Combatting Surveillance Capitalism

Close scrutinization of the daily lives of workers has always played an important role in enabling capitalists to squeeze greater profits from their workforce. The relentless surveillance of employees, whether it be on the factory floor or in the workers’ homes, was something that the anti-Semitic industrialist, Henry Ford, was proud to have honed to a fine managerial art. This history is well-established. In fact, the website of the Henry Ford Museum boasts that a central part of the Ford Motor Company’s much vaunted $5 per day profit-sharing plan, which was rolled out in 1914, was that Ford “opened up the most intimate and personal details of employee’s personal, family, and financial life to investigators from the [Ford] Sociological Department.”

History, however, demonstrates that surveillance (in this case of a paternalistic variety) ultimately failed in its objective to pacify the workforce. Ford workers responded by becoming better organised. This in turn led the Ford managers to create something called the Service Department – a body which effectively served as an anti-union paramilitary arm of the Ford Motor Company. Hence especially during the mighty upsurge of trade union militancy in the 1930s, highly developed forms of espionage and violence were systematically deployed by Ford’s private army against any workers who strived to democratise their workplaces and their lives. The battle between workers and bosses continues to this day.

Professor Shoshana Zuboff’s shocking book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier (Profile Books, 2019) brings this history of corporate surveillance up-to-date, providing page after page of horrifying revelations concerning the depravity of contemporary capitalism. Most of all, however, her book codifies the dangerous shortcomings of petty-bourgeois intellectuals who rail only against selected aspects of working-class repression. So, while Zuboff’s hefty 700-page tome does shed light upon recent developments in how surveillance technologies are deployed against the working-class, she fails to provide a clear context for how these methods became institutionalised and, ultimately, how they are intrinsically linked to capitalism itself.

In charting the recent evolution of what she calls surveillance capitalism, Zuboff correctly focuses her anger upon the rise of corporate giants like Google and Facebook and their “ruthless expropriation” of behavioural surplus value which they scrape together from our online activities “for the purposes of shaping individual behaviour”. She explains:

“At its core, surveillance capitalism is parasitic and self-referential. It revives Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labor, but with an unexpected turn. Instead of labor, surveillance capitalism feeds on every aspect of every human’s experience.” (p.9)

Yet Zuboff revives Marx’s theories not because she likes to engage with Marxist ideas, but precisely because she is adamant that the problem is not capitalism per se, but just its latest “rogue” iteration — surveillance capitalism. In grounding her fairy tale that “Capitalism evolves in response to the needs of people in a time and place” when it has only ever been responsive to the needs of capitalists — she repeatedly refers to the benign leadership of Henry Ford (1863-1947) as demonstrating how far things have gone wrong since his glory days of managerial insight. Zuboff would do well to read some books about Ford’s toxic legacy.

According to Zuboff’s belief in good and bad forms of capitalism, its latest form, surveillance capitalism, evokes for her the bad old times of the late-nineteenth-century when robber barons “defended their new capitalism from democracy at any cost.” She even furnishes a definition of industrial capitalism (the bad type that she says was dominated by robber barons) as a system “driven by its own inner logic of accumulation” and “profit maximization”. How this differs from other forms of capitalism is unclear.

To give her some credit, Zuboff appreciates that major reforms under capitalism were won by ordinary workers. Thus, she explains how significant reforms were attained when “we once withdrew agreement to the antisocial and antidemocratic practices of raw industrial capitalism, righting the balance of power between employers and workers by recognizing workers’ rights to collective bargaining and outlawing child labor, hazardous working conditions, excessive hours, and so on.”

But contrary to Zuboff’s claims, the move away from a bad industrial capitalism to an enlightened Ford-era form of capitalism is a myth, especially when we consider capitalism’s never-ceasing depredations against workers on a global scale. Instead the international battle for workers’ rights has always been a work in progress; a battle that has been opposed with great ferocity by all capitalists, whether their methods be the blunt ones wielded by early robber barons, or those anti-democratic techniques that were sharpened by the likes of Ford and further honed today by Google and Facebook today. Zuboff’s petty-bourgeois rendering of politics consequently leads to her mistaken conclusion that to secure a more democratic future workers must simply limit their demands for a nicer capitalism. However, reverting back to the days of Henry Ford style capitalism will, we can be sure, provide no meaningful solutions for the working-class.

What is clear is that the priorities of surveillance capitalists, like all capitalists before them, stand in direct contradiction to issues of equality or democracy; making them more democratic is not a solution, what is necessary is abolishing their entire system of oppression! Here, even Zuboff furnishes an intriguing example of how capitalist greed always trumps human need, when she highlights how Facebook has enabled advertisers to reach out to demographic audiences who were interested in questions like “how to burn Jews”. Similarly, she explains how Google has let advertisers actively seek profits from racists who have previously searched online for terms like “evil jew” and “Jewish control of banks.”

These reactionary and now profitable themes for Facebook and Google were of course first popularised in the 1920s by Henry Ford, a certain historical irony that Zuboff remains blissfully ignorant of. Yet in the same way that Zuboff ignores Ford’s commitment to both the growth of the Nazi state and to the corporate surveillance of employees, she shows the same errant disregard for the long and sordid history of state surveillance of the American public, activities which were at every step carried out in close cooperation with corporate elites.


cp surveillance


How the CIA Make Liars Out of Union Leaders (1967)

The following essay by Paul Jacobs, “How the CIA makes liars out of union leaders,” was published by Ramparts magazine in April 1967.

cia ram

GEORGE MEANY, PRESIDENT of the AFL-CIO, is either a liar or a fool. He is a liar if his disclaimer of knowledge about the CIA subsidizing American unions is false; he is a fool if his disclaimer is true, for then he is revealed as ignorant of what has been common corridor talk for a long time.

In fact, the secret relationship between the CIA and American union leaders is only one aspect of a larger problem; the American government has contracted out both its open and secret foreign relations with workers and trade unions in other countries to President Meany and his secretary of state, Jay Lovestone. Under the direction of Lovestone, an unprincipled political manipulator who headed the American Communist Party until he was deposed in 1929, the AFL-CIO has pursued a policy of fanatical, sometimes even demented anti-communism which occasionally has been in direct opposition to the stated foreign policy of the U.S. government. And under the direction of Lovestone’s long-time followers, Irving Brown and Serafino Romualdi, the legitimate functions of America’s unions have been corrupted and perverted.

In all of these operations the CIA, with its unlimited fronts and staff, has played a major role in recent years. CIA agents have been placed in unions and CIA funds have financed a major part of their overseas operations. In addition, the activities of some organizations peripheral to the trade unions have also been financed, in part or whole, by the CIA and used as a cover for CIA agents. Thus, a man ostensibly on the payroll of an American union, but who is listed in its report as either an “office employee” or without any identification, made three trips in 1963 to British Guiana for the purpose, according to a secret British police report, of helping to finance the overthrow of the Cheddi Jagan government.

Also, every month for many years, checks from CIA conduit agencies were made out to D.A. Knight, president of the Oil Workers International Union, who in turn endorsed the checks over to the International Federation of Petroleum and Chemical Workers, to finance its ten offices in all parts of the world. Many American unions established such international operations after World War II; they served to bring together workers of common industries but different countries. And in order to cover up the true sources of its funds, Americans who controlled the IFPCW had to lie to the foreign unions affiliated to it. Foreign unions were told that the budget of the organization, which was over $350,000 a year, was mostly based on the contributions and per capita taxes of the parent Oil Workers Union—although the American union did not report such contributions to its own members. To make certain that no one discovered the CIA contributions, the financial report of the Federation was audited and pronounced accurate by Samuel Butler, an accountant who himself headed The League for International Social and Cooperative Development, which was one of the several mysterious “foundations” which helped finance the operation of the IFPCW.

So also did the State Dept. finance the initial operation of a school for foreign workers, sponsored by the Communication Workers of America. At this school, communication workers from all over the world received training in such trade union practices as organizing, grievance procedures and labor history. In addition, they were shown the political advantages of the American trade union model over that advocated by the communists and neutralists. The CIA supported the international program of the American Newspaper Guild and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Workers. The CIA has been involved in the work of the American Institute for Free Labor Development, allegedly a private organization of union leaders and businessmen, operating extensively throughout Latin America. The board of directors of the AIFLD includes George Meany and J. Peter Grace, head of the Grace shipping interests, who is associated with Human Events, one of the right wing’s voices in America. The close relationship between the AIFLD and the American government is attested to by the fact that, on occasion, the organization has used State Department diplomatic pouches to communicate with its own personnel in the field.

The executive director of the AIFLD was Lovestone’s follower, Serafino Romualdi, who also served on the board of directors of a mysterious organization, the Center for Labor and Social Studies, with ostensible headquarters in Rome. The Center carries on extensive operations throughout Africa, Asia and the Far East, although at least two of its European board members do not know exactly what it does. The Center was organized by Sol Levitas, then editor of the New Leader, who claimed it was supported by private funds. The Americans on its board of directors, in addition to Romualdi, are Ben Josephson, who refused to discuss the Center’s finances, and who is the director of the Tamiment Institute, part of the old social-democratic movement in New York; and David Dubinsky, who gave Lovestone his first real base in the American unions.

Indeed, without the help of Dubinsky, Lovestone would never have achieved the key position he now holds, where vast resources, political and financial, are available to him and his followers.

TODAY, LOVESTONE, WITH THE HELP of such government agencies as the CIA, is eminently more successful in his pursuit of power than he was as a leader of the American Communist Party during the ’20s. Lovestone was expelled from the party in 1929, although he tried desperately to remain inside it. After his expulsion, he organized his own communist group and continued to seek readmittance to the official communist organization. During this period, he was busily engaged in setting up dual unions to compete with those in the AFL, including one in the needle trades, and later in attempting to take over the United Automobile Workers. He almost succeeded in that enterprise, for he exerted considerable influence over the union’s president. Homer M. Martin—especially since Martin’s assistant was Irving Brown. And, during that period, Lovestone’s followers flocked to Detroit to get on the UAW payroll, where they remained until Martin was dumped from the union presidency. Finally, in 1939, Lovestone gave up his efforts to get back into the Communist Party and shifted his allegiance to Dubinsky and the U.S. government. But if Lovestone failed to take over the UAW, he has more than made up for it by the way in which he has slowly, over the years, taken control of foreign policy in the AFL-CIO. That takeover effort began when Lovestone, operating under the aegis of Dubinsky’s union (the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union) organized the Free Trade Union Committee, whose initial work was the rescuing of European unionists and socialists from Nazi prison camps. As World War II came to a close and the communists replaced the Nazis as the American enemy, the focus of Lovestone’s efforts shifted too. His Free Trade Union Committee began to rescue trade unionists and socialists from communist prison camps. Under Lovestone’s direction, and with the active support of Dubinsky, the Free Trade Union Committee began to play a very active part in the Cold War, staking out for its battlefield the struggle against the communist-controlled unions, or those non-communist unions which did not accept the manipulations of Lovestone and Brown. Initially, Lovestone acted only as the ILGWU’s secretary of state, but shortly after the Cold War replaced World War II, he moved up from the narrow confines of the ILGWU to take over the direction of foreign policy for the AFL and later for the AFL-CIO. He succeeded in organizing the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions as a rival to the World Federation of Trade Unions, organized during World War II to include communist unions. Vested by George Meany with almost complete authority, Lovestone played a dominant role in a world-wide operation which has used the financial resources of the U.S. government. But because anti-communism was the only glue holding this structure together, the AFL-CIO is in the position of having its foreign relations director and members of his staff linked with some of the most right wing organizations in the United States. Dubinsky, the one-time socialist who became a New Dealer, now seems to accept without a public demurrer the spectacle of Lovestone serving on the board of directors of the American Security Council, a super-patriotic group with strong right wing ties.

