media Monopoly by Ben Bagdikian with our present situation with media blackouts and now with Bloomberg, owning a media outlet and having entered the 2020 presidential contest; and Buttigieg whose early endorsers/supporters/investors include bezos, owner of the Washington Post, and Hastings, owner of Netflix.
Ben Bagdikian, in his classic muckraker volume *The Media Monopoly* (Beacon, $14.95), unearths the nuts and bolts of that problem. Bagdikian is a crochety media critic, the kind of guy you’d expect to find squirreled away behind an ancient wooden desk, chomping a cigar while he spouts heresies from beneath a battered green visor. And what he has to say about the monopolization of our information sources ought to be front-page news.

The book is a series of vivid horror stories. In the 1950s, when Senator Joseph McCarthy admitted to publisher William Randolph Hearst, Jr., that he really had no solid information about any communists in the State Department, Hearst said not to worry — then he highlighted McCarthy’s bogus accusations in headlines across America. The witch hunt — one of the most terrifying eras of political repression in U.S. history — was off and running.

Hearst owned an aptly named
Ben Bagdikian, in his classic muckraker volume The Media Monopoly (Beacon, $14.95), unearths the nuts and bolts of that problem. Bagdikian is a crochety media critic, the kind of guy you’d expect to find squirreled away behind an ancient wooden desk, chomping a cigar while he spouts heresies from beneath a battered green visor. And what he has to say about the monopolization of our information sources ought to be front-page news.
The book is a series of vivid horror stories. In the 1950s, when Senator Joseph McCarthy admitted to publisher William Randolph Hearst, Jr., that he really had no solid information about any communists in the State Department, Hearst said not to worry — then he highlighted McCarthy’s bogus accusations in headlines across America. The witch hunt — one of the most terrifying eras of political repression in U.S. history — was off and running.
Hearst owned an aptly named “chain” of newspapers — which, Bagdikian insists, is a contradiction in terms. Though they traffic in what most precious of public rights, the free flow of information, the links in these chains are often handled like mere digits on corporate balance sheets. In the 1930s, for example, the Hearst chain suddenly killed two of its own newspapers in Rochester, New York, giving the rival Gannett chain a monopoly there. Local citizens were mystified, until they learned that the Gannett chain simultaneously killed two of its papers in Albany, thus trading Hearst one monopoly for another. Both chains no doubt profited from the deal, but the implications, both for public access to information and for the fate of journalistic freedom, were obvious. Small wonder that a poll of the American Society of Newspaper Editors has revealed that fully a third of them do not feel free to run a news story that would damage their parent firm.
However, Bagdikian’s most gruesome story is reserved for the book publishing industry. In 1973 MIT professor Noam Chomsky’s Counter-Revolutionary Violence, which criticized U.S. policy in the Third World, was slated to be published by a subsidiary of Warner, Inc. With 10,000 copies already off the press and ready for stores, Warner’s president David Sarnoff reportedly ordered the volumes physically destroyed, claiming that Chomsky’s meticulous scholarship was “worthless and full of lies.” Sarnoff later paid Richard Nixon $2 million for his memoirs, a publishing event accompanied by a profusion of praise for the First Amendment. As the old saying goes, freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.
Bucky Fuller once compared governments to blood clots blocking the flow of democracy; Ben Bagdikian here shows that the same could be said of corporations vis á vis the flow of public information. “The media provide un-integrated fragments of [corporate] arrogance, without the coherence that brings understanding,” he charges. “The major media speak with clarity and persistence about the sins of the powerless, but they do not speak with clarity and persistence about the sins of private power.”
Someone has to, and that’s what makes this book must reading. If fifty corporations can control what we know, then there’s no such thing as American democracy. Garbage in, garbage out.
— Harvey Wasserman, New Age Journal, November 1983
Bernie speaking on the media
Bernie speaking on the media