How Corporate Media Made Trump President
TRNN senior editor Paul Jay says that people never would’ve voted for Donald Trump if the mainstream media covered major stories with real standards of journalism. interview with acTVism.org based in Munich, Germany
ZAIN RAZA: Paul, can you hear me?
PAUL JAY: I can. Thanks very much for having me.
ZAIN RAZA: So, do you have anything to say about that eye patch?
PAUL JAY: Your colleague who introduced me, he took away my pirate joke.
PAUL JAY: And I don’t have anything else so… I’ve got this weird condition which gives me double vision and I’m not supposed to fly. But I’m sorry that I can’t be there ’cause I really wanted to be.
ZAIN RAZA: It’s no problem. I think maybe I won’t be intimidated by you when you’re not here so the conversation will be better between us.
PAUL JAY: I’m hoping my eye patch serves the same function.
ZAIN RAZA: (laughs) Okay, so the media has a tremendous influence on us. That’s the topic I would like to start you with. We feel that analysis of the media is important and it’s less done in our society. So let’s start with some definitions. What is the mainstream media and what is independent media?
PAUL JAY: Well, I think most important thing to understand — at least about American, and to some extent Canadian, which I’m familiar with — is that corporate-owned media and even most of the quote/unquote public ones thrive on government funding. It’s really become part of the state. It’s no longer… and … some time ago and this process has gradually developed, but there were days earlier in the development of American capitalism, the empire and such — you could say pre-World War II and early after World War II — where the corporate power, especially the power of billionaires, was a little indirect. You had a very established political class in the two major parties, Democrat and Republican. You had what some people call the deep state, which is the deep, entrenched bureaucracy that goes on from one administration to another. And then you had the power of the billionaires and the power of corporations half a step removed. Of course they had enormous influence. And through bribery, through funding campaigns, through giving politicians and cheap bureaucrats, especially you could say generals in the Pentagon, cushy jobs once they retired — they call it the revolving door. It was a somewhat indirect pressure on how the state was run.
Things have changed, at least in the United States, in the last few years. Of course, the Supreme Court decision Citizens United, that people are familiar with, facilitated the process which allowed unrestricted donations by corporations and trade unions. But, clearly, rich individuals and corporations that really have the money. But this process was happening anyway.
The process I’m talking about is direct control of the state, and direct influence instead of having to work through a myriad of the bureaucracy. I’m giving, for example, the Koch brothers. I can’t give you exact numbers but even Members of Congress say the Koch brothers more or less own Congress. They spent, reportedly, something in realm of $600-$800 million in this last election just influencing congressional elections and some down-ballot elections like at state legislatures and such. And they’ve been fabulously successful. They control the majority of state legislatures now and the majority of governors.
So apply this to the media. You get the media now, the ownership of the media is, on the whole, the same sets of billionaires in one formation or another. Mainstream media, because of the far less indirect, more direct control, by billionaires and corporations over the state — and you can see, and I can get into this later — the Trump presidency is the most extreme example of how billionaires are directly controlling the state.
The same thing is true for corporate media. As the Democratic and Republican parties are integrated into the state itself, so is corporate media. And so I don’t use the word “mainstream media,” I use the word “corporate media”, although one can include to a large extent public broadcasting that’s dependent on corporate media. So they won’t cover things that the state doesn’t want them to cover. And, if you ask me, I’ll give you some concrete examples.
ZAIN RAZA: Let’s touch on that in a bit, but people consume news almost every day, whether it’s a headline on Facebook or now in Munich I think they have in the subways these screens where they’re repeating news all the time, or at 8 pm when the main channels broadcast. We talk a lot about what the mainstream or corporate media, as you call it, do wrong. But what is the responsibility of the reader and the viewer? What should he or she take into consideration when consuming news?
PAUL JAY: There’s no generalization for who the reader is. Like everything else, we live in a class society, and so we have to think about who we’re talking about. The people that actually follow news in a regular way are actually a very small segment of the American population. Most people don’t watch the news every day. And when they do, it’s usually local news about their city. There’s a stratum in America which is people who are relatively well-educated from the elites or the upper middle class, if you want, they’re more tuned in to the media in between elections.
Now, during elections, of course, more people pay some attention ’cause there’s sort of a drama and you’re inundated with election information. But even then something like 40, 45, even more, percent of the population doesn’t even vote. On the day of the big presidential debate, well, they got big numbers because Trump was such a sensation. Normally, most people don’t even watch the debates.