Irving Brown, Lovestone’s lieutenant in the UAW, became the AFL representative in Europe where he traveled with what seemed to be unlimited funds at his disposal — funds which enabled him to put his people into office or depose those European union leaders who were either pro-communist, or at least not vehemently anti-communist enough to satisfy the political demands of Brown and Lovestone. Brown’s chief activities were breaking up a strike of French dock workers directed against Marshall Plan shipments and the splitting of the French and Italian labor movements in efforts to prevent the communists from taking over. Brown always had direct access to U.S. officials in Europe, especially to those officials of the Marshall Plan who, like himself, were former members of Lovestone’s 1930’s revolutionary organization. They too, like Lovestone, had moved from revolutionary socialism to the service of American foreign policy. Some of them remained in government service as labor attaches, always serving the man who got them their jobs.

It was during this period, too, that Brown advocated the rehabilitation of all French trade unionists who had supported the Vichy government, because, according to Brown, some of them were later blacklisted at communist instigation. At the same time. Brown proposed that any communist trade unionists who had supported the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 themselves be blacklisted. He called for outlawing the communist trade unions in a speech in 1951 in which he also advocated using repressive police measures and adopting methods of operation “in the shadows” against the communists. His audience at the American Club in Brussels was a group of American businessmen, journalists and foreign service people.

IN THE EARLY 50’s THE AFL, and later the AFL-CIO, was being prepared for its use by the CIA, and anti-communism was still the basic criterion by which union leaders were being judged at home and abroad. The CIO had expelled its own communist dominated unions and it thus seemed perfectly natural for the CIO Oil Workers to become engaged, with CIA help, in learning “how to operate in the shadows.” It began to create an anti-communist union structure which would bring together petroleum workers from all over the world. The union’s president, D. A. Knight, had himself been in a few fights with the communists, who were trying to take control of his union. Knight had served as chairman of the CIO committee which tried and expelled the longshoremen’s union. But Knight’s relatively small union was not able to finance an international operation on its own. So from the start the CIA provided the funds which paid the salaries and expenses of the IFPCW’s American staff, which worked out of the Federation’s headquarters in Denver.

The Federation flourished under the prodding of Knight and the direction of Lloyd Haskins (executive secretary), and carried out open trade union activities in other countries. It helped foreign oil workers organize, published a monthly newspaper, convened leadership training conferences, and opened more and more offices throughout the world. All of its public trade union activities were directed toward building foreign unions which would be sympathetic to American foreign policy and hostile to any alleged or real communist influence. The foreign unions which the Federation helped to create were built on the American model, even if that model had no real use in other countries, especially underdeveloped ones.

The Federation also arranged overseas junkets for American union officials and provided a kind of patronage station in its international offices abroad—without any cost to the union. Then, in 1965, an internal union conflict brought the CIA operations out from behind the closed doors of the union’s office in Denver and into the corridors, lobbies and rooms in Miami where the union was holding its annual convention.

For some years prior to the convention, a few of Knight’s political opponents in the union had been aware that all was not what it was said to be in the IFPCW operation, but, like most Americans, they could not conceive of CIA involvement in their union; instead, they assumed the IFPCW to be financed by the State Department. It was not until 1964 when, during hearings conducted by Congressman Wright Patman he revealed the existence of CIA conduit foundations, that they realized the IFPCW was being supported by the CIA. These men didn’t like their union being secretly used as a tool of American Cold War policy. In 1965 Knight’s opponents got their chance; Knight decided not to run for re-election and his opposition put up A. L. Grospiron, a member of the union’s rank and file executive committee, as their candidate.

The possibility of Grospiron’s election was a real threat to the CIA. Only a few months earlier a bitter election fight had taken place in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, another union in which the CIA had a strong interest and a heavy financial investment. In the AFSCME the new president had quietly cut off the CIA operation within a few weeks after taking office. And so, with that history before them, the geographically dispersed staff of the Federation flew to Miami and campaigned actively on behalf of Grospiron’s opponent. Many of their travel fares were probably picked up by our “secret government.”

Nevertheless, Grospiron won the election—although by a very narrow margin—and, as the CIA feared, he too quietly cut off CIA ties as soon as he took office, resisting all the pressures applied to him to keep them intact.

UNFORTUNATELY, NOT MANY union presidents have been so anxious to cut their organization’s CIA ties; some waited until adverse publicity revealed the relationship, and not many union leaders have considered how far they have moved along the road of participating in the subordination of the real interests of workers in other countries to American foreign policy. This is what American policy has become under the CIA and Jay Lovestone, who are not accountable to the American public.

And the real interests of American workers could just as easily be sacrificed, for in a world where the CIA finances union activities, the lines between unions and employers are blurred. So, too, Jay Lovestone and his lieutenants. Brown and Romualdi, have made common cause with some of the most notorious anti-union employers and strident right wing groups in America. A typical example of this relationship is Lovestone’s membership on the “strategy staff” of the American Security Council, whose function is the screening of alleged subversives on behalf of business firms, most of them anti-union.

Typically, Romualdi also has been associated with such groups as the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, the AU-American Conference to Combat Communism, and the Cuban Freedom Committee, but he is not alone in making such associations. Brown and George Meany also serve on the boards of some right wing groups, for they are as ardent in their anti-communism as is Lovestone. Indeed, these men are so hardline that they refused to see some Japanese trade unionists visiting the U.S. on an official visit, sponsored by the State Department: they felt the Japanese union leaders were too far left in their thinking. It is reported that the AFL-CIO was able to prevent American unions from having displays at trade fairs in Communist block countries, and to stop a visit to the United States by a group of Algerian trade unionists because, once again, Meany and Lovestone disapproved of their political views.

In a speech George Meany made to the “Businessmen’s Committee for Latin America,” he said, “We believe in the capitalist system and we are members of the capitalist society. We are dedicated to the preservation of this system which rewards the worker, which is one in which management also has such a great stake. The investors of risk capital also must be rewarded. . .. We are not satisfied, no, but we are not about to trade in our system for any other.”

It is no wonder, then, that the CIA saw the American unions as a perfect group to manipulate.

Surely one of the most tragic aspects of the relationship between the CIA and the unions can be found in the quality of the people involved in them. The union leaders who allowed their organizations to be used as cover were people who were once among the very best of American liberals: Arnold Zander of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers could be found supporting liberal causes and actively working to change the nature of American life. His role vis-a-vis the CIA tells more about the failure of American liberalism than it does about the CIA.

So, too, the acceptance by the trade union leaders of an anti-communism which no longer has any relevance to the realities of world politics and national life is a clear sign that the internal life of American unions is in drastic need of revitalization. Even more, it means that union leaders must stop treating their members as if they cannot be told about the real world. Perhaps then the members might decide to follow the same course, but they should be given the opportunity to make that decision.

Once upon a time, many years ago, I was a representative of the Oil Workers International Union. In many ways, I was a stranger in the union, an outsider, an oddball in an organization of people whose values I didn’t understand and who knew nothing of mine. But the union members I met in the local hall in Long Beach, the union members I drank with in the American Legion Hall in Maricopa, the union members I walked with on the picket line in Richmond, all of them were entitled to know what was being done in their names. And this tale is how they, the people of the union, the riggers out in the field, the operators inside the refinery, the instrument man fixing the gauge on pipelines, were cheated. They thought their union was doing one thing, when in fact it was doing something else.

This is the corrupting effect of the CIA in American life. It has made union leaders into liars. It has made union members mistrust what their elected officials tell them. Indeed, if Jay Lovestone were still a top official of the Communist Party, he could not have done a more effective job of destroying the belief of American workers that their unions exist to defend their interests and not the interests of other parties.

NSA and the CIA (1967)

In March 1967 Ramparts magazine published Sol Stern’s important essay “NSA and the CIA: A Short Account of International Student Politics and the Cold War with Particular Reference to the NSA, CIA, etc.


The following two short pieces “An Epilogue…” (by Michael Wood) “…and a Judgement” (by Marcus Raskin) were published directly after Stern’s essay.

An Epilogue…

THE DECISION to tell this story was the most agonizing of my life. Phil Sherburne, whose personal trust I have betrayed, was a close friend. Though we disagreed on many subjects (espe-cially on how to handle the CIA), in seeking to terminate NSA’s relationship he acted with a dignity rare among those who knew the facts.

Moreover, I still believe in NSA, and deeply respect the progressive stance it has taken among American students for 20 years. Yet the issues involved are larger, and my public trust as a citizen of the United States must transcend my private trust.

For years the United States National Student Association has stood for “a free university in a free society.” Its resolutions on academic, political and social freedoms are clear. Its constitutional commitment to free and open democracy is of long standing. Its defense of civil liberties has been staunch and consistent. Yet because of NSA’s relationship to the CIA, its leaders have for 15 years undermined those principles.

This story is only a case study in CIA corruption. When I was told of Covert Action No. Five’s infiltration of NSA, I was also told of numerous other organizations similarly infiltrated. A few have been named in this article; many others have had to be omitted. In an age when the average man’s only access to the centers of decision is through private institutions, the responsiveness of those institutions to his wishes is critical to the healthy workings of a democracy. The spectre of CIA infiltration of domes-tic institutions—and the covert creation of coordinated leadership among them—must horrify those who regard unfettered debate as vital to representative democracy.

Those of us who worked for NSA during 1965-66, experienced an unusual sense of personal liberation. While actively involved in many of the insurgent campus and political movements of the day, we were also able to move freely through the highest echelons of established power. If those who occupied the command posts didn’t always sympathize with our goals, they listened nonetheless and were sometimes affected. We felt like full citizens, able to move freely without compromising our principles. It gave us a heady feeling and a sense of power beyond our years.

The mobility and influence was as it should be for a national union of students; to learn that it had been bought with so terrible a compromise made me realize how impotent we really were.

Because of the pain involved in public discussion of so sensitive an issue, I have often wished that I had never learned the truth. Yet to avoid the truth, however painful, would be irresponsible.

There have always been staff members of the international commission who were entirely unaware of the relationship. It is unfortunate that all of them could not be protected, and that many of them may suffer the onus of NSA’s guilt. I should like to note, however, that Gregory Delin, Gilbert Kulick, and Marcia Casey were in no way aware of the relationship. I am similarly sure that Mrs. Isabel Marcus Welsh, international affairs vice president in 1959-60 had no knowledge of the CIA’s presence in NSA.

For those individuals in NSA who—like myself for a time—knowingly allowed themselves to be part of the relationship with the CIA, the worst consequences are internal. Very few staff members so involved were callous Cold Warriors who cynically appreciated their work with the CIA. Most of them, rather, were deeply committed liberals, whose consciences had no rest while they served two masters. All of them, I am sure, have at times felt horribly trapped in the conflict between their actions and their liberal principles.

Perhaps worst of all is the everyday dishonesty, the need to clam up when in the presence of “non-witty” staff members, to fudge, to make excuses and deflect embarrassing questions. Perhaps a professional intelligence operative, who sincerely believes in anti-communism at any price, can learn to suppress with not too much damage that most basic instinct of youth—to be open, frank, questioning of all things, in communion with his friends. But for the typical NSA staff member, part of a generation whose instinct is to unmask hypocrisy, the compromise comes very hard indeed. Many of them have suffered as a consequence the most agonizing sort of emotional schizophrenia—part of the human toll in an otherwise impersonal and cynical international intelligence operation.

San Francisco, February 1967

…and a Judgment

IN SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR’S roman a clef, The Mandarins, there is a passage where the State Department tries to “help” Henri Perron (supposedly Camus) by offering him newsprint if his journal holds to an independent, neutralist line. Perron construes the offer to mean that the magazine should not criticize the fundamental methods of American foreign policy, and turns down the “aid.” To protect the magazine’s independence he also turns down aid from communist sources. But the gods play with men and their ideals. For a period of time the magazine receives its funds from a man who took gold from dentists who collaborated with the Nazis. Living in the world makes it hard to avoid dirty hands, perhaps because we are egocentric and overvalue the work we do. When we try to bring our projects into being they become more important to us than the reason we initiated them.

