Chris Hedges, author, columnist and former Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist for The New York Times spoke with RT about how FCC deregulation during the Clinton administration allowed a handful of corporations to dominate US media.
RT: I want to start off by reading a quote from one of your articles on this very topic, you say: “The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script. They spin the same court gossip. They ignore what the corporate state wants ignored. They champion what the corporate state wants championed. They do not challenge or acknowledge the structures of corporate power.” So Chris, what do you think is the problem with media today?
Chris Hedges: Well, that sort of sums it up. It’s a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporate state. You have a half-dozen corporations — Viacom, General Electric, Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp, Disney, Clear Channel — that control almost everything most Americans watch or listen to. And, you know, as I wrote in that column, the lie of omission is still a lie. They hold up political puppets as part of this charade to deflect attention from where power actually resides, and that’s in the hands of corporations. It’s impossible within the American political system to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs, and so we don’t hear anything about climate change, the poor — the rural and urban poor are rendered invisible in this country. And they’re really suffering at this point, I just finished a book on it, spent two years on it – Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, with the cartoonist Joe Sacco out on the poorest pockets of the country.
We don’t hear anything about the assault on civil liberties, whether that’s the Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, or warrantless wiretapping, the use of the Espionage Act to shut down whistleblowers — the misuse of the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act, giving the executive branch the power to assassinate American citizens. And climate change – we should have … given the crisis which is now confronting the ecosystem on which the human species depends for its existence, we should have climate scientists on every night. And none of that appears, because it’s all driven by celebrity gossip, trivia — and yeah, okay, Fox will spin it one way and MSNBC will spin it another, but it’s all the same tawdry, useless garbage.
RT: What do you think drives these editorial decisions — you just pointed out some very important stories. Why do you think there isn’t more airtime dedicated to these kinds of issues?
Chris Hedges: Because we’ve lost control of our media. When General Electric owns, as they do, MSNBC — and I began the column writing about Phil Donahue, who was removed from MSNBC although he had the highest ratings of any show in the evening, because he dared to put on people who questioned the rush to the Iraq War… Look, General Electric’s made a fortune off these wars, as has Microsoft, and they’re hardly going to allow a dissident voice to impede their profits or their ratings. And that’s really at this point what it’s all about — these television personalities, people like Chris Matthews, a cheerleader for the war on MSNBC, makes about five million dollars a year. They’re celebrities, they’re judged on their likeability – what in the business is called a Q Score – and not on their commitment to news, or to the truth.
It sounds like what you’re saying is the state of the media has become more of a business model these days. When do you think that this happened — can you pinpoint an area in time or a point in time when this happened, or has this been something that’s been gradual?
Chris Hedges: Well, it’s been a gradual descent, a kind of deterioration over my own lifetime as a journalist. I’ve watched, especially on the airwaves, the deterioration of news. I would argue that at this point commercial networks don’t even do news. But if we had to point at a particular moment when this process was accelerated it would be Clinton’s decision to deregulate the FCC. And that, of course, allowed these corporations to buy … I think Clear Channel owns about 1,500 stations in the United States — and that was a kind of consolidation into a very small number of corporate hands, and diminished the capacity for alternative forms of information and independent forms of information to reach the American public.
RT: Going along with this journalism as a business model, business of course, with laws of course of simple high and low demand — so could it be that media is simply giving the people what they want? So maybe they want more of these kind of entertainment-driven stories, that that’s what people are going to watch?
Chris Hedges: Well, they stick to the lowest common denominator. They build these kind of soap opera scenarios night after night, week after week, around celebrities. It’s entertaining — it’s really, at this point, the business they’re in is entertainment — but I worked for many years, including fifteen at The New York Times, and news is not about entertainment. News is about information, news is about giving your readers or your viewers often uncomfortable and unpleasant truths — climate change, let’s go back to climate change, would be a good one. That is the purpose of news, it is about fostering the common good. It is about informing the public, and when news becomes a business, when news becomes about entertainment, then issues that are not uplifting so to speak, issues that don’t have an immediate emotional draw — whether it’s around sex, whether it’s around violence, whether it’s around anything else — are shoved to the side. And you’re reduced to what essentially we have been reduced to, which is a kind of carnival act.