The right wing’s media strategy to slant the odds in the upcoming 2004 elections will draw from its familiar bag of tricks, with help from its ultra-wealthy friends. This time, it has more position and more muscle to fix the rules and buy off the power players. Pro-people movements won’t beat it in that game, but we need to understand its media strategy to best overcome it.
In the American political system for over half a century, the media are the general managers of public opinion, and TV is their biggest boss. This administration’s tribute to boss TV was to try and hand over billions in local media profits on an FCC platter. It tried to fix the rules of industry so the biggest of the giants can squash competition and buy up local media like never before. It never expected the massive public outcry that exposed and, so far, halted the FCC action mid-theft.
Bush’s fight on behalf of media monopoly corporations wins him more than their profit-gorged thanks (he leans on Wall Street for the really big chunks of campaign money). His real payoff is that these same few media empires have more power than any other corporation or institution to determine what happens on Election Day. And with every day of monopoly media, more and more minds are herded into an ever-smaller arena of thought with higher walls keeping out non-monopoly viewpoints. Within this narrowing zone, the right wing can execute its media strategy to win power.
Right-wing pro-corporate extremism gets power over the public by triangulating three deadly dimensions – fear, ignorance and hate.
In California, the right turned reality on its head. First, Gray Davis was framed for the state’s fearsome economic problems. Then, media ignored the fact that the state’s crisis came from Bush’s pro-corporate federal policies. Third, Arnold groped at hatred using male-dominant posturing and making attacks on Native American Indians for not paying their “fair share.” Sadly, fear, ignorance and hate combined in Arnold’s favor.
Other examples of this disinformation drive are many – like Iraq’s “imminent threat” and “weapons of mass destruction,” and Bush’s “mission accomplished.” Yet in the barrage of big lies, the electorate has not fallen to the right but is near evenly split with Bush’s popularity plummeting. Progressive media strategy that aims at the center can help further break right-wing disinformation triangulation by being a source of hope, truth and unity.
The right aims its media strategy primarily at the political center. The hardest independent media challenge in the dump-Bush effort is to move that center. That’s where we can reach the undecideds, show hope to frustrated voters and non-voters, outrage the complacent with the truth of Bush’s disastrous policies, and create an undeniable groundswell. Independent media need to understand and respond to the hopes of the center, and be real with regular people in terms that move them to action.
Real lasting change obtains from small shifts in large groups. The broad cross-section of the political center is where millions of people can come to see through the economic and social agenda of the right. Moving the political center to vote for administration change will shift the whole arena towards more basic and lasting social progress.
Corporate media help right-wing victory by contributing to voter cynicism and discouragement. Voter turnout will be especially pivotal in ’04. Independent media strategy needs to “leave no voter behind.” With the stakes as high as the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush, there’s no room for discounting voters based on prejudice or formula. Millions of undecided, independent and even Republican voters are wondering where the country is heading, and might easily unite for a vision of progressive change.
The struggle for independent media and against corporate control of the truth is a growing and important movement, as proven by the huge turnout at last week’s Conference on Media Reform. Helping voter turnout, voter education and a defeat for Bush are natural tasks for independent media, alongside of movements for peace, anti-globalization, and the environment, for labor, women’s and civil rights and justice.
Defeating Bush will be an uplifting turning point in grassroots political education. It will advance the battle to rein in the giant media monsters and create a counterforce of truth in the hands of movements for social progress.
Noel Rabinowitz is communications director of the Communist Party USA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org