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April 14, 2005

Books, Journals & More – A Closer Look: Donald Gibson

In the 1930s, social critic Ferdinand Lundberg, in a book titled “America’s Sixty Families,” maintained that American journalism served only the wealthiest families — the Morgans, the Rockefellers, the Hearsts, the DuPonts and a handful of others — owners of the media outlets who controlled the messages. As a result, “truth is always secondary, very often incidental, even accidental,” Lundberg wrote in 1937.

That “media oligarchy” exists as much today as a century ago, according to Donald Gibson, professor of sociology at Pitt’s Greensburg campus.

Lundberg’s argument “is still accurate today and is closer to the truth than much of what now passes for ‘radical’ criticism of the media,” Gibson writes in “Communication, Power and Media,” a scathing indictment — part history, part analysis, part commentary — of current and recent American media failures.

One of the consequences of media control by the filthy rich is that it turns the traditional understanding of freedom of the press on its head, Gibson states.

“By press freedom the owners and controllers of media mean that the press is free from government interference and free to privately censor and control news and entertainment and free to attack and criticize anyone opposing its interests,” Gibson maintains.

Even more consequential is what is omitted in media coverage, he says. Because so many fields of investigation and exposition don’t fit the newspaper owners’ mold, they are off-limits and are replaced by artificially inflated “news stories” on movie stars, scandals, sports, gossip columns, recipes, fashion features, bridge columns, comic strips and other inanities, Gibson says.

“The content of the press reflects the conscious views and interests of the groups that control it,” that is, the wealthiest class, he writes. “This class … is a self-organized network of people based in social and political institutions as well as in the ownership and control of profit-yielding property. What appears in the press and, perhaps more importantly, what does not appear is a reflection of these interests and a result of conscious decision-making; it is not primarily the result of advertising pressures,” as is commonly thought.

The media oligarchy that omits real news intentionally to consolidate its power and push its own viewpoint threatens the foundations of the democratic republic that the United States purports to be, Gibson states.

Similarly, he says, the entertainment field, dominated by violence and pornography spewn in the name of the First Amendment, encourages crime, endorses promiscuity, promotes sexism and generally leads to a decadent culture.

Ironically, “The media’s ‘liberalism,’ most apparent in the entertainment area, and the media’s ‘conservatism,’ most apparent in the media’s view of economic affairs and of the government’s proper role in those affairs, emanate from the same sources and are in fact consistent with one another,” Gibson writes.

Both share a disdain for government interference, democratic institutions and the needs of the majority; both believe power should be concentrated in the private, protected hands of a small group.

“For example, the media’s attitude toward its right to present violence and pornography parallels its view on government regulations of media mergers or media globalization: The government should stay out of the way. Those who control major banks and oil companies have the same attitude,” he points out. “If we do not understand [these private powers], we will not understand the threat they pose to our ‘democratic republic.’”

Pressed to elaborate on these themes, Gibson says his thinking was influenced while serving a stint in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.

“I learned that the media lies early on,” he says. “In 1968 I was stationed in Thailand. Despite the media’s total denial that we were secretly bombing countries other than Vietnam, every morning I heard the planes going overhead on their way to bomb Laos and Cambodia.”

The media’s distortion and “sins of omission” still dominate today, Gibson says.

He cited the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), founded in 1921 allegedly as a non-partisan group of national experts and advisers but really comprised of international bankers, leaders of giant corporations and owners of media companies, among other wealthy groups, Gibson says.

“The CFR has been feeding people into the highest levels of government for most of the last century,” including the bulk of the Kennedy cabinet behind the Vietnam War and some of President Bush’s leadership team behind the Iraq War decision.

“The Vietnam War was the policy of the CFR leadership,” Gibson says. Yet, “from 1945 to 1965, The New York Times devoted not one article to the council.”

In the 1990s, the Times had three articles on the CFR, compared to 48 on the Democratic Party, 224 on the Teamsters and 1,162 on the Catholic Church. “This is clearly self-censorship,” Gibson says. “The media that reaches most people, the primary television news programs, the newspapers and leading news magazines, have no interest in exploring the specifics of globalization, the identification of the companies with the biggest global stakes, the history of foreign investment, or anything else that would give at least part of the public a framework to understand the ‘new world order.’

“Audiences, of course, can’t indicate their interest in such things, or their lack of interest, if they never heard about them,” he adds.

Gibson’s goal is not to spread pessimism. “In fact, I tried in the book not to sound pessimistic. I do believe that social scientists have the obligation to be objective, but that doesn’t mean value-free. The direction of this country, with maximum freedom for markets, is not working for the majority of people and we are in the midst of a trade-policy crisis,” he says.

In addition, the country has lost 4 million manufacturing jobs, labor unions are shadows of their former selves, the U.S. dollar continues to be devalued and the masses are hurting while the few are prospering, he says.

“If you think of power as a three-legged stool, the United States, after World War II, used to lead the world in all three legs: moral authority, economic power and military might, and now I feel we’re down to only one: military superiority,” Gibson says. “That means there is no carrot, only the stick; there is no persuasion from the moral high ground, only brute force. Our influence in the world is reduced to: ‘If you don’t agree with us, we’ll bomb you.’”

Of course the biggest question is: How do you fix things? he says.

“We have American history to draw on, on the ideals this country was founded on, and we need to return to establishing our national interests in ways that support a democratic republic not an oligarchy. We have no choice but to re-build our democratic institutions, labor unions, political parties.

“What worries me most is that people don’t see it,” Gibson says. “The media has made no effort to inform the public of the actions of our government. There has been a total failure to inform the American public, and people need to realize that.”

—Peter Hart

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