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Prologue to a Farce

Prologue to a Farce: Communication and Democracy in America

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Prologue to a Farce
    Book Description:

    A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both.?--James Madison, 1822_x000B__x000B__x000B__x000B_Mark Lloyd has crafted a complex and powerful assessment of the relationship between communication and democracy in the United States. In Prologue to a Farce, he argues that citizens political capabilities depend on broad public access to media technologies, but that the U.S. communications environment has become unfairly dominated by corporate interests. _x000B_Drawing on a wealth of historical sources, Lloyd demonstrates that despite the persistent hope that a new technology (from the telegraph to the Internet) will rise to serve the needs of the republic, none has solved the fundamental problems created by corporate domination. After examining failed alternatives to the strong publicly owned communications model, such as antitrust regulation, the public trustee rules of the Federal Communications Commission, and the underfunded public broadcasting service, Lloyd argues that we must re-create a modern version of the Founders communications environment, and offers concrete strategies aimed at empowering citizens.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09175-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    On October 5, 2000 , I sat in a private room at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York listening to Bill Kennard, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), practice a speech about the public interest obligations of broadcasters. At the time I was leading a national coalition called People for Better TV, and aside from helping to rustle up an audience and pay for coffee, my role was to introduce Bill. Listening to him prepare, I was excited about the strength and breadth of his embrace of our work. He would tell the nation:


  5. Part I. Communications and Democracy in America

    • 1 The Challenge of American Democracy
      (pp. 11-22)

      The ongoing American experiment in democracy is failing.¹ And it is failing because we have allowed our public sphere to be dominated by the interest Madison called merchants.

      The ideals of political equality and a government that operates in response to the informed consent of the governed are for most Americans only romantic notions. Our republic, the unique American mechanism for realizing the will of the people, is something warm and fuzzy to salute or sing about at best. At worst it is viewed as a dysfunctional and unreliable interference. But, in the main, it is regarded as merely another...

    • 2 The Role of Communications in the Democratic Experiment
      (pp. 23-36)

      The problem of democracy taken up by the men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 was borrowed from the Greeks and Romans and informed by a small collection of European political philosophers.¹ I do not mean to suggest that what is loosely referred to as “Western civilization” is the only place we may look to understand how to create a republic. I only suggest that this is where the founders looked.²

      Unlike the true (and failed) revolutionaries in France and Russia, American colonists did not seek to establish a wholly new system of governance, but to reform the so-called mixed...

  6. Part II. A Brief History of U.S. Communications Policy

    • 3 The Break: The Telegraph from Jackson to Hayes (1830–1876)
      (pp. 39-58)

      How did we shift from a structure of governance that facilitated communications through the post to a set of policies that now, without amendment, has put even the postal service “in the hands of individuals”? The story begins only a few decades removed from the ratification of the Constitution.

      In the early 1800 s a dramatic shift was taking place in the republic. Between 1812 and 1821 six western states entered the Union with constitutions providing for universal white male suffrage or a close approximation, and between 1810 and 1821, four of the older states substantially dropped property qualifications for...

    • 4 The Telephone and the Trusts (1876–1900)
      (pp. 59-76)

      America was of course a very different nation after the Civil War. The political battles of the Whigs and the Jacksonian Democrats over nullification and the national bank were largely forgotten by 1870 , while the core issues of states’ rights and federal economic distributions would surface under other guises. Though the confrontations between Whigs and Jacksonian Democrats determined the course of American communications policy, continuing to grapple with the concerns of Clay and Polk was certainly useless in understanding the realities of governance in the late 1800s. The swinging pendulum of the American state, from boom to bust to...

    • 5 From Roosevelt to Roosevelt: Wireless and Radio (1900–1934)
      (pp. 77-120)

      In the late summer of 1899, Guglielmo Marconi left England after a series of successful demonstrations of a system he developed to transmit telegraph signals without wires. Fitting a steamer with a seventy-five-foot antenna and then sending to theDublin Daily Expressa minute-by-minute account of the Kingstown Regatta, Marconi’s device allowed readers to learn the progress of the race before the ships were back at port. Learning of this, theNew York Heraldinvited Marconi to report on the America’s Cup Race in October of that year.