For example, it is not written in the Torah or the Constitution that educational institutions had to become fronts for the government, places where the rhetoric for the Cold War is supplied and the equations and technology for hydrogen bombs are manufactured. Nobody forced them into this position. Nor did the small, cliquish groups who ran the National Student Association have to take money from the CIA. Perhaps 15 years ago it was easier that way. For the young college graduate who was a “student leader” there was nothing quite as flattering as being approached by the CIA to help in the National Effort. Furthermore, it was the way up the status ladder, to success, travel, excitement, money, and government or foundation jobs. By following that road the student leaders of my generation—a decade ago—played it safe. As a result, they became instruments of the Cold War.

I have tried to figure out why the CIA would bother attempting to get to American students. After all, it takes a good deal of trouble and expense to set up front organizations and all the other tools that used to be the monopoly of the communists. The best way to understand the CIA’s motives is to see it as primarily a commercial institution which deals in buying, renting and selling people.

Yet after we examine the CIA’s motives and purposes, we are left with Cold War wreckage as serious and immoral as the Bay of Pigs operation, the U-2 overflights, or the Guatemalan caper. We are left with the fact that one generation attempted to corrupt the young by paying them off, buying and renting them on the installment plan. (Now that there is a crack in the door isn’t it about time that we have a public accounting of CIA funds? How much of that loot sticks in the pockets of the CIA operatives themselves?) We are left with the fact that the CIA made patsies out of thousands of young Americans who went abroad to conferences or who studied under NSA auspices, but who unknowingly were being paid for, and were used by the CIA as contacts, covers and mail drops. Furthermore, how do we now face other nations who took us at our word that our students were “free” and therefore different from the communist-run youth groups? The CIA owes an apology to the innocent college students of this last generation.

Co-Director, Institute for Policy Studies Washington, D.C

The American Federation of Teachers and the CIA (1978)

The following pamplet by George Schmidt was first published in 1978 as “The American Federation of Teachers and the CIA” (Chicago: Substitutes United for Better Schools).



The research that went into this pamphlet was done by members of Substitutes United for Better Schools and the Midwest Research Group. It is continuing. We hope that this study provides the basis for debate and further analysis of the question.

A number of people around the world deserve most of the credit for persistently focusing public attention on the machinations of the CIA in general and within the labor movement in particular. The pioneer of work in the area of the CIA and labor was Sidney Lens, an outstanding leader of the anti-war movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s whose roots go back to the labor radicalism of the 1920’s. For many of us, Sid Lens is one of those most responsible for bridging the gap between the older generation of American radicals and our generation.

Both at home and abroad, a number of tireless researchers and writers have continued to focus on these questions—often at great personal expense. Fred Hirsch, who first introduced the labor movement in California to AIFLD’s role in the Chile coup, needs more thanks than he can be given. Rodney Larson of Transnational Features Services has been insistent in his help. We all owe both of these men a debt of gratitude.

A number of helpful individuals prefer at this time to provide their assistance in anonymity. This is understandable, since the vindictiveness of those who deal in the lives of millions is well known. It is hoped that this pamphlet and the debate that follows will increase the freedom—true freedom—for all points of view to be aired in America without fear of reprisal by decent people.

Four groups of people must be mentioned. The substitute teachers of Chicago have helped to inspire this effort. Like their counterparts in the 1930’s who built the local unions of the American working people, they have insistently refused to take no for an answer. Denied a voice in union affairs, they have made their enforced silence the loudest of all voices for justice.

A number of the founders and older members of the Chicago Teachers Union deserve to be remembered, rather than slandered. Their selfless work 40 years ago built a union that, all too often, has become the watering place of “leaders” of less character and integrity than they.

Our students are one of the most important reasons why we cannot let the lies of those in power dominate our lives. Hundreds of high school students in the inner city of Chicago over the past four years have taught me much about education, learning, and the importance of honesty. In our schools and classrooms, they give the lie to the claims of the leaders of our union and the slander of politicians like Dr. Moynihan, who claimed that teaching in their schools and their communities was like being led to Eichmann’s ovens. The future must be for them. My fondest hope is that they will learn to make a world where they can live in peace and decency and where the ideas spread by the Moynihans are laid to rest, once and forever.

Finally, to those men and women of the world movement for liberation in the past twenty years, both at home and abroad, who have managed to turn back the power of the dollars and begin to create the world that we all should be building.


In 1966, Ramparts magazine published an article charging that the National Student Association had  been receiving funds from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency for its international work. The following year, both the New York Times and the Washington Post charged that William G. Carr, executive secretary of the National Education Association and secretary general of the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession, had knowingly accepted CIA money and helped organize a foundation that became a transmission belt for the CIA.

The American Federation of Teachers responded to the NEA revelations by stating: “The integrity of  teachers has been compromised and American educators who go abroad, seeking links with colleagues in Europe, Asia and Africa, will henceforth be under suspicion that they may not be acting independently, but as arms of their government. If so, what makes them better than the agents of totalitarian lands?”

In May, 1967, AFT National President Charles Cogen called on the NEA to open its books and clear theair. Cogen declared:

Covert CIA financial and political influence of American organizations is repugnant to our democracy. Unless the true extent of such infiltration is known, all international and national operations of the NEA must be suspect.

In a telegram to William Carr of the NEA, Cogen stated:

The AFT has never engaged in any covert activities, nor has it accepted such funding asis here involved, nor has the International Federation of Free Teachers Unions (IFFTU).

In the following months, more disclosures of covert CIA financing of supposedly democratic organizations came to light. It was also revealed that the CIA was recruiting and possibly spying on the campuses of America’s universities. The AFT and its members protested vigorously.

As a result of the revelations of the CIA’s covert financing of so-called “free” organizations, the CIA itself disbanded the numerous “charitable foundations” which had served as its cover—or at least it claimed to do so. The Congress for Cultural Freedom, the National Student Association, and the National Education Association did in fact sever their CIA ties. But a lot of stonewalling went on before they did.

Ten years after the AFT proudly proclaimed its freedom from CIA influence and money, one of America’s most famous CIA labor missionaries was invited by AFT president Albert Shanker to speak at the union’s annual convention. Irving Brown, identified in the convention program as the “AFL-CIO Representative in Europe,” was to speak to the Labor Education Luncheon. Brown’s financial relations with the CIA made the NEA’s look like small change. No less a man than Thomas Braden, who had been the director of CIA’s Special Operations in Europe during the 1950’s, had proudly boasted that hehad gone to the “vaults of the CIA’ to fund Brown’s European adventures.

The invitation to Brown from AFT president Albert Shanker, the support given to Brown’s speech by Shanker’s assistant Al Loewenthal, and the reception given the speech by the small number of AFT luminaries who actually heard Brown, raise some serious questions about “the integrity of teachers” now working in international programs sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers.

Unfortunately, much has changed since 1967 within the AFT. There was very little free and open discussion of the union’s international affairs and labor education programs at the 1977 convention. There was no ringing denunciation of covert subversion of teachers’ integrity. Although a vast majority of the delegates to the convention responded to the calls of the United Action Caucus and the Black Caucus of AFT to “Boycott CIA Goods,” the issue has not been met. In 1978, the AFT leadership plans further expansion of the union’s international affairs programs and the convention is likely to approve the resolutions.

Today, the American Federation of Teachers is three times larger than it was in the days of Charles Cogen’s presidency. It is a power in the AFL-CIO. AFT president Albert Shanker sits on the AFL-CIO Executive Council.

But within the union, many doors have closed and many voices have been silenced since the move to elect Shanker national president began in the early 1970’s and culminated with his victory in 1974.Members face harassment and intimidation—verbally, to be sure—for the expression of views that don’t show the team spirit demanded of the national leadership’s “Progressive Caucus.” Delegates to national union conventions from the largest union locals—the ones that control the outcome of convention votes—sign “loyalty oaths” pledging to support the caucus line before they are allowed to be slated for the delegations by the leadership. Important votes are published since the secret ballot was abolished at the beginning of Shanker’s presidency. Those who vote “wrong” know what they face. While open debates still take place, they are becoming fewer and farther between with each passing convention year. And if the leadership has its way this year, the conventions will be every two years, giving the rank and file still less of a voice in national union affairs.


Parts of the information contained in this pamphlet were originally published in two installments in the newspaper Substance, the periodical of the Chicago substitute teachers organization Substitutes Unitedfor Better Schools (S.U.B.S.). S.U.B.S. was founded in 1975 as both a caucus within the Chicago Teachers Union (Local 1 of the AFT) and an organization of substitute teachers. Its primary goal since its founding has been the furthering of the cause of substitute teachers both within the union and before the Board of Education.

But since its founding, S.U.B.S. has also taken up important political issues facing the union, the Board of Education, and the schools. While our primary goal will continue to be the furthering of the basic trade union and economic welfare of substitute teachers, we will continue to take on other issues as well.

The research that went into this pamphlet was done by a number of people, most of whom are members of the American Federation of Teachers. Since the publication of the first installment of the series in Substance in January, 1978, a great amount of information and material has been made available to us. The result has been that the original material—while still accurate in its main lines—has had to be rewritten and expanded. The present work marks a point in the development of our understanding of the questions involved. When we arrived in Boston for the 1977 AFT convention, we did not expect that one year later we would be in the middle of this project.

I apologize for those parts of this pamphlet that may be hard to read. It was hard to write. I hope that as this issue becomes more a matter of debate and record that it will be possible to clarify both the conception and the execution of its thesis. But the thesis, as stated in the title, is unfortunately true. There will be dodges and evasions and, probably ad hominems from both sides. But our job as teachers and unionists is to work for the truth, as well as for the team.

The truth of the history of the AFT will come out. It is today at the same time one of the best unions in this country and one of the worst. We won’t get better by ignoring our weaknesses.

In 1974, the American Federation of Teachers elected Albert Shanker as its president and swept into power the leaders of the Progressive Caucus who still run our union. The incumbent president, David Selden, was defeated by a large majority, despite the fact that he had presided over the greatest period of growth and democratic strength in the union’s history.

I returned to teaching in Chicago and to the union in 1974, four months after that election. At the time I knew nothing about it.

It’s history now, but it may be appropriate to quote David Selden’s nominating speech at the 1974convention to end this introduction. It still rings of the truth, despite four years and many attempts to rewrite our history.

I am running for re-election as president of the AFT and I am running on the ticket of the Coalition for a Democratic Union and urge you to support all the candidates for vice-president on this ticket.

The election is a very fateful one for the AFT.  It could, if you vote for my principal opponent, make a change in the direction, a change in the direction of our union at a time when our membership growth is the greatest ever. Our financial condition is the best ever. Our moral influence in the United States and throughout the world is at the pinnacle of success, and yet you are being asked by my principal opponent to change that direction.

Now, what have we done in the past few years that has changed the direction the AFThas taken?

Well, we voted to endorse a presidential candidate, Senator George McGovern, in ’72.

I supported that candidate and I carried out your will and my principal opponent did not.

In ’72 we finally got around to condemning the Vietnam War in spite of all the efforts of my principal opponent to keep us from acting on that question.

Now you trust the convention. I trust you and I follow your mandates.

In ’72 we endorsed the women’s rights amendment, and since that time, I have done everything possible to facilitate AFT preparations in that campaign. I defy my opponent to show a similar record.

Throughout the years, we have been a leader in the civil rights movement. I have, throughout my time in office, constantly expanded the AFT role in civil rights and many times that has been very difficult for my principal opponent.

