July 19, 2004
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On July 19, Governor Howard Dean accepted our invitation to participate in the Los Angeles premiere of “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism,” a film by Robert Greenwald which documents the dangers of the increasing consolidation of media in the hands of a small number of corporate oligarchs. The film has sparked a renewed national debate over the quality and integrity of the news coverage on which millions of Americans depend. Governor Dean discussed his perspective on the issue in conversation with John Podesta.
Dean: Media policy in some ways is the most important issue there is because we have seen the evolution of our institution of the media into corporate information and many of them think in a corporate way. They don’t think in the way these people used to think; they think that they have to manage the news and that the news has to be more like entertainment because the bottom line is the important piece. Fox is an unusual network because it’s sort of in the European tradition, that is to become the mouthpiece of the Republican party unabashedly, except for the fact that they pretend they’re not, which doesn’t go on in Europe. In Europe, they usually at least admit who they’re working for. So the media is changing rapidly, and I think the American people don’t realize that it’s changing rapidly, and there needs to be a lot of education around that.
Dean: Well people get misinformation. The film that we’re seeing tonight talks about the slogan “Fair and Balanced.” Well of course there’s nothing fair and balanced about having six Republicans on for every one Democrat you have on. So I think that people used to believe in this country that what people like Walter Cronkite said at night was true, and unfortunately they don’t believe that anymore. The most startling statistic I’ve seen about this is that the majority of people under thirty years old get their news from the Daily Show and from the Internet directly. That has profound implications both for the institution of the media and for American democracy.
Dean: One of the reasons that the news has deteriorated so much and so that it has become more entertainment oriented than it is fact oriented is because of the consolidation. Consolidation in and of itself is not automatically bad, it’s what consolidation does that’s bad. When the news reporters and editors and publishers and so forth have a dual duty, that is to provide the news and to increase profits, then they don’t do their job properly, and that’s what’s happened now. The corporatization of the news means that we’re not getting the information. Information has become secondary and entertainment and shareholder values are the first job. So I think really the media needs to go, we need to go back to the old FCC rules, where we had limitations on ownership in particular markets, where we had limitations on ownership penetration, around ownership penetration, around the country, not because we need to be anti-corporation, but because of what the ownership is doing to our democracy.
Dean: It is, that’s going to happen more and more, and the younger generation is already doing it. It’s going to be a huge challenge though. The average 25 year old in this country doesn’t think there’s any difference between the kind of news they get on the Internet, even by raving conspiracy theorists, and what they see on the front page of the New York Times. Now whether that’s true or not, it’s the perception that matters. That is going to change ultimately what the New York Times does, and that’s probably a good thing.
Dean: Not directly, I think the impact of the Internet community is to become, is to be a news disseminator themselves, and that will have an impact because market share of the mainstream media is going to continue to drop, but I don’t think there’s an alternative news organ that can be put on the Internet yet because the mainstream corporations have already figured out how to do that and that’s going to be competitive, so just the use of the Internet to go directly from, to disseminate information directly from the source to the recipient, that is going to cause the mainstream media to do things differently I think and if it doesn’t, then the mainstream media will become increasingly irrelevant.