Media and the Crisis of Democracy in the Age of Bush-2
democratic social order, as was conceived in 18th century Europe and
developed in England, France, the United States and elsewhere, requires a
separation of powers so that no one institution or social force dominates the
society and polity. The U.S. Constitution, for instance, separated the
political system into the executive, legislative, and the judiciary so that
there would be a division and balance of powers between the most important
political institutions. The British and U.S. constitutional orders provided for
freedom of speech, assembly, and the press, while the media were conceived in
France after the French revolution as the "Fourth Estate," to help provide checks
and balances against corruption and excessive state power.
democracy also requires a knowledgeable electorate that can participate in
political affairs. Participatory democracy consists of the sovereignty of the
people and thus government by, for, and of the people. In order for a free
people to govern themselves, they must be adequately informed and able to
participate in public debate, elections, and political activity. Freedom of the
press is thus necessary to assure that the media would be free from domination
by any economic or political force and could criticize the government and
powerful institutions, while promoting vigorous debate on issues of common
concern, thus providing citizens with the necessary information and ideas to
participate intelligently in public affairs.
liberal and participatory democracy, as it has developed over the past two
centuries, involves both separation of powers in a constitutional system
of checks and balances, and participation of its citizens in social
and political affairs. Sovereignty, in this framework, thus rests both
constitutional order and with the will of the people. Thus,
the dual democratic functions of the press were to provide a check against
excessive power and to inform the people concerning the major issues of public
interest in order to allow their knowledgeable participation in public life.
A free press was deemed vitally necessary to maintain a democratic society
is often claimed by champions of democracy that freedom of the press is one
of the features that defines the superiority of democratic societies over
competing social systems. This concept of a free press was also extended
broadcast media that were assigned a series of democratic responsibilities.
In countries like Britain which developed a public service model of broadcasting,
radio and then television were considered part of the public sector with
important duties to reproduce the national culture and provide forums of
information and debate for its citizens (Tracey, 1998). Even in the United
States, where a private industry model of broadcasting came to dominate,
Federal Communications Act of 1934 and subsequent legislation and court
decisions broadcasting was to serve the "public interest, convenience,
and necessity, ascribing certain democratic functions to the media, until
overthrow of these strictures in the 1980s and 1990s.
press and then the broadcast media were thus to provide information, ideas, and
debate concerning issues of public significance in order to promote a
democratic public sphere. Broadcasting was conceived as a public utility, with
the airwaves established as part of the public domain, subject to regulation by
the government to assure that broadcasting would meet its democratic
responsibilities. Yet during the two centuries of the democratic revolutions,
political and corporate powers often came to dominate the media and over the
past several decades forces of deregulation have expanded private corporate
control of dominant media. During the era of laissez-faire deregulation pursued
in England by Thatcher and her successors and in the U.S. by the Reagan
administration and subsequent regimes, much of the broadcasting regulatory
apparatus was dismantled and giant corporations took over key broadcast media,
or became increasingly powerful. In Europe and then throughout the world,
starting with the Thatcher administration in the late 1970s, country after
country deregulated its media, allowed a proliferation of private media
corporations to compete with largely state-run or financed public broadcasting,
and thus increased the range of corporate media organizations which weakened
public service broadcasting, replace it with a market model.
the era of intensifying globalization of the 1990s and into the new millennium,
market models of broadcasting generally emerged as dominant, and a series of
global mergers took place that consolidated media ownership into ever fewer
hands. The result has been that a shrinking number of giant media corporations
have controlled a widening range of media in corporate conglomerates that
control the press, broadcasting, film, music, and other forms of popular
entertainment, as well as the most accessed Internet sites. Media have been increasingly
organized on a business model, and competition between proliferating
commercialized media have provided an impetus to replacing news with
entertainment, to generate a tabloidization of news, and to pursue profits and
sensationalism rather than public enlightenment and democracy.
this study, I demonstrate how the triumph of neoliberalism and media
deregulation helped produce a crisis of democracy in the United States. I argue
that the tremendous concentration of power in the hands of corporate groups who
control powerful media conglomerates has intensified corporate control of vital
news and information, and surrendered the lively and critical media necessary
to ensure a vital democracy. If corporate media promote their own interests and
agendas, they do not serve their democratic purposes of informing the people,
allowing the public to engage in informed civic debate, and thus to participate
in democratic dialogue and decision-making. Moreover, if the media corporations
utilize their powerful instruments of communication and information to advance
their own corporate interests and those of politicians and policies that they
favor, then the media have lost their democratic functions of serving to debate
issues of socio-political interest and importance and to serve as a critical
watchdog against excessive corporate government power and questionable
policies. Further, democracy is undermined if the mainstream media do not
address significant social problems when these issues threaten corporate power
or dominant economic interests. Moreover, by undermining democracy and not
engaging the significant social problems of the era, the corporate media
themselves become a social problem, requiring alternatives and intensification
of a democratic media politics.
argument is that once the corporate media surrendered their responsibilities to
serve the public and provide a forum for democratic debate and addressing
significant issues of common concern, they have largely promoted the growth of
corporate and state power and undermined democracy. This results in mainstream
corporate press and broadcasting media becoming arms of conservative and
corporate interests which advance conservative state and corporate agendas. I
illustrate this claim, first, by documenting the process of corporate media
consolidation and then analyzing the nature, structure, and effects of
corporate media on a global scale. I indicate how during the era of neo-liberal
globalization the corporate media pursued the pro-market and deregulatory
agenda advanced by the Thatcher and Reagan administrations and subsequent
conservative and liberal governments in most of the Western world, while
attempting to impose this model throughout the world. Providing case studies of
how mainstream media in the United States have become tools of conservative and
corporate interests since the 1980s, I discuss how the corporate media in the
United State helped forge a conservative hegemony, failed to address key social
problems, promoted the candidacy of George W. Bush in the 2000 U.S.
presidential election, and have largely supported his highly conservative
domestic policies and unilateralist and militarist foreign policy.
Finally, I discuss how the Internet and new media can provide alternatives to
the corporate media and provide some hope that more democratic media and
societies can be produced that will address social problems being ignored and
intensified in the current era of corporate and conservative hegemony.
The Rise of the
Public Sphere and Triumph of Corporate Media
the era of the Enlightenment and 18th century democratic revolutions, public
spheres emerged where individuals could discuss and debate issues of common
concern. In his influential study The Structural Transformation of the Public
Sphere (1989 , Jurgen Habermas contrasted various forms of an active,
participatory public sphere in the heroic era of liberal democracy with the
more privatized forms of spectator politics in a bureaucratic industrial
society in which the media and elites controlled the public sphere. The book
delineates the historical genesis of the bourgeois public sphere, followed by
an account of the structural change of the public sphere in the contemporary
era with the rise of state capitalism, culture industries, and the increasingly
powerful positions of economic corporations and big business in public life. On
this account, powerful economic and governmental organizations took over the
public sphere, while citizens were content to become primarily consumers of
goods, services, political administration, and spectacle.
classical liberal public sphere was a location where criticism of the state and
existing society could circulate. The institutions and sites of the 18th
century democratic public sphere included newspapers, journals, and a press
independent from state ownership and control, coffee houses where individuals
read newspapers and engaged in political discussion, literary salons where
ideas and criticism were produced, and public assemblies which were the sites
of public oratory and debate. During the 19th century, the working class
developed its own oppositional public spheres in union halls, party cells and
meeting places, saloons, and institutions of working class culture. With the
rise of Social Democracy and other working class movements in Europe and the
United States, an alternative press, radical cultural organizations, and the
spaces of the strike, sit-in, and political insurrection emerged as spaces of
an oppositional public sphere.
describes a transition from the liberal public sphere that originated in the
Enlightenment and the American and French revolutions to a media-dominated
public sphere in the current era of what he calls "welfare state
capitalism and mass democracy." This historical transformation is grounded
in Horkheimer and Adorno's analysis of the culture industry, in which giant
corporations have taken over the public sphere and transformed it from a sphere
of rational debate into one of manipulative consumption and passivity. In this
transformation, "public opinion" shifts from rational consensus
emerging from debate, discussion, and reflection to the manufactured opinion of
polls and political and media elites. Rational debate and consensus have thus been
replaced by managed discussion and manipulation by the machinations of
advertising and political consulting agencies: "Publicity loses its
critical function in favor of a staged display; even arguments are transmuted
into symbols to which again one can not respond by arguing but only by
identifying with them" (1989a: 206).
Habermas, the function of the media have thus been transformed from
facilitating rational discourse and debate within the public sphere into
shaping, constructing, and limiting public discourse to those themes validated
and approved by media corporations. Hence, the interconnection between a sphere
of public debate and individual participation has been fractured and transmuted
into that of a realm of political information and spectacle, in which
citizen-consumers ingest and absorb passively entertainment and information.
