It’s Time for the Left to Assert Itself in the Mainstream Media
Donald Trump is about as useless as a tastebud on an anus.
Anyone who has paid attention to the verdict in the E. Jean Carrol case and/or the CNN “townhall” on May 10 in New Hampshire knows that Trump is an inveterate liar; and that’s only if you hadn’t learned that over the past eight years or so. I’ve just spent several hours watching mainstream TV analysts comment on his CNN town hall. The opinions were pretty much along the lines above.
What struck me, however, was that after clearly demonstrating Trump’s lies and continued defamation of Carrol, was how limited was the condemnation of Trump.
The mainstream media has confined the range of political opinion from all but the edge of the far right on that end to the centrist “left”—i.e., Biden and “liberal” Democrats—on the left, with an episodic “bone” to Bernie, AOC, and other social democrats. And, as we know, the left wing of the spectrum is much broader than that.
From over 50 years of observation and participation on the left, I’ve seen that the left has writers/researchers/scholars far to the left of the mainstream media’s “left end,” who write as well if not usually better than the tripe that the mainstream media regularly serves. Our level of analysis is objectively better, and our best reporting is usually equal to if not better than the mainstream media. We are qualitatively much better on global affairs and can hold our own on domestic.
However, whether they fear our ideas or fear our “messengers,” they have kept those of us on the left (widely defined) out of not only political debates but out of mainstream American culture. They refuse to acknowledge our existence.
Combined with this, our miniscule size and number of resources compared to the mainstream is ridiculously insignificant. I recently read the NY Times alone has 1,700 employees in its news department; whether accurate or not, there’s no way we can complete on numbers. We also—unsurprisingly—don’t have the impact of the Times, the Post, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, ABC, CBS or NBC , etc., either singularly much less collectively.
We have responded in true guerrilla fashion by developing news sources of our own and fighting battles of largely our choice. I’m thinking here outlets such as “Democracy Now,” Z Network, Counterpunch, Common Dreams, AlterNet, Truth Out, Monthly Review, Tom Dispatch, Green Social Thought, Labor Notes, The Nation, The Progressive, Mother Jones, (and, from India, Countercurrents), etc. First of all, I think each of these is important, and I applaud their work and thank those who inspired and developed each one of these operations. They are important, and I think they’ll become even more so over the coming years. With where I’m going below, I am not in any way arguing they shouldn’t exist, or whatever, like that. I value each one of them, although I imagine I could suggest ways most could advance the quality of their work. (And they might/might not take my comments favorably, which is up to them.)
Yet, while these outlets are necessary, they certainly are not sufficient. The left media—and I know it is much broader that those I’ve just mentioned, so please excuse me for not mentioning every project—is important, for it brings news and information to people that they can’t get elsewhere; and tries to explain local, national, and global developments in ways that are understandable to their respective audience. It allows those of us who are critical of the status quo to argue and debate issues, and to learn how to hone our arguments. It allows word to be shared about mobilizations, or important projects we should know about. All of this is good. And perhaps most importantly, they are specific resources for those of us who are activists to refer people who want to know more to which we can do so with general confidence; again, I think this is critically important.
The problem, however, is that basically, this left media is in a bubble, sealed off from broader US society by mainstream media from non-leftist audiences, no matter how important or how accurate our perspectives. The mainstream does not want to acknowledge our general critique, much less our very existence; and they damn sure don’t want to have to debate us!
Now, this bubble is not total. For example, as a radical academic/activist, there are projects that are important where we can discuss and debate serious issues critically, and get these ideas out to a broader, non-academic/interested layperson audience. Two that come immediately to mind are Class, Race and Corporate Power, and Global Labour Journal, both trying to break the stranglehold of traditional academic journals. I’m sure there are others. Especially for those of us with advanced academic training, their existence provides us a way to break the intellectual blockade that keeps our ideas out of the mainstream academic journals and provides critical thinking for hungry audiences around the world.
Yet even that is not enough.
I argue—and especially for those of us who have gained the legitimacy of advanced degrees and especially those of us who have gained positions in higher education—that we need to consciously begin writing for and seeking to get our writing into the mainstream media. It’s going to be difficult and bound to be frustrating. Yet, we have conceded a major field of ideological battle to the centrists and rightists, and this is dangerous. Not only does it mean that people do not get our perspectives, but should repression be directed against us—think Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edwin Snowden—we have no defense against these attacks beyond skilled attorneys, and that makes our work, our risks, delegitimate; and further, subject to future attack.
How to do this, especially in light of Chomsky and Herman’s brilliant Manufacturing Consent? (For a 2018 consideration of that classic, including an interview with Chomsky, see https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=manufacturing+consent+chomsky&view=detail&mid=B84DF882856D7CBF36B9B84DF882856D7CBF36B9&FORM=VIRE .) Quickly, as they elaborated so well in 1988, it is almost impossible to get critical views in the mainstream media.
Yes, almost impossible—and more unlikely without trying. Just like looking for work; no one is going to come and beg us to work for them (unless you have some extraordinary talent), and that’s not most of us. We must assert ourselves to get a job.
I think the analogy is useful. And it also gives us some hope for those of us who are activists: we need to think about approaching the media as those it is a political campaign. Now, obviously, we’re not going to take over the media “world.” Right now, we have to begin very small: an initial goal might be: how can we get our work included in op-ed pages of a local paper? And perhaps the next step might be to try to meet someone in a media outlet—perhaps a journalist, perhaps even an editor—and get them to consider us a “trusted source.” (What’s not appreciated sufficiently is how dependent good journalists are on trusted sources: Maggie Haberman’s excellent work in the NY Times would not be near as good without her sources.) We must fight to get our thoughts, our opinions into the mainstream media, if for no other reason than to remind people that the “news” isn’t the only way to see the world.
I don’t have any grand solutions. But I know we’re failing in the mainstream media world.
In almost every critique I saw of CNN’s townhall meeting with Trump, they each critiqued him for not expressing his support for Ukraine in that war. Now, I know there’s a range of opinions on that issue even among the left, and I’m certainly not supporting Trump in any way, shape, or form, but what struck me was there was not even a mention of a possibility of debate on the Russia-Ukraine war. In my opinion, on this and on so many other issues—especially concerning climate change and the US Empire—we need to fight to get our perspectives into mainstream culture and media.
It won’t solve all of our problems, but it will open things up for greater mobilization and organization.
Kim Scipes, PhD, has been a political activist in many movements for over 50 years, mostly labor-related. He’s a Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Purdue University Northwest in Westville, IN. He has been teaching a course on “Media, Power and Social Control” since 2006.