America’s TV Media Crisis Goes Far Beyond Covering Trump: We Simply Aren’t Hearing About the Most Pressing Issues of Our Time

If the media really wants to fight Trump, they can start by reporting on climate change and inequality.

By Thom Hartmann/Alternet/ March 22, 2017

America has a “lying press” problem.  And it’s not the “enemy of the people” situation our president has asserted.

Consider the biggest threats America faces right now.  

Abrupt climate change [3] is happening around the world as a result of our use of fossil fuels. France 24 reported [4] on February 18 that half the population of Somalia is facing famine because of an unprecedented, climate change-driven drought that’s extending across north and central Africa, while the United States is whipsawed between unprecedented weather extremes because there’s 6 percent more moisture [5] in the air than in 1950, feeding massive storms. The list goes on from the Arctic, which was up to 50 degrees warmer than it should be this winter, to the Antarctic, where sea ice is also reaching lows not seen since humans came out of the trees.  

Have you seen the story on American network news? Probably not.

While Canada has declared the internet to be a “fundamental right for all [6]” and is reinforcing its version of net neutrality while extending high-speed, low-cost (and often free) broadband internet service to all Canadians, the new head of the FCC, Ajit Pai, has said right out loud that he wants to end net neutrality [7] in the U.S., increasing costs for Americans, potentially limiting access to websites that giant ISP corporations don’t like (like perhaps this one) or who don’t pay ISP’s extra for “fast access.”

Have you seen the story on American network news? Probably not.

Fracking is causing an explosion of earthquakes [8] in Oklahoma, Ohio and Pennsylvania (among others) and devastating water supplies around the nation, while fossil fuel giants hand so much money off to Republican politicians that they’re willing to deny that human-caused climate change is even a thing or that fracking is dangerous. The fossil fuel industry has even now largely seized control of the EPA [9].


Have you seen the story on American network news? Probably not.

An explosion of consolidation in corporate America started in 1982 when Reagan effectively stopped enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The last real enforcement was by Nixon against AT&T, which resolved under Carter with the company breaking up into 7 “Baby Bells” to enhance competition, but those companies are now all re-consolidated.

Reagan’s deregulation lead to the mergers and acquisitions mania from the 1980s to today, highlighted in the movie Wall Street with Michael Douglas famously echoing Michael Milken’s sentiment that “Greed is good.” The latest industries to recently hyper-consolidate are Big Pharma and Big Health Insurance. But media consolidation is the most pernicious [10] when it comes to a “lying press.”

Have you seen the story on American network news? Probably not.

An American landscape that used to be filled with local, independently owned businesses has become so homogenized [11] by the handful of companies that control our retail, restaurant, and travel sectors that you could parachute from space to any random part of the country and have no idea where you are because everything is the same. It makes billions for the billionaires, but locks out anything resembling the local competition that used to be a hallmark of American business.

Have you seen the story on American network news? Probably not.

Our so-called “free trade” deals are giveaways to huge multinationals, who now can even force national laws to be struck down [12], and serve mostly to cement the profits of billionaires and transnationals (this goes waaaaay beyond the “offshoring jobs” Trump talking point). Because these trade deals put multinational corporate “courts” above the laws of our own nation, they should rightly be called treaties, which require two-thirds of the Senate to ratify; instead, since Nixon, they’ve been called “trade agreements” and repeatedly passed by tiny majorities with Republican support over Democratic opposition.

While pundits rant about crime in Chicago, nobody mentions the estimated 100,000 people who die every year [13] from workplace-related diseases, the 65,000 who die from mostly fossil fuel-related air pollution, or the 400,000 Americans killed every year by the tobacco industry. At the same time we hyperventilate about street crime and drugs, corporate criminals and banksters destroy working class families with much higher frequency than burglars or robbers but are almost never, ever jailed.  

Have you heard a single in-depth word about any of these issues on the network news?  Odds are your answer is “No,” and when you have, it’s the rare exception that proves the rule, and usually presented in a very narrow frame that doesn’t include corporate malfeasance.