"Citizens" thus become spectators of media presentations and
discourse that mold public opinion, reducing consumer/citizens to objects of
news, information, and political manipulation. In Habermas's words:
"Inasmuch as the mass media today strip away the literary husks from the
kind of bourgeois self-interpretation and utilize them as marketable forms for
the public services provided in a culture of consumers, the original meaning is
reversed (1989a: 171).
has been criticized for idealizing the bourgeois public sphere and failing to
articulate the important democratic functions of alternative public spheres
organized by labor, oppositional political groups, women, and other forces not
adequately represented in the liberal public sphere. Nonetheless, his concept
of a public sphere can serve as a normative ideal of a space in which
individuals can freely discuss issues of common concern and organize to
implement reforms and social change.
public spheres include the print and broadcast media, computer data bases,
Web-sites, and Internet discussion groups, utilized by social movements, local
citizens organizations, subcultures, political interest groups, and individuals
who use list-serves, weblogs, and various multimedia technology to serve a
diversity of political causes. With the rise of our contemporary
media and computer society, it is through the print and broadcast media,
computers, and new technologies that political hegemony has been forged over
the past several decades. From the 1980s to the present, the dominant media of
information and communication in the U.S. and increasingly globally have become
largely "corporate media," first, because they are owned by big
corporations like NBC/RCA/General Electric, Murdoch's News Corporation,
Bertelsmann, ABC/Disney, and AOL/Time Warner. Secondly, these media
conglomerates express the corporate point of view and advance the agendas of
the organizations that own them and the politicians who they support and in
turn pursue the interests of the media conglomerates in Congress.
the rule of neoliberalism and Bush conservatism, the most powerful corporate
forces have tightened their control of both the state and the media in the
interests of aggressively promoting a pro-business agenda at the expense of
other social groups. The consequences of the triumph of neo-liberalism and its
program of deregulation, tax breaks for the wealthy, military build-up,
cut-back of social programs, and the widening of class divisions are
increasingly evident in the Age of Bush-2. As a consequence of corporate media
hegemony, globalized societies thus confront the specter of ever-increasing
corporate and military power, worsening social conditions for the vast
majority, and sporadic mixtures of massive apathy and explosive conflict. In
this conjuncture, the corporate media continue to play a major role in managing
consumer demand, producing thought and behavior congruent with the system of
corporate capitalism, and creating people's sense of political events and
issues. Since the media continue to become an ever greater political power and
social force, it is all the more important to carry out sustained theoretical
reflections on the social functions and effects of the corporate media,
analyzing their threats to democracy, and seeing the corporate media as a
corporate media form a system and interact and overlap with each other.
During the 1980s and 1990s, television networks in the United States
amalgamated with other major sectors of the cultural industries and corporate
capital, including mergers between CBS and Westinghouse; MCA and Seagram's;
Time Warner and Turner Communications; ABC, Capital Cities, and Disney; and
NBC, General Electric, and Microsoft. In 1999, CBS fused with the entertainment
colossus Viacom in a $38 billion megamerger. Dwarfing all previous
information/entertainment corporation combinations, Time Warner and America
On-Line (AOL) proposed a $163.4 billion amalgamation in January 2000, which was
approved a year later. This union brought together two huge corporations
involved in TV, film, magazines, newspapers, books, information databases,
computers, and other media, suggesting a coming synthesis of media and computer
culture, of entertainment and information in a new infotainment society.
fact that "new media" Internet service provider and portal AOL was the majority
shareholder in the deal seemed to point to the triumph of the new online
Internet culture over the old media culture. The merger itself called attention
to escalating synergy among information and entertainment industries and old
and new media in the form of the networked economy and cyberculture. Yet the
dramatic decline in the AOL/Time Warner stock price and corporate battles for
control of the giant corporation illustrated the tensions between old and new
media and the instabilities and uncertainties at the heart of global
capitalism, and the return to dominance of the corporation by the Time Warner
forces in 2003 seem to deflate some of the hype concerning "new media" and the
"new economy" (see Kellner, 2003a).
Europe also there have been increasing mergers of media corporations, the rise
and decline of media giants like Viviendi and Bertelsmann, and the ascendence
of new conglomerates to take the place of declining media empires. In France,
the Dassault group, headed by a rightwing politician who controlled a media
empire has taken over the weekly Express and 14 other acquisitions,
while another French rightwing group headed by Jean-Luc Lagardere, an
associated of Jacques Chirac is France's biggest publisher, controls the
magazine market and is attempting to expand into telecommunications (Ramonet,
2002). In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi owns the three main private television
channels and as prime minister now also controls state television, while in
Spain the Prisa company controls major newspaper and other publications, as
well as radio and television networks.
amalgamations bring together corporations involved in TV, film, magazines,
newspapers, books, information data bases, computers, and other media,
suggesting a coming together of media and computer culture, of entertainment
and information in a new networked and multimedia infotainment society. There
have also been massive mergers in the telecommunications industry, as well as
between cable and satellite industries with major entertainment and corporate
conglomerates. By 2002, ten gigantic multinational corporations, including AOL
Time Warner, Disney-ABC, General Electric-NBC, Viacom-CBS, News Corporation,
Viviendi, Sony, Bertelsmann, AT&T, and Liberty Media controlled most of the
production of information and entertainment throughout the globe.
The result is less competition and diversity, and more corporate control of
newspapers and journalism, television, radio, film, and other media of
information and entertainment.
corporate media, communications, and information industries are frantically
scrambling to provide delivery for a wealth of services. These will include
increased Internet access, wireless cellular telephones, and satellite personal
communication devices, which will facilitate video, film, entertainment, and
information on demand, as well as Internet shopping and more unsavory services
like pornography and gambling. Consequently, the fusions of the immense
infotainment conglomerates disclose a synergy between information technologies
and multimedia, which combine entertainment and information, undermining
distinctions between these domains, and producing powerful new social forces.
neoliberal deregulation agenda of the 1980s and 1990s attempted to remove all
major structural constraints on the broadcasting business in terms of
ownership, licenses, and business practices. Furthermore, it eliminated public
service requirements and many restraints on advertising and programming, thus
allowing the television networks, for instance, to increase advertising, cut
back on documentaries and public service programming, and to use children's
programs to dramatize commercial toys, eliminating the regulation of children's
television that restricted advertising and forbid children's shows based on
commercial toys. Deregulation contributed massively to the concentration,
conglomeratization, and commercialization of the mainstream media. It also
contributed to the collapse of the telecommunication industry that cost over
half a million people their jobs in 2002 and contributed to around $2 trillion
of the $7 trillion lost on the stock market the same year (see Starr, 2002).
neoliberal deregulation of the media dramatically redefined the relationships
between government and broadcasting and attempted to undo decades of regulatory
guidelines and policies. As a result, during the past two decades, there has
been a drastic reduction of news, documentary, and public affairs broadcasting.
The trend toward sensationalism has been intensified with "reality
programming" (i.e. tabloid journalism of the sort found in the New York Daily
News and Post, or British tabloids who obsess over scandals of
leading politicians or the Royals). Tabloid journalism ranges from Geraldo
Rivera's "exposés" of satanism and live drug busts, to the gruesome
murder of the week, or series dedicated to tabloid-style crime and sex
general, from the 1990s through the present, political broadcast journalism
turned toward a tabloid style journalism and away from analysis, criticism, and
genuine investigative reporting that engaged social problems (see Kellner,
2003a). Furthermore, deregulation also permitted the rise of 24/7 cable news
networks that presented relentlessly conservative and one-sided programming
such as one finds in the Fox and NBC cable networks. In the Reagan era of
deregulation, the "fairness doctrine," which required that broadcasters present
equal time to competing sides on issues, was eliminated. Hence, broadcasting
networks had no constraints to prevent one-sided conservative ideology to
prevail and had no requirement to provide many-sided debates and dialogue, part
of the very life-blood of democracy (Kellner 1990).
also led to dramatic conglomerate take overs of radio stations and reduction of
radio news operations. In practice, this meant major cutting-back of local
news, thus depriving communities that did not have a local daily newspaper of
news concerning their areas. Previously, it was radio that was the voice of
these communities, but with the take-over of local radio stations by corporate
conglomerates, local news and public affairs were often cut back significantly
and even sometimes eliminated completely. During the 1990s and into the new
millennium, consolidation and commercialization of radio continued to intensify
with a small number of firms buying up more and more local radio stations,
imposing standardized Top 40 music formats, and nationally-syndicated and
mostly conservative Talk Radio shows. Moreover, 2002 Extra! Surveys
indicate that National Public Radio continued to be dominated by white voices,
while community radio was under attack from corporate and public radio
studies in the U.S. during the first decade of broadcasting deregulation
indicated an increased amount of commercial interruptions, dramatically
deteriorating children's television, large cutbacks in news and public affairs
programming, and a more conservative corporate climate at the networks where
individuals feared for their jobs in a period of "bottom-line"
corporate firing (see Kellner, 1990). Furthermore, rightwing pressure groups
used a variety of strategies to push and keep network news coverage on the
right track. For instance, the "Accuracy in Media" group carried out
campaigns against programs with a perceived "liberal bias" and
demanded, and sometimes received, free time to answer supposedly
"liberal" programs. Lawsuits by General William Westmoreland against
a CBS Vietnam documentary, and by Israeli General Ariel Sharon against Time
magazine, discouraged the media from criticizing conservative politicians.
