Media Bias Under Capitalism

By: Logan O’Hara

 

The conservatives very often times talk of a liberal bias in the media. President Trump talks about fake news. Liberals tend to laugh at this, and to a degree, rightfully so. However, the conservatives and Trump are wrong not for the reasons liberals think. There is media bias and there is fake news, Trump is right about that, but the nature of the bias and the fake news is entirely different than the falsehoods the right has dreamt up.

In reaction to labor reforms (see: austerity) proposed by Brazil’s undemocratically elected, right wing leader Temer, almost forty MILLION workers in Brazil went on strike. That comes out to being around HALF of the working population of the entire country. Brazilian dictator Temer also is saddled with a 10% approval rating, a rating so low it’s almost unheard of. Brazil has been in deep recession for years, its economy shrinking by over 3% in both 2015 and 2016 (for comparison, the US economy shrank 5% from 2008-2010, making the Brazilian recession considerably worse). One out of every three Brazilian officials are currently being investigated on corruption accusations.[1]

In short, Brazil is in crisis.

This isn’t recent. This happened back in April. I only just now found out about it and I expect this is the first time many of you have heard of it either. Venezuela’s tiny opposition party and minor protests have soaked up the media’s imagination, but half the labor force in Brazil going on strike, protests in the street, and battles with police aren’t enough to warrant much mention at all[2]. Five protesters have been killed by police in Venezuela over the course of three years[3] and is portrayed like the country is erupting in civil war, but Brazil’s deployment of the military (that resulted in 50 injuries within 24 hours)[4] to deal with one day of protest was barely even covered. Why is that?

Brazil had another protest wave last year against their former president Dilma Rousseff. Those protests, while minor by comparison, received wide coverage in America. The 2016 protesters came out in number to be sure, over a million[5], but that’s a far cry from the 40 million on strike in 2017. To quote a journalist from the Intercept Brazil: “The gulf in coverage is vast. The protests calling for impeachment against the Dilma government had huge visibility, with Globo’s helicopter capturing the protest from the air and covering it all day long. With protests against Michel Temer, this doesn’t exist.”[2] What could be causing such disparity in coverage?

The little coverage that these recent protests received was dismissive and downplayed their unprecedented scale. The Economist went as far as to call the strike mere “grumbling”[6]. I can’t imagine that the shutting down of the economy for a day, paired with wide spread, and mass protests would be reported as “grumbling” if it were to have happened in America. Tiny groups of BLM protestors elicit the most emotional coverage imaginable from the right-wing media[7] like Fox or Mark Levin, but half the Brazilian workforce refusing to work and marching through the streets is considered a nuisance.

For those interested, Chomsky’s propaganda model was actually tested out using Venezuela in 2014 (compared with the Colombian protests, however, not Brazilian). Here’s the link: http://cepr.net/blogs/the-americas-blog/when-protests-and-violence-are-important-to-the-us-media

Like I said earlier, Donald Trump is correct in calling the mainstream media fake news, but he’s right for all the wrong reasons. The media doesn’t have a liberal bias, nor does it have a conservative bias. It has a status-quo bias, and that status-quo bias involves downplaying the importance of left wing movements, vilifying revolutionary actions, and defending any pro-US government at all costs. The media does peddle fake news, just not how Trump thinks it does.

How does this bias manifest itself elsewhere and why?

The first question is regarding bias outside of Venezuela and Brazil coverage. I mentioned the often times silly coverage of Black Lives Matter earlier, but I don’t think that’s the best example. The media’s pro-corporate, pro-neoliberal bias can be best shown in how the media deals with other countries and US foreign policy.

In the early 2000’s, the media was almost comically pro-war. Criticisms of the Iraq war were limited to “is US foreign policy idealistic” as opposed to “is this imperialism”. In other words, the media never questioned if the war is moral or justified, but rather if the current approach to war is the most effective way to do a war. Real criticism was silenced. The fact that the war was, quite literally, carried out illegally never crossed the minds of the major news outlets, or it may as well have not had because none talked about it.[8]

While the bias is best seen when regarding issues abroad, it still makes an unwelcome appearance at home. Forbes is happy to run Tim Worstall’s never ending posting about minimum wage laws, despite the fact that he makes up facts half the time. His coverage of Seattle rested HEAVILY on the Jardim study of minimum wage effects in the city, a study whose methodology has been ripped to shreds by even right wing economists[9]. The media has been pushing stories in favor of price gouging, despite the economics behind their arguments working AGAINST their argument when brought to their logical conclusions, as Professor Wolff brilliantly explains in this video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtZNw360x6c. Every newspaper has a business section, but I’ve never once seen a labor section. The evidence is pretty clear: the media has an anti-worker bias.

