Unless you hang in the fever swamps of the hard Left, you’re probably not aware that the group calling itself Free Press hosted last weekend the fourth annual National Conference for Media Reform. Like the name of the host organization, “media reform” is more a euphemism than a description of the group’s real agenda. Mostly, what they’re interested in is using government to yoke the media — broadcasting in particular — to their ideology.
And what an ideology it is! The president and founder of Free Press is one Robert McChesney, a professor of “communications” at the University of Illinois. And he writes books. His latest, published by the book-publishing arm of what Wikipedia calls “an independent Marxist journal” (Monthly Review, of which McChesney was co-editor from 2000 to 2004), is titled The Political Economy of Media (PEM).
I recently sprang for the purchase of PEM because I saw that the good professor had written a chapter about the First Amendment. Titled “The New Theology of the First Amendment: Class Privilege Over Democracy,” this chapter reveals, in remarkably transparent language, how real is the threat to the First Amendment from the Left.
But judge for yourself. Herewith, some of McChesney’s observations on the subject, in a chapter that deals primarily with his unhappiness with the ACLU for its advocacy of what he characterizes as “extensions” of the First Amendment:
"In the hands of the wealthy, the advertisers and the corporate media, the newfangled First Amendment takes on an almost Orwellian caste. It defends the right of the wealthy few to effectively control our electoral system, thereby taking the risk out of democracy for the rich, and making a farce of it for most everyone else. These semi-monopolistic corporations that brandish the constitution as their personal property eschew any public service obligations, and claim that public efforts to demand them violate their First Amendment rights, which in their view means their unimpeded ability to maximize profit regardless of the social consequences….
"The job for progressives and activists, then, is to raise holy hell about our corrupt electoral system and our bogus corporate media system, and make it a key target of a social movement that takes direct aim at social inequality and class privilege…. And in the process of doing so we need to pressure the ACLU to return to its roots as a force for justice and democracy, or expose it as a liberal fig leaf for plutocracy."
PEM features more of the same — lots more — but you get the idea. The class struggle, the proletariat versus the bourgeoisie, the whole nine yards. So the question you may be asking is why? Why even mention Free Press or Robert McChesney? It’s not, after all, as though views such as his, or missions like that of Free Press, hoary and ludicrous though they are, are all that rare among academics in the liberal arts, or among left-wing activist organizations.
Sorry to say, the explanation is that Free Press is gathering strength among policymakers and regulators, many of whom (one hopes) are unaware of the group’s ideological underpinnings. This, because the mainstream press have told us virtually nothing about the organization. No I-teams or investigative reporters; no “following the money trail” here. Though the group was only formed in 2002, it is these days accorded a matter-of-fact acceptance by mainstream journalists that is breathtaking.
Though Free Press is said to be the beneficiary of substantial funding from George Soros, the billionaire currency speculator and serial hypocrite, you can’t prove it by anything either party has divulged. The only clue, shown in an IRS filing, is that the Soros-funded Open Society Institute is listed as a contributor.
Through its lobbying arm, the Free Press Action Fund, the group worked the halls of Congress recently in an ongoing campaign to undo the modest liberalization of media ownership rules recently enacted by the FCC. And just last weekend, two FCC Commissioners, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, were featured speakers at the above-mentioned National Conference for Media Reform.
If, as appears to be the case, liberalism in the U.S. is on the rise, it’s going to be interesting, and perhaps of some moment, to see how, and in what ways, liberals deal with hard Left activists like the Free Press crowd.