All of my effort is a matter of record, and efforts to amend or distort it are untrue andcan be easily refuted.

This pamphlet is about some of the things that have changed about the AFT since then.

———— George N. Schmidt, Local 1, 8/14/78

Chapter One: Cooperating Around the World

Direct links between the 430,000 member American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been forged and strengthened since the election of NewYork’s Albert Shanker  as AFT national president in 1974. Prior to that time, a number of national union staff members had developed relations with the intelligence agency through the union’s various international affairs programs. Additionally, Shanker’s home local in New York, the huge Local 2 (United Federation of Teachers) had served as a base for CIA related labor activities through the AFTuntil Shanker himself assumed the national presidency. It was not until Shanker’s faction (the Progressive Caucus) took national power, however, that the weight of the teachers union became a full partner in government/CIA international affairs.

The AFT’s CIA connections are carried out through three foundations sponsored by theAFL–CIO, thelargest multinational corporations and the United States government’sAgency for InternationalDevelopment, AID. The oldest of the foundations, theAmerican Institute for Free Labor Development  (AIFLD), works in the Latin American nations. The African American Labor Committee (AALC)operates in Africa, while the Asian American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI) works in the non-communist nations of Asia. AFT/CIA connections are also carried out through the International Trade Secretariat for teachers unions, the International Federation of Free Teachers Unions (IFFTU). The IFFTU is one of 16 International Trade Secretariats (OR ITS’s). A number of these predate the cold war and function as multinational unions in the face of the transnational corporations, while a smaller number—particularly those founded after World War II—either cooperate with the U.S. intelligence or were actually established by the CIA itself in cooperation with the AFL and later, the AFL-CIO.

In addition to Shanker himself, national union staff members Al Loewenthal and Anthony DiBlasi carryout international trade union work through the AFT which involves the teachers union both internationally and domestically in U.S. intelligence and State Department activities. Other nationalunion personalities who have participated in these activities include Sandra Feldman, Velma Hill, Ponsie Hillmanand Vito DiLeonardis from Local 2 in New York. Former union staffer Denise Thiry  was among the most active of the AFT’s international people until her resignation in 1976. Thiry’s work included cooperation with the U.S. government in the coup d’etat that overthrew the Allende government in Chile in 1973. Before she was exposed as a police spy in Chicago, Sheli Lulkin, who was co-chairperson of the AFT Women’s Rights committee, had also begun to involve herself in international union and “women’s rights” activities. National union figures from Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco have also participated in the international affairs work of AFT since Shanker’s rise to power.

The most important domestic organization outside of the U.S. labor movement which cooperates in intelligence and State Department activities and is influential in the AFT is the Social Democrats-USA (SDUSA), a small “socialist” party based in New York and affiliated with the Social International (the descendant of the Second International). SDUSA members who serve in national leadership posts in the AFT include Albert Shanker, Sandra Feldman, Velma Hill and a significant minority of the union’s national staff members at the AFT offices in Washington, D.C. SDUSA, which operates out of offices in the International Ladies Garment Workers (ILGWU) building in New York, has a membership of less than 5,000 persons. Through its power within the AFL-CIO Executive Council and certain American trade unions, however, and through its connections with the U.S. government’s Cold War activities, its influence far outweighs its numbers in the top echelons of organized labor in America.

From this tiny “socialist” grouping are drawn a number of the intellectual apologists for the AFL-CIO’s Cold War policies and for the CIA’s activities. SDUSA members have secured a number of important staff posts within the AFL-CIO International Affairs Department and in different unions which cooperate in CIA-supported labor activities both at home and abroad. Within its own ranks, the SDUSA includes dozens of members with no direct affiliation to the labor movement whose work aids both public and clandestine foreign policy activity. The most prominent SDUSA members active in these affairs include Tom Kahn, head of the League for Industrial Democracy (an SDUSA affiliate with offices in the same office), who edits the AFL-CIO Free Trade Union News; Bayard Rustin, chairman of SDUSA and a number of other organizations, who serves as an apologist for “labor’s” racial policies; Carl Gershman, whose writings invariably back up AFL-CIO international positions; Thomas Brooks, who concentrates on writing “histories” of American labor from the anti-communist, Cold War  perspective; and Norman Hill, director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which encourages the training of Black labor leaders amendable to the AFL-CIO leadership’s positions.

Allied with the most powerful men and women in the AFL-CIO, the United States government, the transnational corporations, and the CIA, these people are working within the American labor movement to insure the perpetuation of the same Cold War policies that they helped formulate and execute during the last 35 years. The AFT, since 1974, has become their latest ally in that campaign.

Chapter Two: Irving Brown Speaks to the Teachers

The issue of the AFT’s relationship to the CIA and government-sponsored international “labor organization” came to a head during the union’s 61st annual convention in Boston in August, 1977. Prior to that time, Shanker and his aides had been quietly forging the chains that would insure his faction’s dominance in the union and at the same time bind the teachers to government policies both at home and, especially, abroad.

By the summer of 1977, Shanker apparently felt secure enough in his control over the AFT to bring an identified CIA agent, Irving Brown, to speak at the union convention.

Delegates arriving for the 1977 convention found that their official convention program listed the Wednesday luncheon as the “Labor Education Luncheon” featuring Irving Brown, billed as the “AFL-CIO representative in Europe,” as speaker.

Despite the fact that the AFT Black Caucus had spent more than six months preparing for its annual luncheon at the same time, the convention program made no mention of it. Black Caucus leaders arriving in Boston were surprised to find that their time was not even listed in the program, while Brown was prominently featured. The Black Caucus luncheon was to honor Paul Robeson, the famed Afro-American artist, athlete and revolutionary.

The Black caucus and the United Action Caucus (UAC) issued leaflets urging the delegates to “Boycott CIA goods” and attend the Robeson tribute instead. The UAC leaflet detailed Brown’s CIA affiliations. In the controlled atmosphere of the AFT conventions, many honest delegates are afraid of openly opposing the policies of the leadership on the floor or in their voting. Important votes are published and members who vote “wrong” are subject to reprisals. Nevertheless, the boycott was a success. On August 17, 1977, the morning of Brown’s scheduled speech, President Shanker announced that the Labor Education luncheon had been rescheduled to a smaller room. Efforts to give away the $7.50 tickets had failed. Rather than risk the embarrassment of a small turnout in a large room, Shanker fit the room to the expected crowd.

Interestingly, the Black Caucus leadership had been told that the minimum they could charge for their affair and still make a profit was $12.50. Tickets to the Labor Education Luncheon, on the other hand, were being sold for $7.50. Nevertheless, the Black Caucus tribute drew 50 more persons than the Brown speech and the crowd stayed despite delays in the main speech caused by a “malfunctioning” in the sound system.

Irving Brown: From Communist to CIA

Irving Brown has been working with the CIA since the agency’s founding in 1947. He has been described by European trade union leaders as “Meany’s Man in Europe” and the “CIA man in European labor.” Prior to 1947, Brown had worked with the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) cooperating with the anti-fascist underground in Europe during World War II. Prior to that, Brown had been an American Communist and, during the 1930’s, a member of the “Lovestonites,” a small American communist group formed by former Communist Party secretary Jay Lovestone after his expulsion from the CP-USA in 1929.

During the war, Brown’s work against the Nazis and their allies had an additional goal: fighting the Soviet Union and preventing the spread of its influence during the war and in the post-war period.

It was difficult to organize for the Cold War while Russia was still America’s main ally in Europe. It was additionally difficult to organize against the Communists when the majority of those who were actually fighting fascism (and had been doing so since the Spanish Civil War and before) were Communists. While many members of the middle and upper classes in the occupied countries either endured the Nazi occupation or openly collaborated with them (like the Vichy government in France), it was the communists, some of the socialists, and their allies that formed the active core of the resistance movements in occupied Europe.

Furthermore, it was the Soviet Union, through the Red Army, that first stopped the Wehrmacht in 1942 and had turned around the fascist military before the other allies landed at Normandy in June, 1944.The European left—in both Eastern and Western Europe—emerged from the war with the prestige of the resistance to its credit. To this, the Communists added the prestige of the Red Army’s victories over the Nazi machine on the Eastern Front. The Cold War was not a hot commodity in Europe at the end of World War II.

Jay Lovestone, the Ladies Garment Workers Union, and the “Free Trade Union Committee”

But the Cold War was already on the agenda for Irving Brown, Jay Lovestone, and a core of professional anti-communists in the American Federation of Labor (AFL). At the beginning of the war, David Dubinsky, President of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), a former  socialist who had served time in Czarist prisons before migrating to America from Poland in 1911, sponsored the “Free Trade Union Committee” at the ILGWU offices in New York. Head of the Committee was Jay Lovestone, who had been head of the CPUSA until 1929.

American Communism had arisen after the end of World War I in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. After the CPUSA was consolidated in the mid-1920’s, Lovestone, like a number of other young intellectuals in the party, had risen quickly. Dominated by intense faction fighting throughout the decade, the party was split a number of times according to American conditions and, more importantly, the struggle for power within the Soviet Union.

Lovestone’s leadership position was assured by 1927 when his clout, Nicholai Bukharin, helped to defeat the “Trotskyists” and Leon Trotsky was exiled. The split with the Trotskyists reflected itself in the first major split in American Communism when James Cannon, Max Shachtman, and Martin Abern formed a faction which supported Trotsky’s position and were expelled from the CPUSA. Cannon, Abern, and Shachtman formed an organization of American Trotskyists which first claimed to be an “opposition” within the CPUSA, although the CPUSA had kicked them out. After the defeat of the left in Germany and the consolidation of Hitler’s power, the Trotskyists declared themselves independent of the CP. In 1938, they founded the Socialist Workers Party. During World War II, the Trotskyists themselves split, with Shachtman forming the Workers Party. Shachtman’s group would later become involved in the same kind of “international trade union work” as the Lovestonites, but their influencewas less important than Lovestone’s and will be dealt with later.

Unfortunately for Lovestone, Bukharin’s star had reached its zenith. By 1928, Bukharin and the so-called “right opposition” were under attack within the Soviet Union and through the Communist International, the Comintern. In 1929, Lovestone was personally unseated by Joseph Stalin. Upon his return to America, he reorganized his friends into Communist Party (Opposition), which functioned throughout the 1930’s as the CP (Opposition) and later as the Independent Labor League.

While still members of the Communist Party, a number of future Lovestonites within the ILGWU had carried out a faction fight which dominated the union’s internal politics during the 1920’s. Finally defeated by ILGWU president Morris Sigman, the Communists, according to a change in party line in the late 1920’s, established independent unions to compete with the AFL unions. Sigman’s lieutenant during the so-called Civil War within the ILGWU was Secretary-Treasurer David Dubinsky, a rightwing Socialist who would become the union’s president in 1930.

Part of Dubinsky’s genius as an anti-communist has been his willingness to bring ex-communists into the union fold. After he established his power in the union in 1931, he personally supported the seating of Charles Zimmerman, a Lovestonite who had been one of the fiercest factionalists during his tenure within the CP, as a delegate to the union’s national convention. Throughout his career, Dubinsky has shown his willingness to welcome talented ex-communists into his wing of the trade union movement, and the proof of his practice has been their success. Ex-communists became the fiercest anti-communists within both the American and world labor movements during and after World War II. And the most important of the ex-communists sponsored by Dubinsky was Jay Lovestone.

The “Free Trade Union Committee” (FTUC) was established in 1943 within the ILGWU. It quickly became influential within the AFL as a whole, through the work of Dubinsky and then-AFL Secretary-Treasurer George Meany. Within the next decade, it had secured a permanent place for itself with the AFL in Washington and Lovestone had once again become a commissar. This time, he was an anti-communist commissar.