The next important question is why this happens.

As is relatively well known today, a handful of companies own the majority of the media. These companies are: Comcast, Viacom, Disney, News-Corp, Time-Warner, and CBS[10]. The reasons for this can be traced back to the 1996 Telecommunications act, which allowed companies to own an unlimited share of the media market, as opposed to before where companies were prevented from ever owning more than a certain portion of the market. However, instead of fostering competition like was expected by many, companies decided to merge together – the exact opposite of competition[11]. Owned by those six companies are outlets like Time, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, etc. That means that the biggest news sources, those who “set the agenda”, are all owned by a very small group of people, all of whom have very similar interests: profit.

As is discussed at great length in a FANTASTIC book you should all read called Monopoly Capitalism, Paul Sweezy, a Marxist economist from the 40s-70s mostly, points out that, after a certain point, it becomes far more profitable to collaborate with competitors than it is to work against them. Competition assures a loser, while collaboration makes sure that all companies involved stay alive. CEOs and stockholders don’t care about market-share, they care about profits. Sure, increasing market-share is often one way to increase profits, but so is driving down labor costs and increasing revenue. By working together, these companies can accomplish the mutually beneficial goal of driving down costs across the board and raising prices and never have to worry about the risks of competition. As I stated earlier, this is exactly what happened in the aftermath of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Instead of fostering competition, stockholders in many media companies found it much more profitable to work together than against one another.

As corporations, of course they’re going to push a pro-corporate agenda. They benefit from it. This conclusion is strikingly obvious once it’s thought about.

This explains one aspect of the media’s bias, the pro-corporation bias, but leaves the pro-government bias unanswered. While I have separated these questions into two parts, a proper analysis of the state and its relationship to corporations reveals that these questions can not be separated. The state and corporations are intimately connected. I’m sure most of my readers are already aware of how connected corporations and the state are, but it’s still a controversial statement, one that requires serious explanation and evidence to backup. Both of which I will attempt to do, within the confines of what can be reasonably accomplished in a single blog post anyway.

The capitalist state, anywhere it appears and in any form, exists primarily to uphold capitalism. This means, in essence, its job is to prevent the working class from revolting. To accomplish this, the state mainly tries to maintain order. Any semblance of anarchy is stamped out, sometimes rightly. Murder is, of course, horribly immoral and is punished rightfully, but the capitalist state, as a system, isn’t concerned with the morality of murder, but rather how the existence of murder might corrupt public support of the status-quo. This extends to all things, really. The capitalist state’s job is to make sure that things run smoothly for society insofar as it helps capitalism run smoothly. The major banks were bailed out after the Great Recession, not because of any real affinity for those businesses in particular, but because their collapse would mean the collapse of capitalist society. Because small banks didn’t need to be bailed out in order to save capitalism, they weren’t.

To maintain capitalism, the tendency for the rate of profit to fall (an INCREDIBLY complex issue, I cannot even attempt to explain it here, if you’re interested, watch this and its follow up video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oXEgH4HzYk) must be overcome. The tendency for the rate of profit, in short, is that over time industries become less and less profitable. Investment returns become smaller and smaller. Companies then must look for ways to increase their profits to save themselves from this decreasing profit that will, if left unchecked, eventually render the company unable to make money. The main way this is accomplished is by expanding the market. By expanding the market, demand is expanded, meaning that more money can be made and thus lower rates of profit are no longer an issue. Additionally, expanded markets provide more labor (increased supply=lower wages) and access to new natural resources. The expansion of the market is key to capitalism’s survival.

How can a company expand its market? As mentioned earlier, competition is risky. A company will compete, obviously, if it has a distinct advantage (say, McDonald’s vs local fast food shop) or if it’s forced to (Netflix and Amazon), but if it can expand its market share via expanding the market itself most of this risk can be sidestepped, and if it can be sidestepped it will be. Expansion of market is in the interest of all corporations involved, meaning that corporations will often unify together in a push to expand the market.

A capitalist state’s power is determined in large part by how successful its businesses are. While Negri and Hardt were certainly convincing at one point, China’s new imperialism, as well as the competition between Russia and America, seems to suggest that their vision of a global, supranational empire has yet to come to fruition. Protectionism is still very popular in Latin America and the Middle East, as well as nationalized industry[12][13]. Both of these are terribly detrimental to market expansion, and thus are the enemies of American corporations. Since America’s power is largely tied to the power of its businesses, these become the enemy of the American state as well.

