Progressives Must Stop Letting Corporate Media Off the Hook

"Progressive activists need to view corporate media as an arena for struggle; just as they do politicians, exploitative corporations, and war profiteers," Jeff Cohen, FAIR founder, tells Status Coup

I’ve covered a lot of protests in America over the last half-decade.

From Standing Rock, to Black Lives Matters and police brutality, to clashes between anti-fascist protesters and MAGA, to the climate catastrophe, to the growing worker strikes popping up across the country, people have hit the streets pre-COVID and even during the still raging pandemic.

Yet, in a reality that continues to baffle me, I’ve never had the the pleasure of covering protests outside the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, and the rest of the corporate PR flacks masquerading as journalists.

Just focusing on the last 10 years (I don’t have the mental fortitude to address corporate media propaganda/information blackouts over 20 years), these collective outlets have:

-Routinely reported during increased number of hurricanes and wildfires—and the growing ferocity of both—kind of, sort of…BURYING THE LEAD that man-made climate change is leading to the mass carnage on your screens.

-Rinse and repeat lies (i.e. reporting) on the “booming economy” and jobs “roaring back”; in the years following the 2008-09 financial crash and as the economy began opening back up amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As media propped up the “booming economy” fantasy, they’ve completely hidden the fact that the majority of returning jobs are shitty non-living wage jobs—many of which are in the hospitality industry.

-Five years of breathless propaganda on the “radical” progressive movement led by “angry” Bernie and his socialist ideas we couldn’t possibly “pay for.” As corporate media have spun this web of propaganda, they completely burying the gross $300 MILLION DOLLARS A DAY SPENT IN AFGHANISTAN FOR 20 YEARS for 18-25 year olds to wander through a maze of IED’s with no coherent mission for “victory.”

-Offering play-by-play as if we’re watching sporting events in the aftermath of mass shootings that have killed an unconscionable number of children. As so-called journalists provide this play-by-play, they offer zero journalistic shaming or investigation into the blood money the very politicians offering their thoughts and prayers ate taking. They then move on from these abnormal events in three days to the next news story.

-After covering the poisoning of an American city for all of two weeks in 2016, corporate media have all-but abandoned the ongoing Flint water crisis, and cover-up, and simply reporting the manipulated data that conflicted government officials feed them to declare crisis over and the water safe (I’ve reported in Flint 18 times since 2016; the most recent trip weeks ago showed the water is nowhere near safe).

-And over the last six months, completely burying the surge in workers’ strikes and union drives spreading throughout America after decades of organized labor living in hibernation.

Jeff Cohen, the founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting [FAIR] told Status Coup the lack of focus on, and civil disobedience against, corporate media outlets doctoring reality is nothing new.

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“When I founded FAIR in 1986, I would ask a roomful of activists for a show of hands if they’d ever participated in a protest at a City Hall or a Federal Building or a corporate office or police headquarters, and almost every hand would go up,” Cohen said. But when he followed up asking if the same activists ever protested at a corporate media outlet “almost no hands would be raised.”

Cohen addressed the disconn

ect between today’s progressives having a greater understanding of corporate media’s bias and censorship—which enables endless war, inequality, climate catastrophe, and sabotage of progressive candidates and movements—and actually confronting these outlets who wield powerful control over the way Americans think, act, or don’t act.

 “There aren’t enough public protests that target news outlets over bias and exclusion,” Cohen continued. “Mainstream media propaganda in our country is a key reason we’re nowhere close to universal healthcare. It’s not just Big Pharma or giant insurers. Without media cheerleading for war, which I witnessed from inside Fox News and MSNBC, there wouldn’t have been endless war for two decades.”

Although Cohen has led or participated in nearly a dozen protests outside the New York Times and TV news headquarters, the quantity of protests and bodies on the ground isn’t enough.

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“Progressive activists need to view corporate media as an arena for struggle – just as they do politicians, exploitative corporations, war profiteers, racist criminal justice systems, etc,” Cohen said.

Steve Grumbine, the co-founder of the independent news outlet Real Progressives, put it bluntly: the media “serves its masters.”

From corporate media covering up the global fraud perpetrated by Wall Street elites, to so-called journalists ignoring the revolving door that swings from Wall Street to the U.S. treasury and back to Wall Street, progressives are missing a major opportunity when they leave corporate media unscathed.

“Sadly, with so many living paycheck to paycheck and tragedy lurking around every corner, rallying activists to bring down the media juggernauts appears to be an insurmountable task,” Grumbine, whose Real Progressives outlet has been on-the-ground to cover indigenous-led environmental protests at Standing Rock, protests for Medicare For All, and Black Lives Matter protests in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, told Status Coup.

“So daunting in fact, we must do it at all costs. Without a transparent press, vigorously pursuing truth, there can be no meaningful democracy,” he concluded.

But there are obstacles to rallying the activist troops or, perhaps, redirecting some of their collective focus towards the propagandists sitting comfortably atop the Ivory Towers that are the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC, Bhaskar Sunkara, the publisher of the socialist magazine Jacobin, told Status Coup.

“I don’t think we really have mass movements in the U.S.; our overall level of class organization and politicization is low,” Sunkara said.

Another reason protest movements, and the more traditional Marxist left, are more iffy on focusing their ire on the corporate media is because they view media and other forms of culture as kind of “downstream from the economy” and elites who are “just reflecting elite consensus rather than making elite consensus.”

Shifting protest movements toward corporate media moves us in the direction of “symbolic politics”—and further away from the corporate actors and business interests oppressing the masses, Sunkara concluded.

Perhaps corporate media isn’t forming or cementing elite consensus. After all, bankers, financial lawyers, and CEOs don’t need Anderson Cooper or Rachel Maddow’s nightly propaganda to influence their “let them have cake” credo.

But powerful outlets like the New York Times, CNN, and MSNBC—for which the majority of their audiences are the most reliable older and upper middle class suburban voters—have undoubtedly affected these viewers opinions on, and ultimately votes against, politicians like Bernie Sanders who challenged elite consensus in two presidential campaigns over five years.

Unless this corporate media’s brainwashing masquerading as journalism is confronted and called out—through civil disobedience, advertiser boycotts, and other means—don’t be surprised if we’re here in 10 years still talking about the fight for Medicare For All and other progressive priorities.

“If you’re a progressive activist challenging worker exploitation or climate change or the healthcare or housing crises, you ignore corporate media institutions at your peril,” Cohen said. “They are not neutral; they are not ‘a given.’ They are part of the problem.”

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