Although Westmoreland and Sharon lost their cases, the lawsuits had a chilling
effect on the media, constraining the media against undertaking critical
reporting against individuals, corporations, or groups who might sue them.
the Gulf War of 1991 and the Afghanistan war following the September 11, 2001,
terror attacks, the broadcasting networks and press were subject to
unprecedented pressure to conform to the views of the respective wars advanced
by the Bush administration in question and the Pentagon (see Kellner, 1992 and
2003b). A "pool system" that restricted access to the battlefield and that
produced censorship of reporters' stories and images followed the British
attempt to control news during the Falkland-Malvinas war in the early 1980s
(Kellner, 1992). On this model, press pools sharply restrict access to the
actual battlefields and the government and military do everything possible to
control the flow of images, news, and information.
addition, during the two Bush family Iraq wars and the Afghanistan war, there
were organized campaigns to assault networks or papers that criticized U.S.
policy, that documented civilian casualties or that in any way was seen as
"aiding and abetting the enemy" (Kellner, 2003b). The result is that during
war, the press and broadcasting institutions in the U.S. are little more than
cheerleaders for the military effort and instruments of propaganda for the
state. Moreover, not only are news programs slanted toward the hegemonic
positions of corporate and government elites, but discussion shows also are
dominated by conservative discourses. Although there has been a proliferation
of television political discussion shows over the past decade with the rise of
24-hour cable news television, one wonders if the public interest is served by
the composition of these corporate media talk shows, which almost always are
limited to mainstream representatives of the two major political parties, or
other white male, establishment figures.
in the past twenty-five years, while there has been an increase in news and
discussion programming, there has been less of the liberal and socially
critical documentaries of the previous decades and the dominant political
discourse has been largely conservative. The corporate media in the U.S. helped
forge the conservative hegemony of the 1980s by going down "on bended
knee" to the Reagan administration, failing to vigorously criticize its
policies. The corporate media also actively promoted the Reagan program of tax
breaks for the rich and corporations, deregulation, union-busting, a massive
military build-up, chauvinistic patriotism, and aggressive foreign intervention
(Parenti, 1986; Herman-Chomsky, 1988; Hertsgaard, 1988). There were limits, of
course, beyond which the media did not allow the zealous Reaganites to tread
and the Iran/Contra coverage forced extremists out of the administration,
helped induce Reagan to negotiate an arms reduction treaty with Gorbachev,
diminishing Cold War tensions, and created the climate for the flourishing of a
more centrist, conservative politics which helped elect George Bush (Kellner,
the first Bush administration, the mainstream media in the United States
provided propaganda for Bush's military interventions, following a major trends
of media support for U.S. military interventions and policies (see Kellner,
1992). This trend was particularly striking in network coverage of the Panama
Invasion and the 1990-1 Persian Gulf crisis and then war. Coverage of the Iraqi
invasion of Kuwait and Bush's immediate dispatching of troops to Saudi Arabia
made it appear natural that only a military response to the Iraqi invasion was
viable and tended to support Bush's military policy, making it appear that war in
the Middle East was inevitable. The mainstream media helped promote the
military solution through its framing of the crisis, its omissions, and via the
ways that they were manipulated and controlled by the Bush administration and
Pentagon to manufacture consent to its policies. This had global consequences
since the U.S. media frames tended to dominate world media presentation of the
crisis in the Gulf and especially the Gulf War (see Kellner, 1992).
the corporate media failed to vigorously debate the political, ecological, and
human consequences of the 1991 Gulf War and whether such an adventure was
really in the interests of the people of the United States. Instead, the major
television networks generally presented every position and action by the Bush
administration and its multinational coalition positively. There were few
voices seen or heard on corporate television against the slaughter of tens of
thousands of Iraqis, including many civilian deaths, or the destruction of the
Iraqi economic infrastructure by coalition bombing. Even the slaughter of
fleeing Iraqis, after they formally announced withdrawal from Kuwait and sought
a cease fire in the United Nations, was ignored or quickly passed over by the
television networks in favor of joyous images of the liberation of Kuwait, or a
replay of alleged Iraqi atrocities against Kuwaitis. The issue of the Bush
administration coalition's responsibility for much of the ecological crisis in
the Gulf was not raised, even though part of the oil spills, some of the oil
fires in Kuwait, and all of the ecological destruction in Iraq was caused by
the U.S.-led coalition bombing (see Clark, 1992 and Kellner, 1992). Likewise,
there was little coverage of the resulting mysterious diseases suffered by U.S.
troops serving in the Gulf War, crippling and killing thousands from untested
anthrax vaccines, exposure to depleted-uranium weapons, possible exposure to
Iraqi chemical weapons, and to burning oil and other war-related pollution (see
during the crisis in the Gulf and the Gulf war of 1990-1, the corporate media
advanced the agenda of the Bush Administration and the Pentagon, while failing
to adequately inform the public or to debate the issues involved. Instead of
serving as a forum for public debate, the corporate media served instead as a
propaganda organ for the state, the military, and defense industries,
contributing to a further centralization of state, corporate, and military
power and growing manipulation and indoctrination of the public. On the whole,
during the Reagan and Bush I eras, the corporate media supported the
pro-business policies of the Republican party and cut back on broadcasting and
investigative journalism that would focus on social problems and call for
progressive social change as a solution. The corporate agenda of the media
continued during the Clinton years and helped elect George W. Bush president,
as I argue in the next section.
The Media in the Clinton Era
and the 2000 Election
general, the decline of TV documentaries and public affairs programming helped
produce a less informed electorate, more susceptible to political manipulation.
Democracy requires vigorous public debate of key issues of importance and an
informed electorate, able to make intelligent decisions and to participate in
politics. Corporate control of the media meant that corporations could use the
media to aggressively promote their own interests and to cut back on the
criticism of corporate abuses that were expanding from the 1970s to the present.
The tablodization of news and intense competition between various media meant
that the corporate media ignored social problems and focused on scandal and
tabloid entertainment rather than issues of serious public concern.
the Clinton era, for instance, the media focused intensely on the O.J. Simpson
scandals in the mid-1990s and then turned toward the Clinton sex scandals
(Kellner 2003a). Although previously, corporate media tended to support
presidents in office, and had been especially uncritical of the ruling
administration in the Reagan and Bush I years, during the Clinton era the media
became fierce watchdogs, pouncing on every potential scandal involving the
Clintons and feasting on the sex scandals that eventually exploded and took over
the media in the 1990s. This was an era of rightwing talk radio, the rise of
conservative television networks like Fox, and the proliferation of the
Internet, which had many anti-Clinton activists and gossips like Matt Drudge,
whose Web-site first broke the Bill and Monica story.
1990s were an era of escalating social problems caused by globalization and the
abuses of corporate capitalism, ecological crisis, decline in public health,
growing inequality between rich and poor, and dangerous corporate practices
that would eventually explode in 2002 in the Enron, WorldCom, and other
corporate scandals. It was an era of neoliberalism in which not only were the
media deregulated, but so too were corporate practices, financial markets,
corporate accounting, and the global economy. The media tended to celebrate the
"new economy" and the period of economic boom and growing affluency, while
overlooking the dangers of an overinflated stock market, an unregulated
economy, and the growing divisions between haves and have nots. During this
era, the corporate media thus neglected social problems in favor of celebrating
the capitalist economy and technological revolution. The media also overlooked
the growth of terrorism, dangerous consequences of the division between have
and have nots in the global economy, and growing ecological problems (Kellner
noted, while the mainstream media in the U.S. tended to be largely uncritical
of Reagan and Bush, they were fiercely critical of Clinton and his
administration. In particular, cable 24/7 news networks like Fox TV News
and the NBC cable networks strongly favored the Republicans while sharply
criticizing Democrats and "liberals" (Kellner, 2001 and 2003; Alterman, 2003).
Thus, it was not surprisingly during the 2000 election that key sectors of the
media would be highly critical of Democratic Party candidate Al Gore and give
George W. Bush, son of the former president, an easy time. According to many
accounts, large sectors of the media despised Gore and tended to like Bush. As
Eric Alterman notes:
The intensity of the media's anti-Gore
obsession is a bit bizarre, but even more so, given the strictures of
journalistic objectivity, is the lack of compunction they feel about openly
demonstrating it. At an early New Hampshire debate between Gore and Bill
Bradley, reporters openly booed him, "objectivity" be damned.
"The 300 media types watching in the press room at Dartmouth were, to use
the appropriate technical term, totally grossed out," Time reported. "Whenever Gore came on
too strong, the room erupted in a collective jeer, like a gang of
fifteen-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless nerd."
Washington Post White House
reporter Dana Milbank offers this reasoned, mature explanation: "Gore is
sanctimonious, and that's sort of the worst thing you can be in the eyes of the
press. And he has been disliked all along, and it was because he gives a sense
that he's better than us--he's better than everybody, for that matter, but the
sense that he's better than us as reporters. Whereas President Bush probably is
sure that he's better than us--he's probably right, but he does not convey that
sense. He does not seem to be dripping with contempt when he looks at us, and I
think that has something to do with the coverage."
Bill Keller, who almost became executive
editor of the New York Times, was no less scholarly than Milbank, but
like any good pundit, multiplied his own resentments by 50 million. "One
big reason 50 million voters went instead for an apparent lightweight they didn't
entirely trust was that they didn't want to have Al Gore in their living rooms
for four years," Keller wrote on the paper's Op-Ed page. Included in his
argument was the behavior of his 3-year-old, who, during the 2000 campaign,
"went around chanting the refrain: 'Al Gore is a snore.'" Imagine
where she might have learned to do that!
During the 2000 election, both the Times
and the Post assigned reporters to Gore who hated his guts and so
repeatedly misled their readers. Katharine Seelye's and Ceci Connolly's
coverage turned out to be so egregious that the two were singled out by the
conservative Financial Times of London as "hostile to the [Gore]
campaign," unable to hide their "contempt for the candidate."
