Big Media is Ravenous.
These Conglomerates are an Empire, and they are Imperial
Bill Moyers speech
National Conference on Media Reform,
Memphis, Tennessee, January 16, 2007
The veteran broadcast journalist Bill
Moyers spoke on Friday before 3,500 at the opening of the National
Conference on Media Reform in Memphis. He announced his return
to the airwaves and outlined his vision of media reform. "As
ownership gets more and more concentrated, fewer and fewer independent
sources of information have survived in the marketplace; and those
few significant alternatives that do survive, such as PBS and
NPR, are under growing financial and political pressure to reduce
critical news content and to shift their focus in a mainstream
direction, which means being more attentive to establishment views
than to the bleak realities of powerlessness that shape the lives
of ordinary people." [includes rush transcript]
Thirty five hundred activists, journalists
and concerned citizens gathered in Memphis, Tennessee this weekend
for the third National Conference on Media Reform. Speakers called
for the preservation of a free and open Internet, the end of media
consolidation and a more democratic and diverse media system.
Among those who spoke were Helen Thomas,
the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Phil Donahue and Jane Fonda, to name
But it was veteran journalist Bill Moyers
who opened the conference on Friday with a stirring address. Today
we spend the hour playing his remarks. A longtime journalist,
Bill Moyers has produced many groundbreaking series on public
television over the years. He is the winner of more than 30 Emmy
Awards and the author three best-selling books.
BILL MOYERS: Benjamin Franklin once said,
"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have
"Liberty," he said, "is
a well-armed lamb, contesting the vote."
My fellow lambs -- it's good to be in
Memphis and find you well-armed with passion for democracy, readiness
for action, and courage for the next round in the fight for a
free and independent press in America. I salute the conviction
that brought you here. I cherish the spirit that fills this hall,
and the comradery that we share here. All too often, the greatest
obstacle to reform is the reform movement itself. Factions rise,
fences are erected, jealousies mount, and the cause all of us
believe in is lost in the shattered fragments of what once was
a clear and compelling vision.
Reformers, in fact, often remind me of
Baptists. I speak as a Baptist. I know whereof I speak. One of
my favorite stories is of the fellow who was about to jump off
a bridge, when another fellow ran up to him crying, "Stop,
stop, don't do it."
The man on the bridge looks down and asks,
"Well, there's much to live for."
"Well, your faith. Your religion."
"Are you religious?"
"Me, too. Christian or Buddhist?"
"Me, too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
"Me, too. Methodist, Baptist, or
"Me, too. Are you Baptist Church
of God or Baptist Church of the Savior?"
"Baptist Church of God."
"Me, too. Are you Original Baptist
Church of God or Reformed Baptist Church of God?"
"Reformed Baptist Church of God."
"Me, too. Are you Reformed Baptist
Church of God Reformation of 1879, or Reform Baptist Church of
God Reformation of 1917?"
Whereupon, the second fellow turned red
in the face and yelled, "Die, you heretic scum," and
pushed him off the bridge.
Doesn't that sound like a reform movement?
But by avoiding contentious factionalism, you have created a strong
movement. And I will confess to you that I was skeptical when
Bob McChesney and John Nichols first raised with me the issue
of media consolidation a few years ago. I was sympathetic, but
skeptical. The challenge of actually doing something about this
issue beyond simply bemoaning its impact on democracy was daunting.
How could we hope to come up with an effective response to any
measurable force? It seemed inexorable, because all over the previous
decades, a series of megamedia mergers have swept the country,
each deal bigger than the last. The lobby representing the broadcast,
cable, and newspapers industry was extremely powerful, with an
iron grip on lawmakers and regulators alike.
Both parties bowed to their will, when
the Republican congress passed and President Clinton signed the
Telecommunications Act of 1996. That monstrous assault on democracy,
with malignant consequences for journalism, was nothing but a
welfare giveaway to the largest, richest, and most powerful media
conglomerations in the world. Goliaths, whose handful of owners
controlled, commodified, and monetized everyone and everything
in sight. Call it "the plantation mentality."
That's what struck me as I flew into Memphis
for this gathering. Even in 1968, the Civil Rights Movement was
still battling the plantation mentality, based on race, gender,
and power, that permeated Southern culture long before, and even
after the ground-breaking legislation of the 1960s.
When Martin Luther King came to Memphis
to join the strike of garbage workers in 1968, the cry from every
striker's heart, "I am a man," voiced the long-suppressed
outrage of people whose rights were still being trampled by an
ownership class that had arranged the world for its own benefit.