But there is still power in news and in daily news — and it’s the power of repetition. So what happens is a major story breaks and corporate media frames it for people. So Putin’s the bad guy, America’s the good guy. I mean, you can go through any number of stories. It’s that repetition every day, the same way they sell soap, that makes it so powerful — which is why we’re trying to develop a daily opposition to that.
As far as the responsibility of people, of course it’s people’s responsibility to be skeptical and to try to find out more. But if you work two jobs and you come home exhausted and your kids have to get fed and you’re living in a city. Like, we’re in Baltimore, I would say the majority of people, one of their primary concerns is they want to be able to get out on the street and not get mugged or get shot. Or if you’re worried about unemployment and all the anxiety that goes with that, it’s not so easy to reach beyond mainstream media.
In Baltimore, at least a third of people in Baltimore, are not even connected to the Internet, it may be higher than that. People have stuff on their phones but…
And also it seems so overwhelming, the information flow, and it makes people feel impotent. So our responsibility is we have to break through that. And one of the first things we have to do, as independent media, is stop talking to each other so much. The widest sections of the white working class in the United States voted for Trump. And, clearly, his policies are against their interests. You don’t need to know very much to know that. But people are cut off from these kinds of information, and we in the independent media, we’re not making enough effort to go where the people are to speak to them.
One of the things we’re going to do is we’re setting up a unit to start experimenting — it’s one of the reasons we came to Baltimore, frankly, to start talking to the ordinary people who are suffering most. We’re also going to set up a production team in a swing district in southern Pennsylvania and try to talk to people that voted for Trump and learn how to speak to that section of the people. ‘Cause this is what change is going to come from. We can talk to each other ’til we’re blue in the face, but if we don’t get to the people who are suffering the most and don’t really have — you know, the sea of information — they actually don’t really get to it. And we have to help with that.
ZAIN RAZA: So there are a number of ways in how information can be distorted. It’s not just always a straight-up lie — error of omission, you leave out some context, misrepresentation, minimization, exaggeration, and so on and so forth. Can you talk about some cases when news has been distorted?
PAUL JAY: Yeah. I’ll give a few that I think are critical and they relate to this issue of why there is a Trump presidency. I’ll start with one.
The coverage of 9/11 and why 9/11 took place, how it took place. It was certainly, on a historic level, one of the greatest failures of any sense that mainstream corporate news plays a role as journalist. First and foremost, during the whole critical period following 9/11, the months leading up to the invasion of Afghanistan and afterwards, it was practically banned to talk about U.S. foreign policy.
I ran this show on CBC at the time called CounterSpin and we had an actual debate four days after 9/11. The morning we did the show, the English-speaking newspapers all across the world — I can’t speak for non-English-speaking, ’cause of my ignorance ’cause I can’t read other newspapers — but there was an editorial that said, “If you tried to connect U.S. foreign policy to the events of 9/11, if you talk about blowback, you’re capitulating to terrorism and you’re blaming the victims.” Well, we had that debate — we defied it, you could say. We were one of the very few in that initial few months that didn’t cave under the pressure to that. But that created this whole narrative of Islamic terrorism is the enemy. Worse than that — the worst part of the narrative was that we were fighting evil. It became a great morality play that corporate media, more or less, bought into because they were terrified of the pressure from the White House, a president.
Most people don’t even remember this — there was a TV show on American television prior to a 9/11 called “That’s My Bush”. It was a satire about the Bush family, while they were in the White House, he was the subject of ridicule. After 9/11, all of a sudden, he’s a great hero.
Number two, the 9/11 piece. There was evidence then and there’s been a great amount of evidence since that at the very least the Bush/Cheney administration sat on information and didn’t act. Information that might have led to preventing 9/11, at the very least.
We did an interview with Bob Graham a year ago, another one more recently. Bob Graham was the Co-Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And in that interview I asked him, “Do you think that Bush/Cheney deliberate created a culture of not wanting to know in the American Intelligence Agency?” And he said, “Yes.” He said, “If all the players on a football field are running in the same direction there has to be a head coach.” I asked him later, even more directly, “Is Bush/Cheney responsible for deliberately, not through confusion or miscommunication of the Intelligence Agencies…” and if people want to look into this or look at our interviews there’s any number, at least eight, nine, ten, concrete pieces of intelligence, if acted on, would have prevented 9/11.
