the Prison of Ignorance
Alternative Media Christmas
by Michael I. Niman
America is a nation whose cultural veneer is deeply gouged
by seemingly unbridgeable canyons, separating us from each other by as many ways
as we have to identify ourselves. There’s
rich and poor, gay and straight, liberal and conservative, atheist and
religious, generous and stingy, old and young, working class and middle class,
cyclist and motorist, urban and suburban, skiers and boarders, and so on.
For the most part, we hold various interests in common.
We all want to happy, safe and financially secure.
We celebrate varying levels of diversity. Most of us are complex individuals, simultaneously fitting
into multiple categories. And when
we get together and actually converse with people who in one way or another are
different from us, we usually find out that we’re not that different at all.
With the few exceptions of folks like the Bushes, who for all intents and
purposes live on another planet, we all have variations of the same fears and
hopes. Our canyons are, in effect, bridgeable.
The deepest canyon we have to contend with is the
information divide. All too often
we label ourselves with political terms such as “left and “right,” or
“liberal” and “conservative.” We
enroll in different parties and, for the one third of us who vote, vote for
But let’s look at this critically. Perhaps the divide really isn’t based on political
ideology. Perhaps it’s simply an
information divide. Not left versus
right, but informed versus ignorant. We
started seeing evidence of this when Reagan was president. For eight years, poll after poll, conducted by organizations
from across the political spectrum, told us that Americans overwhelmingly
rejected Reagan’s policies. Yet,
these same pollsters told us the Gipper himself was popular, which brings up the
question – why would voters support a candidate who opposes a notion of
government they hold dear. Or more
to the point – why do people vote against their own interests?
The answer is simple – most voters don’t have a clue.
Americans rely on a media that has spent the later half of the 20th
century providing less and less hard news and information.
In it’s place we have Oprah and Debra Norville.
While people in places as diverse as Costa Rica and the European Union
are turning on their TVs and radios, and watching and listening to politicians
and citizen activists with divergent views argue the issues of the day,
Americans are left with a never-ending parade of freaks.
The Suits vs.
The few remaining hard news programs that we have hardly
give us any news anymore. None of them give us a diverse array of opinion.
A study conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University before the
Enron scandal found that the economic impact of white collar crime was 50 times
that of traditional crime such as burglary.
Yet, every night, we’re treated to the same perp walk of impoverished
powerless criminals and street thugs. While
we were loathing the unwashed, however, the suits looted our retirement
accounts. Most Americans were
blindsided to find out that it was the suburbs and the boardrooms where the most
serious crimes in American history were taking place.
Our TVs are still ablaze with a nightly parade of
crackheads, while CEOs conspire every day to further pillage our rapidly
diminishing natural resources while poisoning our air, water and now, food –
all in the name of greed. Executives
dreaming of new ski-chalets and island getaways cook up plans to contract out to
sweatshops and “downsize” their workforces.
Lexus-driving yuppies dream of chrome-laden Hummers as they carry out
their orders, running collection agencies or crafting widget ads.
All of this sociopath behavior is sold to us as normal – worse yet,
we’re supposed to aspire to being bastards ourselves.
These are not American values, no matter what the corporate
media tells us. People simply
aren’t aware of what’s going on in the world.
When they find out, when they start to scratch the surface of reality,
when the spin stops and the propaganda wears thin, they become incensed.
American workers haven’t just lost healthcare, a right to a financially
secure future, access to safe food and a right to a clean environment –
we’re losing our culture.
Information is controlled.
Eighteen years ago 50 corporations controlled the majority of American
media. Media activists saw this as
an alarming threat to our democratic (small “d”) values, and hoped to
reverse the trend. Today, however,
just nine corporations control most of the globe’s media.
The majority of these companies, or the investment organizations that own
them, also control big chunks of the oil, weapons, timber, nuclear power and
banking industries. In short, the
major media outlets that, in theory, should be aggressively reporting the news
are owned by most of the very players they should be reporting about.
The effect on reporting has been chilling.
The biggest stories of the day, those dealing with resource depletion,
deforestation, health care issues, our food chain, labor issues, the widening
gap between the rich and poor, irresponsible development, aquifer depletion, and
so on, are all off limits. For a
reporter earning a week-to-week paycheck, they’re too hot to touch.
The resulting climate in America’s newsrooms supports a self-censorship
that is second nature. The driving
forces behind America today are short-term corporate profits and the
concentration of corporate power. Today’s
news has succumbed to being nothing more than propaganda for this status quo.
Any message that challenges it is branded “radical” and dismissed.
Advertisers, who in essence, are slaves to their corporate agenda,
further enforce this orthodoxy. And
the corporate agenda is held hostage before the deranged god of short-term
None of this should be alien to us here in Buffalo.
The Buffalo News personifies everything that is wrong with the
corporate media. It’s wholly owned by investor Warren Buffet’s Berkshire
Hathaway company. Their other
investments include major shares of Coca Cola (whose aggressive promotion of
liquid candy is a major factor in our childhood obesity epidemic), McDonald’s
(aggressive marketing of high fat junk food), Weyerhaeuser (timber –
deforestation), Benjamin Moore (chemicals), American Express (banking), Geico
(auto insurance) and a smattering of energy companies.
Folks at The News explain that Buffet, for the most
part, takes a hands-off approach to running The News.
This being the case, it’s even more alarming that The News seems
to reflect Buffet’s worldview more than it reflects Buffalo’s traditional
blue-collar worldview. The last
time I looked at The News was on Sunday December 8th.