The plantation mentality is a phenomenon deeply insinuated in
the American experience early on, and it has permeated and corrupted
our course as a nation.
The journalist of the American Revolution,
Thomas Payne, envisioned the new republic as a community of occupations,
prospering by the aid with which each receives from the other
and from the whole. But that vision was repeatedly betrayed, so
that less than a century after Thomas Payne's death, Theodore
Roosevelt, bolting a Republican Party, whose bosses had stolen
the nomination from him, declared, "It is not to be wondered
at, that our opponents have been very bitter, for the line-up
in this crisis is one that cuts deep to the foundations of democracy."
"Our democracy," he said, "is
now put to a vital test, for the conflict is between human rights
on the one side, and on the other, special privilege asserted
as property rights. The parting of the ways has come."
Today, a hundred years after Teddy Roosevelt's
death, those words ring just as true. America is socially divided
and politically benighted. Inequality and poverty grow steadily
along with risk and debt. Too many working families cannot make
ends meet with two people working, let alone if one stays home
to care for children or aging parents. Young people without privilege
and wealth, struggle to get a footing. Seniors enjoy less security
for a lifetime's work. We are racially segregated today in every
meaningful sense, except for the letter of the law. And the survivors
of segregation and immigration toil for pennies on the dollar,
compared to those they serve.
None of this is accidental. Nobel laureate
economist, Robert Solow, not known for extreme political statements,
characterizes what is happening as "nothing less than elite
plunder," the redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy,
and the power in favor of the powerful. In fact, nearly all the
wealth America created over the past 25 years has been captured
by the top 20% of households, and most of the gains went to the
wealthiest. The top 1% of households captured more than 50% of
all the gains in financial wealth, and these households now hold
more than twice the share their predecessors held on the eve of
the American revolution.
The anti-Federalist warning that government
naturally works to fortify the conspiracies of the rich, proved
prophetic. It's the truth today, and America confronts a choice
between two fundamentally different economic visions. As Norman
Garfinkel writes in his marvelous new book, The American Dream
vs. the Gospel of Wealth, the historic vision of the American
dream is that continuing economic growth and political stability
can be achieved by supporting income growth and economic security
of middle-class families, without restricting the ability of successful
business men to gain wealth.
The counter-belief is that providing maximum
financial rewards to the most successful is the way to maintain
high economic growth. The choice cannot be avoided. What kind
of economy do we seek, and what kind of nation do we wish to be?
Do we want to be a country in which the rich get richer and the
poor get poorer, or do we want a country committed to an economy
that provides for the common good, offers upward mobility, supports
a middle class standard of living, and provides generous opportunities
In Garfinkel's book, "When,"
Garfinkel says, "the richest nation in the world has to borrow
hundreds of billions of dollars to pay its bill, when its middle
class citizens sit on a mountain of debt to maintain their living
standards, when the nation's economy has difficulty producing
secure jobs, or enough jobs of any kind, something is amiss."
You bet something is amiss, and it goes
to the core of why we are here in Memphis. For this conference
is about a force, the media, that cuts deep to the foundation
of democracy. When Teddy Roosevelt dissected what he called "the
real masters of the reactionary forces" in his time, he concluded
that indirectly or directly, they control the majority of the
great newspapers that are against us. Those newspapers, the dominant
media of the day, choked -- his words -- the channels of the information
ordinary people needed to understand what was being done to them.
And today, two basic pillars of American
society, shared economic prosperity and a public sector capable
of serving the common good, are crumbling. The third pillar of
American democracy, an independent press, is under sustained attack,
and the channels of information are choked. A few huge corporations
now dominate the media landscape in America. Almost all the networks
carried by most cable systems are owned by one of the major media
common conglomerates. Two thirds of today's newspapers are monopolies.
As ownership gets more and more concentrated,
fewer and fewer independent sources of information have survived
in the marketplace; and those few significant alternatives that
do survive, such as PBS and NPR, are under growing financial and
political pressure to reduce critical news content and to shift
their focus in a mainstream direction, which means being more
attentive to establishment views than to the bleak realities of
powerlessness that shape the lives of ordinary people.
What does today's media system mean for
the notion of an informed public cherished by democratic theory?
Quite literally, it means that virtually everything the average
person sees or hears outside of her own personal communications,
is determined by the interests of private, unaccountable executives
and investors whose primary goal is increasing profits and raising
the country's share price. More insidiously, this small group
of elites determine what ordinary people do not see or hear. In-depth
coverage of anything, let alone the problems real people face
day to day, is as scarce as sex, violence, and voyeurism are pervasive.
