Interview with Jeff Cohen, founder of FAIR, media watch group
My guest today is Jeff Cohen, co-founder of RootsAction.org, former director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, and founder of FAIR, the media watch group.
Joan Brunwasser: Welcome back to OpEdNews, Jeff. We last spoke back in 2015, 26,000+ Petition Bernie Sanders to Tackle US Militarism . You were a Bernie supporter back then and appear to be one still. Your latest piece is Here are 7 pressing questions for corporate media outlets about their blatantly anti-progressive biases. Could your perspective be perhaps colored by sour grapes?
Jeff Cohen: I don't get the question. Sour grapes about Bernie not winning -- or about corporate media coverage still being biased against progressive policies and politicians?
JB: Either. I'm interested in your perspective. I'd like to bring our readers up to speed on the subject. Jump in anywhere you want.
JC: Bernie didn't win the 2016 nomination in part because the Democratic National Committee -- which was supposed to be strictly neutral in the nomination process, according to its bylaws -- put its thumb on the scale in various ways to help Hillary Clinton. Four years later, the main obstacle to Bernie winning the nomination is the corporate media system, not the DNC. Thanks to grassroots pressure within the party beginning four years ago, the DNC is acting in a more neutral fashion today. But corporate outlets -- afraid of the popularity of Bernie's proposals (and some of Warren's) -- are in a panic.
I urge folks to read my article in which I identify some of the many anti-progressive media biases -- their use of health insurance industry talking points, their obsessive focus on the price tags of progressive programs but not on the LARGER price tags of continuing the status quo -- whether re healthcare of climate. And almost never the price tags of endless wars.
JB: You know, while I have often felt that the corporate media was biased, I never really thought about the insidiously unsymmetrical demand for price tags. That's a really good point; thanks for bringing it up. How do we fight that bias, which has now been absorbed by so many usually critical voters like me?
JC: There are many informed, progressive people who are not skeptical enough and alert enough about corporate media biases, exclusions, omissions or double standards. The best approach to challenging corporate media bias is to do it together. With other activists. That's why I encourage everyone to go to the website of the progressive media watch group FAIR -- www.fair.org-- and sign up to receive their action alerts. They provide all the specific data and arguments one needs to contact news outlets about a specific bias or two, and they provide contact info to those news sites. We do that kind of response, as well, at RootsAction Education Fund -- for example, this colorful response and petition campaign after CNN's nakedly biased hosting of the Jan 14 Democratic debate.
JB: I just signed up for the newsletter, Jeff. Thanks for the suggestion. We concerned citizens really can't afford to be naive or ignorant about media bias. It's so insidious. What's the real deal about Medicare for All? Is it, or is it not, popular with the average voter? It's been so demonized by the press, it's hard to know just how popular the proposal actually is.
JC: On Iowa Caucus night, CNN was running ads from health insurance firms. During Democratic debates, TV networks run insurance company ads (hiding behind nice sounding Astroturf names) attacking Medicare for All. Despite having few proponents in mainstream opinion-shaping forums and many detractors, Medicare for All (or "single-payer") is remarkably popular. The Kaiser Family Foundation not a supporter of Medicare for All has asked this question in about 10 scientific polls over the last two years: "Do you favor or oppose a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan." Majorities of the public not just majorities of Democrats say they "favor" it.
The bias in corporate media coverage is stark. They constantly refer to a Medicare-for-All system as "government-run" healthcare. Wrong. It's government-provided insurance. Doctors and hospitals are private within Medicare (I'm over 65 and on Medicare) and doctors and hospitals would remain private if Medicare didn't have a 65-and-over age limit, just as they are today under Canada's Medicare for All system.