The FTUC’s propaganda within the American labor movement called for both a cold war and a hot one against the Soviet Union while Russia was still our strongest ally in the fight against Nazism. Working with Meany and AFT vice president Matthew Woll, Lovestone’s former communist troops began functioning internationally during World War II. Although Irving Brown was by far the most important among them, three others were to play major roles in the labor wings of the Cold War. Serafino Romualdi, who had worked with the Italian language ILGWU newspaper before the war, becameLovestone’s man in Latin America. Richard Deverall worked Asia, and Henry Rutz was to become the special AFL representative in Germany after the war.

By the early 1950’s, when the Cold War was reaching its zenith, Lovestone had final say over all U.S.labor representatives overseas.

In discussing the work of Irving Brown and the role of the CIA in the American labor movement, it would be incorrect to claim that the CIA “subverted” American labor either at home or abroad during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Rather, the agency was invited in through the front door by man like Meany, Dubinsky and Lovestone, who were pushing for the Cold War long before it was fashionable. At the same time, it would be equally wrong to claim that this “relationship”—which has largely gone on behind the scenes both domestically and internationally—was healthy for the American labor movement or trade unionism around the world. Once inside labor’s tent, the CIA became the camel that wouldn’t leave.

The Work of Irving Brown in Europe

After the establishment of the Free Trade Union Committee in 1943, Lovestone began building the network that would have such vast influence in the post war arena. With the beginning of the Cold War in 1946 and 1947, the TFUC with ample money from the newly-formed CIA and other government agencies, along with some funds from the AFL, set out to split the European trade union movement, insure the correct line among European labor leaders, and establish anti-communist unionism along the lines of the AFL.

Brown was the main man in Europe. By all accounts, he was indefatigable. Tom Braden, now a syndicated newspaper columnist but at the time head of the CIA’s International Organizations Division, stated:

On the desk in front of me as I write these lines is a creased and faded yellow paper. It bears the inscription in pencil: ‘Received from Warren G. Haskins, 15,000, (signed) Norris A. Grambe.’

I was Warren G. Haskins. Norris A. Grambe was Irving Brown of the American Federation of Labor. The 15,000 was from the vaults of the CIA….

It was my idea to give the 15,000 to Irving Brown. He needed it to pay off his strong-arm squads in the Mediterranean ports, so that American supplies could be unloaded against the opposition of communist dock workers. It was also my idea to give cash, along with advice, to other labor leaders, to students, professors, and others who could help the United States in its battle with communist fronts….

In 1947 the Communist Confederation General de Travail led a strike in Paris which came  very near to paralyzing the French economy….

Into this crisis stepped Lovestone and his assistant, Irving Brown. With funds from Dubinsky’s union, they organized Force Ouvriere, a non-communist union. When they ran out of money, they appealed to the CIA. Thus began the secret subsidy of free trade unions which soon spread to Italy….

The first rule of our operational plan was ‘Limit the money to amounts private organizations can credibly spend.’ The other rules were equally obvious. ‘Use legitimate, existing organizations; disguise the extent of American interest; protect the integrity of the organization by not requiring it to support every aspect of official American policy.’

— (from “I’m Glad the CIA is Immoral,” by Thomas Braden, Saturday Evening Post, May20, 1967.)

While the CIA was cooperating with the AFL directly, it was working to split the CIO as a prelude to “merger” and “labor unity.” The split in the CIO was engineered by labor lawyer Arthur Goldberg, who had directed OSS labor operations during World War II and who worked with the CIA afterwards. Goldberg, a card carrying liberal all his life, later went on to become Secretary of Labor, SupremeCourt Justice, and United States Ambassador to the United Nations. But in 1949, his job was to organize the expulsion of ten “communist dominated” unions from the CIO.

In the same article, Braden reported that Victor Reuther, brother of United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther and head of the UAW International division, had acted as a courier for CIA money after the war. Despite the split between the AFL and the CIO in America, the CIA was willing to “cooperate” with labor leaders who were willing to cooperate with it. Reuther later repudiated the CIA. Brown never did.

Brown’s “strong arm squads” were organized into a “union” called Force Ouvriere (FO) in France. FO had emerged from World War II as a small, anti-communist union composed primarily of white collar workers. Through an organization called the “Mediterranean Committee,” Brown and his minions brought in members of the Sicilian Mafia to break strikes in post war France. The issue at the time was Marshall Plan aid, which the communist unions were opposing.

One of the most important jobs of the Mediterranean Committee was to gain control of the docks of Marseilles, where Brown’s mafia thugs broke the strike, killing a number of dockworkers and labor  leaders in the process. The intervention of Brown and his labor “organizers” is one of the first examples of “dirty tricks” used by the CIA in the international labor movement.

The situation in Marseilles became so rough that the leftist mayor of the city appealed for help from the national government, protesting the work of Brown and his friends.

Brown’s work had been supported with AFL money funneled through the FTUC even before the founding of the CIA. In a March 14, 1946 letter to Jay Lovestone, he stated that he needed $100,000 to continue his work to split the French trade union federation, the CGT, but that he could “make do” with$10,000. He got it with the help of Lovestone, Woll, Dubinsky, and Meany. After the CIA was formed and the Cold War begun in earnest, the original money Brown demanded would seem like chickenfeed. Braden estimated that between $2 million and $5 million went into the effort by the mid-1950’s.Drew Pearson estimated $100 million!

At the same time that he was working behind the scenes to support Force Ouvriere and similar operations on the continent, Brown also functioned directly as a representative of American labor in European conferences.

A fierce faction fight developed within the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), which had been formed by the Soviet Union, the trade unions of a number of European countries, and, most importantly, the British trade unions and the CIO after the war. The AFL’s goal was to split the WFTU in the same way it worked to split the CGT in France.

Brown was appointed representative from the International Association of Machinists (IAM) in 1948 to the executive committee of the International Metalworkers Federation, one of the International Trade Secretariats mentioned in the introduction to this pamphlet. Brown’s job was to build trade union support for the Marshall Plan, which the Soviet Union and the WFTU opposed. After more than a year of high level wheeling and dealing, the WFTU was split. In 1949, a Free World Labor Conference with delegates from 59 countries formed the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Brown participated as a representative of the Metalworkers.

One of the constant criticisms made by American labor leaders and right wingers of the WFTU is that itis an agency of the Soviet government and is controlled by the Soviet Secret Police (now know as the KGB).

These same leaders generally neglect to mention that their own “free” labor movement has been similarly controlled by the American Secret Police, the CIA. For the first 15 years of its existence, the ICFTU could be counted on to push the Cold War line of the U.S. government. When it failed to do so and criticized the United States for the Vietnam War, the AFL-CIO withdrew from it. By 1968, the “free” trade union confederation had become too free for the Americans.

A similar response was taken by the AFL-CIO in 1977 when the International Labor Organization (ILO) began adopting policies critical of Israeli treatment of Arab labor. In November, 1977, the AFL-CIO and its other American partners in the ILO officially withdrew the U.S. government’s delegation from the organization. According to U.S. representative to the ILO during his speech to the American Federation of Teachers in August, 1977, the ILO had become “too political.”

A number of ex-CIA agents have identified Brown’s relationship to the CIA. It has gotten to the point where he doesn’t even bother to deny the fact. In his book, Inside the Company, a CIA Diary, Phillip Agee (who has been forced into exile because of his revelations) identifies Brown as the “principal agent for control of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).” Julius Mader ’s book, Who’s Who in the CIA? lists Brown in some detail. More importantly, perhaps, virtually every trade union leader in Europe associates Brown with the CIA. Even those who support the “free trade union” anti-communist ideas that Brown has pushed admit that his ties extend much further and deeper than the AFL-CIO.

Nevertheless, the leaders of the AFT in 1977 thought enough of their control of their union (and so little of its members) that they felt confident in listing Brown on the convention program as “AFL-CIO Representative in Europe.”

In the pages that follow, we will discuss the CIA’s ties with the foundations (AIFLD, AALC, and AAFLI) that are now actively supported by our union. Finally we will return to the questions raised by the AFT, Irving Brown, and CIA unionism.

One of the main questions that needs to be raised in every step of this investigation is “Where does the money come from?” Those who read the book or saw the movie All the President’s Men remember Deep Throat’s admonition to the reporters: “Follow the money.”

Unfortunately, in dealing with CIA conduits and CIA money nowadays things are not as simple as they were 15 or 20 years ago. Prior to the social upheavals in the United States in the 1960’s, the CIA generally followed Braden’s scheme of funneling money through legitimate fronts or setting up quasi legitimate organizations to act as conduits. The ILGWU, the Jewish Labor Committee, and a number of other organizations laundered CIA money on the way to Brown and his friends at the beginning of the Cold  War.

Embarrassing revelations of this practice during the 1960’s caused a change in the CIA’s modus operandi in money matters. When it was discovered that CIA money was being funneled into student groups, professional associations, and labor unions through CIA dummy “foundations,” the practice was reorganized. The National Student Association revelations and the exposure of CIA funding for the Congress for Cultural Freedom ended the days of the foundation, as far as can be determined.

Since that time, overseas funding for special projects has been channeled through United States government agencies. The most prominent of these is the Agency for International Development (AID), which is used to provide cover for both CIA money and CIA operatives around the world today. Norris Grambe no longer signs receipts for money from Warren Haskins today. But Norris’ dollars— and he has always had more than enough of them—come from the same “vaults” referred to in Braden’s article.

Chapter Three: The American Institute for Free LaborDevelopment (AIFLD)

The American Institute for Free Labor Development(AIFLD) is the oldest, largest, and wealthiest of the three international labor organizations founded by the AFL-CIO in the 1960’s. It is aimed at Latin America.

AIFLD was founded in 1962 as a non-profit corporation. George Meany is president; J. Peter Grace of W. R. Grace & Co. is Chairman of the Board. According to Fred Hirsch’s excellent pamphlet Under the Covers with the CIA: An Analysis of Our AFL-CIO Role in Latin America:

Originally an educational project, AIFLD now operates in several other elds—social projects, credit facilities, social action and “community development.”

The educational phase of the operation is massive. In Colombia and Peru, it has trained as much as 5% of the union membership—far exceeding any AFL-CIO training program in the U.S. In local seminars, people are chosen to participate in area-wide and nationwide seminars; from these are selected the most likely people (often they are not even trade unionists) who are offered a three-month course in AIFLD’s training center at Front Royal, Virginia. During this time the trainee’s family receives a stipend and the trainee gets a per diem payment in excess of what he or she would earn on the job.When the Front Royal course is completed, trainees are returned home where they continue on the AIFLD payroll for at least an additional nine months.

During their nine months of post graduate work, AIFLD’s trainees are called “interns.”

AIFLD’s educational programs teach trade union history; time and motion study; cooperatives; credit unions; and “Political systems: democracy and totalitarianism.” AIFLD’s social programs include housing projects. A 1968 Senate study found that the strings AIFLD attached to its housing grants were “too high a price to pay” for many Latin American unions. AIFLD demands complete control over the project.

By 1967, AIFLD’s annual budget was over $6 million. More than 90% of this came from the United States Agency for International Development (AID), with the rest coming from AFL-CIO unions and the corporations on the AIFLD Board of Directors.

The interest of the American labor movement in Latin America began under AFL president Samuel Gompers in the first decades of this century. It was not until the establishment of the Free Trade Union Committee during World War II and its evolution into the AFL (and, later, the AFL-CIO) International Affairs Department, however, that Latin American affairs for American labor were locked into the ColdWar.

Serafino Romualdi was Jay Lovestone’s commissar in Latin America until his death ten years ago.During the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Romualdi worked through the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and various cooperative International Trade Secretariats to carry out Cold War policy in the name of American labor. Romualdi’s first job south of the border was to split the Latin American labor movement the same way Brown had split the European movement. In 1946, Romualdi reported to the AFL convention that U.S. government policy-makers, a number of whom opposed his work, were “If not openly allied, they are definitely supporting groups in Latin America who are enemies of the American way of life and who are followers of the Communist Party line.”

