Letters for the week of July 28-August 3, 2004

A torrent of response to Will Harper's story on media ownership trends, in which he is called neoconservative, illiterate, self-serving, and vulgar.

“True Justice,” Bottom Feeder, 6/30

Do some reporting
Your article on this bicyclist’s death presents no evidence that the woman who hit him was in any way careless, criminal, or at fault. Yet you are out there baying for vengeance and calling for the judge’s resignation. Apparently it’s been about a year since this happened. You had all that time to find out what time of the day the incident happened, to find out if the cyclist had lights on his bike, and a host of other details that bear on fault. The article tells me none of this, so I don’t know.
Sherman Kassof, San Francisco

“Rethinking the Media Monopoly,” Feature, 7/7

Spare us your vulgar and self-serving articles

Will Harper states: “The same critics who accuse Big Media of hiding information get their information from the media anyway.” That’s like saying that restaurant critics shouldn’t taste the food.

The media lies by omission: Important stories get underreported, and even the important ones that get extensive coverage usually fall down the memory hole.

One Newsweek story and one Robert Byrd speech on the United States’ arming of Iraq hardly constitute coverage, especially when compared to the Monica Lewinsky, Gary Condit, or O.J. Simpson stories. Seventeen days after the Newsweek story, The New York Times carried a Robert Byrd opinion piece on going to war; no mention of the US arming of Iraq. During the 1992 presidential campaign, this story was covered by the major newspapers and news magazines. On television, this story didn’t make a blip, except for those who stayed up late and watched the joint Nightline/Financial Times

Today’s Contra Costa Times may be liberal compared to its former version. But that didn’t stop them from praising Bush’s rantings in defense of Condoleezza Rice’s live testimony before the 9/11 Commission at his April 13, 2004 press conference. (See “Bush’s tough stand,” Editorial, April 14, 2004.) The Times had no problem allowing a right-wing, Bushite letter writer to grossly exceed their two-hundred-word limit by 56 words. (See: “Headline was misleading in 9/11 testimony,” Readers’ Forum, March 30, 2004.) Another Times letter writer was allowed to opine that affirmative action “moved from a fairness policy to an integration policy.” (See: “Affirmative action unfair to students,” Readers’ Forum, May 6, 2004.)

The respondents in Harper’s Gallup poll aren’t media analysts. If any of them feel that the media is too liberal, it’s because the media told them so.

An April 2003 Los Angeles Times poll found that respondents preferred cable television news over the Internet as a source for their Iraq war coverage by 69 percent to 13 percent. How does Harper know how many of the 41.5 percent of the households with Internet access use it for news, as opposed to pornography or other leisures? What does DJ Rick Stuart’s “diversity of sound” have to do with world and national news?

Even for someone who writes for a newspaper that rarely reports anything earthshaking and that is part of a miniconglomerate, Harper’s piece is overtly (nonconspiratorially) self-serving.

P.S. It’s obvious to this analyst that Mr. Harper is suffering from H.I.I.V., i.e., he’s Historically Illiterate and Intellectually Vulgar. He probably caught it from Stephen Buel.
Stuart Piacente, Berkeley

The stations all sound like Will Harper

It’s hard to read the Express because of the Chris Thompson-style cynicism, and an overall tone hostile to unions, pacifists, and any artist or intellectual not engaging in the same fake lowbrow, status quo center-right BS. But I picked up “What Media Monopoly?” and boy, did I reaffirm my hypothesis. Why do the Will Harpers of the world have a monopoly on the Bay Area free weeklies? Why, in an allegedly impenetrable “liberal” atmosphere, do so many editorialists get so much airtime with their vague neoconservative rhetoric?

Harper loves to remind us that “nearly half the population, according to a 2003 Gallup poll, believes the media are ‘too liberal. ‘” Harper doesn’t bother to explore the paradox of an apparently “diverse” media and the fact that, according to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, in the weeks leading up to the war, only three out of nearly four hundred interviews on top American news programs were antiwar, and this despite the fact that polls showed the country divided 50/50. The article doesn’t bother to address whether all those new free dailies, radio, and television stations are representative of the readers, listeners, and viewers they serve. The point is, it doesn’t matter how many new radio and television stations there are; they all sound the same, they’re all saying the same thing, and it sounds a lot like Harper. All those stations are profit-driven news and entertainment de rigueur, and this despite the Internet.

