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McLuhan, Rather, and Modern Media July 30, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Corporate Media, Fairness Doctrine, FCC, Journalism, Media.
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ratherWhen I was an undergraduate studying Communications at the University of Scranton, the first course we were required to take for our major was called “Communications and Media”.  It was one of those ginormous survey classes that the freshman took all together in a huge lecture hall.   Truthfully, I don’t remember much; I was away from home for the first time in my life and this was an 8 am class, need I say more?  What I do remember, however, was learning about Marshall McLuhan and his 1964 treatise, “Understanding Media” wherein he coined the phrase, “the medium is the message.”

McLuhan’s principle was that it really did not matter what the content of the message was that was being broadcast.  Instead, the medium that carried it influenced the way in which it was interpreted and understood by the receiver.  Written communication required active participation and therefore was best suited for complex information.  A person participating in reading would be able to stop and re-read anything that he felt needed more of his attention. Similarly, radio required less active participation and television requires no participation at all – which is why we see television news reduced to sound bites and little in-depth analysis.  Since the medium allows no time for interpretation of data – or deeper understanding – it influences the way we interpret the message. 

It would be interesting to see McLuhan’s take on the internet.  Though one would think that using the internet requires a great deal of participation by the receiver, it really does not.  They don’t call them “browsers” for nothing.  Utilizing the internet is a fairly passive activity and, as a medium, it is influencing the way we view and interpret information.  People really believe that they are reading when they are looking at news on the internet, but they are actually scanning – and probaby gleaning less message than they would get from television news.

A lot has been made in recent months at the demise of newspapers and other written media.  It is seen as the natural evolution of media away from the written word on paper to various forms of electronic delivery.  That may be, but is this evolution good for the country?

Dan Rather, former CBS News Anchor and current HDNet correspondent, called for action on this issue Tuesday in a speech before the Aspen Institute.  Calling for the Obama Administration to set up a White House Commission on public media, Rather said, “A truly free and independent press is the red beating heart of democracy and freedom.  This is not something just for journalists to be concerned about, and the loss of jobs and the loss of newspapers, and the diminution of the American press’ traditional role of being the watchdog on power. This is something every citizen should be concerned about.”

On one of CNN’s “Cafferty File” segments tonight, Jack Cafferty polled CNN viewers with the question, “Should government be involved in saving news media?”  Predictably, the answers that Jack put on the air were against it – saying that the government shouldn’t be “in control” of the media.  They sure were during the Bush Administration (Fox News), but who’s quibbling? 

Both Cafferty and the CNN viewers missed the point.  Government needs to be involved in saving media because the government is largely responsible for its destruction.

Beginning with the Reagan Administration (that successfully eliminated the Fairness Doctrine) and continuing with ownership deregulation under the Clinton and Bush the younger Administrations, the government set the stage for the destruction of the independent media.  Deregulation of media ownership has eliminated the diversity of opinion in the news marketplace by eliminating competition.  In 1983, 50 companies controlled 80% of the media in this country.  By 1990, that number shrank by over half to 23, and today an appalling 5 – that’s five – corporations control 80% of the media in the United States.

Rather’s point in asking for the commission was to ask the government to look again at ownership deregulation and see if the genie couldn’t be put back in the bottle.   Rather said “corporate and political influence” on newsrooms had damaged the industry and was cause for concern.  These massive conglomerates – like General Electric, Time Warner and News Corp. – only care about the bottom line, not serving the public interest.   And allowing these few firms too much control over the flow of news and information is dangerous for our democracy.

When Big Media get too big, local, independent and minority owners are pushed out of the market and off the airwaves.   Media consolidation means fewer voices and viewpoints, less diversity in ownership and programming, less coverage of local issues that matter to communities, and less of the unbiased, independent, critical journalism we need to prevent abuses of power (source: Freepress.net).

Back when I was a freshman in college I had a talk with a friend of my Dad’s – a local newpaperman – about the future of Journalism and if it was the right career.  He said to me that newspapers would always survive because you could use newspapers in a way that you couldn’t use televisi0n news.  “You can’t take the TV into the crapper with you when you need to ake a shit!”, he said.

But you can now.  You can even take your computer.


An Uncivil War June 12, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Barack Obama, Democrats, Domestic Terrorism, National Politics, Politics, Republicans, Right-Wing Extremism.
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rt wing extremeHistorians that have examined the American Civil War inevitably place the issue of slavery at the center of the conflict.  Indeed, since the Missouri Compromise of 1820-1821, the issue of slavery and its expansion into U.S. Territories simmered underneath all political debate.  In 1858, upon accepting the nomination of the Republican party for Senator from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln delivered his “House Divided” speech wherein he maintained that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Lincoln said that he believed that the United States could not endure half slave and half free – that it must become all one thing or another. 