It is worth noting that Romualdi’s charges of “Communists in the State Department” came five years before Sen. Joseph McCarthy revealed his famous “list” that nobody ever saw. Romualdi’s threat had its effect. The Free Trade Union Committee and the AFL began receiving government support, while the Latin American Confederation of Labor (CTAL), which had the support of the CIO, came under attack. By 1948 the labor movement was split and minorities from unions in 17 countries formed the Inter-American Confederation of Labor (CIT). Romualdi’s work was exactly paralleling Brown’s.

By 1949,Arthur Goldbergand his friends in the CIO had split it, forcing the expulsion or disaffiliation of the so-called “communist dominated” unions. The CIO split with CTAL and lined up behind the CIT. The CIT became the “Pan American” branch of the ICFTU. The new organization was the Inter-American Organization of Workers (ORIT).

ORIT became so identified with U.S. policy that it outlived its usefulness in Latin America within the decade. In 1968, a staff report of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations stated:

…there seems to be a decline in ORIT prestige in Latin America. More fundamental, perhaps, has been the tendency of ORIT to support U.S. government policy in Latin America. ORIT endorsed the overthrow  of theArbenz regime (in 1954) in Guatemala and of the Goulart regime (in 1964) in Brazil. It supported Burnham over Cheddi Jagan  in Guyana, and it approved the U.S.  intervention in the Dominican Republic. To many Latin Americans, this looks like ORIT is an instrument of the U.S. State Department….

Since the death of Romualdi, the AFL-CIO has been represented in ORIT byAndrew McLellan of the International Affairs Department. But the Department’s main concern has been with AIFLD, not ORIT, since the early 1960’s.

Fred Hirsch cites two examples of Romualdi’s work through ORIT in the 1950’s: Cuba and Guatemala. Prior to the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Romualdi backed the Cuban Workers Federation (CTC). In exchange for the right to exist, the CTC gave silent support to the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The leader of the CTC, Eusabio Mujal, kept a lid on Cuban labor for Batista by suspending union elections, removing opposition leaders from union office, opposing strikes and arranging for dues checkoff favors from the dictatorship. After Romualdi failed to make a deal with Fidel Castro, he and his faction in the CTC turned against the new government. When the new leadership came into power in the CTC after the revolution, Romualdi declared it a totalitarian union federation and supported the Cuban unions in exile in Miami.

Five years before the Cuban Revolution, ORIT assisted an admitted CIA operation in Guatemala. In 1954, Jacobo Arbenz was elected president of Guatemala and began a program of land reform programs which threatened the interests of the United Fruit Company. Prior to his election, Arbenz had full union support. Romualdi tried to organize a dual union federation and failed. His protégés then joined General Carlos Castillo Armas in organizing a CIA army In Nicaragua (with the help of, among others, E. Howard Hunt). Armas organized a coup d’etat which overthrew the Arbenz regime.Romualdi returned to Guatemala to “reorganize” the labor movement. George Meany announced that the “AFL rejoices in the downfall of the Communist controlled regime.” United Fruit kept its plantation. Interestingly, the same CIA bases used to train the Armas forces were used almost ten years later to train Cuban exiles for the Bay of Pigs invasion.


While ORIT was running out of credibility in Latin America, various International Trade Secretariats (ITS’s) under the CIA wing were gaining. The most important of these in the 1950’s were the Postal,Telephone, and Telegraph International (PTTI), the Public Service International (PSI), and the International Federation of Petroleum and Chemical Workers (IFPCW).

The ITS’s in the Western Hemisphere had worked closely with the ICFTU and ORIT throughout the1950’s. The American affiliates of the various secretariats represented the affiliation (and political orientation) within the AFL-CIO.

The Public Services International (PSI) played the leading role in the 1964 overthrow of the government of Cheddi Jagan in British Guiana. Six AIFLD “interns” were delegated to work full time on the political general strike that finally brought down the government. Another American active in the overthrow of Jagan was Gene Meakins, who went to the country in 1963 at the request of the Guiana Trades Union Council (TUC) as a representative of the Inter-American Federation of Working Newspapermen’s Organizations, an ORIT affiliate. Meakins, who was given a leave of absence from the UPI office in Denver, served as “Public Relations Advisor” to the TUC during the destabilization period prior to Jagan’s ouster.

Arnold Zander , former president of the American Federation of State, County, and MunicipalEmployees (AFSCME), later admitted using AFSCME and the PSI as a conduit for CIA funds during the chaos that brought down Jagan.Howard McCabe,Zander’s man in Guiana, received $450,000 funneled through AFSCME to help finance the strike in Georgetown.

AFSCME’s CIA connectionswere one of the factors that led to Zander’s ouster as national president by Jerry Wurf in 1964. Reflecting on the internal fight within AFSCME later, Wurf stated that Zander’s faction “spent very large sums of money. I believe I can make a strong case that it came from the CIA….” The campaign to defeat Wurf and his ticket even involved “dirty tricks.” A number of anonymous leaflets appeared. According to Wurf:

They [the Zander people] did other outrageous things. Some leaflets appeared, and though they could not be attributed to anyone, they had the professional touch. In one case the leafletter, one of their guys from New England, emphasized my big nose in anamateurish appeal to anti-Semitism….

Down south they circulated a picture of me handing a check to Roy Wilkins , head of the NAACP….

Despite the dirty tricks, Wurf and his supporters won the election. After they took over the union’s offices, one of their first jobs was to sever the CIA tie:

When Wurf first arrived at AFSCME headquarters following the ’64 convention, he noticed the presence of what he describes as “trench coat types.” One of these men was AFSCME’s alternate representative to the PSI, Howard McCabe. When the new president tried to nd out from McCabe and his associates exactly what they were doing in the building, he received vague explanations, and was advised to be patient and wait for the proper time to ask questions.

(Billings and Greenya, Power to the Public Worker,  pp. 146-147)

Wurf and his people decided to ask the CIA to leave. In 1966, the New York Times revealed that AFSCME, the Newspaper Guild, and the International Federation of Petroleum and Chemical Workers had been conduits for CIA funds and sponsors of CIA programs.

A similar relationship developed during the 1950’s between the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and ITS, the Postal, Telephone and Telegraph International (PTTI), and the CIA. In the case of the CWA, however, internal politics did not produce Jerry Wurf and his movement for union reform. Instead the CWA, PTTI, and the AFL-CIO produced the American Institute for Free Labor Development, AIFLD.

After a stormy beginning out of a federation of company unions in the Bell Telephone system, the CWA was born in 1947. Its predecessor, the National Federation of Telephone Workers (NFTW), had been founded in 1939 and had grown in strength and militancy during and after the Second World War. By 1947, the federation had changed its name to the Communications Workers of America, an industrial union embracing the majority of workers in the Bell system and its affiliates. The NFTW had not affiliated with either the AFL or the CIO. In 1949, the CWA affiliated with the CIO, largely because the AFL had persisted in raiding CWA union locals through the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The CWA’s rise to prominence among “free trade unions” did not begin until after the merger of the AFL and CIO in 1955. A faction fight within the leadership in 1956 found CWA president Joseph Beirne, a former Western Electric worker in New Jersey and one of the founders of the union, facing ared baiting challenge from vice president A. T. Jones. Jones charged Beirne with “defending communists.” Beirne’s campaign was waged around his record and the question of free speech for a union member from Milwaukee who had been affiliated with the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party.

Beirne campaigned as an enemy of “totalitarianism” who refused to “practice totalitarianism within the union.” He won. After the election, the entire Jones faction was reintegrated into CWA leadership and Beirne faced no further challenge from then until his death in 1974.

The origins of AIFLD lie in the relationship between the CWA and the PTTI. According to Thomas Brooks, a writer for the SDUSA newspaper New America, and author of a recent history of the CWA:

CWA deeds have given life to CWA words in a way that is unique among unions. It has been active in the Postal, Telegraph and Telephone International (PTTI), a trade union secretariat representing telecommunications workers in all parts of the free world.

In 1959, however, CWA developed a unique program to give substance to its commitment to free trade unionism. CWA president Beirne, vice president RayHackney and Louis B. Knecht, then director District 9, initiated a project to provide direct, voluntary assistance from CWA District 9 locals to communications workers unionization efforts in Ecuador. Eighty locals pledged two dollars a month, which allowed Jose M. (Pepe) Larco, now the general secretary of the Ecuadorean Federation of Telecommunications Workers, to work full time as a union organizer in his country. Since then, CWA’s Operation South America has grown, sustaining union activities in thirteen different Latin American and Caribbean countries with all of CWA’s twelve districts involved.

(Brooks, Communications Workers of America, pp. 239-240).

“Pepe” looks different from Ecuador. During the 1950’s the nation had its first decade of civilian rule unpunctured by coups d’etat. In 1960, president Velasco Ibarra was re-elected president on a nationalist and anti-Yanqui platform. Refusing to break diplomatic relations with Cuba, he attempted to institute moderate reforms in the economy. His attempted populism could not solve the nation’s crisis, however. From 1961-63, the country swung to the left. Velasco was dumped by the Armed Forces and Carlos Julio Arosemena was recognized as his constitutional successor. Arosemena continued relations with Cuba and instituted radical land reform. He had the support of the majority of the peasants and the unions, with the exception of the small, “free trade union federation,” the Ecuadorean Federation of Free Trade Unions, or CEOSL.

In 1962, Arosemena was ordered by the military to break off relations with Cuba or be deposed. He did. Nevertheless, the following year, he offered a toast at a banquet honoring the president of GraceLines, Admiral McNeil:

To the people of the United States, but not to its government, which exploits the peopleof Latin America.

At dawn the next day, the presidential palace was surrounded by tanks.

Ecuador has had three trade union federations. The Ecuadorean Workers Federation (CTE) with 40,000 members in 800 unions, is close to the Ecuadorean Communist Party. The Catholic trade union federation, the Ecuadorean Confederation of Working Class Organizations (CEDOC), was originally anti-communist and conservative based in the Church and the Conservative Party. In recent years, it has taken a number of stands placing to the left of the CTE. The third federation is the CEOSL.

Pepe Larco’s telecommunications workers are affiliated with CEOSL. After the 1963 coup d’etat, both the CTE and CEDOC militants were persecuted by the junta. CEOSL received the same consideration from Ecuador’s right wing dictators that the Cuban Workers Federation received from Batista.

Out of the cooperation between the CWA, PTTI, and Larco came the idea for the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD).

In cooperation with the PTTI, CWA established a school for Latin American unionistsat Front Royal, Virginia. At the first graduation ceremony, AFL-CIO president George Meany, CWA president Beirne and a few others gathered around the same table and had an idea which became the American Institute for Free Labor Development organized under the aegis of the AFL-CIO.

Now in its fifteenth year, AIFLD graduates approximately 150 students a year who return to their countries with invaluable know-how about union organizing and union operations. CWA’s Operation South America, its involvement with PTTI, its support of Soviet dissidents, commitment to Israel and other democratic forces opposed to Soviet aggression and totalitarianism in all its forms is rooted in a deep concern, perhaps best expressed by AFL-CIO president Meany when he declared, ‘We feel that unless there is a free trade union movement, there’s always a danger of people losing their freedom—of people becoming chattels or becoming slaves or becoming colonial assets, as it were, of imperialist countries.’

(Brooks, p. 240)

AIFLD At Work 

AIFLD is what the AFL-CIO’s International Affairs Department people call a “tripartite” organization.Tripartism means that business, labor and government are all represented on AIFLD. That’s supposed to insure that things are worked out cooperatively, rather than through strikes and what has been called “class struggle.” AIFLD is the embodiment on the international level of the AFL-CIO’s philosophy of collective bargaining and “cooperation.” This has been called class collaboration.