Harper had the nerve to say, “Unlike fellow critics such as linguist Noam Chomsky, Bagdikian could call upon his journalistic experience to inform his arguments.” Is Will Harper’s journalistic experience greater than Noam Chomsky’s? Are his arguments more firmly founded? Harper is one of many “nutty right” journalists, disguised in false objectivity, attempting to monopolize the American Political Narrative.
Kahlil Karn, Berkeley

This media monopoly
Your recent lead article was very interesting. What media monopoly? Could it be the one that gave candidate Governor Bush a virtually free ride before the 2000 election, while hammering Vice President Al Gore with continual attacks on honesty? Could it be the media monopoly that didn’t say boo when the Republicans rigged the 2000 presidential election in Florida and thus gave the election to Bush? The media monopoly that closed ranks behind Bush after 9/11? The media monopoly that uncritically repeated and blessed all of the Bush regime lies about its war on Iraq?

I have a satellite television service that offers more than a hundred channels, broadcast 24/7, yet I cannot watch any of the English BBC channels or the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) offerings. I cannot get any news channels from any other English-speaking countries including Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa, Jamaica, or Trinidad. With all of the new satellite technology available, why are we consumers being force-fed American corporate propaganda? Oh, monopolies tend to monopolize, I guess. No public over-the-air dissent allowed in corporate America. This American corporate media monopoly happily works in lockstep with the ruling Republican/Democratic political establishment.

Even in the area of sports entertainment we are force-fed a very narrow choice of sports to watch. During these shows, we are constantly bombarded with an endless series of commercials, hypes, promos, retros, popup ads, game breaks, updates, and stupid interviews with coaches about their great-aunt’s recent successful hangnail operation. The so-called “All-Star Baseball Game” has become virtually unwatchable for anyone not afflicted with a serious case of attention deficit disorder. Any international sports events are viewed with a hypernationalistic American viewpoint. In the last Winter Olympics in 2002, the United States ranked sixteenth in medals won per million population, but that fact was conveniently hidden away from viewers. The USA was ranked after Norway, Estonia, Austria, Finland, Switzerland, Croatia, Sweden, Canada, Netherlands, Slovenia, Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, Czech Republic, and France. Norway was winning forty times as much as the US on the basis of medals per million population. God forbid if I should want to want a sports show from Australia or New Zealand, such as cricket, rugby, or even sheepdog trials.

To top it off, we television watchers are subjected to endless amounts of extreme vulgarity, violence, and stupidity on a daily basis. Our television is now a much vaster wasteland than when FCC Commissioner Newton Minow made his famous “vast wasteland” critique of American television more than forty years ago. Is this the best that our so-called modern Western civilization can offer? No wonder many culturally conservative Third World people find our celebrity-dominated television foul and disgusting.
James K. Sayre, Oakland

31 flavors are nice only if you like ice cream

How ironic that Will Harper’s attack of Ben Bagdikian’s latest edition of The Media Monopoly follows on the heels of Michael Moore’s documentary that offers ample evidence of Ben’s point, as much of the footage used was from major network sources that they would not show. As with Nader’s 2000 presidential bid, when he was not allowed to debate, we have to pay $9 and leave the comfort of our living rooms to hear a genuine leftist political perspective.

Harper alleges that Ben is wrong to have changed his earlier, less damning claim that the marketing paradigm of big media inclines toward sterile reportage. Ben’s current assertion is that the media inclines toward a right-wing bias. Harper points out that Ben contradicted his earlier claim many times by showing cases of a right-wing bias in earlier editions of his book, and concludes from this that Ben’s present claim is erroneous, which does not follow. Rather, as many leftist media critics point out, Ben has finally stopped tempering his view, and there is plenty of evidence to merit this change.

Harper argues, ad populum, that a recent Gallup poll showing that a majority consider the media to be too liberal refutes Ben’s argument. But a majority’s opinion is not the same as evidence, and this view is itself a consequence of the dirge of right-wing media telling us this is the case. A recent study of the guests on NPR showed that, even there, Republicans were four times more likely to be invited.

Harper addresses the important distinction between social and fiscal politics when addressing media bias, but then ignores that same point. It is clear that the media have a socially liberal slant, especially in the Bay Area where his examples come from. Put simply, sex sells, and minorities, women, and gays make up a large portion of the marketplace, so it is simply good business sense to cater to these.

