Commentary by Mumia Abu-Jamal: Their Press, Their Media

No country was ever ruled by so mean a class of tyrants as, with a few noble exceptions, are the editors of the periodical press in this country. And as they live and rule only by their servility, and appealing to their worst, and not the better nature of man, the people who read them are in the condition of the dog that returns to his vomit.

-Henry David Thoreau,

“Civil Disobedience and other Essays” (1849)


The media is the agency through which millions of minds are formed in our world today. How folks see the world, and how they perceive how lives are led, is mediated through the lens and the newspapers of capital.

In the past, media was largely the tool of capital. Today, they are capital; subsidiaries of some of the largest and wealthiest conglomerates of corporate power in the world.

With the powerful concentration of media corporations taking place today, more and more such entities are coming under the control of fewer and fewer individuals. The “mass” media is fast becoming a tool of powerfully amassed capital.

As long ago as 1947, Henry Luce-founder of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines-commissioned a report on the press, which brought out the following:

The Press: wields enormous power for its own ends; propagates its own opinions at the expense of opposing views; allows advertisers to dictate editorial content; resists social change; prefers the superficial and sensational; endangers public morals; invades privacy; is dominated by one socioeconomic class; and interferes with the open marketplace of ideas (Imprimis [28/7]: July 1999, pp. 2,3).

Although the extraordinary findings of the report caused considerable consternation and disturbance, little has changed in the ensuing five decades. Indeed, things are far worse now-this is the age of Media power. It determines what the subject of public debate is in society. It determines the limits of social discourse. It determines the limits of social rage.

It sees what it wants to see; it ignores what it wants to ignore. And as a power unto itself, it guides and corrals social and political activity, by channeling public attention in ways that the rulers dictate and allow.

This can perhaps best be seen in the most deadly role played by the media: the demonization game. It utilizes the propaganda tactics of repetition and volume to determine who is the enemy of the day: Saddam Hussein or Muammar Khaddafi? Slobodan Milosevic or Farah Muhammad Aidid?

America, a nation born, forged, and reborn in the horrors of war, loves nothing more than a new enemy (it is fitting to remember that the bloodiest, deadliest war was the war between the states-the Civil War, with over 600,000 casualties!). It is imperative that a new enemy be found, for the military-industrial complex needs such things to insure its continuous profit from the death business.

This marketing of America’s enemies ensures the militarization of America, the wealthiest nation on earth, and the continuing repression of much of the third world under American imperial power. There are forces in America that truly wept when the Soviets ceased to be a factor in world affairs.

When international enemies cease to serve their function, the media insures that we have domestic enemies. In the 1960s, it was the Black Panther Party; in the 1970s, it was the Black Liberation Army; in the 1980s it was MOVE; and in the 1990s it is the poor, the homeless, the maliciously named “underclass.” New enemies, newly minted others upon whom the guns, and weapons of the rulers can be mobilized and readied.

In such a social construct, there is no “us”; there is no “we”; there are only THEM. Who does the pointing, the subtle targeting, the social distinction-making?

That is the role of the media, who do not actually mediate between free so-called “citizens,” but mediates on behalf of the wealthy; those who own the media, and those who consume their products. In such a media-generated consumer culture, everything-everything-is Just another commodity. A thing to be packaged, to be sold, and to serve their interest.

What is urgently needed is a new People’s Media-a labor-oriented, human-centered, popular media-which examines and projects from the position of the many, not the few. That day is not here. But it must be coming.


© 1999 maj

Related Articles