Successful business model or not, by democratic
standards, this is censorship of knowledge by monopolization of
the means of information. In its current form, which Barry Diller
happily describes as "oligopoly," media growth has one
clear consequence. There is more information and easier access
to it, but it's more narrow and homogenous in content and perspective,
so that what we see from the couch is overwhelmingly a view from
the top. The pioneering communications scholar, Mary Edelman,
wrote that opinions about public policy do not spring immaculately
or automatically into people's minds. They are always placed there
by the interpretations of those who most consistently get their
claims and manufactured cues publicized widely.
For years, the media marketplace for opinions
about public policy has been dominated by a highly disciplined,
thoroughly networked, ideological noise machine, to use David
Brock's term. Permeated with slogans concocted by big corporations,
their lobbyists, and their think tank subsidiaries, public discourse
has effectively changed the meaning of American values. Day after
day, the ideals of fairness and liberty and mutual responsibility
have been stripped of their essential dignity and meaning in people's
lives. Day after day, the egalitarian creed of our Declaration
of Independence is trampled underfoot by hired experts and sloganeers,
who speak of the "death tax," "the ownership society,"
"the culture of life," "the liberal assault on
God and family," "compassionate conservatism,"
"weak on terrorism," "the end of history,"
"the clash of civilizations," "no child left behind."
They have even managed to turn the escalation of a failed war
into a "surge," as if it were a current of electricity
through a wire, instead of blood spurting from the ruptured vein
of a soldier.
The Orwellian filigree of a public sphere
in which language conceals reality, and the pursuit of personal
gain and partisan power is wrapped in rhetoric that turns truth
to lies, and lies to truth, so it is that limited government has
little to do with the Constitution or local economy anymore. Now
it means corporate domination and the shifting of risk from government
and business to struggling families and workers. Family values
now mean imposing a sectarian definition of the family on everyone
else. Religious freedom now means majoritarianism and public benefits
for organized religion without any public burdens. And patriotism
has come to mean blind support for failed leaders.
It's what happens when an interlocking
media system filters through commercial values or ideology, the
information and moral viewpoints people consume in their daily
lives. And by no stretch of the imagination can we say today that
the dominant institutions of our media are guardians of democracy.
Despite the profusion of new information
platforms on cable, on the Internet, on radio, blogs, podcasts,
YouTube, and MySpace, among others, the resources for solid, original
journalistic work, both investigative and interpretative, are
contracting, rather than expanding.
I'm an old-fashioned -- I'm a fogy at
this, I guess, a hangover from my days as a cub reporter and a
newspaper publisher. But I agree with Michael Schudson, one of
the leading scholars of communication in America, who writes in
the current Columbia Journalism Review that while all media matter,
some matter more than others. And for the sake of democracy, print
still counts most, especially print that devotes resources to
"Network TV matters," he said.
"Cable TV matters," he said.
But when it comes to original investigation
and reporting, newspapers are overwhelmingly the most important
But newspapers are purposely dumbing-down,
"driven down," says Schudson, by Wall Street, whose
collective devotion to an informed citizenry is nil and seems
determined to eviscerate those papers.
Worrying about the loss of real news is
not a romantic cliché of journalism. It's been verified
by history. From the days of royal absolutism to the present,
the control of information and knowledge had been the first line
of defense for failed regimes facing democratic unrest. The suppression
of parliamentary dissent during Charles I's eleven years of tyranny
in England rested largely on government censorship, operating
through strict licensing laws for the publication of books.
The Federalist infamous Sedition Act of
1798 in this country, likewise, sought to quell republican insurgency
by making it a crime to publish false, scandalous, and malicious
writing about the government or its officials. In those days,
our governing bodies tried to squelch journalistic information
with the blunt instruments of the law: padlocks for the presses
and jail cells for outspoken editors and writers. Over time, with
spectacular war time exceptions, the courts and the Constitution
have struck those weapons out of their hand.
But now they have found new methods in
the name of national security and even broader claims of executive
privilege. The number of documents stamped "Top Secret,"
"Secret," or "Confidential" has accelerated
dramatically since 2001, including many formerly accessible documents
which are now reclassified as "Secret." Vice President
Cheney's office refuses to disclose, in fact, what it is classifying.