Sometimes, market expansion is “peaceful”, like when the IMF demands the countries it lends to become austere (which it now admits is often harmful to countries)[14] or when Russia and the rest of the former USSR were privatized[15]. Other times, market expansion was violent, like when the US supported Venezuelan military dictator Juan Vicente Gómez because he allowed foreign investment in Venezuelan oil[16], or when the Shah was overthrown in 1953 for fighting against the horrible trade deals imposed by the British (the US is usually given credit for the coup, but it was actually a US-British joint action)[17]. Regardless of what form it takes, peaceful or violent, the result of these market expansions is the same: corporate gain at the cost of human well being.[18][19]

The media is no exception to this rule. The media benefited greatly from the war on terror and expanded its market greatly. However, more importantly, the businesses that buy ad-space on these news networks benefit from market expansion. The media’s market is far more nebulous than most, given the nature of its content (non-physical distribution), so I’m led to believe that it’s the media’s sponsors and parent companies who benefit from the pro-market expansion propaganda and push for it the hardest. These sponsors, by virtue of providing the real profits for news outlets, have tremendous sway over a news outlets output. Look at how sponsors recently pulled their ads from Breitbart after realizing what the website actually represented[20] (anti-market expansion policies were likely as large a concern for sponsors as the white supremacy undertones rampant on the site).

If the media wants to maintain its corporate sponsors, it needs to support the market expansion platform, which means anti-worker, pro-imperialist policies. If America wants to stay number one, it must support market expansion via imperialism and undercut workers rights to compensate for the constraints of the market that do exist. Because the state is working in the interests of the corporations, corporate media touts the government line almost without fail.

 

These issues are all systemic issues stemming from capitalism, and no amount of voting third party will change that. To quote Alex Carey: “the 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” We here at RVR couldn’t agree more.

 

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If you’re interested in looking into media bias further, I can’t recommend Chomsky and Herman’s Manufacturing Consent enough. It’s a bit on the thick side, but it’s fantastic and well worth the time. Michael Burawoy’s book by the same name has some interesting things to say on the matter as well, although his focus is much more broad, concerning how “ideology” as a whole is created and spread (ideology as in false ideas that support capitalism, the government, and other power structures). Howard Zinn’s Declarations of Independence is another fantastic read in the same vein as Burawoy. Michael Parenti’s Inventing Reality is more akin to Chomsky and Herman’s work, and is also well worth checking out. Any of these four books do a fantastic job of explaining why the news is, well, fake.

 

An aside: I would like to thank BadMouseProudctions for bringing the Venezuela vs. Brazil coverage issue to my attention and for producing incredible content consistently. If you haven’t seen his new video on Venezuela, I highly recommend it.

 

Sources:

  1. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/anti-temer-strike-paralyses-major-cities-brazil-170428140826374.html
  2. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/2017/05/brazil-general-strike-media-silence-170506093737946.html
  3. https://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Heres-Your-Guide-to-Understanding-Protest-Deaths-in-Venezuela-20170422-0016.html
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/24/world/americas/brazil-michel-temer-brasilia-protests.html
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/13/brazil-anti-government-protests-dilma-rousseff-rio-de-janeiro
  6. https://www.economist.com/news/americas/21717413-president-has-chance-pass-reform-will-stop-brazil-going-bust-reducing-brazils
  7. https://qz.com/843368/false-balance-in-the-coverage-of-the-police-violence-at-standing-rock-is-undermining-the-nodapl-movement/
  8. http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/11/opinion/kurtz-iraq-media-failure/index.html
  9. Zipperer, B., Schmitt, J. (2017) The “high road” Seattle labor market and the effects of the minimum wage increase
  10. http://www.businessinsider.com/these-6-corporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-america-2012-6
  11. http://consumersunion.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/lesson.pdf
  12. http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/224495/will-latin-america-become-more-protectionist-in-the-trump-era
  13. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704852004575258541875590852
  14. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2016/06/ostry.htm
  15. Freeland, Chrystia. Sale of the Century: Russia’s Wild Ride From Communism to Capitalism. Crown Business, 2000. Print.
  16. Mcbeth, B.S. Juan Vicente Gómez and the Oil Companies in Venezuela, 1908-1935. Cambridge, 1983. Print.
  17. Chomsky, Noam. Imperial Ambitions. Metropolitan Books, 2005. Print.
  18. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/aug/16/russia.comment
  19. http://www.globalresearch.ca/us-has-killed-more-than-20-million-people-in-37-victim-nations-since-world-war-ii/5492051
  20. https://digiday.com/media/breitbart-ads-plummet-nearly-90-percent-three-months-trumps-troubles-mount/
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