Why we won’t solve any other major problem confronting the U.S. without media reform.

January 22, 2007 | By | 5 Replies More

The following remarks were delivered by Bernie Sanders to the National Conference for Media Reform. Sanders is the junior United States Senator from Vermont.  He is an independent, but caucuses with the Democrats.  Amy Goodman describes Sanders’ speech as an “alternative State of the Union.”

The full text to Sanders’ speech can be found here.  Video of his presentation can be found here.  Here are excerpts of Sanders’ speech to the NCMR in Memphis:

[W]e will not succeed unless you are there, unless there is a strong grassroots media, which demands fundamental changes in media today and the end of corporate control over our media. We’ve got to work together on that.

Now, you are going to hear from a lot of folks who know more about the details of the media than I do, but what I do know a lot about is how media impacts the political process, what media means for those of us who day after day struggle with the major issues facing our country and a goal of trying to improve the quality of life for all of our people.

And I want to spend just a minute in telling you what I suspect most of you already know. If you are concerned, as been said, about healthcare, if you are concerned about foreign policy and Iraq, if you are concerned about the economy, if you are concerned about global warming, you are kidding yourselves if you are not concerned about corporate control over the media, because every one of these issues is directly controlled and directly relevant to the media.

In terms of the war in Iraq, the American media failed, and failed grotesquely, in exposing the dishonest and misleading assertions of the Bush administration in the lead-up to that war, and they are as responsible as is President Bush for the disaster that now befalls us . . .

. . . If you were to ask me what the most significant untold story of our time is, in terms of domestic politics, I would tell you very simply that that story happens to be the collapse of the American middle class.   . . . [D]espite an explosion of technology, huge increase in worker productivity, tens of millions of our fellow Americans have seen a decline in their real wages and are working longer hours for lower wages. In fact, what you probably don’t know is that the working people in our country work longer hours than do the working people in any other industrialized nation on earth.

How did that happen? How did it happen today that a two-income family has less disposal income than a one-income family did thirty years ago? . . .  Now, one might think that this is an interesting story. One might think that globalization and disastrous trade policies, which have lowered the standard of living of millions of American workers, might be a story that should be covered. . . .

Now, what is all of this about? What happens? If the reality of working people’s lives are not reflected in the TV, in the newspapers, what happens? . . .

People working long hours, people working for lower wages, they turn on the television set, they do not see that reality. What they see is the issue is personal responsibility. You can’t afford healthcare? You’re losing your pension? Then the problem is with you. Work a little bit harder. It is not a systemic problem. It is not a problem that can be solved by government. It is not a problem which asked you to be involved in the political process. You are the only person who can find a job that pays you a living wage. That’s your fault! . . .

When we wake up in the morning and we brush our teeth, for better or worse, we see our own reflections in the mirror. When we turn on the television, somebody is providing us a mirror to the world, and what we want is that mirror to reflect the reality of ordinary people and not the illusions of a few.

Talk about healthcare. [G]o out on the street and ask people how many major countries in the world do not have a national healthcare program, which guarantees healthcare to all people. And you know what? Most people do not know, because they have not seen it reflected in the media, that the United States of America is the only nation on earth that does not guarantee healthcare to all of its people. They do not know about the healthcare systems in Scandinavia. They do not know about European healthcare systems. And the only thing they will hear about the Canadian healthcare system are the problems that that system has. That’s what they will hear . . .

In terms of the environment, if we are told over and over again that there is a serious scientific debate about the causation of global warming or whether global warming actually exists … Well, you know what? There is no debate among the scientific community.

Now, here’s an issue that I’m sure you see on the TV almost every night — it probably bores you, you see it so much — and that is that the United States today has the most unfair distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth. I was joking. You don’t see that on television very often. Now, here is at issue, you know, which is of enormous significance from an economic point of view, as well as a political point of view, as well as a moral point of view. Richest 1% of the population in America owns more wealth than the bottom 90%. Richest 13,000 families earn more income than do the bottom 20 million families. In many ways, in my view, we are moving toward an oligarchic form of society. Do you think that maybe this is an issue that should be thrown out there on the table? Do we think it’s a good idea that so few have so much and so many have so little? But that is an issue that is beyond the scope of what establishment media is literally allowed to discuss.