Our radio and TV press is not keeping us informed about things that actually matter to our daily lives and economy, and instead focusing on things that drive up ratings (including, but not limited to, the Donald Trump Reality Show POTUS Version, which they cynically pounded us with throughout 2015 and 2016 because it was, as CBS’s Les Mooves famously said, not good for America but great for CBS).  


In a word: Profits. Profits over truth. Profits over “news.” Profits over the planet. Profits over human survival.

People call into my radio program and ask, “Why don’t I hear about net neutrality on the most liberal of the TV networks?” The easy answer: their parent company is so opposed to net neutrality that they’ve participated in lawsuits to end it. Why? To increase the profits of their Internet ISP arm.

People ask, “Why doesn’t the main “cable news” network cover all the opposition to the giant mergers that are happening?” The easy answer: their parent company is trying to merge with giant telco/ISP company, and is itself the product of multiple mergers.

People ask, “Why doesn’t the conservative TV network ever talk about wealth inequality or billionaire control of the GOP?” The easy answer: a billionaire largely owns their parent company.

People ask, “Why doesn’t public radio do investigative reporting on corporate malfeasance anymore, and instead regularly has on spokespeople for corporate-funded right-wing think tanks?” The easy answer: they’re now funded in substantial part by corporate money.

In 1980, thousands of individuals and local companies owned the majority of radio stations, TV stations and newspapers across America. The result was the outgrowth of competition: broad diversity of programming and opinion on our nation’s airwaves, and healthy debates about a wide variety of issues.

Because of a series of massive deregulations, from Reagan blowing up the Fairness Doctrine to Clinton signing the Telecommunications Act, all that media is now owned by a handful of mega-corporations and a few billionaires.  

Healthy and resilient ecosystems require diversity. The same is true of a healthy media system.

Between the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 and the Communications Act of 1934, our media, until Reagan defanged both in the 1980s, was broad and diverse in its ownership and programming. This is no longer the case, and the American people instinctively know it (even if they lack the details of why).  

Thus, when Donald Trump echoes the tyrants of history by calling out the Lügenpresse (“lying press” in German—the term Hitler used to ultimately shut down the independent German press in 1933) as “fake news,” people know at a gut level that there’s an element of truth to it.  

And if Trump’s new FCC head has his way, the internet (at least in America) will soon be no better.

The billionaire takeover of our media is nearly complete, leading to a deafening silence about the activities of billionaires gaming our economic, political/judicial, and media ecosystems.  We even have a billionaire president and cabinet, brought to us by over $2 billion of free corporate media in the primaries and general election.  

The remnants of American democracy are under daily assault from voter suppression and purges, billionaire-owned judges and politicians, billionaire-friendly tax and trade policies, and a billionaire-owned media.  Income and wealth inequality are at levels not seen since 1929, but you won’t hear a peep about it on the network news.

Billionaire assaults are both consolidating and taking down media companies [14] and journalists (Rachel Maddow’s detailed reporting on this is the shining exception to the rest of the press). And billionaires who game the stock market will profit as much through a crash as they do through bubbles like the one we’re in now. Only the “little people” with their 401Ks or pensions get really badly hurt. But don’t expect to learn that from the corporate media.

“Small government” is merely code for “less regulation of billionaires and the  companies they control”; as government power wanes, billionaire power increases.  Thus, the post-1981 multi-trillion-dollar transfer of wealth from working families to the top 1% continues apace with nary a notice on the evening TV.

If “small-d” democratic political movements want long-term success, they must put at the top of their to-do list a return to a vigorous Sherman Act (and its heirs), and a return to local control/ownership of media with a new “news programming in the public interest” mandate (eliminated by Reagan in 1987) for the media.  

Anything less is merely whistling past the graveyard of democracy.


Thom Hartmann [15] is an author and nationally syndicated daily talk show host. His newest book is “The Crash of 2016: The Plot to Destroy America — and What We Can Do to Stop It. [16]

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