Even their secrecy is being kept a secret. Beyond what is officially
"Secret" or "privileged"
information, there hovers on the plantation a culture of selective
official news implementation, working through favored media insiders
to advance political agendas by leak and innuendo and spin, by
outright propaganda mechanisms, such as the mis-named public information
offices that churn out blizzards of factually selective releases
on a daily basis, and even by directly paying pundits and journalists
to write on subjects of mutual interest.
They needn't have wasted the money. As
we saw in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the plantation mentality
that governs Washington turned the press corps into sitting ducks
for the war party, for government, and neoconservative propaganda
and manipulation. There were notable exceptions, Knight Ridder's
bureau, for example, but on the whole, all high-ranking officials
had to do was say it, and the press repeated it until it became
gospel. The height of myopia came with the admission -- or was
it bragging? -- by one of the beltway's most prominent anchors
that his responsibility is to provide officials a forum to be
heard, what they say more newsworthy than what they do.
The watchdog group FAIR found that during
the three weeks leading up to the invasion, only 3% of U.S. sources
on the evening news of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, and PBS expressed
skeptical opinions of the impending war, even though a quarter
of the American people were against it. Not surprisingly, two
years after 911, almost 70% of the public still thought it likely
that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the terrorist attacks
of that day.
One Indiana school teacher told the Washington
Post, "From what we've heard from the media, it seems what
they feel is that Saddam and the whole al-Qaeda thing are connected."
Much to the advantage of the Bush administration, a large majority
of the public shared this erroneous view during the build-up to
the war, a propaganda feat that Saddam himself would have envied.
It is absolutely -- I'm doing a documentary
to air this spring called Buying the War on this period, leading
up to the invasion -- it is absolutely stunning, frightening how
the major media organizations were willing, even solicitous, hand
puppets of a state propaganda campaign, cheered on by the partisan
ideological press to go to war.
But there are many other ways the plantation
mentality keeps the American people from confronting reality.
Take the staggering growth of money in politics. Compared to the
magnitude of the problem, what the average person knows about
how money determines policy is negligible. In fact, in the abstract,
the polls tell us, most people generally assume that money controls
our political system. But people will rarely act on something
they understand only in the abstract. It took a constant stream
of images -- water hoses, and dogs and churches ablaze -- for
the public at large finally to understand what was happening to
black people in the south. It took repeated scenes of destruction
in Vietnam before the majority of Americans saw how we were destroying
the country in order to save it. And it took repeated crime scene
images to maintain public support for many policing and sentencing
Likewise, people have to see how money
and politics actually worked and concretely grasped the consequences
for their pocketbooks and their lives before they will act. But
while media organizations supply a lot of news and commentary,
they tell us almost nothing about who really wags the system and
When I watch one of those faux debates
on a Washington public affairs show, with one politician saying,
"This is a bad bill," and the other politician saying,
"This is a good bill," I yearn to see the smiling, nodding,
beltway anchor suddenly interrupt and insist, "Good bill
or bad bill, this is a bought bill. Now, let's cut to the chase.
Whose financial interests are you advancing with this bill?"
Then there's the social cost of free trade.
For over a decade, free trade has hovered over the political system
like a biblical commandment striking down anything: trade unions,
the environment, indigenous rights, even the constitutional standing
of our own laws passed by our elected representative that gets
in the way of unbridled greed. The broader negative consequences
of this agenda, increasingly well-documented by scholars, gets
virtually no attention in the dominant media. Instead of reality,
we get optimistic, multicultural scenarios of coordinated global
growth. And instead of substantive debate we get a stark formulated
choice between free trade to help the world and gloomy-sounding
protectionism that will set everyone back.
The degree to which this has become a
purely ideological debate, devoid of any factual basis that people
can weigh the gains and losses is reflected in Thomas Friedman's
astonishing claim, stated not long ago in a television interview,
that he endorsed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)
without even reading it. That is simply because it stood for "free
We have reached the stage when the Poo-bahs
of punditry have only to declare that "the world is flat,"
for everyone to agree it is, without going to the edge and looking
over themselves. It's called reporting.
I think what's happened is not indifference
or laziness or incompetence, but the fact that most journalists
on the plantation have so internalized conventional wisdom that
they simply accept that the system is working as it should. That
documentary I told you about, Buying the War, I can't tell you
again how many reporters have told me that it just never occurred
to them that high officials would manipulate intelligence in order
to go to war. Hello?
Similarly, the question of whether or
not our economic system is truly just, is off the table for investigation
and discussion, so that alternative ideas, alternative critiques,
alternative visions never get a hearing. And these are but a few
of the realities that are obscured. What about this growing inequality?