I agree with Sanders that media reform is a prerequisite to solving all of the major problems facing this country.  See here and here see the many recent posts on the topic of media reform at this site.  For much more on the topic, spend some time at Free Press.

The first step–the take action–let your elected representatives know that media reform deserves the highest priority.

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Category: American Culture, Civil Rights, Communication, Economy, Energy, Environment, global warming, Health, Iraq, Media, Medicine, Military, Politics, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Dan says:

    What 'media reform' does the author propose?

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Dan: Check out the dozen or so posts over the past 10 days dealing with media reform. Most of the people at the conference were in agreement with many of the proposed reforms, including breaking up corporate concentration of media ownership and fighting hard to preserve net neutrality. Sanders embraced the Conference at the beginning of his speech.

    Here is what I would suggest: If you can STAND IT, take a good hard look at your local newspaper and local television "news," and ask yourself whether we can do better to inform the citizens on important issues of the day. Or whether these "news" sources have devolved into mostly mindless entertainment, including a full 5-minutes occupied by weather and weather-teasers when there isn't ANY meaningful coverage of state and local politics.

    The main concern (I know that I'm being presumptuous in speaking for Sanders) is that numerous stories and perspectives are being ignored by the corporate media. Only a narrow range of information IS getting out, and it too often comports with the viewpoint espoused by big corporations.

    As discussed at this session (http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=946), "news" all too often ignores intelligent analysis and contexualization of current events.

    Once we start hearing these currently-missing perspective, it's not going to be Nirvana. That's simply when the process of democracy can truly begin. Without these other viewpoints, though, we are flying blind.

  3. Chris says:

    If you're going to blame the corporate masters for outright lies (Fox), that's one thing. But I think blaming them for the bread-and-circuses tone is a bit unfair, as they are only pandering to what the audience wants.

    The devil in the details of popular sovereignty is that with great power comes great responsibility. If we the people have the ultimate power, then we also have the ultimate responsibility; if the media shows us what we want to see, we should first hold ourselves responsible for wanting to see pleasing illusions rather than the truth.

    Until a majority of the *audience* prefers accurate reporting and meaningful analysis to propaganda and fluff, real media reform will be a pipe dream. Ultimately, the buck stops not in the White House, but in a hundred million living rooms.

  4. Ebonmuse says:

    What Chris said. We can bemoan the vast influence that a wealthy few individuals and megacorporations have on politics, but money alone can't win elections. If the entire nation's citizenry was truly informed and motivated, all the corporate cash in the world wouldn't mean a thing.

    Although media reform is a worthy goal, ultimately the media isn't the cause of the problem, but a symptom of the problem. Too many people desire glitz and trivia more than real news about the issues that really matter, and of the ones that are left, many only want news that reinforces whatever beliefs they already hold and not objective debate that challenges their preconceptions.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Chris and Ebonmuse are onto something important. If the goal is to cast blame, yes, we need to point the finger at oh-so-many people who keep keep keep making terrible choices. But the media corporations have responded to this by filling almost the entire spectrum with entertainment that reaches the lowest common denominator and alleged news that utterly fails to prepare us to be responsible citizens. The irresponsible consumers and the irresponsible providers have taken us to the bottom. So now what?

    I seek a media that provides alternate voices. I want thoughtful dissent. I want to see what it's really like in the street and in the boardroom. Currently, we lack the full range of portrayals. Instead, we get a sanitized, homogenized and overconsuming caricature of what it means to live a human life. Even the people who do want to take some bitter medicine (those that want to expose themselves to the full range of reality) are going to need to work hard at it.

    For when people are ready for thoughtful entertainment and unvarnished news, it's important that it be there for them, easily available. My fear is that it is (with very few exceptions) simply not there.

    The consumers and the media can both do much better.

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