Though slavery as an issue was the catalyst for secession and ultimately, war, the real driving principal was States Rights vs. Federalism.   The slave-owning states had an economic and social interest in preserving the system of slavery.   As westward expansion began and gained momentum, migrants to the new territories also had an economic interest in expanding slave ownership to the newest areas of the United States.  Obviously, the ability to hold slaves would be an economic boon to an emigrant class that required cheap (or free) labor to build new communities and industry.  The federalists in the northern states, however, saw slavery as an affront to the power of the national government and its ability to regulate trade, commerce, and the national economy. 

Upon Abraham Lincoln’s election to the Presidency in 1860, several states immediately seceded from the Union.  The Civil War began when Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter, SC, in an effort to wrest control of the military installation from the Union. 

Why is this history lesson important today?  Because, basically, a segment of the population did not agree with the results of an election and caused the deadliest war in American history.

Since the election of Barack Obama as president there has been a well-documented rise in the activities of right-wing extremist groups, white supremacist groups, and Neo-Nazi fascist groups.  This follows on the heels of last fall’s resurgence of right-wing populism; the war against the “cultural elites” and liberal-socialist non-Americans living in cities.  This has been, of course, well fed and flames fanned by Fox News, Sarah Palin, and right-wing commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck – the culmination of which has been the assassination of an abortion provider in Kansas and the murder of a Security Officer at the U.S. Holocaust Museum this week.

The right-wingers are frantically trying to run away from their culpability in all of this hate and violence.  Indeed, Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show yesterday that white supremacists are really leftists – their ideas are spawned by the “Israel-hating”, 9-11 conspiracy theorist left wing.

What the ……?  Can Limbaugh really be serious when he sits bouncing in his chair behind the mike telling white America that he hopes – for the sake of the country – that the President fails?  Can they be serious when Bill O’Reilly is painting a physician performing a LEGAL procedure as “Tiller the Baby-Killer” who will “execute your child” for five thousand bucks?  Can they really step back from their words when crazy Glenn Beck is telling them to stock up on guns and ammo because the president is coming to take your guns?

This type of speech is hate speech and its sole purpose is to inflame action on the parts of the people who hate.  Now, Limbaugh and others can say that they want these loons to express their hate in the voting booth, but even they must acknowledge that they have no control.  They are holding the wolf by the ears and are unable to let it go for fear it will tear them apart.

Limbaugh said that white supremacist and Neo-Nazi James Von Brun was obviously “mentally disturbed” when he committed his act of terror in the Holocaust Museum.  Isn’t any terrorist – domestic or otherwise – somehow “mentally disturbed”?  And suppose you had a neighbor who was schizophrenic and heard voices telling him to kill?  If you went to his house on a daily basis and talked to him about how the neighbors on the other side were evil and not worthy, shouldn’t you be held culpable if he took an ax and killed them all?  Would you be able to defend yourself by saying that you really didn’t think he would kill anyone?

That’s the point.  These right-wing hate mongers know the crazies are out there.  They call their talk shows every day.  Rush and Sean and Glen are fully aware that they’re fanning the passions of these people – that’s called RATINGS, people.

We are on the brink of another war in this country – but this time, it is entirely un-civil.  If you don’t believe it, look at some of these comments from a legal encyclopedia site on white supremacist groups:

I am a white man and proud of it. N*ggers are one of the big things that makes this Country and world worse. They should be put away along with rapists, pedophiles, and mexicans. White is the superior race and all should do as we instruct. You have a negro college fun, african beauty pageant and all of this bull sh*t. If the white man or woman had this it would be racist. N*ggers have BET(black entertainment channel). If we had WET(white entertainment)we’d be racist. From an early age we our taught we are bad for having slaves. This country would be better if niggers were slaves. Put away n*ggers and let the south rise again”

“I am a white woman who believes in the constitution of the United States and that the president has to be a united state citizen and if he is not he cannot be president of the United States, period!! The white race better wake up or you’ll find yourself a slave of the Jews!! Read and learn white people! quit trying to be whiggers!! thats just retarded. We should be white and proud and keep America like it was built on a christian nation under God!”

Read more: http://law.jrank.org/pages/11302/White-Supremacy-Groups.html#ixzz0IEXeoOGl&C