What about the resegregation of our public schools? What about
the devastating onward march of environmental deregulation, all
examples of what happens when independent sources of knowledge
and analysis are so few and far between on the plantation?
So if we need to know what is happening,
and big media won't tell us; if we need to know why it matters,
and big media won't tell us; if we need to know what to do about
it, and big media won't tell us, it's clear what we have to do.
We have to tell the story ourselves. And this is what the plantation
owners feared most of all. Over all those decades here in the
South, when they used human beings as chattel, and quoted scripture
to justify it, property rights over human rights was God's way,
they secretly lived in fear that one day, instead of saying, "Yes,
Massa," those gaunt, weary, sweat-soaked field hands, bending
low over the cotton under the burning sun, would suddenly stand
up straight, look around, see their sweltering and stooping kin
and say, "This ain't the product of intelligent design. The
boss man in the big house has been lying to me. Something is wrong
with this system." This is the moment freedom begins, the
moment you realize someone else has been writing your story, and
it's time you took the pen from his hand and started writing it
When the garbage workers struck here in
1968, and the walls of these buildings echoed with the cry, "I
am a man," they were writing this story. Martin Luther King
came here to help them tell it, only to be shot dead on the balcony
of the Lorraine Motel. The bullet killed him, but it couldn't
kill the story, because once the people start telling their story,
you can't kill it anymore.
So I'm back where I started with you,
and where this movement is headed. The greatest challenge to the
plantation mentality of the media giants is the innovation and
expression made possible by the digital revolution. I may still
prefer the newspaper for its investigative journalism and in-depth
analysis, but we now have it in our means to tell a different
story from big media, our story. The other story of America that
says, free speech is not just corporate speech. That news is not
just what officials tell us. And we are not just chattel in the
fields living the boss man's story. This is the great gift of
the digital revolution, and you must never, never let them take
it away from you. The Internet, cell phones and digital cameras
that can transmit images over the Internet makes possible a nation
of story tellers, every citizen a Tom Payne. Let the man in the
big house on Pennsylvania Avenue think that over, and the woman
of the House on Capitol Hill. And the media moguls in their chalets
at Sun Valley, gathered to review the plantation's assets and
multiply them, nail it to their door. They no longer own the copyright
to America's story. It's not a top-down story anymore. Other folks
are going to write this story from the ground up. And the truth
will be out that the media plantation, like the cotton plantation
of old, is not divinely sanctioned. It's not the product of natural
forces. The media system we have been living under for a long
time now was created behind closed doors where the power brokers
met to divvy up the spoils.
Bob McChesney has eloquently reminded
us through the years how each medium -- radio, television, and
cable -- was hailed as a technology that would give us greater
diversity of voices, serious news, local programs, and lots of
public service for the community. In each case, the advertisers
Despite what I teasingly told you the
last time we were together in St. Louis, the star that shines
so brightly in the firmament the year I was born, 1934, did not,
I regret to say, appear over that little house in Hugo, Oklahoma.
It appeared over Washington when Congress enacted the 1934 Communications
Act. One hundred times in that cornerstone of our communications
policy, you will read the phrase "public interests, convenience,
I can't tell you reading about those days:
educators, union officials, religious leaders, parents were galvanized
by the promise of radio as a classroom for the air, serving the
life of the country and the life of the mind - until the government
cut a deal with the industry to make sure nothing would threaten
the already vested interests of powerful radio networks and the
advertising industry. And soon, the public largely forgot about
radio's promise, as we accepted the entertainment produced and
controlled by Jell-O, Maxwell House, and Camel cigarettes. What
happened to radio, happened to television, and then it happened
to cable; and if we are not diligent, it will happen to the Internet.
Powerful forces are at work now, determined to create our media
future for the benefit of the plantation. Investors, advertisers,
owners, and the parasites who depend on their indulgence, including
many in the governing class.
Old media acquire new media and vice versa.
Rupert Murdoch, forever savvy about the next key outlet that will
attract eyeballs, purchased MySpace, spending nearly $600 million,
so he could, in the language of Wall Street, monetize those eyeballs.
Goggle became a partner in Time Warner, investing $1 billion in
its AOL online service. And now Goggle has bought YouTube, so
it would have a better vehicle for delivering interactive ads
for Madison Avenue. Viacom, Microsoft, large ad agencies, and
others have been buying up key media properties, many of them
the leading online sites, with a result that will be a thoroughly
commercialized environment, a media plantation for the 21st century,
dominated by the same corporate and ideological forces that have
produced the system we have lived under the last 50 years.
