Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Interview from the Archive: Norman Solomon says "big money casts an enormous shadow over" our "news coverage"

Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 5, 2017.

Story by Joseph Ford Cotto

Like actors on tour, issues enter and exit America’s political stage. Debate rages, then quells, and is often forgotten -- if not rewritten -- in the pages of history.
One topic that manages to remain en vogue, though, is media bias. Both sides of the aisle claim that powerful press agencies have stacked the cards against them. They say it is all but impossible for the whole story to be told because certain individuals have no interest in truth.
Where there’s smoke there must also be fire, correct?

An interesting, not to mention important, question for our day and age. The dawn of Donald Trump's presidency ignited a firestorm of scrutiny toward media figures. There has likely never been a time during which so much distrust and hostility flows at our supposed 'guardians of democracy'.
When the public no longer, on a general basis, places stock in the watchmen-and-women-on-the-wall, it does not take a clairvoyant fellow to see that dark storm clouds are on the horizon.
Norman Solomon is a longtime activist for leftish causes, ranging from the anti-nuclear energy movement to opposing various military conflicts. Solomon is most well known, however, for his journalistic work, which revolves around exposing and preventing biased reportage. In 1997, he founded the Institute for Public Accuracy and had a nationally syndicated column from the early ’90s until 2009.
He recently spoke with me about many issues concerning the American media. The first part of our conversation is included below.
Joseph Ford Cotto:  For many Americans, television news serves as a major source of information. Today, cable and network stations are competing to dominate the future of televised news. Given the rise of the Internet, though, does it even matter who ultimately wins out?
Norman Solomon: Ownership and the advertising base matter most. As Robert McChesney has documented in his book Digital Disconnect, the Internet has undergone the fastest consolidation of economic control over a communications medium in human history. The websites that dominate are almost invariably owned by huge corporations. 

While the barriers to entry are relatively low on the web, the fact remains that whether we're talking about TV or radio or the Internet, big money casts an enormous shadow over political content, news coverage and overall creative control -- over what reaches vast numbers of people every day.

Cotto: Cable news stations gained much traction over the last few decades. However, they are rapidly losing ground to various Internet outlets. Beyond any other reason, why is this?

Solomon: The Internet is much more diverse, diffuse and interactive than the cable networks. And many of the same media conglomerates with heavy investments in television have also invested heavily in the Internet, with very big synergies of cross-promotion in the process.

Cotto: Whether the station in question is a network affiliate or a cable channel, most people would probably expect some sort of bias to be present. Given how polarized our society has become, an ever-larger share of the population might find this to be a good thing. Do you have a perspective on this?

Solomon: The large networks and cable channels offer limited perspectives, from moderately liberal (e.g. MSNBC) to far right (e.g. Fox News). And while ostensibly non-commercial, PBS is heavily corporatized with underwriting and notably cautious. Meanwhile, sizable progressive or avowedly non-corporate or anti-corporate networks don't exist.

Cotto: Print publications, by and large, are going -- or have gone -- the way of the dinosaurs. Internet news outlets, meanwhile, are flourishing. What has been the most important consequence of this?

Solomon: The news cycle has sped up to the point of being continuous, with fixations on shorter and more superficial eye-catching material.

Cotto: Today, anyone can favor a news outlet on the basis of his or her political stances. Such a thing makes media bias an advantageous for certain outlets who seek to provide a profitable echo chamber. Why is there such a market for echo chambers in today's media landscape?

Solomon: The system of pursuing profits above all else has gone into overdrive.

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