Beware of Corporate-Sponsored News & Science
When Congress passed The Telecommunications Act of 1996, permitting the most concentrated ownership of the media in American history, most of the public was unaware about this aspect of the bill. Senator John McCain, commenting on the act, said, "…every company affected by the legislation had purchased a seat at the table with soft money…[consumers] had no seat…And huge broadcasting giants received for free billions of dollars in digital spectrum, property that belonged to the American people."1
Many citizens found it highly suspicious when Harper-Collins Publishing Company, owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, provided a $4.5 million book advance to the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, when The Telecommunications Act was being considered by Congress.2
During the six-month political discussion period for the act, the telecommunications industry contributed more than $2 million in political contributions—nearly three quarters of which went to the Republican Party. This figure does not include individual contributions given by telecommunications industry executives or investors, which may amount to as much or more than institutional money.3 According to the Tyndall Report, a newsletter that monitors the amount of time evening network newscasts provide to various issues, neither the passage nor the signing of the most significant telecommunications legislation in 60 years made the top ten stories in their respective weeks.4
Communications is the fastest-growing industry in the United States—over $700 billion annually—comprising broadcasting, cable, telephone services, movies, records, publishing, computers, consumer electronics, wireless services, and satellite communications.5 The largest corporations within the industry quickly seized the opportunity to further concentrate their power and control of the media. In the first six-months after the act became law, there were mergers and acquisitions worth $50 billion—double the total of any previous 12 month period. Four of those arrangements exceeded $10 billion.6
According to Ben Bagdikian, the author of Media Monopoly, "As a reporter and a Washington correspondent, I knew that all corporate leaders get special attention in Washington. But the ones who are the most feared are media corporations, because they control the way politicians can reach or not reach the home fronts. Not only do media companies have the biggest lobbies and the biggest law firms, but they can make or break a politician. They can simply not give a politician much space in magazines or on TV or talk shows. Or they can play up every negative thing they can find out. And politicians are nervous. So media power is political power."7 Dan Kennedy of the Boston Phoenix says, "Call it a perpetual-feedback loop; media conglomerates amass such power that they cow politicians and regulators into allowing them to become even more powerful, which in turn leads to another round of favorable treatment at the hands of government."8
In 1997, the news-media industry was dominated by only ten corporations: Time-Warner, Disney (ABC), Bertelsmann, Viacom, News Corporation, TCI, PolyGram (owned by Philips), NBC (owned by General Electric), MCA (owned by Seagram), and Sony.9 Just five corporations controlled 66.6% of all subscribers to cable television—Time-Warner and TCI were the largest, with a lion’s share of 47.4 percent.10 Television is the broadest common frame of reference we have as Americans—almost 50% of Americans cite television as their only source of news.11 As for the Fox network, it’s owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch.
In radio, Westinghouse, in addition to owning the CBS Television network, owned 82 radio stations; in books, Barnes & Noble and Borders sold 45 percent of all books in the United States; in movies, three studios controlled 57 percent of the market.12
In newspapers, nearly 50 years ago approximately 400 cities supported two or more daily papers. In 1997, only 24 cities accomplished this feat and some of them had joint operating agreements.13 Media corporations, whose headquarters are not located near the town they serve, control ninety percent of the newspaper circulation.14 Walter Cronkite stated, "This is a very dangerous situation. They [corporations] can declare their own blackout of news they don’t want the public to share. Or they can twist the news any way they please. And there’s no monitor. There’s nobody to say ‘Don’t.’ Nobody to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, folks, you’re not getting the truth.’"15
Corporations also use their money to create so-called "public interest organizations" to spread their propaganda. For example, the Pacific Legal Foundation was created in 1973 and housed in the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce building. This organization specialized in defending corporate interests against clean-air and water legislation, the closing of federal wilderness areas to oil and gas exploration, workers’ rights, and corporate taxation. Approximately 80 percent of its funding was from corporations or other corporate foundations.16 Other examples include the National Wetland Coalition, an organization created to protect oil and gas corporations and real estate developers; Keep America Beautiful, created to protect the bottling industry;17 The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, an industry funded group to dismiss threats posed by pesticides and toxic chemicals; and Citizens for a Sound Economy, a think tank funded by Fortune 500 companies.18
In the area of global warming and environmental decay, numerous corporate-sponsored organizations have been created to dismiss the concerns of scientists and the public. For example, the Global Climate Coalition, funded by fossil fuel companies and related industries; the George Marshall Institute, created to undermine and discredit the scientific authority of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; the Science and Environmental Policy Project, created by wealthy contributors to discredit the science of climate change; the Greening Earth Society, funded by the Western Fuels Association (coal companies); and the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide & Global Change, an organization tied to the Greening Earth Society.19 Unfortunately, corporate-sponsored organizations like these are not just centered on the issues listed above; they’re out dismissing concerns on every important environmental and democratic issue facing humanity’s long-term health.
We must learn to distinguish between real science and "junk" science. Junk science is information or opinion (presented as real science), but has not been subjected to the rigors of the scientific method and peer reviews.20 It's important to remember that if given enough money, stock options, and others perks, there are plenty of so-called scientists, news personalities, media executives, attorneys, so-called religious leaders, and other unscrupulous members of society willing to argue "anything" for the benefit of large corporations and trade associations. Citizens beware!
The good news is that although we can’t judge the information provided by an organization, news program, or science report by its name anymore, we can judge its credibility based on who's funding it and who's disseminating the information.
© 2001-2003 by William C. Gladish. All Rights Reserved.
1 Joan Claybrook, "McCain's Campaign Finance Candor," Public Citizen News Sept./Oct. 1999: p. 2.
2 Charles Derber, Corporation Nation: How Corporations Are Taking Over Our Lives and What We Can Do About It (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998) p. 72.
3 Don Hazen and Julie Winokur, We the Media: A Citizens' Guide to Fighting for Media Democracy (New York: New Press, 1997) p. 22.
4 Hazen, p. 22.
5 Hazen, p. 18.
6 Hazen, p. 22.
7 Hazen, p. 21.
8 Hazen, p. 18.
9 Hazen, p. 12.
10 Hazen, p. 29.
11 Hazen, p. 63.
12 Hazen, p. 27.
13 Hazen, p. 28.
14 Hazen, p. 158.
15 Hazen, p. 6.
16 David C. Korten, When Corporations Rule the World (West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press; San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1995) p. 142.
17 Korten, pp. 142-143.
18 Hazen, pp. 75-76.
19 Susanne Moser, Jason Mathers, "Cool Answers to Counter Hot Air," Nucleus Summer 2001: p. 3 or www.ucsusa.org/environment/skeptics.html
20 Moser, p.1.