So what do we do? Well, you've shown us
what we have to do. And twice now, you have shown us what we can
do. Four years ago, when FCC Commissioner Michael Powell and his
ideological sidekicks decided it was ok for a single corporation
to own a community's major newspapers, three of its TV stations,
eight radio stations, its cable TV system, and its major broadband
Internet provider, you said "Enough's enough!" Free
Press, Common Cause, Consumer's Union, Media Access Project, the
National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and others working
closely with commissioners Adelstein and Copps, two of the most
public, spirited members of that commission ever to sit there,
you organized public hearings across the country where people
spoke up deeply felt opinions about how poorly the media was serving
their towns. You flooded Congress with petitions and you never
let up. And when the court said Powell had to back off for then,
the decision cited the importance of involving the public in these
Incidentally, Powell not only backed off,
he backed out. He left the commission to become senior advisor
at a private investment firm specializing in equity investments
in media companies around the world. And that firm, by the way,
made a bid to take over both Tribune and Clear Channel, two media
companies, that just a short time ago, were under the corporate-friendly
purview of -- you guessed it -- Michael Powell. That whooshing
sound you hear is Washington's perpetually revolving door through
which they come to serve the public and through which they leave
to join the plantation.
You made a difference. You showed the
public cares about media and democracy. You turned a little publicized
vote, little publicized because big media didn't want the people
to know, a little publicized and seemingly arcane regulation into
a big political fight and a public debate. Now it's true, as commissioner
Copps has reminded us, that since that battle three years ago,
there have been more than 3, 300 TV and radio TV stations that
have had their assignment and transfer grants approved, so that
even under the old rules, consolidation grows, localism suffers,
and diversity dwindles.
It's also true that even as we speak,
Michael Powell's successor, Kevin Martin, put there by George
W. Bush, is ready to take up where Powell left off and give the
green light to more conglomeration. Get ready to fight.
But then you did it again more recently.
You lit a fire under the people to put Washington on notice that
it had to guarantee the Internet's First Amendment protection
in the $85 billion merger of AT&T and BellSouth. Because of
you, the so-called Internet neutrality, I much prefer to call
it the "equal-access provision of the Internet" -- neutrality
makes me think of Switzerland -- the equal-access provision became
a public issue that once again reminded the powers-that-be that
people want the media to foster democracy not to quench it. This
is crucial. This is crucial, because in a few years, virtually
all media will be delivered by high-speed broadband. And without
equality of access, the net can become just like cable television
where the provider decides what you see and what you pay. After
all, the Bush Department of Justice had blessed the deal last
October without a single condition or statement of concern. But
they hadn't reckoned with Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein,
and they hadn't reckoned with this movement. Free Press and SaveTheInternet.com
orchestrated 800 organizations, a million and a half petitions,
countless local events, legions of homemade videos, smart collaboration
with allies and industry, and a top shelf communications campaign.
Who would have imagined that sitting together in the same democratic
broadband pew would be the Christian Coalition, Gun Owners of
America, Common Cause, and MoveOn.org? Who would have imagined
that these would link arms with some of the powerful new media
companies to fight for the Internet's First Amendment? We owe
a tip of the hat, of course, to Republican commissioner Robert
McDowell. Despite what must have been a great deal of pressure
from his side, he did the honorable thing and recused himself
from the proceedings because of a conflict of interest. He might
well have heard the roar of the public that you helped to create.
So AT&T had to cry "uncle"
to Copps and Adelstein, with a "voluntary commitment to honor
equal access for at least two years." The agreement marks
the first time that the federal government has imposed true neutrality
-- oops, equality - on an Internet access provider since the debate
erupted almost two years ago. I believe you changed the terms
of the debate. It is no longer about whether equality of access
will govern the future of the Internet. It's about when and how.
It also signals a change from defense to offense for the backers
of an open net. Arguably the biggest, most effective online organizing
campaign ever conducted on a media issue, can now turn to passing
good laws, rather than always having to fight to block bad ones.
Just this week Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, and Senator Olympia
Snow, a Republican, introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation
Act of 2007 to require fair and equitable access to all content.
And over in the House, that champion of the public interests,
Ed Markey, is once again standing there waiting to press the battle.
But a caveat here. Those other folks don't
give up so easy. Remember, this agreement is only for two years,
and they will be back with all the lobbyists money can hire. As
the Washington Post follows George Bush into the black hole of
Baghdad, the press in Washington won't be covering many stories
like this because of priorities.
