The Importance of a Left Media

A jarring moment in the Philadelphia area propaganda outpouring in support

of the bombing of Yugoslavia was a passionately prowar Op Ed column in the

Philadelphia Inquirer by long-time local antiwar activist Mark Sacharoff

("NATO did what it had to do," April 1, 1999). It is of course

noteworthy that Sacharoff’s piece was selected for publication by the

paper–antiwar offerings have not been welcome, and in past years Sacharoff’s

Op Ed entries were rare indeed. But what caused him to move into the prowar


Speaking with Sacharoff on the phone about his views, I asked him if he

read Z Magazine or EXTRA! or The Nation, and as I expected he didn’t–he reads

the Inquirer and other establishment media almost exclusively. I had a similar

experience with another former peace activist, who has not been a supporter of

the NATO war but has also not been antiwar; overwhelmed by the evil of

Milosevic and the Serbs he has been neutralized. This individual, also, reads

and listens almost entirely to the mainstream media, and does not read Z,

EXTRA!, or The Nation. He was even upset at my denunication of Trudy Rubin,

the bloodthirsty Thomas Friedman equivalent at the Inquirer, who occasionally

qualifies her support of U.S. policy–on land mines, bombing anybody in sight,

and anything else of importance–with minor flourishes of hopefulness

("This weekend’s talks hold hope for settling the Kosovo crisis,"

Feb. 5, 1999) and even criticism (e.g., "U.S. slammed doors on Iraqis who

stepped up to battle Hussein," June 23, 1999).

Of course, the fact that Rubin is considered reasonable by one of them, and

that neither of these two individuals were repelled by the mainstream

perspectives and felt any need to seek out left publications, suggests that

they were moving rightward in any case. But once they allowed themselves to be

confined to the establishment media it was only a matter of time before they

would succumb to the flood of materials on atrocities and framing of issues

that served the propaganda needs of the state. To avoid this they needed

alternative ways of looking at the issues, as well as facts that did not fit

the esablishment frames.

I have always been impressed by the case made by British media analyst

James Curran on the importance of the death of the social- democratic press in

Great Britain in the 1980s for the subsequent decline of the fortunes of the

Labor Party and triumph of Thatcherism (most painfully, with the victory of

Tony Blair). Three social-democratic papers–the Daily Herald, News Chronicle,

and Sunday Citizen–died or were taken over by folks like Rupert Murdoch in

the early 1980s, and were converted into rightwing or depoliticized scandal

sheets. The Daily Herald especially "provided an alternative framework of

analysis and understanding that contested the dominant systems of

representation in both broadcasting and the mainstream press." Its loss

and that of the other two papers surely weakened labor and social democracy by

the absence of any contesting frameworks that represented the interests of the

non-elite members of society.

In the United States and Britain today, the increasing concentration and

commercialization of the media make them ever more potent as instruments of

state propaganda. When wars come, the media operate like a military phalanx in

demonizing the enemy, focusing on enemy misdeeds, lying without shame or

uncritically transmitting the lies of officials on their having exhausted

negotiating opportunities–"before resorting to force, NATO went the

entire extra mile to find a peaceful solution" (Albright)–and ignoring

historical context and the real bases of state policy. This is done in each

case almost by formula, but with such unanimity and self-righteous

indignation, and with personalized stories of victimization by the enemy, that

it is hard to resist.

This is why the preservation and expansion of a left media is so important

and easy to underrate. Without the alternative frameworks and contesting facts

that they provide, even liberal and left veterans are easily swept into the

establishment web or rendered inert. Those of us who get the left journals, or

ZNet Comments, and are lucky enough to have other e-mail friends who supply

the comments of Robert Fisk, Philip Hammond, and John Pilger in Britain,

Nicholas Busch and Jan Oberg in Sweden, Johann Galtung in Norway, Saddharth

Varadarajan and K. Subrahmanyam in India, and the generally anti-NATO war

non-NATO media across the globe, live in a different world from the citizens

faced by the mainstream media propaganda phalanx. And frankly, any serious

opposition movements are going to require the buildup of ZNet and other forms

of critical media; otherwise we are going to see a further attrition as more

folks from the liberal-left communities are swept into the "humanitarian

war" camp. _




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