In practice, tripartism has worked out quite well for the governments and corporations which don’t want their countries disrupted by class struggle. In theory , it is supposed to benefit the working peopleof the country as well.

AIFLD is jointly sponsored by the AFL-CIO, 95 transnational corporations, and the U.S. government. As we noted earlier, Meany is president and J. Peter Grace is Chairman of the Board. Mr. Grace is also chief executive of W. R. Grace & Co. W. R. Grace runs Grace Lines, among other enterprises. A military coup d’etat ousted Ecuadorean president Arosemena the morning after he insulted the president of Grace Lines in 1963. As AIFLD has proven over the years, it’s not nice to fool with tripartism.

A list of AIFLD’s corporate sponsors includes International Telephone & Telegraph, the various Rockefeller interests, the copper companies, and virtually every major transnational corporation with large interests in Latin America.

Like ORIT before it, AIFLD has come to be identified with right wing juntas, exploitation, and “Yanqui imperialism” south of the border. During its 16 year history, AIFLD has given enough evidence to support that charge. At the same time, it has poured out tons of propaganda talking about its good works for the consumption of North Americans who ask about it. AIFLD has also worked with the CIA.

The Money Behind AIFLD

According to AIFLD’s own documents, 92% of its budget comes from the United States Agency for International Development(USAID). That’s not the CIA. Or is it?

By the end of the 1950’s, the heyday of direct CIA subsidies to trade unions and other “free world” projects was coming to an end. In the ‘50’s, Tom Braden could funnel CIA money to Irving Brown and the others in the Free Trade Union Committee through organizations like the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the Jewish Labor Committee, and scores of “charitable” and “cultural” organizations. At the same time, the CIA established a number of dummy foundations around the country to give “grants” to worthy causes.

Conduits and grants through proprietary foundations became dangerous for the CIA. They could be uncovered by curious journalists, resulting in embarrassment to the recipients, who had been parading around the world as disinterested spokespeople for freedom.

When the National Education Association (NEA), the National Student Association (NSA), the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and a number of other organizations were exposed in the 1960’s as having received CIA money, a new tactic was needed. (Interestingly, it was the American Federation of Teachers that was one of the most vociferous critics of the NEA’s CIA connection when it came out.) The NSA lost all credibility on college campuses when Ramparts magazine blew its cover.

Exposures have continued to today. In December, 1977, the New York Times devoted four days of feature articles to the CIA’s manipulation of journalists and the media.

As a result, AID became the new “cut out” through which CIA money could be funneled to worthy causes. A broad range of good will programs serves as cover for the nuts and bolts of the operation. When things are going well, AIFLD is spending AID money to shore up “free trade unions” in such “free world” showplaces as Brazil, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, etc. In countries run by rightwing dictatorships, the only unions allowed to function are AIFLD-sponsored “free trade unions,” and since “free trade unionism” has to be cleared with the International Affairs Department of the AFL-CIO, these countries are really free. George Meany has said at least a hundred times that the degree of freedom in a country can be judged by whether it has a “free trade union movement.”

Chile is a good example. In 1973, Chile lost its democratically-elected President and regained its “free trade union movement” with the help of AIFLD, the Pentagon, the Chilean oligarchy, the right wing of the Catholic Church, and a group of freedom loving generals who proceeded to execute at least 30,000 people, most of them trade unionists.

AIFLD and Chile

By the early 1970’s, the CIA hadn’t had a good coup d’etat in Latin America in almost a decade. There had been a number of small actions since the Dominican Republic was “saved” in 1965, but the last really big event was the coup in Brazil in 1964 which overthrew the Goulart regime and installed the  beginning of a series of dictatorships that have made Brazil one of the safest places for investment in Latin America. AIFLD, by the way, bragged that its interns had helped.

As early as 1962, AIFLD was active in Chile. William C. Doherty, Jr. (son of the president of the Mail Handlers Union) led a delegation from AIFLD that met with Chilean labor leaders and offered loans for housing and coops. Doherty was followed by John Snyder and Ester Cantu of PTTI, who set out to organize telephone workers. The thing was, the telephone workers of Chile already had a union, the militant Union of Telephone Employees. Snyder and Cantu were unphased. They were out to organize a “free trade union” along the lines of Ecuador.

They got help from International Telephone and Telegraph, which runs the telephone system in Chile. They were given a list of company employees by the company. According to Fred Hirsch, “When Doherty’s people won the next union election, the company saw to it that the former militants of the Union of Telephone Employees were fired.” Again, free trade unionism meant dual unionism and company unionism. In this case, however, AIFLD’s company union went too far. In 1967 it was kicked out in another election. ITT could no longer deal with one of its partners in progress and had to deal with a union of the telephone workers.

Again Hirsch:

On a larger scale, AIFLD employed the dual union tactic used in so many other countries. In 1962, AFL-CIO representative Morris Paladino went to Chile to make a deal with Jose Goldsack, a leader of the minority Christian Democratic faction of the Central Confederation of Workers (CUT). The tactic was to split the CUT convention. The tiny National Confederation of Workers (CNT) and its largest member, the Maritime Confederation of Chile (COMACH) were to demand admission to the CUT convention. Paladino was to supply all back dues. If they were denied entry, it was to signal a mass withdrawal of the minority. Paladino would pay the rent on a new hall and the first expenses of a new labor federation devoid of leftists.

The deal fell through when Goldsack backed out of the plan. But neither COMACH nor the CNT would disappear. Today the CNT is the Chilean “labor movement”—with the blessings of the junta. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Throughout the 1960’s AIFLD continued to work among the small unions of the CNT, while the CUT continued to grow. In 1967, the CIA worked overtime to insure the re-election of Christian Democratic President Eduardo Frei, who was glad for the help in defeating the Popular Unity Coalition which was backing Salvador Allende. This program of the CIA was disclosed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in its recent hearings on the CIA.

By 1970, however, Frei’s solutions to Chile’s problems had failed, and the Chilean people elected Allende with a plurality of the vote (it was a three way race). The Popular Unity Coalition was in power, despite some discussion within the U.S. government of a coup d’etat. It was decided to wait.

During the wait, however, the United States undertook a campaign to “destabilize” the Allende government. The destabilization campaign was planned by the top level “40 Committee” under the direction of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger . The campaign had a number of elements ranging from the establishment of right wing, paramilitary gangs (called “Patria y Libertad”), cultivation of the military leadership, and labor activity. AIFLD coordinated the labor end of the plan.

While virtually all economic aid and loans to the Chilean government were cut off and the U.S. insured that the International Monetary Fund blacklisted the Chileans, two programs increased: military training for Chilean officers and AIFLD for “Chilean workers.”

Since September 11, 1973, it’s been clear what the military aid was for. It’s been more difficult to get information on how AID’s $1 million in “technical assistance” was spent during that time.

The number of Chileans trained by AIFLD increased 400% in the year prior to the coup!

Who was trained and what was the nature of their training?

Chile: Bosses Become ‘Workers’

In 1972, the AIFLD ten year report stated that COMACH, the Chilean Maritime Federation, was “the major labor organization with which AIFLD cooperates.” Hirsch quotes Professor Nef, a professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara, on the nature of COMACH:

Its membership is largely maritime ofcers, many of whom served as ofcers in the Navy. Even those without naval background spend their first year of training in classes with naval officers.

The officers of the Chilean Navy —with many heroic exceptions—were among the first to move against Allende on the day of the coup d’etat. Not so coincidentally, the U.S. Navy had ships on maneuvers off the coast of Chile on the day of the coup. Other professional employees associations which were active during the period of destabilization included the Mining Engineers, the Airline Pilots, and the independent truckers.

With more than 2,000,000 members by the time of the coup, the Chilean Confederation of Workers (CUT) had come a long way since the days when Morris Paladino tried to split it. Nevertheless, during the time when CUT was organizing the vast majority of Chilean workers into its affiliated unions, AIFLD sponsored the establishment of a Confederation of Chilean Professionals (CUPROCH). CUPROCH was brought into international prominence when its affiliate among independent truckers staged a “shut down” in October, 1972. During the shut down, the truckers were reported by Time  magazine correspondent Rudolph Rausch to be doing quite well—for strikers. Eating a meal of steak, vegetables, and empanadas, the truckers bragged they were getting their money from the CIA.

Many of the “strikes” which disrupted the Chilean economy during the period of destabilization were organized by professional associations, not by trade unions. Playing on the ambiguity of the meaning of the word “gremio,” the Chilean professional associations formed “The National Command for Gremio Defense.” In Spanish, gremio can mean either “union” or “guild.” According to Hirsch, “In Chile, a Gremio is usually an association of employers, professionals, or tradespeople, but it can include both workers and employers.”

Hirsch lists the following leaders of the National Command:

  • Confederation of Production and Commerce. George Fontaine, president, comes from one of the wealthiest oligarch families. He was once publicly associated with the Nazi movement.
  • Society of Manufacturers, Orlando Saenz, president, “reputed to be the brain behind the Gremio defense; served as liaison with the U.S. Embassy and was a secret director of Patria y Libertad, the fascist para-military organization.
  • National Society of Agriculture. Manuel Valdes, president of the Federation of Unions of Agricultural Employers (COSEMACH), organized road blocks in the countryside to prevent land reform. AIFLD trustee William Thayer helped establish COSEMACH.
  • National Society of Agriculture. Benjamin Matte, past president, was a director of Patria y Libertad and advocated the murder of all communists.
  • Chamber of Construction. Hugo Leon, president, stated: “We will carry on all of our forces to an enormous strike and not give in until the Armed Forces intervene and Allende is finished.”
  • Central Work Confederation. Founded by Leon Vilarin, who was also president of the National Command for Gremio Defense, this organization became the labor spokesman for the junta after Sept. 11, 1973. Vilarin was also president of the Confederation of Truck Owners of Chile, even though he owned no trucks.
  • Julio Bazan, president of CUPROCH, is a member of one of Chile’s oldest aristocratic families. He takes home $7,000 a month as a mining engineer.

The above are some of the more prominent “leaders of labor” who worked with AIFLD in the three years of destabilization. Taking advantage of word ambiguity and resorting to downright lies, the representatives of “free trade unionism” in Chile attempted to portray the CUPROCH lock outs as strikes and the protests of middle class housewives as evidence of “workers’ dissatisfaction with the Marxist regime.”

Chileans in exile and international organizations estimate that 30,000 persons—most of them workers and members of the CUT—were killed during and after the coup. Additional thousands were imprisoned by the DINA, the Chilean secret police. Many were tortured.

After the junta, the CUT was outlawed, its unions shut down, and its funds distributed among the Gremios. Thousands have been forced into exile.

At the same time, spokesmen for Chilean labor have been touring the hemisphere, defending the junta. Eduardo Rojas, president of COMACH, has been selected president of the new Chilean labor federation. Another AIFLD graduate, Luis Villenas, is vice-president.

The American Federation of Teachers and Chile

Even before the election of Albert Shanker as AFT president in 1974, the AFT was involved in Chile through the International Federation of Free Teachers Unions (IFFTU).

AFT’s representative for Latin America in those days was Denise Thiry, a Chilean who worked in the AFT national office. Ms. Thiry had never been a member of an AFT local (or a teacher for that matter).She was hired to work in the AFT national office in the early 1970’s. Prior to that, she had worked for PTTI.

According to former AFT president David Selden:

It was through IFFTU that I first met Denise Thiry. She emigrated to Chile with her well-to-do parents during or soon after World War II from Belgium. In the 1960’s, she was working in the office of the Postal, Telegraph and Telephone International, which was housed in the headquarters of the Communications Workers of America in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Thiry started working as a secretary, but her linguistic ability—French, Spanish, English, and some German—and her general competence soon resulted in a promotion to an organizing position, working mainly in South America.

