The Problem of the Media

The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the Twenty-First Century

Robert W. McChesney
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Problem of the Media
    Book Description:

    The symptoms of the crisis of the U.S. media are well-known - a decline in hard news, the growth of info-tainment and advertorials, staff cuts and concentration of ownership, increasing conformity of viewpoint and suppression of genuine debate. McChesney's new book, The Problem of the Media, gets to the roots of this crisis, explains it, and points a way forward for the growing media reform movement.Moving consistently from critique to action, the book explores the political economy of the media, illuminating its major flashpoints and controversies by locating them in the political economy of U.S. capitalism. It deals with issues such as the declining quality of journalism, the question of bias, the weakness of the public broadcasting sector, and the limits and possibilities of antitrust legislation in regulating the media. It points out the ways in which the existing media system has become a threat to democracy, and shows how it could be made to serve the interests of the majority.McChesney's Rich Media, Poor Democracy was hailed as a pioneering analysis of the way in which media had come to serve the interests of corporate profit rather than public enlightenment and debate. Bill Moyers commented, "If Thomas Paine were around, he would have written this book." The Problem of the Media is certain to be a landmark in media studies, a vital resource for media activism, and essential reading for concerned scholars and citizens everywhere.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-377-5
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
    (pp. 7-15)
    (pp. 16-56)

    Mention “the problem of the media” and most people think of poor or inadequate media content that negatively affects our culture, politics, and society. If the media were doing a commendable job, there would be no problem. But there is another meaning for the wordproblem; its first definition inWebster’s Dictionary is“a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution.” Media systems of one sort or another are going to exist, and they do not fall from the sky. The policies, structures, subsidies, and institutions that are created to control, direct, and regulate the media will be responsible for...

    (pp. 57-97)

    Democratic theory posits that society needs journalism to perform three main duties: to act as a rigorous watchdog of the powerful and those who wish to be powerful; to ferret out truth from lies; and to present a wide range of informed positions on key issues. Each medium need not do all these things, but the media system as a whole should make this caliber of journalism readily available to the citizenry. How a society can construct a media system that will generate something approximating democratic journalism is a fundamental problem confronting a free people. Citizens learn about the social...

    (pp. 98-137)

    Along with commercial influences, political pressure from powerful self-interested parties—and to a lesser extent, the general public—has also shaped contemporary journalism. Pressure from elites remains constant, and a main purpose of professionalism, in theory at least, is to acknowledge this reality while preventing it from having undue influence. Broader, non-elite pressure exerts less influence because the professional code regards the general public as not sufficiently knowledgeable to participate in journalism discussions.

    A particular form of elite criticism of journalism has become more prevalent over the past quarter century than perhaps at any time in U.S. history. This critique...

    (pp. 138-174)

    The major historical development in U.S. media has been the corporate domination of the media system, which was created and protected primarily by corrupt policy making. An important aspect of corporate domination, in addition to media ownership, has been the increasing role of advertising as a source of revenues for media firms. In the first century of the republic, advertising played an insignificant role in both media and society. Democratic theory, free press theory, barely paused to consider it. Advertising emerged in response to the needs of corporate capitalism. It quickly and necessarily came to colonize much of the press,...

    (pp. 175-209)

    Even though many Americans agree that our media system fails to promote an informed participating citizenry and instead bombards us with unwanted hyper-commercialism, that is not enough to generate action. One crucial barrier keeps citizens from opposing the current structure: the notion that the U.S. media system is based upon the competitive market, and the competitive market, despite its limitations, is the best possible system because it “gives the people what they want.” As one communication professor presented this conventional wisdom in 2003: “In the marketplace of entertainment, the public determines what’s successful, not the producer.”¹

    In this chapter I...

    (pp. 210-251)

    It may appear that the profit-driven nature of the U.S. media system generates an inexorable logic that requires businesses to act as they do, for better or for worse. There is an element of truth to such a position, but taken in isolation it is also misleading. The larger truth is that the current media market’s nature is set by explicit government policies, regulations, and subsidies. For the cable TV industry or the commercial broadcasting industry, this linkage between policies and market structure and logic are transparent. The government creates these markets and sets the terms for the firms to...

  10. 7 THE UPRISING OF 2003
    (pp. 252-297)

    There is no single solution to the problem of the media. It is not a matter of objective science. That is why informed public participation in media policy making is so crucial. The more debates over media policy see the light of day and the more proposals are introduced, evaluated, and considered, the more likely it is that resulting policies and systems will serve the public interest. Christopher Lasch’s prescription for politics applies in spades to media policy making: “What democracy requires is vigorous public debate, not information. Of course, it needs information too, but the kind of information it...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 298-351)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 352-367)