Further caveat, consider what AT&T
got in the bargain. For giving up on neutrality, it got the green
light from government to dominate over 67 million phonelines in
22 states, almost 12 million broadband users, and total control
over Cingular Wireless, the country's largest mobile phone company
with 58 million cell phone users. It's as if China swallowed India.
I bring this up for a reason. Big media
is ravenous. It never gets enough. Always wants more. And it will
stop at nothing to get it. These conglomerates are an empire,
and they are imperial. Last week on his website, MediaChannel.org,
Danny Schechter recalled how some years ago he marched with a
band of media activists to the headquarters of all the big media
companies concentrated in the Times Square area. Their formidable
buildings strutted with logos and limos, and guarded by rent-a-cops,
projected their power and prestige. Danny and his cohorts chanted
and held up signs calling for honest news and an end to exploited
programming. They called for diversity and access for more perspectives.
"It felt good," Danny said,
"but it seemed like a fool's errand. We were ignored, patronized
and marginalized. We couldn't shake their edifices or influence
their holy business models. We seemed to many like that lonely
and forlorn nut in a New Yorker cartoon carrying an 'End of the
World is Near' placard."
Well, yes, my friends, that is exactly
how they want you to feel. As if media and democracy is a fool's
errand. To his credit, Danny didn't give up. He's never given
up. Neither have the early pioneers of this movement: Andy Swartzman,
Don Hazen, Jeff Chester. I confess that I came very close not
to making this speech today, in favor of just getting up here
and reading from this book, Digital Destiny, by my friend and
co-conspirator, Jeff Chester. Take my word for it. Make this your
bible, until McChesney's new book comes out. As Don Hazen writes
in his review in AlterNet this week, "It's a terrific book.
A respectful, loving, fresh, intimate conversation, comprehensive
history of the struggles for a democratic media. The lost fights,
the opportunities missed, and the small victories that have kept
the corporate media system from having complete carte blanche
over the communication channels."
It's also a terrifying book, because Jeff
describes how we are being shadowed online by a slew of software
digital gumshoes, working for Madison Avenue. Our movements in
cyberspace are closely tracked and analyzed, and interactive advertising
infiltrates our consciousness to promote the brand-washing of
America. Jeff asks the hard questions: Do we really want television
sets that monitor what we watch? Or an Internet that knows what
sites we visit and reports back to advertising companies? Do we
really want a media system designed mainly for Madison Avenue?
But this is a hopeful book. "After
scaring the bejeezus out of us," as one reviewer wrote, "Jeff
offers a policy agenda for the broadband era. Here is a man who
practices what the Italian philosopher Gramsci called the 'pessimism
of the intellect and the optimism of the will.' He sees the world
as it is, without rose-colored glasses and tries to change it,
despite what he knows"
So you'll find here the core of the movement's
mission. You'll agree with much and disagree with some. But that's
what a reform movement is about. Media reform -- yes. But the
Project in Excellence concluded in its State of the Media Report
for 2006, "At many old media companies, though not in all,
the decades-long battle at the top between idealists and accountants
is now over. The idealists have lost. The commercial networks
are lost, too, lost to silliness, farce, cowardice, and ideology."
Not much hope there. You can't raise the dead.
Policy reform, yes. "But," says
Jeff, "we will likely see more consolidation of ownership
with newspapers, TV stations, and major online properties in fewer
"So," he says, "we have
to find other ways to ensure the public has access to diverse,
independent, and credible sources of information." That means
going to the market to find support for stronger independent media.
Michael Moore and others have proven that progressivism doesn't
have to equal penury. It means helping protect news-gathering
from predatory forces. It means fighting for more participatory
media, hospitable to a full range of expression. It means building
on Lawrence Lessig's notion of the "creative common"
and Brewster Kahle's Internet Archives with his philosophy of
universal access to all knowledge.
It means bringing broadband service to
those many millions of Americans too poor to participate so far
in the digital revolution. It means ownership and participation
for people of color and women. And let me tell you, it means reclaiming
public broadcasting and restoring it to its original feisty, robust,
fearless mission as an alternative to the dominant media, offering
journalism you can afford and can trust, public affairs of which
you are a part, and a wide range of civic and cultural discourse
that leaves no one out.
You can have an impact here. For one thing,
we need to remind people that the federal commitment to public
broadcasting in this country is about $1.50 per capita, compared
to $28 to $85 per capita in other democracies.
