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If Media Were Any Good

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A week ago, I published a report on 1,200 photos of U.S. torture that I have examined but the public at large has not seen. I talked about the photos on a few progressive radio shows. I received calls from some advocacy groups that have been trying for years to get hold of these photos. But I received not one single inquiry from the corporate media. Even most good blogs ignored this story despite a handful of prominent blogs promoting it. This started me thinking and fantasizing: what would the world look like if we had major media outlets that were worth more than a warm bucket of spit?

Imagine if the media monopolies were busted, a diversity of private outlets were free to compete, and public media were developed, including free substantive air time for election campaigns. Imagine media outlets with democratic accountability. Imagine media outlets that judged a story important if the majority of the public said so, and not if those in power said so.

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The majority of the public favors single-payer healthcare. Corporate media outlets are crammed with endless, often pointless, stories about healthcare that never mention single-payer. On Friday a House committee passed an amendment to allow states to create single-payer healthcare systems, and have you heard about that from a single corporate media outlet? Another amendment now up for a vote would create single-payer at the national level. Heard that one mentioned? Our existing media outlets (whose lead blogs follow more than bloggers admit to themselves) decide what's important based on the preferences of a small number of powerful people. And the fact that these preferences almost always differ wildly from majority opinion does not lead to any rethinking of the acceptability of this approach in a democratic republic.

The same treatment is accorded other people around the world by the U.S. media. Over in Iraq (remember that place?) an important deadline is approaching in the treaty that Bush and Maliki made, and which Bush misleadingly called a status of forces agreement in order to not call it a treaty. The U.S. Senate never consented to this treaty, was never asked to, and never demanded the right. But the Iraqi Parliament, which represented a public whose media -- even in the midst of a living hell -- better informed it of the treaty's terms than ours did, approved the treaty. But the parliament approved the treaty only on the condition that the Iraqi people be able to vote it up or down in a vote to be held no later than July 2009. Heard anything about this lately? Check your calendar, and then check your newspaper. What gives? If you could bring slaughtered native Americans back to life they could tell you the violations of their treaties were not heavily covered in the white man's press. The June deadline to withdraw from Iraqi cities was met in part by redrawing boundaries. Can you imagine the outrage if a foreign force did such a thing while occupying the United States? Some actions are deemed outrageous and others unworthy of extensive discussion. Some articles are written with that obnoxious air of "objectivity" while other articles are not written.

A democratic communications system that worked for the people rather than those in power, advertisers, and corporate partners would identify politicians by party and state but also by amount of money accepted from the corporations relevant to the issue under consideration. All the endless articles and chatter about healthcare would look different with the dollar figures inserted. A democratic media outlet would forego fluff and filler to engage in useful functions such as tracking whether elected officials fulfill their campaign promises, something I've done here and the St Petersburg Times has done here.

Democratic (small d) media would be very different from Democratic or Republican or Bipartisan media. It would treat laws as mandatory, not subject to the whims of those in power. It would treat enforcement of laws against those in power as more important than their enforcement against everyone else. Such media would not cover resistance to a war without noting that the war was (if it was) illegal. Such media would not cover the prosecution of low-level soldiers for crimes they were ordered to commit, without investigating their superiors and asking why they had not been prosecuted. Such media would not quote nonsensical statements by those in power about possibly investigating whether crimes had been committed without noting (when it existed) the publicly available evidence that in fact crimes had almost certainly been committed. And if a former vice president appeared on a democratic show and brazenly confessed to felonies, the producers would invite the attorney general to view the tape on the air and respond to it.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)

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