F-Word: Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

In our era of extreme capital accumulation is it any wonder that media capital accumulates extremely?

And what do we know about capital? It’s a social relation of power.

If you’d never thought about power and media and capital before, there’s a good chance the subject’s crossed your mind in the last twelve months. Maybe it was the presidential election, brought to voters by for-profit corporations that put clicks and ratings above all other values.

Maybe it’s the creeping and increasingly creepy power of social media.  Our society’s silent censors, I read recently that Google and Facebook channel 70 percent of all the traffic that goes anywhere near any news site.  It’s no wonder, then, that propagandists use social media to for anti-social purposes. They make it easy.

The band-aid may be worse than the bite, on that front. Publicly embarrassed by the abuses that they permitted to skew the last US election towards the Right, those same social media gatekeepers are now clamping down on opinion, and guess what’s getting blocked? Progressive independents.  Don Hazen of Alternet recently reported that search traffic to his site plummeted 40 percent—a loss of an average of 1.2 million people every month — after Google and Facebook installed new search algorithms in the name of fighting fake news.

Power in politics, power in propaganda, and then, of course, there’s Hollywood. Predatory producer Harvey Weinstein’s was protected by all who knew him for a generation because he had a lot of power.  As did Roger Ailes and Bills O'Reilly and Cosby and Clinton.  You don’t have to go to Tinseltown or DC to see the same thing playing out — you can find it in any unequal workplace. Just imagine, if we had media that paid attention to women and workers and especially women workers, we’d know that sexual violence isn’t about sex. Not half as much as it’s about power.

Absolute power corrupts, absolutely, as the saying goes. It also controls the conversation. Without free journalism, there ’s not only no functioning democracy, there’s no accountability and no free-flow of ideas, about governance, or war and peace, or personal relations or policing. While this has long been true, what’s different about this moment is that the entire for-profit, for-the-few media and entertainment system that we’ve cobbled together over the last 200 years has failed so many, so badly, for so long -  failing to warn us of everything from climate catastrophe to financial crash, and the real predators in our midst —  that if ever there was a time to build broad support for redefining journalism as a public good, requiring public attention, and yes, public funding of a non profit public media sector, this is that moment.   


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