(And don't get me started on the topic of "Panchito" Bruni's daily
valentines to George W. during this period, carried on page one of the Paper of
Record [i.e. The New York Times).
media bias against Gore and more favorable representations of Bush came out
strikingly during the 2000 U.S. presidential election. After generally ignoring
the campaign during the summer and early fall, the corporate media played up
the presidential debates as crucial to the election outcome. Since the 1960s the
presidential debates had been popular media spectacles that were often deemed
crucial to the election. Hence, as the debates began in October, genuine
suspense arose and significant sectors of the populace tuned in to the three
events between the presidential candidates and single disputation between the
competing vice presidential candidates. On the whole, the debates were dull, in
part because host Jim Lehrer asked unimaginative questions that simply allowed
the candidates to feed back their standard positions on Social Security,
education, Medicare, and other issues that they had already spoken about day
after day. Neither Lehrer nor others involved in the debates probed the
candidates' positions or asked challenging questions on a wide range of issues
from globalization and the digital divide to poverty and corporate crime that
had not been addressed in the campaign. Frank Rich described the first debate
in the New York Times as a "flop show," while Dan Rather on CBS called it
"pedantic, dull, unimaginative, lackluster, humdrum, you pick the
Election 2000, commentators on the debates tended to grade the candidates more
on their performance and style than on substance, and many believe that this
strongly aided Bush. In the postmodern image politics of the 2000 election,
style became substance as both candidates endeavored to appear likable,
friendly, and attractive to voters. In the presidential debates when the
candidates appeared mano a mano to the public for the first time, not
only did the media commentators focus on the form and appearance of the
candidates, rather than the specific positions they took, but the networks
frequently cut to "focus groups" of "undecided" voters who
presented their stylistic evaluations. After the first debate, for instance,
commentators noted that Gore looked "stiff" or "arrogant"
while Bush appeared "likable." And after the second debate, Gore was
criticized by commentators as too "passive," and then too
"aggressive" after the third debate, while pundits tended to let Bush
off the hook.
was thus, arguably, the spectacle of the three presidential debates and the
media framing of these events that arguably provided the crucial edge for Bush.
At the conclusion of the first Bush-Gore debate, the initial viewer polls
conducted by CBS and ABC declared Gore the winner. But the television pundits
seemed to score a victory for Bush. Bob Schieffer of CBS declared,
"Clearly tonight, if anyone gained from this debate, it was George Bush.
He seemed to have as much of a grasp of the issues" as Gore. His colleague
Gloria Borger agreed, "I think Bush did gain." CNN's Candy Crowley
concluded, "They held their own, they both did.... In the end, that has to
favor Bush, at least with those who felt . . . he's not ready for prime
more helpful to Bush was the focus on Gore's debate performance. Gore was
criticized for his sighs and style (a "bully," declared ABC's Sam
Donaldson) and was savaged for alleged misstatements. The Republicans
immediately spun that Gore had "lied" when he told a story of a young
Florida girl forced to stand in class because of a shortage of desks. The
school principal of the locale in question denied this, but the media had a
field day, with a Murdoch-owned New York Post boldface headline trumpeting
"LIAR! LIAR!" Subsequent interviews indicated that the girl did have to stand and that there was
shortage, and testimony from her father and a picture confirmed this, but the
spin was on that Gore was a "liar." Moreover, Gore had misspoken
during the first debate in a story illustrating his work in making the Federal
Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) more efficient, claiming that he had
visited Texas with its director after a recent hurricane. As it turns out,
although Gore had played a major role in improving FEMA and had frequently traveled
with its director to crisis sites, and while he had been to Texas after the
hurricane, the fact that he had not accompanied the director in the case cited
accelerated claims that Gore was a "serial exaggerator," or even
liar, who could not be trusted.
Republican mantra was repeated throughout the rest of the campaign, and whereas
the press piled on Gore every time there was a minor misstatement, Bush was
able to get away with whoppers in the debate and on the campaign trail on
substantial issues. For example, when he claimed in a
debate with Gore that he was for a "patients' bill of rights" that
would allow patients to sue their HMOs (Home Maintenance Organizations) for
malpractice, in fact, Bush had blocked such policies in Texas and opposed a bill
in Congress that would allow patients the right to sue. And few critics
skewered Bush over the misstatement in the second debate, delivered with a
highly inappropriate smirk, that the three racists who had brutally killed a
black man in Texas were going to be executed. In fact, one had testified
against the others and had been given a life sentence in exchange; moreover,
because all cases were under appeal it was simply wrong for the governor to
claim that they were going to be executed, since this undercut their right of
appeal. The media also had given Bush a pass on the record number of executions
performed under his reign in Texas, the lax review procedures, and the large
number of contested executions where there were questions of mental competence,
proper legal procedures, and even evidence that raised doubts about Bush's
execution of specific prisoners.
although a fierce debate over prescription drugs in the first debate led to
allegations by Gore that Bush was misrepresenting his own prescription drug
plan, driving Bush to verbally assault Gore, the media did not bother to look
and see that Bush had misrepresented his plan. Nor did many note that
Gore was correct, despite Bush's impassioned denials, that seniors earning more
than $25,000 a year would get no help from Bush's plan for four or five years.
Moreover, after the third and arguably decisive presidential debate, the MSNBC
commentators and punditry were heavily weighted toward pro-Bush voices. In
questioning Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney about the third
debate, Chris Matthews lobbed an easy question to him attacking Al Gore;
moments later when Democratic House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt came on, once
again Matthews assailed Gore in his question! Pollster Frank Luntz presented a
focus group of "undecided" voters, the majority of which had switched
to Bush during the debate and who uttered primarily anti-Gore sentiments when
interviewed (MSNBC forgot to mention that Luntz is a Republican activist).
Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson was allowed to throw barbs at Gore, to
the delight and assent of host Brian Williams, while there was no Democrat
allowed to counter the Republican in this segment. The pundits, including
Matthews, former Reagan-Bush speechwriter and professional Republican ideologue
Peggy Noonan, and ethically challenged plagiarist Mike Barnacle, all uttered
pro-Bush messages, while the two more liberal pundits provided more balanced
analysis of the pros and cons of both sides in the debate, rather than just
spin for Bush.
was on the defensive for several weeks after the debates, and Bush's polls
steadily rose. Moreover, the tremendous amount of
coverage of the polls no doubt helped Bush. While Gore had been rising in the
polls from his convention up until the debates, occasionally experiencing a
healthy lead, the polls were favorable to Bush from the conclusion of the first
debate until the election. Almost every night, the television news opened with
the polls, which usually showed Bush ahead, sometimes by 10 points or more. As
the election night results would show, these polls were off the mark but they
became the story of the election as the November 7 vote approached.
polls were indeed one of the scandals of what would turn out to be outrageously
shameful media coverage of the campaign. It became increasingly clear that the
polls were notoriously flawed during the 2000 campaign. Poll fatigue had set in
with the public, and the major polling organizations admitted that they were
getting a less than 50 percent response rate. Moreover, the national polls were
irrelevant, because in an Electoral College system, it is the number of states
won that is the key to victory, and not national polling figures. Yet despite
all their flaws, network news coverage focused on the polls, or the strategies,
mechanics, and ups and downs of the campaigns, rather than the key issues or
the public's real concerns. With a declining amount of news coverage on the
major network news, and sound-bites in which news and information were
condensed into even smaller fragments, media focus on the horse race and
strategic dimension of the presidential campaigns meant that less and less time
would be devoted to discussion of issues, the candidates, and the stakes of the
this environment, the campaigns sought to create positive images of their
candidates through daily photo opportunities and television ads, thus
contributing to intensification of a superficial politics of the image. The
television ads presented positive spectacles of the candidates' virtues and
negative representations of their opponents' flaws. Contested states such as
Florida were saturated with wall-to-wall advertising, and consequently Election
2000 campaign costs were the highest in history in which a record $3 billion
was dispersed. The ads were closely scrutinized for distortion, exaggerations,
and lies, with Internet Web-zines such as Slate and some TV networks
providing regular analysis of the ads, while replaying and closely analyzing the
more controversial ones.
turnaround in the polls in October after his numbers had been steadily dipping
for weeks was apparently boosted by what was perceived as his successful
appearance on the debates and on popular talk shows, such as Oprah, where an image of the
much-beloved African American talk hostess giving him a smooch was widely
circulated. Some claimed that the talk shows were a natural for the more
relaxed Bush, although there were questions over whether his appearance on the David
Letterman Show hurt or helped his efforts, as he appeared giddy and was unable to
effectively answer the tough questions that Letterman posed.
any case, both candidates made appearances on the major late-night talk shows,
as well as other popular television venues previously off-limits to
presidential candidates. In general, television spectacle helps to boost the
chances of the most telegenic candidate, and according to media commentary,
Bush repeatedly scored high in ratings in "the likability factor." Polls
continued to present Bush as more popular than Al Gore, and most media
commentators predicted that he would win the election handily.
the postmodern politics of promotion, candidates are packaged as commodities,
marketed as a brand name, and sold as a bill of goods. In a presidential race,
campaigns are dominated by image consultants, advertising mavens, spin doctors,
and political operatives who concoct daily photo opportunities to make the
campaign look appealing, "messages" sound attractive, and
"events" present the candidates in an attractive format. Such
campaigns are, of course, expensive and require tremendous budgets that make
competing impossible for candidates without access to the megafortunes needed
to run a media politics campaign. In turn, such megaspectacles render
politicians beholden to those who cough up the massive amount of dollars to pay
for the extravaganzas and the vast apparatus of producers, spinners, and
operatives to create them.