      For centuries men have known sea travel, even a few miles out,...

    • 6 From Truman to Eisenhower: The Birth of Television (1935–1959)
      (pp. 121-146)

      Perhaps the single most important jolt to American democratic balance after World War II was the rise of the military and its union with the industrial faction in the cause of U.S. imperialism. The careful balance struck by the founders was knocked off kilter by this joint force, and neither agrarian Populists nor Labor would be able to offset this faction’s power over government. If there was any chance that such a combined force could be countered, it was effectively eliminated by the domination of the trusts over mass media, particularly that faction’s control of a medium that would come...

    • 7 Kennedy, Johnson, and Satellites (1960–1968)
      (pp. 147-166)

      The 1960 s saw the last gasp of the Roosevelt Progressives. It was the last decade when merchants turned trusts turned international conglomerations would be well contested by the remnants of the old Roosevelt coalition: eastern intellectuals, Labor, newly empowered minority groups, and poor people. Aided by the most liberal court the nation has ever seen, and by the emotional power resulting from grief and guilt over a martyred leader, this new left coalition made more progress toward establishing a government for the common man than even Roosevelt could accomplish in the midst of the Great Depression. It is no...

    • 8 From Nixon to Reagan: Backlash and Cable (1968–1991)
      (pp. 167-194)

      The turbulence of the 1960 s and the resulting disruption to American racism and sexism and warrior imperialism would seem to contradict Mills’s assertion that there is no countervailing power against the military-industrial elite. It might also seem to contradict the assertion of this book that U.S. communications policy has failed our democracy. The nonviolent and violent protests of black Americans, north and south, so embarrassing to the U.S. elite’s claims of egalitarian democracy, inspired protests among Mexican Americans and Asian Americans and women and young people.

      Those protests, the voice of poor and working-class Americans, were heard and included...

    • 9 The Internet: Communications Policy in the Clinton Era (1992–2000)
      (pp. 195-222)

      In the Reagan years, America was like a drunken bully reluctant to go home. Reagan’s botched military adventure in Beirut, his failed assassination attempt against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, and a bungled operation to fund a private war against the democratically elected government of Nicaragua through the illegal sale of arms to Iran brought immediate embarrassment to his administration. Reagan’s support for Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Manuel Noriega would haunt us long after he was gone. But as luck would have it, in 1985 the Soviet Union was under the leadership of a bold reformer, Mikhail Gorbachev....

    • 10 The End of History
      (pp. 223-234)

      In 1792 the American experiment in democracy was still new and fragile. A second government was established, a Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, and, despite strong disagreements among the various factions, foreign debts were being paid and the location of the nation’s capital was decided. The work of binding the nation together remained, and to accomplish that task Congress, led by James Madison, decided to subsidize the delivery of newspapers throughout the country, and laid the foundation for a communications network that would dwarf all other parts of the federal government. In doing this, the founders suggested...

  7. Part III. Reclaiming Our Republic

    • 11 A Few Lessons
      (pp. 237-260)

      As should be clear through our historical summary, communications policy in the United States is determined largely at the federal level. This is true even while those mass media corporations that exert the greatest influence over the greatest number of U.S. citizens are largely global conglomerates. In other words, the News Corporation, Viacom, Disney, General Electric (GE), and AOL/TimeWarner are international corporations, doing business around the world on behalf of thousands of shareholders who claim citizenship in a wide array of nation-states. In order to advance their business plans in the United States these companies focus their attention on the...

    • 12 Reclaiming Our Republic
      (pp. 261-282)

      Our democracy, or rather the republic of the founders, has been corrupted because one faction, international business, has come to dominate civic deliberation. The fact that global corporations dominate discourse in the United States is not the result of the fairly popular but ultimately amorphous notions of the natural and inevitable preeminence of the economy—sometimes referred to as the “free market” or “the almighty dollar.” Nor is this dominance the result of the vastly overstated importance of “new technologies.” If military dictatorships and nation-states run by religious clerics are not inevitable, neither is it inevitable that our democratic deliberations...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 283-328)
  9. Index
    (pp. 329-338)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 339-343)