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The New Media Monopoly – Book Review

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In 1983, fifty corporations dominated most of every mass medium and the biggest media merger in history was a $340 million deal. … [I]n 1987, the fifty companies had shrunk to twenty-nine. … [I]n 1990, the twenty-nine had shrunk to twenty three. … [I]n 1997, the biggest firms numbered ten and involved the $19 billion Disney-ABC deal, at the time the biggest media merger ever. … [In 2000] AOL Time Warner’s $350 billion merged corporation [was] more than 1,000 times larger [than the biggest deal of 1983].
~ Ben H. BagdikianThe Media Monopoly, Sixth Edition, (Beacon Press, 2000), pp. xx–xxi

The earliest version of The Media Monopoly came out in the early 1980’s.  The version I read was after the above quote, from The New Media Monopoly, published in 2004.
Bagdikian’s grasp of what has happened in the Mainstream Media is superb.  The book, however, is a mixed bag.  The material on the media and the disconnect between what they say they do and what they actually do is worth reading.  The mainstream media (MSM) is one of the institutions that over the years has become a parody of what it was supposed to be.  The corporatization of the MSM is a topic that Bagdikian handles with skill.  A de-centralized media has become a tool for The Regime, The State.  Bagdikian shows bravery and independence by exposing the drum beating of establishment media outlets such as the NY Times.  One chapter in particular called “(not) All the News That’s Fit to Print” exposes the government bootlicking and outright fraud perpetrated by the Times during the early W years.  The next chapter, called “All The News That Fits” goes into historical detail about how the Media became a profit machine, at the expense of individuality and meaningful reporting.

While Bagdikian’s grasp of the media is good, there are parts of the book that are not.  He routinely (and correctly) laments the power of the big corporations to alter the media landscape.  The consolidation of power has destroyed media independence and obliterated the FCC as a regulator.  Bagdikian has a blind spot, however in realizing that the government is always the other half of the equation.  The special dispensations given out by the FCC and government regulators in order to allow the massive corporatization movement that began in the 1980’s would not have been possible without government help.  Bagdikian seems to only see the corporations and their malfeasance as the issue.  He turns a blind eye to the necessary cooperation by government.  This exposes a shameless leftist bias and only exposes half of the problem.

This bias also shows in all of his economic explanations.  The worst examples are his trotting out the tired socialist shibboleth that the USA is the only modern country without universal healthcare – despite those schemes failing in Canada and the UK for decades.  He childishly talks about the the politics of the country veering to the “far right” because of the power of the moneyed interests and the corporations.  Bagdikian should know better – that this is the ‘corporatization’ of the country and has nothing to do with the “far right”.  Lastly, he refers to the “uninhibited free market” of the 1920’s multiple times.  This is unforgivable.  Both Lionel Robbins and Murray Rothbard have shown that the 1920’s were manipulated severely by the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury.  They manhandled the money supply (creating inflation), managed interest rates and butchered sound monetary policy that had allowed a certain stability from 1879 to 1914.  Bagdikian apparently spent zero minutes and zero seconds studying this topic.  A middle aged nobody English teacher in the crappy neighborhood (me) should not be able to point out such obvious flaws in a book by a Media Analyst Giant like Mr. Bagdikian.

Overall, this book is worth it, just stick to the chapters that deal directly with media analysis.  Ignore the rest.

An interview with Bagdikian can be found here.

Independent New Media reporters mention Bagdikian here – Corbett and Pilato are modern Bagdikians in their own right:

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