But there is something else I want you
to think about. Something else you can do. And I'm going to let
you in here on one of my fantasies. Keep it to yourself, if you
will, because fantasies are private matters, and mine involves
Amy Goodman. But I'll just ask C-SPAN to bleep this out and Oh,
shucks, what's the use. Here it is. In moments of revelry, I imagine
all of you returning home to organize a campaign to persuade your
local public television station to start airing Democracy Now!
I can't think of a single act more likely
to remind people of what public broadcasting should be, or that
this media reform conference really means business. We've got
to get alternative content out there to people, or this country
is going to die of too many lies.
And the opening rundown of news on Amy's
daily show is like nothing else on any television, corporate or
public. It's as if you opened the window in the morning and a
fresh breeze rolls over you from the ocean. Amy doesn't practice
trickle-down journalism. She goes where the silence is, and she
breaks the sound barrier. She doesn't buy the Washington protocol
that says the truth lies somewhere in the spectrum of opinion
between the Democrats and the Republicans.
On Democracy Now! the truth lies where
the facts are hidden, and Amy digs for them. And above all, she
believes the media should be a sanctuary for dissent, the underground
railroad, tunneling beneath the plantation. So go home and think
about it. After all, you are the public in public broadcasting
and not just during pledge breaks. You live there, and you can
get the boss man at the big house to pay attention.
Meanwhile, be vigilant about the congressional
rewrite of the Telecommunications Act that is beginning as we
speak. Track it day by day and post what you learn far and wide,
because the decisions made in this session of Congress will affect
the future of all media, corporate and noncommercial, and if we
lose the future now, we'll never get it back.
So you have your work cut out for you.
I'm glad you're all younger than me and up to it. I'm glad so
many funders are here, because while an army may move on its stomach,
this movement requires hard, cold cash to compete with big media
in getting the attention of Congress and the people.
I'll try to do my part. Last time we were
together, I said to you that I should put my detractors on notice.
They might just compel me out of the rocking chair and back into
the anchor chair. Well, in April, I will be back with a new weekly
series called Bill Moyers' Journal, thanks to some of the funders
in this room. We'll take no money from public broadcasting because
it compromises you even when you don't intend it to - or they
don't intend it to. I hope to complement the fine work of colleagues
like David Brancaccio of NOW, and David Fanning of Frontline,
who also go for the truth behind the news.
But I don't want to tease you. I'm not
coming back because of detractors. I wouldn't torture them that
way. I'll leave that to Dick Cheney. I'm coming back, because
it's what I do best. Because I believe television can still signify,
and I don't want you to feel so alone. I'll keep an eye on your
work. You are to America what the Abolition Movement was, and
the Suffragette Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. You touch
the soul of democracy. It's not assured you will succeed in this
fight. The armies of the Lord are up against mighty hosts. But
as the spiritual sojourner Thomas Merton wrote to an activist
grown weary and discouraged, protesting the Vietnam War, "Do
not depend on the hope of results. Concentrate on the value and
the truth of the work itself."
And in case you do get lonely, I'll leave
you with this. As my plane was circling Memphis the other day,
I looked out across those vast miles of fertile soil that once
were plantations, watered by the Mississippi River, and the sweat
from the brow of countless men and women, who had been forced
to live somebody else's story. I thought about how in time, with
a lot of martyrs, they rose up, one here, then two, then many,
forging a great movement that awakened America's conscience and
brought us closer to the elusive but beautiful promise of the
Declaration of Independence. As we made our last approach, the
words of a Marge Piercy poem began to form in my head, and I remembered
all over again why I was coming and why you were here:
What can they do_to you? Whatever they
want. _They can set you up, they can _bust you, they can break
_your fingers, they can _burn your brain with electricity, _blur
you with drugs till you _can t walk, can't remember, they can
_take your child, wall up _your lover. They can do anything _you
can't blame them_from doing. How can you stop _them? Alone, you
can fight, _you can refuse, you can _take what revenge you can
_but they roll over you.
But two people fighting _back to back
can cut through _a mob, a snake-dancing file _can break a cordon,
an army _can meet an army.
Two people can keep each other _sane,
can give support, conviction, _love, massage, hope, sex. _Three
people are a delegation, _a committee, a wedge. With four _you
can play bridge and start _an organisation. With six _you can
rent a whole house, _eat pie for dinner with no _seconds, and
hold a fund raising party. _A dozen make a demonstration. _A hundred
fill a hall. _A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
_ten thousand, power and your own paper; _a hundred thousand,
your own media; _ten million, your own country. _It goes on one
at a time, _it starts when you care _to act, it starts when you
do _it again after they said no, _it starts when you say We _and
know who you mean, and each _day you mean one more.