Together, we have already taken a giant step forward in transforming our country. What we have done—and the size of this conference indicates the success—we have begun the long road to make media a major political issue in America.
More and more, when people who are running for office go before the public somebody in the front of the room is going to raise their hand and say 'what are you going to do about corporate control of the media?'
We are reaching a moment when critical mass is kicking in Not only in the House is there a media caucus, it's gonna happen in the senate as well. I can tell you absolutely that we will not succeed unless you are there, unless there is a strong grassroots media that demands fundamental changes and the end of corporate control.
I know a lot about how media impacts the political process for those of us who day after day struggle with the major issues. If you are concerned about health care, foreign policy and Iraq, the economy, global warming—you are kidding yourselves if you are not concerned about corporate control over the media, because every one of these issues is directly relevant.
Four years ago, George W. Bush told the American people that a third-rate country had weapons of mass destruction and were about to attack the US. I can tell you, because I was there in the middle, in opposition to that, that day after day, those of us who oppose the war would be holding national press conferences that you never saw. Hundreds of thousands of people in our country were so disgusted with the media acting as a megaphone for the president that they turned it off and went to the BBC or CBC.
Media plays a role. They are as responsible as President Bush for the disaster that now befalls us [the death toll, costs] directly related to the failure of the media.
If you were to ask me the most significant untold story of our time in terms of domestic politics, I would tell you that it happens to be the collapse of the American middle class. Despite an explosion of technology, the huge increase in productivity, tens of millions are working longer hours for lower wages. Working people work longer hours than in any other industrialized nation on earth. How did it happen that a two-income family has less disposable income than a one-income household 30 years ago?
One might think that this is an interesting story. One might think that globalization, that has lowered the standard for millions of workers, might be a story. When NAFTA was passed, every major newspaper was pro- NAFTA; we did the research. And the corporate titans are still in favor of free trade despite the disaster. What happens if the reality of working people's lives are not reflected in the mainstream media. Just this week in Vermont, hundreds of people lost their jobs because of free trade. But they turn on their TVs and they don't see that reality; they see 'the issue is personal responsibility. You are the only person who can't find a job that pays a living wage and provides you with health care, and you can't afford to send your kid to college; that's your fault.' They do not see a reflection of their reality in the media, and they do not understand that participation in the political process [can change]—and that is no accident. We want that mirror to reflect the reality of ordinary people, and not the delusions of a few.
You hear these people n the floor of Congress, 'we have the best health care system in the world.' Yeah. 47 million have no insurance. Most people do not know because they have not seen it reflected that the US is the only nation on earth that does not guarantee health care. They do not hear about Scandinavia and the only thing they'll hear about Canadian is the problems with it. Do you happen to know which legislation in the House (under Clinton) had more sponsors than any other? It was single-payor. But the media said, 'we don't talk about it, it's not feasible.' Virtually no coverage of single payor, of international health care.
Environment: If we are told over and over that there's a serious scientific debate about whether global warming exists it has an impact on our consciousness. Why should we move away from the fossil fuels if there's a debate in the scientific community? But there is no debate in the scientific community about global warming.
The US today has the [worst disparity in income] of any nation on earth. Richest 1% owns more than the bottom 90%. The richest 13,000 earn more than poorest 20 million. Do you think that maybe this is an issue that should be thrown out on the table? Do we think it 's a good idea that so few have so much and so many have so little? But that issue is beyond the scope of what establishment media is allowed to discuss.
I've been asked 1000 questions by media. Not one member of the media has ever come up to me and asked what I'm going to do about unfair distribution of wealth. Why not? Why is that outside the scope of what we are allowed to talk about?
All of us are concerned about moral values That has been interpreted by the media to mean women should not be allowed abortion, two men should not be allowed to marry.
Let me broaden the discussion: what about the morality of tax breaks to billionaires while we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any industrialized nation—is that a moral issue? I think so! Is it a moral issue that we have more billionaires while we have more hunger? Who has decided that abortion and gay rights are the only moral issues we're discussing?
All of you know that Martin Luther King was a leader in the South on voting rights, access to schools and water fountains. When you turn on the TV on Monday [King's birthday], you'll see the great speech about ending segregation. You will not see his opposition to the Vietnam war. You will not see that at the end of his life he was attempting to bring blacks, whites, and Hispanics into the fight for economic justice—virtually no discussion.
Congressman Maurice Hinchey and I cosponsored legislation in the House and I will sponsor it in the Senate. All of you know that the airwaves belong to the people, and we lent those airwaves to media conglomerates in order to do the public good. Now is the time to take a hard look at what they do to the American people. Now is the time for asking why 90% of talk shows are right wing extremists. Now is the time to ask about the responsibility of the media to deal well with the responsibility we gave them. Now is the time to open the question of the Fairness Doctrine again.
All of you know that conglomerates have swallowed up small media. I thin tat is a real danger to democracy, and we've got to stop media deregulation big time.
In terms of corporate media, when we give licenses, they must be responsible to the people. It is high time to bring back that legislation that says the people have the right to determine whether or not these companies are succeeding. We should be having hearings all over the country to answer the hard questions.
What you are doing is enormously important. You and some of us in Congress are going to make that change happen. We are making real progress. We have a long way to go, but we are not going to address the enormous problems in America unless the media [covers it].
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