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The End of Peter B. Collins and the Need for Media Reform

We may have to get progressive talk shows put on the Endangered Species List, now that the president has reinstated it. Otherwise there won't be any voices on the air except the voices of the right, whether "centrist" (corporate) or explicitly far-right (corporate). As Brad Friedman notes in his report on Peter B. Collins's forced departure, the economic crash is threatening to finish off those last few figures who have managed somehow to resist the oligopolistic tide that has by now all but submerged the US media.

That purge, now near-complete, has actually been in the works for years. It was the purpose of the vast "de-regulation" of the media begun by Reagan back in '87 (soon after the corporate press obligingly refused to look too deeply into Iran/contra) and continued by Bill Clinton nine years later (and a fat lot of good it did him.)

Those grand strokes were the eventual result of a big semi-covert effort that had started up much earlier, when, in the early Seventies, the US Chamber of Commerce and the top tier of its membership (some dare call it "the ruling class") resolved to take the country back from all those citizens who had been acting up against the war, for civil rights for all, for the environment, etc. Such was the groundwork for the Reagan/Clinton hand-off of our airwaves (and the cable system) to the likes of GE, News Corporation, Disney and Time Warner, and the aptly named Clear Channel. With that network in charge, and quite absolved of any public obligation, those trying to tell some truth out loud soon found that they were struggling to be heard.

So now Rush Limbaugh's voice -- along with those of Hannity, O'Reilly, Ingraham and the aptly self-named "Michael Savage," among others -- bellows inescapably from coast to coast, while those who are at least as talented, but honest, rational and well-informed, have got to work like hell to find, and build, their audience (which is, increasingly, on-line).


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This can be done: Thom Hartmann, having now left the implosive Air America, is doing it and Mike Malloy is doing it. (Now Randi Rhodes is also off the air.) That such talents have to work that way, while all those lethal gas-bags come in loud and clear, is a clear sign that the US media is in dire need of change, of just the sort that Team Obama promised us last year.

For the dominance of all those rightist blowhards is not based on the market, although their fans keep saying that it is, in countless fuming posts and letters to the editor. Contrary to that talking point, the crackpot views of Rush et al. have only fringe appeal -- as we, and all the world, saw clearly on Election Day, and as we see especially clearly now that the economy's collapsed. Most people out there were quite thrilled to see Jon Stewart clean Jim Cramer's clock. So where is that big audience for Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity, and all the other hirelings out there channeling Herbert Hoover?

Let's face it: There's been no such big audience for quite a while. When sharp progressive talkers have been able to compete, they've done quite well -- just ask Phil Donohue, who lost his show five years ago despite the fact that it was MSNBC's top-rated offering. (Internal memos shortly made it clear that he was dumped because he was against Bush/Cheney's war.) And now that network has Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow in prime time, with Joe Scarborough shunted to the mornings. Meanwhile, Thom Hartmann has been besting Rush in markets where he's had the chance -- but, by and large, he hasn't had the chance; and neither has Peter B. Collins, or any other able dissident.

So what this country needs, ASAP, is media reform; because the media culture now in place is not a genuine expression of our real opinions or desires, but a gigantic corporate imposition on us all. For far too long we have assumed that what we see and hear (and read) comes mostly from the right because Americans are mostly on the right: not just throughout the "heartland," but, ludicrously even in New York, L.A,, Chicago, San Francisco. Thus we must reform the US media -- break the oligopoly, restore the broadcast code, and build a genuinely non- commercial public system) so that we'll know not just what's really going on, but also, even more important, who we really are.

Mark Crispin Miller

Mark Crispin Miller is a Professor of Culture and Communication at New York University, and the author of many books and articles, including The Bush Dyslexicon, Cruel and Unusual and Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One, Too (Unless We Stop Them).

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