Letters for the week of July 28-August 3, 2004 

A torrent of response to Will Harper's story on media ownership trends, in which he is called neoconservative, illiterate, self-serving, and vulgar.

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To top it off, we television watchers are subjected to endless amounts of extreme vulgarity, violence, and stupidity on a daily basis. Our television is now a much vaster wasteland than when FCC Commissioner Newton Minow made his famous "vast wasteland" critique of American television more than forty years ago. Is this the best that our so-called modern Western civilization can offer? No wonder many culturally conservative Third World people find our celebrity-dominated television foul and disgusting.
James K. Sayre, Oakland

31 flavors are nice only if you like ice cream
How ironic that Will Harper's attack of Ben Bagdikian's latest edition of The Media Monopoly follows on the heels of Michael Moore's documentary that offers ample evidence of Ben's point, as much of the footage used was from major network sources that they would not show. As with Nader's 2000 presidential bid, when he was not allowed to debate, we have to pay $9 and leave the comfort of our living rooms to hear a genuine leftist political perspective.

Harper alleges that Ben is wrong to have changed his earlier, less damning claim that the marketing paradigm of big media inclines toward sterile reportage. Ben's current assertion is that the media inclines toward a right-wing bias. Harper points out that Ben contradicted his earlier claim many times by showing cases of a right-wing bias in earlier editions of his book, and concludes from this that Ben's present claim is erroneous, which does not follow. Rather, as many leftist media critics point out, Ben has finally stopped tempering his view, and there is plenty of evidence to merit this change.

Harper argues, ad populum, that a recent Gallup poll showing that a majority consider the media to be too liberal refutes Ben's argument. But a majority's opinion is not the same as evidence, and this view is itself a consequence of the dirge of right-wing media telling us this is the case. A recent study of the guests on NPR showed that, even there, Republicans were four times more likely to be invited.

Harper addresses the important distinction between social and fiscal politics when addressing media bias, but then ignores that same point. It is clear that the media have a socially liberal slant, especially in the Bay Area where his examples come from. Put simply, sex sells, and minorities, women, and gays make up a large portion of the marketplace, so it is simply good business sense to cater to these.

Concerning fiscal politics, including geopolitical issues, the right-wing media bias is obvious and vast. Harper would have us believe that the differences can be offset by cable TV and the Internet, failing to realize the powerful difference between media that one has to work or pay for versus that which freely pours into our living rooms at the flick of a switch. I would like Harper to come to my house and show me which of the eighty stations I have access to are offering a platform for genuine left-of-center views on political-economic issues; I don't seem to be able to get any.

The media misrepresentation of the Iraq war is not an exception, as the same phenomenon surrounds Haiti -- where our unelected president just sponsored the overthrow of the most popularly elected president in the western hemisphere -- Iraq in '91, the Panama invasion in '89; the list goes on. The same is true of labor issues, social programs that cost tax dollars, and environmental concerns; in short, the issues that hit capitalists in their pocketbooks where it hurts.

Harper alleges that Ben can't address the paradox of how "we are suffering from narrowing media choice when, at the same time, people complain about information overload in today's media saturated world." There is no correlation between the sheer amount of media we are saturated with and the content of that media, nor between numbers of choices and the quality or genuine diversity of those choices: 31 flavors of ice cream is nice if you like ice cream.

Harper suggests that concentration of media is analogous to megastores like Costco and Wal-Mart that have replaced the smaller competition, and thus concentrated their market share, but that at the same time increased our choices. This speaks volumes if you are happy about what Wal-Mart has to offer, I guess you might just as well like the editorial "choices" of GE or Disney.
Keith Law, Oakland

Overloading on vanilla
The cover story could have made for a fascinating long article. Instead, it kept missing the key point that the essence of propaganda is repetition. There's no substitute for mass media when, say, people like Karl Rove are marketing the next war. Occasional coverage of a speech by Senator Robert Byrd is no match for incessant drumbeats in the megamedia echo chambers. And many of the much-ballyhooed media "choices" are consumer-niche outlets that hardly present any basic challenge to political or economic power structures.

Will Harper wrote that "the most profound failure" of The New Media Monopoly is that "its author completely fails to address the paradox his argument poses in this day and age: How can we be suffering from 'narrowed' media choices (as suggested by the concentration of media ownership) when, at the same time, people complain about information overload in today's media-saturated world?" Huh?

If that's the book's "most profound failure," then it's quite successful. The fact that people complain about "information overload" in no way refutes the critique of consolidated media power that Ben Bagdikian presents. If you watched the ten most widely seen TV networks, listened to the most widely heard radio stations, and read a dozen of the largest-circulation newspapers in the country, you might complain of information overload -- but the vast majority of that media exposure would be within a narrow range of corporate sensibilities and mainstream political perspectives.
Norman Solomon, San Francisco

"What's Killing Bulky Trash Day?" Feature, 6/30

I am a Berkeley citizen who had a communication mix-up with the city regarding the day of my bulky trash pickup. Eventually my trash was taken, but while I was waiting for the pickup (around a week), various folks picked and chose among my discards. Is this what is wanted? There was less to pick up.
Ardys DeLu, Berkeley

The hierarchy of junk
I find it ironic that Dan Knapp, the owner of Urban Ore, has the gall to criticize people from the community who got to trash before he could. Urban Ore is not a nonprofit and grosses nearly $2 million a year, according to the Grassroots Recycling Network Web site. I see no one from my community working there, nor do I see anyone from my community shopping there; how could they? The place is overpriced to insulting levels, given the median incomes on the other side of San Pablo Avenue.

While Creative Reuse is a nonprofit, for some reason they will not hire from the community. The blatant fact is that you will not find a black person working at either of these places. I find this far more upsetting than the fact that junk guys and flea-market vendors who live in the community and actually participate in its economy are getting to garbage first before Knapp can slap a $250 price tag on it.
Jaime Omar Yassin, Berkeley

"Kings and Queens on Alice Street," East Side Story, 7/7

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