The front page sported a 48 pt. headline reading, “Big bucks – for
life.” Pictured below the
headline, however, was not a lottery winner, but a retired Cheektowaga civil
servant. The big bucks in question,
it turns out, was the health care premiums local governments are struggling to
pay out for retired workers. Two
politicians were also pictured on the front page, with their quotes, reading
“The financial burden is crushing” and “The taxpayers are getting
milked,” prominently displayed in bold.
The headline inside of the paper where the story is
continued, reads, “Locally, 94,000 lack coverage.” The outrage in The News’ story isn’t, however,
that 94,000 folks have no health insurance whatsoever.
They just use the number as a point of comparison.
The outrage here is that these elderly retirees have better health care
than the rest of us. And they’re being vilified for it. Nowhere in The
News’ story does the author, instead, compare the plight of Erie
County’s un and underinsured to that of folks in virtually every other
industrialized country in the world – whose citizens all enjoy the same level
of health care as the local retirees in question.
The problem here should not be that some retired civil servants have
adequate health care – it should be that most of the rest of us don’t. The News’ tactic here is to turn Buffalonians
against each other – with those without the crumbs envying those with the
crumbs – and no one questioning why we’re fighting over crumbs when we are
citizens of the world’s richest nation. This
is a worldview that serves Warren Buffet, the second richest human on the
planet, while spitting in the face of practically every resident of Western New
An Esmond X-Mas
This sort of bias is so routine in our media environment
that it flies under the radar – most readers don’t even notice it.
Instead, we’re incensed at Cheektowaga’s retirees who are living
large with their low prescription co-pays.
Perhaps they should be eating cat food, so that Don Esmonde could
superficially report on their mysterious impoverishment at Thanksgiving and
As voting citizens in a democratic country we have an
obligation to keep ourselves informed about local, national and world events.
We need to move beyond the narrow self-interested worldview of the
corporate media, because, quite frankly, their interests are not our interests. Forget about any romantic notions you still might be
harboring about the mainstream press – they’re not in business to keep us
informed. They have one purpose –
to generate the highest return possible for their investors.
And you can’t count on ArtVoice to keep you informed
either. As I’ve written before,
this is primarily an arts paper whose first responsibility is to supporting and
covering the local arts scene – which it does quite well.
Yes, ArtVoice, runs this column, as well as a host of stories
weighing in on issues ranging from ugly bridges to millionaires holding sports
franchises hostage in their quest to raid the public till.
But, quite frankly, there’s a lot more going on in the world then we
can report in these few pages.
This is where media consumers must take control of their
own lives. Yes, a handful of
corporations control the media that most of us see, but they don’t control
most of the media that we could potentially see.
We tend to consume that which is easily available.
We pick up ArtVoice because it’s everywhere.
The same hold true for The Buffalo News. We see the same few
movies that are playing in all the theaters.
We listen to the music that a handful of consultants program for us.
We watch images that our TVs deliver to us.
But few of actually go out and look for an alternative.
The alternative, however, is readily available.
And with less than a week to go before Christmas, there’s no better
time to discover it. Instead of crowding into malls to search for useless widgets
and sweatshop garments for your loved ones, how about giving the gift of
liberation this Christmas? Simply
buy a gift subscription to one of the following publications and stuff a card
announcing the upcoming subscription into someone’s stocking. It’s a gift they’ll enjoy (or hate) all year long.
And buy a subscription or two for yourself while you’re at it.
To make this task easier, and sort of bring the mountain to
you, I’ve created a web page that you can use to get discounted subscription
to some of my favorite news sources. It’s
The Grip Media
My alternative media list is topped by The Nation,
a weekly magazine that has been providing bulletproof news, investigative
reporting and commentary, since 1868. Subscriptions are $39.97 for 47 issues
(1-800-333-8536). Next on my list
is the Multinational Monitor, which was founded by Ralph Nader.
It’s a monthly journal focusing on corporate wrongdoing around the
globe. To order a subscription,
send $29.95 to Multinational Monitor, P.O. Box 19405, Washington D.C., 20036.
In These Times is also an excellent bi-weekly source
of news and views. It’s $24.95
for 24 issues (1-800-827-0270). Extra!, the watchdog of the
corporate media, exposes bias in its monthly pages.
It’s $21 for 12 issues and 12 smaller reports (1-800-847-3993).
The Progressive is a monthly magazine featuring in depth
political pieces and investigative reports.
It’s $12 for an introductory subscription (1-608-257-4626).
Mother Jones Magazine is a glossy variation on the theme,
coming out six times per year, replete with in depth articles and investigative
reports. Ask for the introductory
rate of $10 (1-800-438-6656).
The regular rate is $20. Culture
Jammers with a few bucks to spend should check out Adbusters, a
colorful Canadian glossy anti-glossy rich with anti-consumerism and inspiring
rhetoric about liberating the mental environment.
A ten issue subscription is $40 (1-800-663-1243).
For vigilant and sometimes nasty local political coverage,
I suggest scouring Buffalo’s coffee shops and taco joints for a free copy of
the bi-weekly ALT/Alternative Press. You can also have it mailed first class to your house for $36
per year (send check to Cullman Publishing, P.O. Box 729, Buffalo NY 14205).
Bruce Jackson’s on-line Buffalo Report also
provides good local reporting and analysis (www.buffaloreport.com).
Joe Illuzzi’s PoliticsWNY provides a clearinghouse for local
political rumors and conservative commentary (politicswny.com).
I also recommend a free (donations requested) email
subscription to the weekly World War Three Report, the Weekly
Spin, and the daily Truthout.
All three can be accessed via mediastudy.com/subscription.html.
If you want to stay abreast of local peace and environmental actions and
events, Jim Whitlock, a local activist, maintains an active email events list
– write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A much more complete alternative media listing is available at
Information can set us free from the prison of ignorance.