Concerning fiscal politics, including geopolitical issues, the right-wing media bias is obvious and vast. Harper would have us believe that the differences can be offset by cable TV and the Internet, failing to realize the powerful difference between media that one has to work or pay for versus that which freely pours into our living rooms at the flick of a switch. I would like Harper to come to my house and show me which of the eighty stations I have access to are offering a platform for genuine left-of-center views on political-economic issues; I don’t seem to be able to get any.

The media misrepresentation of the Iraq war is not an exception, as the same phenomenon surrounds Haiti — where our unelected president just sponsored the overthrow of the most popularly elected president in the western hemisphere — Iraq in ’91, the Panama invasion in ’89; the list goes on. The same is true of labor issues, social programs that cost tax dollars, and environmental concerns; in short, the issues that hit capitalists in their pocketbooks where it hurts.

Harper alleges that Ben can’t address the paradox of how “we are suffering from narrowing media choice when, at the same time, people complain about information overload in today’s media saturated world.” There is no correlation between the sheer amount of media we are saturated with and the content of that media, nor between numbers of choices and the quality or genuine diversity of those choices: 31 flavors of ice cream is nice if you like ice cream.

Harper suggests that concentration of media is analogous to megastores like Costco and Wal-Mart that have replaced the smaller competition, and thus concentrated their market share, but that at the same time increased our choices. This speaks volumes if you are happy about what Wal-Mart has to offer, I guess you might just as well like the editorial “choices” of GE or Disney.
Keith Law, Oakland

Overloading on vanilla
The cover story could have made for a fascinating long article. Instead, it kept missing the key point that the essence of propaganda is repetition. There’s no substitute for mass media when, say, people like Karl Rove are marketing the next war. Occasional coverage of a speech by Senator Robert Byrd is no match for incessant drumbeats in the megamedia echo chambers. And many of the much-ballyhooed media “choices” are consumer-niche outlets that hardly present any basic challenge to political or economic power structures.

Will Harper wrote that “the most profound failure” of The New Media Monopoly is that “its author completely fails to address the paradox his argument poses in this day and age: How can we be suffering from ‘narrowed’ media choices (as suggested by the concentration of media ownership) when, at the same time, people complain about information overload in today’s media-saturated world?” Huh?

If that’s the book’s “most profound failure,” then it’s quite successful. The fact that people complain about “information overload” in no way refutes the critique of consolidated media power that Ben Bagdikian presents. If you watched the ten most widely seen TV networks, listened to the most widely heard radio stations, and read a dozen of the largest-circulation newspapers in the country, you might complain of information overload — but the vast majority of that media exposure would be within a narrow range of corporate sensibilities and mainstream political perspectives.

Norman Solomon, San Francisco

“What’s Killing Bulky Trash Day?” Feature, 6/30

I am a Berkeley citizen who had a communication mix-up with the city regarding the day of my bulky trash pickup. Eventually my trash was taken, but while I was waiting for the pickup (around a week), various folks picked and chose among my discards. Is this what is wanted? There was less to pick up.
Ardys DeLu, Berkeley

The hierarchy of junk
I find it ironic that Dan Knapp, the owner of Urban Ore, has the gall to criticize people from the community who got to trash before he could. Urban Ore is not a nonprofit and grosses nearly $2 million a year, according to the Grassroots Recycling Network Web site. I see no one from my community working there, nor do I see anyone from my community shopping there; how could they? The place is overpriced to insulting levels, given the median incomes on the other side of San Pablo Avenue.

While Creative Reuse is a nonprofit, for some reason they will not hire from the community. The blatant fact is that you will not find a black person working at either of these places. I find this far more upsetting than the fact that junk guys and flea-market vendors who live in the community and actually participate in its economy are getting to garbage first before Knapp can slap a $250 price tag on it.

Jaime Omar Yassin, Berkeley

“Kings and Queens on Alice Street,” East Side Story, 7/7

It takes heroes
I wanted to express my appreciation for your article in the July 7 issue. Your report was very uplifting and inspiring to say the least. Articles like the one you wrote motivate people of the Bay Area community to get involved to make a positive difference in the lives of youth who require extra guidance. In addition, I commend Corey Wade for his selfless commitment to the Oakland community. People like the two of you inspire readers like myself who are looking to better their neighborhoods by taking meaningful and everlasting, effective action.
Shar-Lo Kelly, Oakland

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