Steve Forbes on Free Press & Coming “Chavez-Style Media Crackdown”

by on March 25, 2010 · 6 comments

Steve Forbes has an entertaining essay out today about the agenda of Free Press and its founder, the Marxist media scholar Robert McChesney. Forbes notes that McChesney has expressed a great deal of sympathy for the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and has even defended some of his tactics to control the press. This leads to his fear that McChesney and Free Press will convince the Obama Administration to use similar tactics here in the U.S.:

Once the federal government starts subsidizing our own free press, how long until the feds start revoking broadcast licenses of government opponents and bringing pesky reporters up on charges of say, “corruption” or “subversion”? According to McChesney and the Free Press folks, it apparently can’t happen soon enough.

To be fair, I haven’t heard anyone from Free Press defending Hugo Chavez or his tactics. But I do wonder why the organization continues to associate itself with such a radioactive figure like Mr. McChesney. After all, Forbes isn’t making up anything about McChesney, who is an outspoken, and self-described, Marxist media theorist. McChesney really has expressed sympathy for Chavez and said that, “If [Venezuelan broadcaster] RCTV were broadcasting in the United States, its license would have been revoked years ago. In fact its owners would likely have been tried for criminal offenses, including treason.” Far more troubling are Mr. McChesney’s views regarding how to reform media going forward, which I’ve documented in past essays in more detail. (See, “Free Press, Robert McChesney & the “Struggle” for Media,” “What the Media Reformistas Really Want,” and “Socializing Media in Order to Save It,.”) One need look no further than this lengthy interview with McChesney that appeared in an online newsletter called “The Bullet” produced by the Canada-based “Socialist Project.”

The whole thing is quite troubling to read, but here are a couple of jaw-droppers that make it clear just how radical Mr. McChesney’s worldview and agenda are:

  • Media as an instrument of “revolution”: “Instead of waiting for the revolution to happen, we learned that unless you make significant changes in the media, it will be vastly more difficult to have a revolution. While the media is not the single most important issue in the world, it is one of the core issues that any successful Left project needs to integrate into its strategic program.”
  • Down with commercial media: “Corporations are not in a position to generate and pay for quality journalism. The news is not a commercial product. It is a public good, necessary for a self-governing society.”
  • Down with advertising, which is the engine of private media: “We need to organize against hyper-commercialism. This is an easy-sell for the Left. We understand that advertising is not something done by all people equally, but rather, done by a very small group of people working on behalf of multinational corporations. Advertising is commercial propaganda…  Advertising is the voice of capital. We need to do whatever we can to limit capitalist propaganda, regulate it, minimize it, and perhaps even eliminate it.”
  • Down with private communications networks: “What we want to have in the U.S. and in every society is an Internet that is not private property, but a public utility.”
  • Kill media capitalism: “the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”

And there’ more tripe like this to be found in this piece on “Journalism, Democracy,… and Class Struggle” in the socialist journal, Monthly Review:

  • “Ultimately, we need to press for the overhaul of the media system, so that it serves democratic values rather than the interests of capital.”
  • “Our job is to make media reform part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice, and, dare we say it, socialism. It is impossible to conceive of a better world with a media system that remains under the thumb of Wall Street and Madison Avenue, under the thumb of the owning class. It is nearly impossible to conceive of the process of getting to a better world without some changes in the media status quo. We have no time to waste.”

But wait, there’s more! This from another Monthly Review essay:

  • “The Big Lies protecting the corporate media system [are] that the United States had a free market media system, and that this was the system ordained as the only possible democratic one by the Founders in the Constitution.”
  • “any serious effort to reform the media system would have to necessarily be part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist political economy.”
  • “No one thinks any longer that media reform is an issue to solve ‘after the revolution.’ Everyone understands that without media reform, there will be no revolution.”

Now, it would be easy to dismiss McChesney has just another half-crazed, unrepentant radical from the 60’s who is still sore about the Reds losing the Cold War, but the reality is that his thinking is beginning to filter down from the ivory tower and into mainstream politics. He’s now invited to address Federal Trade Commission workshops on “how to save journalism,” and his new book John Nichols, The Death and Life of American Journalism, has even received praise from some in government [at the 10-min mark of this video we hear Susan DeSanti, who is running the FTC’s effort, praising this “excellent book”] despite its call for radical steps to essentially hobble private media and impose crushing taxes on just about everyone in sight to subsidize public, state-blessed media.

Even if Free Press, the group McChesney founded, wisely avoids the radioactive rhetoric McChesney lets slip from his tongue on occasion, the group doesn’t avoid endorsing largely the same policy recommendations that McChesney supports.  I spelled out the current Free Press “media reform” agenda in this piece on, “A ‘Public Option’ for Media? The Free Press Plan to Put Journalists on the Public Dole.” And Berin Szoka and I have just started a new series of essays on “The Wrong Way to Reinvent Media,” in which we will further detail and critique the radical McChesney / Free Press policy agenda. This is leading up to the filing deadline in the FCC’s “Future of Media” proceeding, which is May 7th.  We plan to file, and I very much look forward to seeing the Free Press filing in that matter to see if they turn up the volume even more or if they scale back the scope of their imperial ambitions.

So stay tuned, the battle for the future of media is really heating up. While I don’t agree with Steve Forbes that we’ll be staring at a Hugo Chavez-like police and propaganda state any time soon — after all, they haven’t repealed the First Amendment yet! — I do believe that what McChesney and Free Press are doing is greasing the skids for a massive infusion of government money and meddling into almost every facet of the American media sector.  Indeed, in many ways, this has been their radical “media reformista” agenda all along. It’s just that they’ve gotten a lot bolder about it, and now they even have some people in government taking them seriously.

[For more information, see my ongoing series: “Should Government Bailout Media, Subsidize the Press & Seek to “Save Journalism”?]

Previous post:

Next post: