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The Silent Wheel Gets the Shaft

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Conservative Republicans hold great sway over the US news media for a number of reasons. The usual list of suspects includes:

1) news media consolidation under the control of large corporations,
2) pressure to be pro-Republican from management, publishers, editors and corporate advertisers,
3) fear of being labeled "liberal" after years of derision from conservatives,
4) fear of losing access to White House briefings and administration sources,
5) a pack mentality among the press,
6) the unusually friendly nature of the relationship between the press corps and Republicans, especially those in the White House, and
7) the September 11 terrorist attacks have been used by the administration to effectively silence the press from criticizing policies and decisions.

However, there are other significant, but perhaps less discussed reasons why the mainstream media now tend to lean significantly to the right, despite being criticized for leaning left. Entire books have now been written on how the mainstream news media have been soft on President Bush as compared to their treatment of President Clinton. Many people, including author Eric Boehlert, have commented on the fact that the mainstream media went from attack dogs to lap dogs coincidentally with the turn of administrations.

A critical underpinning of the conservative media tilt is what has been termed by media analysts such as David Brock as "the right-wing noise machine". However, this terminology tends to trivialize one of the most serious threats to our democracy. Without a healthy, independent and skeptical press corps, one of the major checks and balances in our system of free government has been compromised. I believe the problem is better described as the "Republican-corporate propaganda machine".

The four primary driving forces that feed and sustain the Republican-corporate propaganda machine are 1) reduced taxes on corporations and the very rich, 2) new laws permitting increased media consolidation, 3) special access and arrangements between corporate lobbyists and Republicans, and 4) special access and arrangements between "journalists" and administration officials. All four of these forces combine to provide great impetus for news media corporations to be biased in favor of the current administration. Turn on any financial channel and you'll hear panicked, shrill banter about keeping Democrats out of power in order to keep the (wealthy-biased) tax cuts in place. Apparently, for Republicans, patriotism stops were taxes begin.

The Republican-corporate propaganda machine uses numerous techniques to keep the US public distracted and misinformed on key issues that affect everyone in this country. You will rarely hear serious discussions about the looming $9 trillion US debt, or the stagnation of the minimum wage in this country. The corporate-controlled media will often lash out at unions, or immigrants, and always against liberals and Democrats that would try to bring fiscal responsibility back to the US government. As far as Wall Street is concerned, the wild profit orgy will be over if the Democrats take control of either the House or Senate. Fear of Democratic fiscal responsibility may be the single greatest driving force behind the right-ward tilt of the corporate-controlled news media.

The major daily tactic of the Republican-corporate propaganda machine is to overwhelm the system with angry rhetoric - angry rhetoric coming from radio talk shows, angry rhetoric coming from administration officials, spokespersons, and Republican members of Congress, and attempts to drum up angry rhetoric from the conservative base using all available media outlets. This is the age-old idea that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease". If you don't make a lot of noise, you won't get your way. So even though Republicans control all branches of government, they need to make as much noise as possible to drown out any dissent.

Liberals are finally trying to fight back with a smattering of talk radio, and with Internet news sites and blogs, but they can't match the sheer volume of the corporate-controlled airwaves, and their deep-pocketed corporate backers. Combined with the fact that the highly diluted liberal message is also disjointed and factionalized, and you have a recipe for perpetual Republican control of our government. Further, the demoralized Democratic base does not complain to their elected representatives at anywhere near the level that Republicans do. Many Democrats have given up on politics and no longer pay attention or participate. That's just how the Republicans like it. Until Democrats unite to formulate a sound, popular plan for moving the country forward, and until they articulate it loud and clear to the public, the silent wheel will just get the shaft. Who needs to grease a silent wheel?

Democrats need to reawaken, energize and speak out. Write your Senators and Congressperson at least once a week to let them know exactly how you feel. Become a squeaky wheel.

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John R. Moffett PhD is a research neuroscientist in the Washington, DC area. Dr. Moffett's main area of research focuses on the brain metabolite N-acetylaspartate, and an associated genetic disorder known as Canavan disease.

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