brand name was his family trademark, son of the former president and Bush
dynasty heir apparent, with his own distinctive "compassionate
conservatism." The latter phrase shows the bogus and spurious nature of
presidential packaging, as there is little "compassion" in the record
of the Texas governor who executed a record number of prison inmates, who cut
welfare lists and social programs, and who promised more of the same on the
national level. In the politics of presidential
marketing, however, creation of image takes precedence over ideas, style
replaces substance, and presentation trumps policy. With politics becoming a
branch of marketing, the more marketable candidate is easier to sell. Thus, it
is not surprising that Bush's image, style, and presentation trumped Gore's
ideas, experience, and policies with large segments of the public.
had another major asset in the competition for votes and marketing of the
candidates. Cultural historians make distinctions between
"character," based on one's moral fiber and history of behavior, and
"personality," which has to do with how one presents oneself to
others. The new culture of personality
emphasizes charm, likability, attractiveness, and the ability to present
oneself in positive images. Bush was clearly Mr. Personality, instantly likable,
a hale-fellow-well-met and friendly glad-hander who was able to charm
audiences. He was becoming a media celebrity whose achievements and
accomplishments were few, but he was able to play effectively the
"presidential contender" and provide a resonant personality.
Moreover, Bush was able to transmit his likable qualities via television,
whereas Gore frequently had more difficulty in coming across as personable and
translating his considerable intelligence and experience into easily consumable
sound-bites and images.
Texas governor, who was to many more of a figure of personality than character,
was also able to turn the "character issue" -- with the complicity
of the press -- against Gore and convince audiences that he, George W. Bush,
man of "character" as well as personality. The Bush camp used the
term "character" as a code word to remind audiences of the moral
lapses of Bill Clinton and of Gore's association with the president, in a
sustained collapse of one into the other. The Bush campaign also systematically
attacked Gore's character and credibility, and the media bought into this (see
Kellner, 2001; Jamieson and Waldman 2003; and Alterman, 2003).
Bush, more than the deadly serious and wonkish Gore, was entertaining; he was
amusing and affable in debates, even if not commanding in argumentation and
substantive position. Like Ronald Reagan, Bush looked good on the run, with a
friendly smile and wave, and in general seemed able to banter and connect with
his audiences better than Gore. Bush's misstatements and errors were amusing,
and on late-night talk shows he poked fun at himself for his mispronunciations
and gaffes; Slate compiled a list of "Bushisms," and they were as
entertaining as David Letterman's Top Ten list and Jay Leno's nightly NBC
monologue, which often made jokes about Gore and Bush.
American public seems to like entertaining and interesting politicians and
politics and to sometimes resent media critiques of politicians they like.
Hence, when stories broke a few days before the election that Bush had been
arrested twenty years before on a DWI charge and had since covered this over
and even lied about it, the populace and polls did not punish him. When asked
of highs and lows of the campaign on election night, Bush said with his
trademark smirk that even the lows "turned out to be good for us,"
alluding to polls that indicate that Bush got a rise in popularity after
revelations of his drunk driving charge. As with Clinton's survival of his sex
scandals and the Republican impeachment campaign, it seems as if the public
empathizes with the politicians' foibles and resents moral indictments of at
least those with whom voters sympathize. Obviously, Clinton was a highly
empathetic personality whom voters could sympathize with, and many resented the
Republican moral crusade against him. Similarly, voters liked Bush and seemed
not to be affected by the embarrassing disclosure of his DWI record and its
radio was an important medium during the campaign, just as it had been over the
last decade in U.S. politics. It was the relatively new form of unrestrained
talk radio that first mobilized conservatives against Bill Clinton after his
election in 1992, providing a basis of indignation and anger that fueled the
circulation of the details of the Clinton sex scandal and generated support for
his impeachment. Of course, the very excesses of rightwing talk radio provided
a backlash, and some stations chose liberals to counter the conservative hosts,
but most liberal programs were soon cancelled and by 2000 rightwing hosts
completely dominated talk radio.
during Election 2000 and the ensuing struggle for the presidency, rightwing
talk radio had a comeback, energizing its old audience and finding new ones,
while projecting the hatred of Clinton onto Gore. The narcissistic and
demagogic Rush Limbaugh, who had mercifully been taken off television because
of declining ratings and who had seemed to disappear from the frontstage of
national mainstream media, reappeared in all his virulent unglory, frequently
appearing on NBC channels, which rehabilitated the discredited demagogue to
celebrity and credibility. Limbaugh and other rightwing
blowhards grew louder and more aggressive than ever, demonizing Gore and
mobilizing conservative constituents to vote for Bush, helping as well to
organize against the Democrat candidate once the post-election struggle for the
and importantly, major research studies of the nexus between media and politics
revealed that both the broadcast media and the press were pro-Bush and that
this bias perhaps won the Republican enough votes to ultimately wrest the
election victory from Gore and the Democrats. A study by the Pew Research
Center and the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) examined 2,400
newspaper, television, and Internet stories in five different weeks between
February and June 2000, and indicated that 76 percent of the coverage included
one of two themes: that Gore lies and exaggerates or is marred by scandal. The
most common theme about Bush, the study found, is that he is a "different
kind of Republican." A follow-up PEJ report concluded:
the culminating weeks of the 2000 presidential race, the press coverage was
strikingly negative, and Vice President Al Gore has gotten the worst of it,
according to a new study released today by the Committee of Concerned
Gore's coverage was decidedly
more negative, more focused on the internal politics of campaigning and had less
to do with citizens than did his Republican rival.
In contrast, George W. Bush
was twice as likely as Gore to get coverage that was positive in tone. Coverage
of the governor was also more issue-oriented and more likely to be directly
connected to citizens.
These are some of the key
findings of a major new study of press coverage in newspapers, television and
on the Internet during key weeks in September and October.
the coding of Gore in the mainstream media was that he tended to exaggerate and
even lie and was implicated in many scandals in the Clinton administration,
while the media bought the Bush line that he was a different type of
Republican, a "compassionate conservative," and "a reformer with
results" who worked with Democrats and Republicans in Texas "to get things
done." When the election would heat up in the fall, the Bush campaign
would exploit these motifs, and the mainstream media would generally go along
with this line, without serious investigation of Bush's record or his own exaggerations.
of the most utilized examples of Gore the liar and "serial
exaggerator" was the alleged claim that he had invented the Internet. In
fact, Gore had made no such claim, although the media, the Republican spinners,
and Bush himself constantly referred to this urban myth. Bush burst out in one
of the debates that "his opponent" claimed to "have invented the
Internet" and then smirked in contempt and during the election often
repeated the joke, caught many times in news footage: "You've heard Al
Gore say he invented the Internet. Well, if he was so smart, why do all the
addresses begin with `W'?"
lie about Gore, and Bush's systematic exploitation of the myth, speaks volumes
about the quality of the Bush campaign and media complicity in its spin. First,
it is simply untrue that Gore claimed he "invented" the Internet.
Second, it is interesting how Bush and his handlers utilized the
"W" as a trademark to distinguish Bush from his father and how Bush
became popularly identified as W., or the Texas-inflected "Dubya."
Whereas JFK's initials were an apt summary of his style and achievements, and
LBJ earned the gravity of his initials through many years in the Senate,
culminating in becoming Senate Majority leader, then gaining the vice
presidency and presidency, George W. Bush was popularly referred to as "W.," an
empty signifier that really didn't stand for anything in particular, although
had the media probed the infamous "W" they would have discovered a truly
in fact, the "W" in Bush Junior's name referred to Herbert Walker, the father
of the woman, Dorothy Walker, who George W. Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush,
married (the H.W. in Bush senior's name referred to Herbert Walker, pointing to
the largely unknown origins of Bush family power and money). As I note below,
Prescott Bush managed the bank that helped fund Hitler and the Nazis and Herbert Walker, Prescott Bush's close
business associate, helped run businesses for Stalin's Russia and Mussolini's
Italy, as well as Hitler's Germany (see Loftus and Aarons, 1994). One of the
scandals of Election 2000 is that the press did not press into Bush family
history and its unsavory connections and activities, but largely focused on the
day-to-day campaign activities and daily spins of the candidates, how they were
faring in the polls, and the personalities of the candidates.
appeal was predicated on his being "just folks," a "good
guy," like "you and me." Thus, his anti-intellectualism and lack
of intellectual gravity, exhibited every time he opened his mouth and mangled
the English language, helped promote voter identification. As a sometime
Republican speechwriter Doug Gamble once mused, "Bush's shallow intellect
perfectly reflects an increasingly dumbed-down America. To many Americans Bush
is `just like us,' a Fox-TV President for a Fox-TV society."
media rarely challenged Bush who seemed to have not only charmed large sectors
of the American public, but was effective in schmoozing the media. Another
survey released of press coverage after the conventions showed a decisive
partiality for Bush. The Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) study of
television election news coverage before, during, and after the conventions
(released on August 14) concluded, "Network evening news coverage of the
GOP convention was more favorable toward George W. Bush, while Al Gore received
mostly unfavorable TV references, according to a new study released by the
CMPA." The study also found that "Bush has received more favorable coverage
than Gore throughout the 2000 campaign, reversing a trend that favored Bill
Clinton over his GOP opponents in 1992 and 1996."
perhaps, Bush fared as well with the print media and establishment press as
with television. Supporting the studies of pro-Bush bias, Charlie Peters
reported in the Washington Monthly that according to the PEJ studies, the New York Times front page "carried nine
anti-Gore articles and six anti-Bush; 12 pro-Gore and 21 pro-Bush"
(November 2000). Howard Kurtz, media critic of the Washington Post, reported: "Those who
believe the media were easier on Bush will find some support in a new Project
for Excellence in Journalism study. Examining television, newspaper, and
Internet coverage from the last week in September through the third week in
October, the report says Bush got nearly twice as many stories as Gore"
(November 6, 2000). Moreover, only one in ten of the pieces analyzed the
candidates' policy differences, with two-thirds focusing on the candidates' performance,
strategy, or tactics. Twenty-four percent of the Bush stories were positive,
compared to 13 percent for Gore, while the Bush stories focused more on issues
than character or campaign strategy.