Anyway corporate media, no reporting. We, after interviewing Bob Graham, sent an e-mail message to all the major news organizations in the United States giving them free access to our interview with Bob Graham. This is a serious guy, you know, the Co-Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, means he’s an insider in American intelligence. Not a single news organization responded. So if they had gone after 9/11 with any seriousness, and who knows if there’d be Republican Party now?
Number three, the Iraq war. I’ll do this quickly. The Iraq war was clearly illegal. The mainstream media, any journalist worth any kind of journalistic salt would have pursued that. This is an illegal war, which means it’s a war crime. Which means when President Obama was elected, he should have investigated Bush/Cheney for war crimes. And, frankly, for 9/11.
PAUL JAY: What would be left of the Republican party if he had done that? I’ll quickly do two more if you want.
ZAIN RAZA: We are running out of time. I have to move on with the next question.
PAUL JAY: Let me do it very fast.
ZAIN RAZA: All right, I’ll give you…
PAUL JAY: Okay. The financial meltdown. The power of finance, the extent to which how parasitical capital has become and the power over politics — you cannot cover the events of ’07-’08 Crash, the Wall Street Obama team that saved it and who they saved it for. You cannot talk about all this without dealing with that and corporate media simply didn’t deal with the power of finance in a serious way.
And, of course, the most important thing — this is why I insisted on continuing — is climate change. If there had been any kind of serious journalism covering climate change and covering the ridiculousness of the denial of climate change science, how do Americans possibly elect a climate-denying administration? It’s the number one crime of mainstream media is the lack of coverage of climate change and how serious and urgent the crisis is.
ZAIN RAZA: So we’ve got under five minutes left. I would like to talk to you, and make that quick, please, about the mainstream media covered the election cycle. I’m talking about the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and the election of Donald Trump.
PAUL JAY: Of course, the main thing they did wrong was not cover the things I just talked about. Yes, they gave Trump a lot of free media but–
ZAIN RAZA: Do they have a role in Trump’s election?
PAUL JAY: Yeah, of course. They gave him an enormous amount of free media by covering his buffoonery instead of covering any of the most outrageous issue, his climate denial. That should have been the number one story of the election. Electing a climate denial administration — they barely mentioned it. I mean, one of the reasons they barely mentioned it is because Hillary Clinton barely mentioned it. And, of course, the Obama administration economic policies so greatly exaggerated the economic inequality, which set the table for Trump. Hillary promises to continue the Obama legacy, so, of course, she becomes the defender of the status quo. And then the media doesn’t play its own role. ‘Cause its own role should be informing the American public — that should be its responsibility, not just repeating what the various campaign say.
But the American media, they get more than $6 billion in political advertising — it’s in their interest to have a horse race and to cover the horse race. And, frankly, they don’t give a damn about the actual fate of their people or the world. So, everyone understands how bad the coverage was.
ZAIN RAZA: So I have a question from the public. Do you have plans of expanding your community center format to other cities beyond Baltimore, including New York City?
PAUL JAY: Yeah, definitely. Baltimore is a pilot project, we hope it becomes self-funding. Any place there’s a group of people that want to start establishing a local Real News chapter, we want to work with them and try to start the seeding. Of course it comes back to money. We are a professional news organization. You can do a certain amount with volunteers, but for professionals, you have to pay salaries and you need to be able to do this day and day, and night and day.
The second thing I really want to stress is we’re trying to create a global climate change bureau. So before getting to the whole community model, we can start at least having journalists in cities, I hope, are all around the world. There is nothing more important right now than framing everything within the framework of what’s happening to the planet and the climate.
We’re being told that in 2050 we will hit two degrees, if every country lives up to its pledge at Paris. Well, that was said before Trump. So now it’s clear the United States is not going to fulfill any of its pledge, it’s going in the other direction. So we could be looking at two degrees what in 2040, 2035 — I mean, it’s around the corner. This is not some future event. We are living in the most decisive days of human civilization. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration. So we’d better get all our heads around framing everything we’re talking about within the issue of saving the planet. And we know that means to change who has power. We know that means to change how wealth is dealt with. But it’s a complicated issue what kind of forces one can unite within this. And we better be careful how we talk about it because we need the broadest front possible to effect this kind of change.
ZAIN RAZA: Paul Jay, founder of the Real News Network, thank you for joining us today.