In this post I discuss a companion paper for Left Turn, “Hands are Shaky and Knees are Weak? Are Journalists Really Dupes of their Corporate Bosses?”. Here’s how the paper begins:
“There are NO liberal media outlets: they are ALL owned by corporations. I can’t even comprehend how you managed to deny that fact in your head.”
That’s what “Heir” wrote in the reader comment section of an article posted on politicalwire.com. “Heir” was responding to “passerby25,” who had written that he or she believes that the media, on the whole, are slightly more liberal than conservative.
“Heir” is what I call a “corporate media theorist.” This is someone who asserts that the views of journalists are largely irrelevant to how they report. Instead, much more important are the views of their corporate bosses. Here are a couple more typical claims of corporate media theorists:
- “You’re only as liberal as the man who owns you.” –Eric Alterman. (This is the title of chapter two of his book What Liberal Media?.)
- “The press is the hired agent of a moneyed system, set up for no other reason than to tell lies where the interests are concerned.” -Henry Adams, quoted in Robert McChesney’s The Political Economy of Media, p. 28.
- “[I]n reality, most journalists have about as much say over what is presented by newspapers and news programs as factory workers and foremen have over what a factory produces.” -Robert Parry (quoted in Robert McChesney’s The Political Economy of the Media, p. 58.)
I’ll return to corporate media theory in a moment. But first, I want to make a brief digression about the notion of falsifiability in science and religion.
Karl Popper is responsible for introducing the notion of “falsifiability.” His notion asks: “With a particular belief or theory that I hold, can I imagine a set of events that would cause me to abandon it?”
Many people—including two famous pupils of Popper, William Bartley and Antony Flew—assert that religious views are unfalsifiable.
I don’t believe that is quite true, especially if the views are strengthened to belief in a particular religion. For instance, suppose Muhammed floated down from the sky, and once he reached earth, performed several miracles, then proclaimed, “I have been sent by God to tell humans that Islam is the true religion.”
Although I am a Christian, if I witnessed that, I’d abandon Christianity and become a Muslim. Thus, my Christian beliefs are falsifiable.
I also believe the opposite is true: If Jesus floated down from the sky and did something similar, then I believe most Muslims would convert to Christianity.
But now suppose Jesus and Muhammed floated down from the sky, performed some miracles, then said, “You know, corporate media bosses really aren’t that conservative, and they really don’t exert much influence over how their journalists report.”
Then I’m sure the corporate media theorists would immediately scream at Jesus and Muhammed and tell them why they’re wrong.
Thus, in many ways, corporate media theory is more religion than most religions are religion.
Accordingly, my paper maybe was a waste of time. There’s really no chance, no matter how sound its arguments and evidence are, that it will persuade any corporate media theorists.
Nevertheless, if you are sympathetic to such corporate media theories, I still hope you’ll read it. And I hope you’ll consider three quick thoughts, in addition to the arguments and evidence in the paper.
First, if corporate bosses are so conservative and so powerful, then why do they hire so many liberals?
Second, if journalists really are such dupes of their corporate bosses, why do they—especially the liberal ones—seek jobs in journalism?
Third, consider my earlier post, where I examined the L.A. Times article about UCLA admissions. Recall that the bias was not due to false statements. The bias was due to statements that the journalist failed to report. Specifically, I listed several facts that she omitted—facts that a conservative would want readers to learn but a liberal would not.
Suppose you were the journalist’s corporate boss. And suppose you had complete control over what she wrote. Even if that were true, how would you know the facts that she failed to report? And if you didn’t know those facts, how could you force her to report them?