German group, Media Tenor, also documented a persistent anti-Gore and pro-Bush
bias in mainstream media presentation of the candidates. Thus
three different research projects found strong media bias in the election
coverage. To be sure, such "positive" and "negative"
scoring of images and discourses is difficult, debatable, and not always
completely accurate, but I would argue that even more significant than alleged
bias in new stories in the mainstream media is the preponderance of
conservative punditry and, even more significant, the exclusion of wide-spread
media documentation and discussion of key aspects of George W. Bush's life,
record in business and government, and obvious lack of qualifications for the
his 1992 book Fooling America, Robert Parry documents the pack
journalism of the mainstream media in the 1980s and 1990s. Parry argued that
the horde follows "conventional wisdom," recycling the dominant and
predictable opinions, while failing to pursue stories or develop positions
outside of or against the prevailing views of the day. During Campaign 2000,
journalists on the whole tended to accept the line of the Bush campaign
concerning Gore's purported negatives, while promoting the view that the Bush
camp advanced that Bush was a uniter, not a divider, a "compassionate
conservative," and someone who pursued "bipartisan" politics in
order "to get things done."
media pundits tended to favor Bush over Gore. As Eric Alterman demonstrated in Sound
and Fury: The Making of the Punditocracy (revised, 2000), conservatives had
trained a cadre of media commentators, well versed in the art of soundbite and
staying on message, and there were many, many more conservatives than liberals
on the airwaves. The conservative punditocracy trashed Gore daily, while Bush
escaped critical scrutiny of his record in Texas, his limited experience, his
problematic proposals, and his almost daily misstatements. The conservative
pundits, however, aggressively promoted the Republican message of the day and
served as ubiquitous shock troops for the Bush machine.
bias in the mainstream media favoritism toward Bush not only came through in
how the media presented and framed the two opposing candidates, but in how they
failed to pursue George W. Bush's family history, scandalous business career,
dubious record as governor, lack of qualifications for the presidency, and
serious character flaws. None of the many newspaper, magazine, and television
reports on the Bush and Gore family history mentioned the reports on the
origins of the Bush dynasty fortune in a bank that financed German fascism or
pursued the Bush family financial scandals that continued through Jeb, Neil,
and George W. Bush.
the Battle for the White House a story appeared in the Saragosa Herald-Tribune
Coast News entitled "Author Links Bush Family to Nazis" (Dec. 4,
2000), which claimed that Prescott Bush (George's father and W.'s grandfather)
was a principle figure in the Union Banking Corporation in the late 1930s and
1940s. The article cited a lecture by John Loftus, a former prosecutor in the
Justice Department's Nazi War Crimes Unit and author of a book with Mark Aarons
entitled The Secret War Against the Jews (1994). Loftus noted that
Prescott Bush was a director of the Union Banking Corporation, which was
secretly owned by leading Nazi industrialists and helped finance the Third
Reich; when the bank was liquidated in 1951, the Bushes made $1.5 million from
Lexis-Nexis search indicated that there were no references to the origins of
the Bush family fortune in Union Banking Corporation that financed national
socialism until an article by Michael Kranish, "Triumphs, Troubles shape
generations," Boston Globe (April 23, 2001), including the
Prescott Bush was surely
aghast at a sensational article the New York Herald Tribune splashed on
its front page in July 1942. "Hitler's Angel Has 3 Million in US
Bank" read the headline above a story reporting that Adolf Hitler's
financier had stowed the fortune in Union Banking Corp, possibly to be held for
Bush knew all about the New
York bank: He was one of its seven directors. If the Nazi tie became known, it
would be a potential "embarrassment," Bush and his partners at Brown
Brothers Harriman worried, explaining to government regulators that their position
was merely an unpaid courtesy for a client. The situation grew more serious
when the government seized Union's assets under the Trading with the Enemy Act,
the sort of action that could have ruined Bush's political dreams.
As it turned out, his involvement
wasn't pursued by the press or political opponents during his Senate campaigns
a decade later.
the Loftus and Aaron's study (1994) provided a well-documented exploration of
connections between a major Nazi bank and the Bush dynasty, this episode was
never explored by the U.S. corporate media. Neglect of the unsavory origins of
the Bush family fortune and later financial scandals of the Bush family is one
of the major journalistic and academic outrages in U.S. history. Indeed, most
books and articles on the Bushes are white-washes that repeat the same myths,
and there has been little investigative study of the family by the U.S. media,
political, and academic establishment.
was also no probing of the Bush family involvement during Election 2000 in the
savings and loan (S&L) scandal, arguably one of the biggest financial
debacles in U.S. history, costing U.S. taxpayers over half a trillion dollars
to bail out the failed S&L institutions which had gone on a spending orgy
after deregulation in the early 1980s. George H. W. Bush and James Baker were
instrumental in the deregulation of the industry during the Reagan
administration, and their families and friends had bought up and looted
S&Ls, including the Silverado S&L scandal involving Neil Bush (see
the political scandals that Bush senior had been involved in were not explored
by the corporate media in the 2000 election, such as the Iran-Contra scandal,
the U.S. arming of Saddam Hussein, or the misdeeds of the CIA under Bush's
directorship (see Kellner 1990 and 1992; Parry 1992). In addition, there was
almost no reporting on George W. Bush's personal or financial history, which
included reports of using favoritism to get out of military service and then
going AWOL, failing to complete his military reserve service. There was little
discussion of his checkered business career, including allegations that his
father's friends bailed out his failing oil industry and that he then unloaded
his own stock in the Harken energy company that had bailed him out, selling
before revelations of a bad financial report and failing to report the sale to
the Securities and Exchange Commission, giving rise to charges of "insider
trading." Bush's poor record as Texas governor was also not probed, nor
were his personal failings and inexperience that should have disqualified him
from serving as president.
articles, and easily accessible Internet sites document the entire scandalous
history of George W. Bush and his dubious dynasty. Yet the lazy and arguably
corrupt functionaries of the mainstream corporate media failed to probe this
rich mine of headlines and stories -‹ whereas there were few embarrassments or
negative aspects of Al Gore's past that were not mined and endlessly discussed
on talk radio and among conservative television punditry. Likewise, there were
few in-depth discussions of the record of Bush's vice-presidential choice Dick
Cheney, the major role he would play in a Bush White House, and his precarious
health. Cheney had one of most hardright voting records in Congress and was
heavily involved in the oil industry as CEO of Halliburton industries, one of
the worst polluters and most ruthless corporations in an industry known for its
hardball Robber Barons.
thus benefited significantly from media coverage of Election 2000; major
studies and indicators suggest that the media were heavily prejudiced in his
favor and I have argued that Bush also was assisted by the domination of
conservative punditry and the failure to adequately investigate his history,
record and qualifications, the scandals that his family has been involved in,
and the record of his running mate Dick Cheney, one of the most hardright
political operatives of the present era. There had been little investigative
reporting on Bush and a preponderance of favorable stories for Bush and
unfavorable ones for Gore, as evidenced in the CMPA, PEJ, and Media Tenor
studies cited above. Likewise, television pundits seemed to favor Bush over
Gore. Media critic David Corn noted that commentators such as John McLaughlin,
Mary Matalin, Peggy Noonan, and many of the Sunday network talk-show hosts
prophesized a sizable Bush victory and tended to favor the Texas governor.
the election was the closest in history, and election night and the aftermath
comprised one of the most enthralling and gripping media spectacles in recent
history. Despite the drama of the election, however, there was little
self-criticism of the role of the media in Election 2000 and with the September
11 terror attacks discussion of electoral problems was off the agenda. While
there were efforts to reform election finances and voting technology, there
were no significant reforms of the U.S. electoral system that appeared to be
disfunctional in Election 2000 with arguable malfunctioning of the media, voter
technology, and the democratic system itself (see Kellner 2001). Discussion of
electoral college reform disappeared and no commissions studied the full array
of flaws in the U.S. voting system that made possible the scandals of Election
2000. Thus U.S. democracy remains in crisis and there will probably be no
significant reform until a critical mass of people see the flaws of the U.S.
system and demand democratic reform.
