Notebook – Free Press’ Robert McChesney Speaks on Media Reform

by Mike Wendy on February 18, 2011

Note to readers – The text below, reflecting excerpts from the discussion, is for reference only. Please go to the spot in the video to ensure proper context and correct transcription!

Speaker – Robert McChesney 2011-02-06 from St. Andrew’s Church on Vimeo.

Time “Excerpt”

5:38 “They invented the DVR so I can watch the [Superbowl] without commercials, which is the best way to see anything.”

5:45 “I am a left-winger.  I confess…”

6:13 “I am a socialist and I’d be glad to talk about that.”

28:03 [On WikiLeaks and the need for journalistic analysis] “WikiLeaks is a perfect advertisement of what’s missing in our country today, and what we need to govern ourselves.”

28:44 “If you’re not on the first page of a major Google search, you don’t exist.  You have the right to speak, but you don’t have the right to be heard.”

30:36 “Journalism is a public good, not a private good.  If you understand it that way, everything falls into place.”

32:40 “Most working class Americans don’t watch PBS or listen to NPR…It’s skewed heavily to middle and upper income [audiences].”

33:25 “[Free Press research reveals] overwhelming support for NPR and PBS for working class Americans.  They were willing to pay taxes for it, even greater taxes even though they themselves did not watch or listen to it.  They just thought it was great to have somewhere in the media that wasn’t advertising-run.”

49:11 [On government subsidies to ensure an independent and free press] “I know where you’re going with that professor.  That’s what they did with Stalin and Pravda…You cannot have that.  It’s anathema to a free people.  It’s a knee jerk response in America.  You’ll never hear it anywhere else in the world.  It’s an absurd response.”

50:00 “It’s not a rational position in democracies…That it will lead to propaganda for a dominant party, or that it will convert a free society into a dictatorship.  No evidence for any of that whatsoever…We’re the outlier from the human race on this one. If you go to most any nation in Western Europe, Canada, Japan, you’ll find their spending on journalism subsidies and their spending on public broadcasting and community media is 50 to 100 times higher per capita than the U.S.”

51:02 “[The] argument that historically the last 50 years we have these big corporations doing such a bang-up job, we don’t need to do it.  Well, they’re jumping ship.  They’re going through the revolving doors, waving at us on their way out.  We’re left holding the bag.”

53:00 [On Economist Magazine’s rankings of the top democratic nations] “They happen to be the four countries with the highest per capita journalism subsidies in the world.”

55:10 [Citing a Freedom House study on press freedom] “Freedom House puts the U.S. as 24th in the world largely for the economic reasons I talked about.”

55:55 “Freedom House says Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany – all countries with the largest press subsidies – [they have] the free-est, most uncensored private media, best press systems in the world, and are the ones with the largest public subsidies…You can have your cake and eat it, too.”

56:56 “The more government spends, the more critical journalism there is towards the government across the board…The research is conclusive.”

57:30 “We have to get to that point very quickly where other countries are…We’re going to have to have a significant, huge non-profit, non-commercial sector.  And we’re going to have to have a competitive commercial sector.  I don’t believe in subsidies for commercial media…But, I think they will prosper if there is a healthy, vibrant independent media that is being subsidized.”

58:31 [On the upcoming FCC / FTC Crisis in Journalism studies] “I’ve dealt with both of them.  They get it.  Inside, I think they’re under tremendous political pressure not to piss off the Republican Party…Take that out of whatever’s being filmed here.  I was only kidding about that, Glenn.”

1:00:00 [On creating a $35 billion fund for public journalism] “If we do sorts of creative policymaking, take $35 billion, we could have the greatest journalism ever by far.”

1:00:39 [On budget/deficit pressure] “The way we should respond to the existential threat to journalism is the way we would respond if there was a military attack to our country…You fight back until you’re safe.  You put everything into it.  You don’t check the price tag…35 billion is a drop in the bucket.”

1:04:48 “I think this country is not a right wing country.  This country is not a reactionary country.  This country is in many ways more progressive now than in my lifetime.  That’s why the right wing is freaking out.  That’s why they’re trying to steal elections, and buy elections, and change everything to minimize the popular [will]…Because they’re scared to death of [off mic – the Workers…inaudible part]…because that’s the future of the country.  And that’s why the country will be great again.”

Qs&As

1:06:50 [On media consolidation, and his fears being realized] “[Corporations] are going to start making their grand alliances now in a privatized Internet largely in your handheld, which isn’t the open world wide web Internet.  It’s where net neutrality does not apply.  That’s where the profits are going to be gong forward.  And it’s a very fearful future.”

1:07:33 “As soon as we have a privatized Internet, it’s as free as cable TV…Please get organized in that [struggle to protect Net Neutrality].”

1:11:40 [He laments that his own 15-year-old daughter, even with his influence, has developed a taste for garbage reality TV]

1:13:20 “The best journalism in America is the business press Wall Street Journal, Financial Times…because people that own the country need to know what’s going on.  This Glenn Beck horse manure isn’t going to help them decide whether to invest…they gotta’ know what’s going on.”

1:23:10 [On his most recent book on journalism] “We didn’t write the book on how to fire Bill O’Reilly and replace him with Bill Moyers or Amy Goodman…In a classic sense, this book is non-partisan…None of the arguments would favor one political viewpoint over another.”

1:24:00 “What passes for the political right in this country right now is extraordinarily opportunistic.  They are basically comfortable with the media system as long as it works for them…Extraordinarily comfortable with the status quo…There is no spine on the right.”

1:24:45 “So there are one group of people that clearly benefit from having a uninformed citizenry…It’s the owners of society…Energy companies, banks, telecommunications companies.  The last thing they want is journalism on their issues.”

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