July 1, 2004

Americans Live in Two Parallel News and Information Universes

By In Essays

Now listen carefully. You are beginning to return to your normal state of mind. And when I count to three, you will feel refreshed and be just as you were. Ready? One, two, three. Return to normal…

Too bad it’s not that easy to deprogram the millions of Americans who have been mass hypnotized by the corporate media for the past 30 years. As a result, two parallel universes of news and information exist, and cultural and political schizophrenia is the normal state of mind for most Americans.

One universe is the mainstream news media. It is overwhelming in scope, earns billions of dollars in profits, and captures a majority of viewers and readers in the American market. The other universe is the alternative news media, which is quite limited in scope, earns very little in profits, and captures a relatively small segment of the market.

In the mainstream universe, which, ironically, many Americans distrust and disdain, large corporations pay multimillion-dollar salaries to high-profile national news anchors and commentators to report and evaluate the news that fits within their corporate worldview. In the alternative universe, which, even more ironically, many Americans do not even know exists, small companies operate on the shoestring or through donations to report and evaluate the news that is important to individual Americans and not to large companies.

In the mainstream universe, slick production values are quite important and editorial decisions regarding which stories lead the news (or get into the news) are based on parameters set by corporate CEOs who are paid to protect and promote their advertisers and business interests. In the alternative universe, production value is secondary to content, and decisions regarding which stories lead the news (or get into the news) are based on what individual editors believe to be true and important to the general public.

In the mainstream universe, star network anchormen like Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings are well known and respected by many Americans, and neo-fascist commentators like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity are taken quite seriously by millions of devout followers. In the alternative universe, there are no news stars, and progressive commentators like Michael Moore and Al Franken are just starting to be taken seriously by average Americans.

In the mainstream universe, the news is a lot like professional wrestling. It’s a high-concept exhibition that sells illusions as reality. And the end result is often predetermined-like the last presidential election, or the war in Iraq. In the alternative universe, the news is a lot like a mom and pop business where the shopkeeper tells you what’s going on in the neighborhood. And the end result is often honest-like explaining how government officials rigged the voting in Florida, and how George W. Bush and Dick Cheney lied about the need to go to war in Iraq.

I could continue with these analogies of course, but it might be dangerous, since focusing on a single idea for too long may induce a hypnotic effect. The trick is, how we get average Americans, who are notoriously lazy, apathetic, and uninformed when it comes to news and politics (and incredibly susceptible to corporate imagery, propaganda, and subliminal messages) to unplug themselves from the mainstream media and open their eyes to the alternative side. Progressive and populist authors, journalists, philanthropists, and politicians are doing their parts, but they can’t do it alone. They need help.

Several years ago, Gore Vidal observed that if the mainstream news media put someone of his stature, eloquence, and worldview on the prime time evening news day after day, week after week, month after month, the American public would gradually develop a progressive mindset regarding culture and politics. But of course this is impossible. The “liberal media” (another grand corporate illusion) would never allow it. In fact, it’s rare for progressive or populist intellectuals– like Vidal, or Michael Parenti, or Noam Chomsky– to get on mainstream news shows at all, even as guests. And whenever they do, the corporate-trained airheads or confrontational demagogues that interview them react to their political views with either shock or disbelief or hostility.

Which is why Americans have to awake from their deep state of somnambulism and start taking responsibility for their own news and information. In the past, many individuals used the excuse that they were too busy to go to libraries or bookstores to seek out alternative viewpoints or publications. But that excuse is no longer valid. Most Americans today own computers and know how to use the Internet, and if they are smart enough to access pornography sites or download music files, they can just as easily find Web sites that present alternative viewpoints and news. All they have to do is point and click. Just point and click, point and click, point and click…

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