The Internet and
the Prospects for Democratic Media
only way that a democratic social order can be maintained is for the mainstream
media to assume their democratic functions of critically discussing all issues
of public concern and social problems from a variety of viewpoints and
fostering vigorous public debate. The democratic imperative that the press and
broadcasting provide a variety of views on issues of public interest and
controversy has been increasingly sacrificed, as has their responsibilities to
serve as a check against excessive government or corporate power and
corruption. As I have documented, there is a crisis of democracy in the U.S. in
part because the mainstream corporate media have been biased toward Republicans
and conservatives over the past two decades. While the media should play
critical watchdog roles on both parties, they have arguably been fiercely
critical of Clinton, Gore, and major Democratic party candidates, while giving
Reagan and Bush senior and junior a relatively easy ride. Mainstream corporate
media tend to promote the interests of the corporations that own them which
tend to be pro-market and anti-regulation and have largely advanced the
interests of corporate institutions and conservative politics.
remedy this situation, first of all there must be a revitalization of the media
reform movement and recognition of the importance of media politics in the
struggle for democratization and the creation of a just society, and support
and development of alternative media. Democratizing
the media system will require development of a vigorous reform movement and
recognition for all progressive social movements of the importance of
invigorating the media system for forward looking social change and addressing
urgent social problems and issues. This process will involve sustained critique
of the corporate media, calls for reregulation, and the revitalization of
public television, cultivation of community and public radio, improved public
access television, an expansion of investigative and public service journalism,
and full democratic utilization of the Internet. Since corporations control the mainstream press,
broadcasting, and other major institutions of culture and communication, there
is little hope that the corporate media will be democratized without major
pressure or increased government regulation of a sort that is not on the
horizon in the present moment in most parts of the world.
Internet, by contrast, provides potential for a democratic revitalization of
the public sphere. The Internet makes accessible more
information available to a greater number of people, more easily, and from a
wider array of sources than any instrument of information and communication in
history. It is constantly astonishing to discover the extensive array of material
available, articulating every conceivable point of view and providing news,
opinion, and sources of a striking variety and diversity. Moreover, the
Internet allows two-way communication and democratic participation in public
dialogue, activity that is essential to producing a vital democracy.
of the major contradictions of the current era is that for the wired world at least, and
increasingly the public at large, a rich and diverse information environment is
expanding, consisting of a broad spectrum of radio and television broadcasting
networks; print media and publications; and the global village of the Internet,
which itself contains the most varied and extensive sources of information and
entertainment ever assembled in a single medium. The Internet can send
disparate types and sources of information and images instantly throughout the
world and is increasingly being used by a variety of oppositional groups (see
Kellner 1999; Best and Kellner 2001; and Kellner and Kahn 2003). Yet it is also
true that thanks to media mergers of the past decade, fewer hands control the
dominant media broadcasting and print outlets, which can be utilized by
powerful corporate and political interests for specific partisan ends, as I
document in this study. To be sure, much of the world is not yet wired, many
people do not even read, and different inhabitants in various parts of the
globe receive their information and culture in very dissimilar ways through
varying sources, media, and forms. Thus, the type and quality of information
vary tremendously, depending on an individual's access and ability to properly
interpret and contextualize it.
however, requires informed citizens and access to information and thus the
viability of democracy is dependent on citizens seeking out crucial
information, having the ability to access and appraise it, and to engage in
public conversations about issues of importance. Democratic media reform and
alternative media are thus crucial to revitalizing and even preserving the democratic
project in the face of powerful corporate and political forces. How media can
be democratized and what alternative media can be developed will of course be
different in various parts of the world, but without a democratic media
politics and alternative media democracy itself cannot survive in a vigorous
form, nor will a wide range of social problems be engaged or even addressed.
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Service Broadcasting. Oxford, UK and New York: Oxford University Press.
 The conception of democracy that I am
drawing upon here has been developed in Kellner, 1990 and 2001 and other
writings. In this study, I focus on the role of the media of democracy and how
corporate media have undermined democracy in the past decades.
. See the discussion of the media and democracy in
Kellner, 1990, Chapters 2 and 3; on the Federal Communications Act of 1934 and
the battle for democratic media in the 1930s, see McChesney 1993. For an
excellent history and overview of media and politics in the United States, see
. On media consolidation and its impact over the past two
decades, see Herman and Chomsky, 1988; Bagdikian, 1997; Schiller, 1990;
Kellner, 1990; and McChesney 2000.
 My case studies draw on books I have
written on the Gulf War (Kellner, 1992), the 2000 U.S. presidential election
(Kellner, 2001), the September 11 terror attacks and subsequent Terror War
(Kellner, 2003a), and the expansion of media spectacle into the realms of the
economy, polity, and everyday life (Kellner, 2003b).
 On the influence of Habermas's concept
of the public sphere, see the studies in Calhoun, 1992 and Kellner, 2000.
 On new public spheres and
technopolitics, see Kellner, 1999, Best and Kellner, 2001, and Kahn and
. See Horkheimer and Adorno, 1972) and the studies of the
structure and impact of contemporary culture industry in McChesney, 2000 and
Best and Kellner, 2001.
 See the charts on media mergers and
concentration in Croteau and Hoynes 2001: 75ff. and in The Nation (Jan.
7, 2002) with analysis by Mark Crispin Miller, "What's Wrong with This
. A survey by a Ralph Nader-affiliated public interest
group, Essential Information, carried out a study that indicated that in
comparison with 1979, programming in 1988 carried 39% less local public affairs
programming, while 15% of all stations carried no news at all; program-length commercials,
prohibited until the 1980s, constituted about 2.6% of airtime. See Jim Donahue,
"Shortchanging the Viewer." Washington, D.C.: Essential Information.
There was also a demonstrable decline of documentaries produced by the
television networks from the 1980s to the present. Whereas each network
broadcast around twenty documentaries a year during the 1960s, by 1985 all
three networks together were broadcasting a mere fourteen hours worth.
Instead, news magazines such as ABC's 20/20 and CBS's West 57th
Street and then 60 Minutes Two appeared, which imitated CBS's
popular 60 Minutes, a trend that has accelerated in the 2000s. While
some episodes of these programs contain fine examples of investigative
journalism, exposing corporate and political abuses, much of the news magazines
tend toward entertainment, focusing on personalities and sensational stories.
. See the reports "White Noise. Voices of color scarce on
urban public radio" and "No Community Voices Wanted" Extra! (Sept.-Oct.
2002). William Safire in "On Media Giantism" cites a Gannett report that
indicates that in 1996 while the largest two radio chains owned 115 stations,
by 2003 they owned more than 1,400; a handful of radio company owners used to
generate only one-fifth of industry revenue, while today the top five take in
55% of all money spent on local radio and the number of station owners has
plummeted by a third (New York Times, January 20, 2003). Moreover, Clear
Channel communications, which dominates radio, is relentlessly conservative,
strongly supporting George W. Bush, organizing pro-war concerts during the
intense debates over Bush's Iraq policy, and attacking and blackballing
performers like the Dixie Chicks who criticized Bush's policies.
 For a detailed study of the effects of
deregulation on media culture in the 1990s, see McChesney, 2000.
. A 1989 study of ABC's nightly talk show, Nightline,
hosted by Ted Koppel, for example, indicates that over a six month period
Koppel's guests were almost always white, male, conservative spokespeople with
Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, Jerry Falwell, and Elliot Abrams the most
frequent guests. Another FAIR study of Public Television's The
MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour (1990) showed that it was even more conservative
in its biases, and a 1991 FAIR study of the Persian Gulf war coverage indicated
that almost no anti-war spokespeople turned up on network news and discussion
programming dedicated to the war. A 2002 study carried out by a German-based
media analysis firm Media Tenor and published in FAIR's Extra! (May-June
2002) indicated that the three major U.S. network news operations at ABC, CBS,
and NBC used news sources that were 92% white, 85% male, and, where party
affiliation was identifiable 75% were Republican. Big business had 35 times more
representatives than labor, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and Arab-Americans were
almost invisible; "experts" came from primarily elite institutions and rarely
non-governmental organizations, and the established political party and
executive branch were strongly favored. See FAIR, Expose of Nightline.
New York: 1989; FAIR, Press Release on Nightline and MacNeil-Lehrer
Coverage, New York: 1990 and Press Release on Gulf War Coverage, New York:
1991; and "Power Sources: On party, gender, race and class, TV news looks to
the most powerful groups," Extra! (May/June 2002). See Alterman 1992 and
2003 for comprehensive documentation of rightwing domination of mainstream
 Eric Alterman, "Al Gore, democrat," The
Nation, Oct. 21, 2002. Alterman repeats this analysis in 2003 and writes a
whole chapter documenting mainstream media hatred toward Gore and complicity
toward Bush (pp. 148-174). His book systematically devastates the myth of the
"liberal media," savaging books that make this claim and providing extensive
documentation of its nullity.
 The following analysis draws on Kellner,
2001 that provides more detailed notes and sources, as well as studies that
came out following publication of my book.
 I made this argument in Kellner, 2001
and it has been confirmed in other studies of Election 2000. Ceaser and Busch,
2001 (148-150) write: "Everything turned around for George W. Bush during the
period of the debatesŠ it was the cumulative effect of the three debates
themselves that carried him past the vice president." My argument is that it
was the framing of the debate by the media that was decisive (Kellner 2001:
13ff.; see a similar analysis in Alterman 2003 (pp. 160ff) who provides further
examples of how the media framed the debates in ways positive toward Bush and
negatively toward Gore; and Jamieson and Waldman also indicate how framing of
the debates aided the Bush camp (2003: 57ff).
