A Few Words with Media Critic: Ben Bagdikian

A professional newsman since 1941, Ben Bagdikian, the dean of American media critics and the former dean of Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, is one of the most respected figures in American journalism. In 1983 Bagdikian published “The Media Monopoly” which revealed the fast-moving media conglomeration that was putting more and more media corporations in fewer and fewer hands with each new merger. This work has been updated through several editions (through 1997) and is considered a crucial resource for knowledge about media ownership.

A professional newsman since 1941, Ben Bagdikian, the dean of American media critics and the former dean of Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, is one of the most respected figures in American journalism. In 1983 Bagdikian published “The Media Monopoly” which revealed the fast-moving media conglomeration that was putting more and more media corporations in fewer and fewer hands with each new merger. This work has been updated through several editions (through 1997) and is considered a crucial resource for knowledge about media ownership.

EXCERPTS FROM INTERVIEW:

Q: Let me… ask how you became a media critic.

A: In the late 1940s, when I was a reporter for the Providence Journal, the publisher of the paper said to me: “Take the four leading news commentators–Drew Pearson, Westbrook Pegler, and a couple of others–and do a 15-week study of how accurate they are.” That would be the equivalent today of examining Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, and Larry King. So I had these commentators taped and I listened to hours and hours of them–and then I tracked down the actual “facts.” It was shameful!

Q: How so?

A: They were inaccurate to a degree that was inexcusable. And the inaccuracies overwhelmingly favored corporate life–the view of people in business and in higher tax brackets. A few years later, the publisher said, “Now take those damn newsmagazines and do the same thing.” And I found a similar pattern.

Q: But what we hear about today is the “liberal bias” in the news media.

A: I think that’s nonsense. That comes from people who feel that only the conservative view of the world is legitimate and anything that departs from the conservative view is seen as “bias.” And the papers don’t always report only the world as seen by a narrow sector of conservatives; they do see the world from a somewhat broader perspective.

Q: And that’s when they get hit with the charge?

A: That’s when they’re called “liberally biased.” And you don’t have to stray very far to be hit with that charge. Now it’s probably true that most journalists are somewhat more liberal than the public at large, but not as much as conservatives charge. Also, journalists are much more apt to be conscious of the difference between public facade and the reality behind that facade–in politics and public life, for example. But they don’t report on it as much in business as they should.

Q: Why not?

A: Because the news media–which is increasingly owned by large corporations–is not interested in investigating corporations, unless it’s a billion-dollar scandal, which would probably be uncovered by a federal agency, not by the news media.

Q: Let’s talk about your influential book, The Media Monopoly.

A: When the first edition appeared in 1983, I was called an alarmist. But I’ve been appalled each time I’ve done a new edition because things have gotten much worse. I would never have thought they were going to be as bad as they are now.

Q: How have things gotten worse?

A: The power of a few corporations to control a larger reach of the standard, mass media continues to grow. In the early 1980s, when I started out on this project, about 50 companies had most of the business in newspapers, magazines, radio, television, movies, and books. And in each edition of “The Media Monopoly,” the number of companies has grown smaller and their reach has grown larger. The latest edition–1992–reported that 23 companies now control the media. The hard-boiled types on Wall Street are saying: “We’re going to end up with about six companies in the world that have most of the media business.”

Q: What would be wrong with that?

A: I think private ministries of information are just as dangerous as public ministries that control information. Concentrated media power is political power and it’s social power.

Author: Ben Bagdikian

News Service: American Review

URL: http://www.americanreview.net/monopoly.htm