Monday, July 23, 2007

The marketplace of ideas: empty shelves and dusty aisles

...and why obliterating Rush and the thousands of wingnut motormouths he spawned -- by means such as death by sponsor abandonment -- is vital if there is ever going to be a functional marketplace of ideas in this country. Next step after that would be to assert the public's right to the airwaves -- a legal right, I'm told -- and reclaim them from the corporate oligarchs who determine the range of permitted thought in America. But first...

The marketplace of ideas assumes two non-optional components: The marketplace is free and open to all ideas, no matter from whom and no matter how weird. And the "consumers" are informed, intelligent and capable of discerning one idea from the others based on the validity of the idea itself -- no PR, no advertising, no positioning, no pandering, no spin.

The internet seems to meet the first requirement, although it's limited in that participants either own or have access to a computer, know how to use it well enough to connect to the Internet, live in a place with the appropriate telecom infrastructure, and have the means to pay for that access. Still, those barriers are falling all over the world and, as a result, there is a relatively unfiltered forum for the marketplace of ideas to peddle the full range of its wares.

However, a true marketplace of ideas capable of reaching everyone who wished to tap in would by definition have to include TV, print media and radio. Since those media are virtually all under the control of large corporations whose vested interest in the status quo makes presentation of the conservative world view inevitable, and unbiased presentation of a full range of opinion impossible, I would argue that the marketplace of ideas doesn't really exist in any useful sense, at least in this country.

As to the second requirement, polls consistently show that TV news is the sole or primary source of information for about 92 percent of Americans. So passive consumers of ideas are lulled to sleep by the continuous repetition of narrow points of view that almost universally support the status quo. Active consumers can turn to the Internet as an alternative to TV news, but the above-mentioned polls suggest that at most 8 percent do so as their primary source of information.

Add to that the hideous state of public education in this country, the diminishing time people have to do anything but work, pay bills and "put food on their family," the complete absence of "un-spun" reporting in conventional media, the horrible morphing of the press into a cheer leading corps of status quo stenographers and, to seal the deal, the absolute dominance of the AM and FM bands by Clearchannel and a couple of other media giants, none of whom are shy about hosting right wing hate speech -- consider all these factors and I suggest the average American idea consumer lacks both adequate information and the basic critical thinking skills necessary to separate spun hogwash from fact.

For example, it's a "fact" that more than 3,600 American military have died in the Iraqi invasion and occupation. Spun hogwash takes that fact, coats it with equal doses of phony patriotism and official White House fear-mongering, and if those death tolls are ever even reported on TV news, they're linked to the latest line about Iranians slipping over the border and killing US troops in Iraq. This kind of subservient, uncritical "reporting" is designed to drum up public support for BushCo's insane assertions that the US needs to exact revenge on Iran for allowing these alleged hit squads to organize and train in that country. Just fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here, as they like to tell us undiscerning morons.

Un-spun ideas can compete successfully in a fair fight, and I'd be surprised if progressive positions didn't swamp wingnut ranting if given an equal hearing. The problem is that anyone who uses M$M as their sole source of information can go weeks, months or, on Fox or CNN, years without hearing a progressive viewpoint, unless it's voiced by that candy ass Colmes who exists solely to portray liberals as eunuchs that the mighty Hannity can whip with one frontal lobe tied behind his back.

The problem is access, and we ain't got it. We have the Internet, where progressive and regressive web sites exist by the tens of thousands. But we're non-existent as far as Ward, June, Wally and the Beav are concerned. Not wrong; not misguided -- just not heard at all, except when a wingnut talker abstracts some out-of-context half-quote attributed to a liberal and spends the rest of the hour laughing at it. And only callers who agree get to be on the radio, so there's no possibility of refuting the wingnut position.

It seems like the forces arrayed to prevent progressive/left ideas from hitting the mainstream are pretty overwhelming. In addition to nut-case radio, the Internet is getting unwelcome scrutiny from the privatization crowd. The FCC is looking to charge tolls for fast web site access (and keep the ones that won’t or can’t afford it in second gear). Some (including me) speculate that this is just a first step toward putting non-corporate web sites out of business – and in the process effectively silencing the last remaining medium available in which progressive/left ideas thrive.

TV news is, as always these days, pathetic (and I imagine that Murrow’s ghost is much disturbed). Even newspapers, long admired (somewhat more than they’ve deserved) as sources of unbiased, unvarnished information, have decided, with a few notable exceptions, that their advertisers want zero controversy and prefer a status quo-boosting venue to peddle their wares.

When GE buys Air America, expands it into hundreds of new markets, promotes the hell out of it and puts actual lefties back behind the mic, then we'll have the faintest beginnings of the sound machine the right wing has enjoyed for decades.

When people ignore TV news in sufficient number, and boycott the sponsors who pay for this garbage, then programming heads will roll and changes may emerge that include encouraging reporters to hurl actual questions at Bush and his spokespersons/apologists rather than the softball, no-follow-up scripted bit of infotainment that passes these days for a press conference.

When the US “papers of record” – the NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal (reporters, not editors) – learn that progressives can afford their ad rates, too…

Nah, that would be to go against their very nature as tools for manufacturing consent and coalescing public support around the policies of those running official Washington.

After all, these media conglomerates often have business before various federal regulatory agencies and they don’t want to be seen as enemies of the state.


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