 See the analysis of "Twenty-Five
Bush Flubs in the Second Debate" and "Fifteen [Bush] Flubs in the
Third Debate" at http://www.tompaine.com/news/2000/10/20/index.html.
Republican pundits, however, obsessively pursued the theme that Gore was a
liar. In the October 11, 2000 Wall Street Journal, the grossly
overinflated Republican ideologue William Bennett wrote: "Albert Arnold
Gore Jr. is a habitual liar. . . . The vice president lies reflexively,
promiscuously, even pathologically." In fact, the alleged lies that Gore
"promiscuously" promulgated were largely Republican propaganda; see
the devastating critique in Alterman 2003: 159ff.
 A note on
polls: The majority of the mainstream media polls on the eve of the election
put Bush in the lead, sometimes as much as by 10 points during the final days
of the election campaign (although the Zogby/Reuters and CBS News polls put
Gore slightly ahead in the popular vote). Joan Didion reports, by contrast,
that seven major academic pollsters presenting their data at the September 2000
American Political Science Association convention all predicted a big Gore
victory, ranging from 60.3 percent to 52 percent of the vote. See Didion,
"In God's Country," The New York Review of Books (Nov. 2, 2000). Academic pollsters tend to use
rational-choice models and base their results on economic indicators and
in-depth interviews; they seem, however, to downplay moral values, issues of
character, the role of media spectacle, and the fluctuating events of the
election campaigns. Indeed, the academic pollsters argue that the electorate is
basically fixed one or two months before the election. Arguably, however, U.S.
politics is more volatile and unpredictable and swayed by the contingencies of
media spectacle, as Election 2000 and its aftermath dramatically demonstrate.
story in the Washington Post (Feb.
9, 2001) by Robert G. Kaiser, "Experts Offer Mea Culpas for Predicting
Gore Win," presents interviews with major political scientists who had
predicted a strong win for Gore based on their mathematical models and data
collected months before election day, seeing Gore winning from 52.8 to 60.3 percent
of the national votes. One professor admitted that the "election outcome
left a bit of egg on the faces of the academic forecasters," whereas
others blamed a poor Gore campaign, "Clinton fatigue," and an
unexpectedly strong showing by Ralph Nader. One defiant forecaster said that
the election was simply weird, "on the fringe of
our known world, a stochastic [random] shock."
 Summarizing research that documented the
prevalence of horse race reporting and poll standing in the election, Owen
(2002: 127f) notes that "CMPA [Center for Media and Public Affairs] data
indicated that 71 percent of network news stories focused on the horse race,
compared to 48 percent in 1996 and 58 percent in 1992"; Project for Excellence
in Journalism "found that stories in print on TV, and on the web about the
debates were more about performance (53%) than substance. Fewer than 10 percent
of debate stories focused on issues, and few compared the policy positions of
the candidates"; and Stephen Hess, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution,
"revealed that two-thirds of the networks general election stories were
supported by polls, a figure that increased as the campaign got down to the
wire." Owens concluded that: "The dominant news frame became the close
election" (p. 127).
 On political ads, see Milbank 2001,
359ff and the study of television advertising by the Alliance for Better
Campaigns, in Schechter 2001: 77-92. In an illuminating study of ads in
Election 2000, Lynda Lee Kaid argues that Bush's TV ads established eye contact
with viewers in 26 percent of his spots compared to only 6 percent for Gore.
Bush was three times as likely to be shown with a smiling expression than Gore;
and Bush was shown in close-up or tight shots in 41 percent of his ads compared
to 24 percent for Gore, thus using video imagery to sell Bush's
"personality" to voters. See "Videostyle and Technological
Distortions in the 2000 Political Spots," International Communications
Association Convention, Washington, D.C., May 2001.
 See the following books on Bush's record
by Ivins and Dubose (2000), Mitchell (2000), Begala
(2000), Hatfield (2000), Miller (2001) and Kellner (2001).
 See Sussman,
1984 and Gabler, 1999, p. 197.
 For an analysis of the qualifications of
Gore to be president and lack of substantial achievements and qualifications of
Bush, see Alterman, 2003, pp. 148ff.
 On Bush's DWI incident and how his
campaign and the Gore camp dealt with it, see Timothy J. Burger, "In the
Driver's Seat: The Bush DUI," in Sabato, 2002, pp. 69-93.
 Rightwing ideologue Rush Limbaugh
emerged as "the highest paid info-broadcaster in history," taking in over
$30 million by 2000, more than the network anchors combined
(http://www.drudgereport.com/rr.htm). It was later admitted that Limbaugh was
losing his hearing during the election period, providing a revealing image of
an aggressive conservatism that feigned dialogue, but really wasn't hearing
anything except its own ideological voice.
 For the PEJ report, see
http://www.journalism.org/publ. research/campaign1.html. For a good overview of
the PEJ findings and critique of mainstream media news coverage of the
election, see Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, "Campaign Lite: Why
Reporters Won't Tell Us What We Need to Know," Washington Monthly (Jan.-Feb. 2001).
 In The Press Effect (2003),
Jamieson and Waldman document in detail the negative framing of Gore, but
assume that the media are largely skeptical and critical of presidential
candidates and stress the negative media representations of Bush as not intellectually
up to the job, claiming that the dominant
frames were Pinocchio vs. Dumbo, Gore as lying panderer and Bush as
inexperienced dolt (2003: 42). This analysis overlooks the documentation that I
am stressing here which indicates that Bush got many more positive
representations than Gore and that therefore the media largely followed the
Bush campaign in presenting their positive image of Bush as "compassionate
conservative," while replicating the Bushites' negative image of Gore as liar
and not to be trusted.
 For convincing demolitions of the
allegation that Gore claimed to "invent" the Internet, see "The
Red Herring Interview: E-Gore" (Red Herring, October 30, 2000). A story in Wired falsely reported that Gore asserted that
he "invented" the Internet, whereas in fact he had simply stated that
"I took the initiative in Congress" to help "create" the
Internet, a completely accurate statement that key members of the hi-tech
community involved in producing the Internet confirmed. The Republicans
continued to spread the false smear about Gore, including George W. Bush who
baited Gore in a debate with the lie and repeated it constantly in his stump
speech. This is an example of Republican use of the "Big Lie"
technique, where a falsehood is stated over and over as if it were a truth,
which would come to characterize "Bushspeak" during the Battle for
the White House and Bush presidency (see Kellner 2001, chapter 9).
 Doug Gamble, cited in Martin A. Lee,
www.sfbg.com/reality/ 12.html. See also Jake Tapper's discussion of Bush's
"Dumb Chic," Salon,
Nov. 2, 2000, and Miller's probing analysis (2001). New York Times
correspondent Frank Bruni's history of Bush and the 2000 election (2002), by
contrast, puts on display how Bush seduced the press; while Bruni complains about
Bush's superficiality and the shallowness of political campaigns in the media
age, his book exhibits the shallowness and superficiality of the press and
 Cited in www.cmpa.com/pressrel/electpr2.htm. The Center for
Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) is run by Robert Lichter, who has generally
been perceived as a conservative critic of the media's liberal bias (although
he claims to be a neutral social scientist), so it is interesting that his
organization found a bias in favor of Bush in key election coverage. Later CMPA
findings indicate that Gore's positive network news coverage went up sharply
after the Democratic convention, as did Gore's ratings (Sept. 5, 2000). But a
study released by CMPA on October 18 indicated that "network news coverage
of Al Gore turned sharply negative after the first presidential debate."
It appears that CMPA's positive/negative network news codings of the candidates
correlate remarkably with the candidates' rise and fall in the polls, although
since polls themselves came under dramatic attack in the election, it is
obviously not clear what exact impact positive and negative presentations of
candidates on television news and in print have on voters. See also the
discussion of positive/negative coding and the work of the German group Media
Tenor in Markus Rettich, "Into the White House through the Television
Screen," in Schechter 2001: 100-102.
 See the
summary in Schechter, 2001: 100f. and the Web site
 In addition to the Loftus and Aarons'
book cited above, Prescott Bush and Herbert Walker's involvement in the Union
National Bank had earlier been documented in a biography of George H. W. Bush
(Tarpley and Chaitkin 1992, 26-44), although, unfortunately, the authors were disciples
of Lyndon LeRouche and their often solid and damning scholarship was undermined
by LaRouchite conspiracy theories. On other Bush family scandals and history,
ignored by the mainstream media, see the books listed in Note 32 below and
Web-sites listed in Note 33.
 On books that probe George W. Bush's
history and record, see See the following books on Bush's record by Ivins and Dubose (2000), Mitchell (2000), Begala (2000),
Hatfield (2000), and Miller (2001). See also the Web-sites note in the note below.
 Web-sites that document the history of
Bush family scandals and George W. Bush's history include www.moldea.com; www.bushwatch.com;
http:/prorev.com/bush3.htm; and www.gwbush.com/. For a useful overview of Cheney's
health, history, voting record, and hardright credentials, see Begala 2001:
 See David Corn's column collected at tompaine.com/news/2000/ 11/24).
 For more detailed proposals for
democratizing the media and producing alternative media and politics, see
Kellner, 1990 and 1999; McChesney, 1997 and 2000; Best and Kellner, 2001, and
Jeffrey Chester and Gary O. Larson, "A 12-Step Program for Media democracy," The
Nation (July 23, 2002).