An all-out assault on our freedom began in earnest 46 years ago, when Lewis Powell issued a 34-page memo on August 23, 1971 in response to a request from the Chamber of Commerce. Their campaign was strategic, patient, inexorable, and fueled by billions of dollars.
As Powell put it:
Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.
A collection of wealthy conservatives funded what was a de facto coup, setting up foundations and think tanks designed to discredit government while portraying free markets as the source of salvation. To accomplish it they established a conservative presence in the press, educational institutions, and civil society – indeed, their coup aimed to completely change the cultural and philosophical assumptions underpinning the nature of our Republic, the principles it was founded upon, and the role of corporations in society.
"Make no mistake, this takeover was intentional and it is the last step a decades long strategy to take over a free and independent press."
And it has been spectacularly successful.
Today, the remnants of the last impediment to their takeover are being swept away – specifically, the remains of rules designed to assure an informed citizenry. Thomas Jefferson said he would prefer newspapers without government over government without newspapers. Today, we are losing the press, and as a result, losing the informed citizenry that has been the foundation of our freedoms since our nation was formed.
The Death of Independent Media
This trust in an informed public has been a cornerstone to our freedoms for more than two centuries, but now, the oligarch’s offensive is nearing fruition, giving them near total victory.
As we watch Trump’s antics, follow his tweets, and fret over the Russians, the real danger is taking place beneath our national nose, as the oligarchy tightens its control over the press. Three trends—the death of net neutrality, scuttling FCC rules limiting cross media ownership in local markets, and the culmination of two decades of mergers will leave citizens a press of, by, and for the corporations.
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Make no mistake, this takeover was intentional and it is the last step a decades long strategy to take over a free and independent press.
Democracy’s Last Act – Three Strikes and We’re Out
Net Neutrality: With the end of net neutrality, a few giant corporations will control the ease of your access to the Internet, and the costs of and to the sites you visit. Outlets which don’t toe the neoliberal, corporatist line will be buried in virtual static, they may be frozen out of the system by fees, and they will almost certainly get less bandwidth.
FCC Rules: The changes watering down the FCC rules designed to assure a diversity of views have been going on since Reagan, and Bill Clinton doubled down on Reagan's assault, but what’s happening right now is the death knell for an independent media. Trump and his minion, FCC chair Ajit Pai, have rolled back what’s left of the FCC’s power by rolling back rules governing “cross ownership” of newspapers, radio and TV stations in the same market. This makes the proposed acquisition of Tribune Media by the Sinclair Broadcast Group an easy sell. Sinclair—the Hobby Lobby of broadcasting—has close ties to the Trump Administration, and further deregulation would give it coverage of some 72% of American households. Sinclair regularly requires their local broadcasters to repeat counter-factual right-wing jihads handed down from corporate headquarters on the nightly news.
"It is up to us—the citizenry—to fight a pitched battle against the political charlatans who pretend to represent us while serving the interests of the rich and corporations."
Mergers and Monopolies: The Sinclair buy out is only the latest in a two-decade long consolidation of the media. A twenty-year frenzy of mergers has put about 90 percent of the country’s major media outlets under the control of just six corporations. Limits on cross media ownership made local media the last bastion of an independent and diverse press.
If these rules are scuttled and the Sinclair buy-out happens, it will be the equivalent of the Foxification of local news. Study after study shows that Fox News viewers are among the least informed Americans—in fact, one study revealed Fox viewers were less informed than those who watched no news at all. With this merger, Jefferson’s fears will be realized—our democracy, already firmly in the hands of the oligarchy, will take its last gasp.
Trump may be a buffoon, but he is the perfect useful idiot, distracting us—probably unwittingly—from the carefully crafted script written by experts. These three initiatives are their last act. When the curtain drops, our more than 230-year experiment with a Democratic Republic fashioned on Enlightenment principles will be over.
Don’t look to the Democrats to prevent it. As they demonstrated at the Democracy Alliance’s recent meeting in La Costa California, they are firmly committed to the same old game of chasing corporations and fat cats for their money and, inevitably, serving their interests not the people’s.
Which means it is up to us—the citizenry—to fight a pitched battle against the political charlatans who pretend to represent us while serving the interests of the rich and corporations. It’s up to us to demand representatives who actually represent us. And it has to start with reversing fighting the attacks on net neutrality and the FCC.