From PTTI, Ms. Thiry came into the AFT. According to Selden, he tried to establish an international program independent of AIFLD. It failed. “While the deal was under consideration I suddenly was offered the service of Denise Thiry to head it up.”

Thiry represented the AFT in Latin America at the time of the Chile coup. The following year David Selden was defeated in his bid for re-election. Albert Shanker became AFT president. Four weeks after Shanker was elected—and less than a year after the bodies were smoking in the streets of Santiago, Chile—the AFT applied for its first AIFLD grant. Thiry was made director of international relations for the teachers union that she had never belonged to.

One of the people sponsored for training at Front Royal by the IFFTU (at Ms. Thiry’s request) was Gilbert Gaston, an administrator in the National Military School in Chile at the time of the coup. Gaston spoke for his graduating class at Front Royal in March, 1974. He had nothing to say in criticism of the Pinochet junta. Afterwards, AIFLD sponsored him to go to Costa Rica to “clarify conflicting rumors about the Chilean situation.”

We do know what happened to the Chilean Teachers Union after the coup—it was padlocked and its property was confiscated and turned over to a teachers’ “professional association.”

The IFFTU reported to AIFLD on the situation after the coup:

The democratic leaders are busy making the necessary contacts to re-organize the teachers under an organization reflecting the traditions of democracy in Chile. During her visit in November, 1973, Ms. Denise Thiry had the opportunity to discuss future programmes now that conditions have changed in that country. An intensive educational programme has been requested, in order to ensure a democratic base for the new teachers’ organizations.

Seconding Ms. Thiry’s opinion, AIFLD Director William Doherty, Jr. reported on July 1, 1974: “AIFLD will aid democratic, reformist workers to build strong unions in Chile, giving the country a democratic-dominated movement for the first time in many years.”

We know the fate of at least one teacher who apparently was not part of the democratic teachers’ movement that Ms. Thiry looked forward to. Forty-two-year-old Marta Ugarta, a member of the Communist Party and the Chilean Teachers Union (SUTE), was arrested by DINA agents on August 9,1976. Several weeks later, her body was found on the beach north of Valparaiso. She had been strangled, her jawbones and both wrists had been broken, and she had numerous contusions.

Pedro Jara had seen her in prison:

Comrade Marta was able to show us her wrists which had turned very dark. There was no longer any skin at some places, and she told us that she had been suspended for many hours during the interrogation. She also told us that she had been “treated” with electric current continuously and that she had been confronted by others.

After Marta Ugarta’s body was found on August 27, the junta tried to claim that the death had been the crime of a pervert. The body was so mutilated that dental records were needed to make a positive identification.

1974: The AFT Gets Shanker and AIFL

By the time of the National Convention of the AFT in August, 1974, enough was known about the situation in Chile to move the delegates to pass a resolution strongly condemning the junta and calling on the U.S. government to place sanctions against the junta until basic rights were restored. The motion passed overwhelmingly.

Immediately after the Chile resolution was passed, a motion asking the union to investigate AIFLD’s relationship to the 1973 coup was defeated. The motion, which simply asked for an investigation into charges against AIFLD, was opposed on the floor by Sandra Feldman, a delegate from New York’s United Federation of Teachers. In two days, Feldman would become an AFT vice-president, when Shanker’s Progressive Caucus was swept into office. On the AIFLD motion, she said:

Now, there are those of us who know something about the AFL-CIO’s role in international affairs, and we know that we feel that the work that the AFL-CIO does through AIFLD is work which benefits workers in Latin America, which teaches the organizing skills including skills in developing their own trade skills and helps them organize free trade unions.

Now, the last thing that the AFL-CIO would be interested in doing is to put down the militancy of trade unions in the underdeveloped countries. It is in the interest of the AFL-CIO for militant free trade unions to develop in the rest of the world, certainly in Latin America, so that the workers in those countries cannot be used as slave labor, at low wages, undermining the wages of workers in the United States.

It is in the interests of workers in the AFL-CIO and in the United States and in the interests of workers in other countries for them to be able to build strong, militant, free trade unions, and that is the kind of work that the AFL-CIO is engaged in in Latin America and other places around the world where they are trying to aid fellow trade unionists.

I think that all this is trying to do is take a slap at the AFL-CIO, and I urge us to defeat it.

[AFT, Convention Proceedings, 1974, p. 87]

Feldman, at least, didn’t have to worry about slapping AIFLD in the face. The motion was defeated. The following year, another resolution was introduced along the same lines. It, too, was defeated. By1976 the annual Chile resolution merely called for a boycott of the “Torture Ship” Esmeralda, which was visiting the U.S. from Chile on a good will tour. That passed.

But by the 1976 convention, a number of things had changed. Most importantly, the AFT had become a part of AIFLD’s network of U.S. unions working under contract on “union to union” projects.

Less than two weeks after he was elected AFT president, Shanker began the procedure to get the union officially into AIFLD. In September, 1974, AFT treasurer Bob Porter sent in an application for the AFT’s first grant.

By 1977, the AFT was one of seven American unions participating in “union to union” AIFLD programs in Latin America.

Four of these unions—the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks (BRAC), the Communication Workers of America (CWA), the Glass Bottle Blowers Association (GBBA), and the Retail Clerks International Union (RCIA)—presently receive AIFLD money in the form of what are called “subgrants.” This means that they have the right to supervise their own administration of the money. Subgrant recipients are the journeymen of the AIFLD program. They don’t need as much guidance.

Three other AIFLD unions—the AFT, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers (ACWA) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) receive their money through “letters of agreement.” These unions are required to submit to more direct AIFLD supervision in the administration of their programs.

The AFT hopes to be out of its apprenticeship before long. Already an AFT AIFLD budget of $100,000annually is projected by 1981.

Exit Ms. Thiry; Enter Messers Loewenthal and DiBlasi

Denise Thiry did not appear at the AFT’s 60th annual convention in Bal Harbour, Florida, in 1976. Despite the fact that the union’s annual report had a section extolling her work, she had already resigned.

In August, 1978, we tried to find out what happened to her. We called the AFT and spoke with Ms. Carello in the International Affairs Department. When she said that nobody knew were Denise was, we asked whether she had left under a cloud. “Oh, no, we all loved her,” was the reply. Nevertheless, Ms. Thiry has left AFT and is unable to confirm stories that have been printed about her career, including one that charges that she held a party in her home in Washington, D.C. on the night of September 11,1973, to celebrate the “return of democracy to Chile.”

Thiry’s work was taken over by Al Loewenthal, who works as assistant to AFT president Albert Shanker. It was Loewenthal who introduced Irving Brown to the loyalists who came to hear him rap during the 1977 AFT convention in Boston. Loewenthal’s major areas of work in the union recently have been “international affairs” and cold war anti-communist propaganda.

Al Loewenthal, “Educator?”

According to the 1976-77 “Report on the State of Union” distributed to all delegates and visitors to the convention (and subsequently published in the September, 1977 issue of the

American Teacher, the union’s monthly newspaper):

Al Loewenthal, Assistant to the President, administers several departments, among them COPE, Legislation, Colleges and Universities, and International Education….…He frequently represents President Shanker at union-related functions and plays an important role in the continuing development of the AFL-CIO Public Employee Department….

Loewenthal represents the AFT on the trade union advisory committees for the Jewish Labor Committee and the National Committee for Labor Israel (Histradrut). He is active with the staff of the International Federation of Free Teachers Unions (IFFTU)….

Loewenthal was selected to represent the AFT on a survey team that visited teacher unions in the ASEAN countries, under the sponsorship of the IFFTU….

The IFFTU, like the other “free” labor unions and federations which sprinkle the AFL-CIA Orwellian glossary, has long been associated with the kind of “free trade unionism” that now exists in Chile. Working in coordination with the U.S. State Department’s Agency for International Development(AID) and the CIA’s agents in the western hemisphere, the IFFTU has increased its locals in the Caribbean from two to 19 in the three years since Loewenthal and Shanker moved their operation from New York to the union’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Loewenthal’s jobs are both ideological and organizational. On the organizational side, he coordinates “surveys” of teacher unionism in Asia, assists selected trade unionists through agencies like AIFLD, and works with men like Irving Brown to overthrow governments critical of the policies of the United States and the multinational corporations.

Loewenthal’s ideological tasks included bringing French author Jean Francois Revel to address the 1977 AFT QUEST conference in Washington, D. C. Revel, author of

Without Marx or Jesus, is a leading European apologist for the United States. Part of Revel’s ideological contribution to the AFT was to tell people that America is doing nice things around the world and that fascism and communism are the same thing.

Loewenthal also works as a liaison with the Jewish Labor Committee. The JLC was formed in 1934 by David Dubinsky of the ILGWU and a number of others who were preparing to leave the Socialist Party.It was partly a response to the anti-Semitism of the Depression and partly a bloc to pressure the AFL leadership to admit a Jewish member. There had been no Jewish labor leader on the AFL Executive Council since Samuel Gompers died in 1928.

The JLC also spent a good deal of its time during the thirties fighting “communism” and Jewish labor leaders who were communists. Since the main anti-Semitic organizations in the world were fascist, and since the communists were fighting fascism a lot earlier and a lot harder than a lot of the JLC’s friends, it was difficult to be anti-fascist and anti-communist in the labor movement of the late ‘30’s.

It was only after World War II that the JLC found its home. It began acting as a front for activities of the Lovestone-Irving Brown team in Europe and a conduit for CIA funds to Brown’s European unions.

According to George Meany’s official biographer, Joseph Goulden:

One group Brown used as a front was the Jewish Labor Committee in New York, which acted as a conduit to get AFL money to Force Ouvriere…ostensibly for Jewish relief, actually for organization. By late 1947 the AFL was sending FO three thousand dollars every three weeks through the JLC….

Considering the fact that many of the professional anti-communists who received Brown’s sponsorship in the post war years had been sympathetic to the fascists—and certainly not opposed to the fascists’ views about the Jewish people—helping Brown was a peculiar way to fight against anti-Semitism.

As part of his role as “educator” for the AFT, Loewenthal makes frequent contributions to the union’s national newspaper, the American Teacher. In the November-December, 1977 issue of the paper, for example, the major book review deals with the book American Labor and European Politics: The AFL as a Transitional Force, by Roy Godson, Director of the Georgetown University International Labor program. An entire page of the newspaper is devoted to Loewenthal’s review of the Godson book.

American Labor and European Politics presents the Irving Brown-as-Robin Hood version of post-World War II European labor history. Loewenthal’s only criticism of the book is that there aren’t more like it and that it didn’t appear sooner.

Loewenthal recommends the book highly, partly because he seems to believe that we might have to crank up Brown’s old cooperation in Europe again soon. He views the rise of eurocommunism and the growing independence of the European labor movement from George Meany’s tutelage with alarm and warns:

…at a future date, in the struggle for democratic restoration, the lessons of post-war Europe will find application over and over again….

In the third world, we learn, those lessons are already “finding application.” Loewenthal only hopes that that application can be more widespread, and that the American Federation of Teachers can be more active in applying it:

…The emergence of new nations in the aftermath of colonial rule has created newer problems. The tasks are very difficult because everywhere—from the new Caribbean Island nations to the giants on the Asian subcontinent—trade unionists fear the take-over tactics of well-financed Communist operatives, whether of the Moscow, Peking, or Havana types. In country after country, where economics, prove to be shaky, the situation is even more complex. Dictatorships, usually of the military variety, emerge , and the trade union movement is hobbled. Teacher unions, for example arepermitted to exist, but within prescribed limits under government guidance. [Emphasis added]

Teachers unions like the SUTE in Chile are not even mentioned. They are not even permitted to exist “under governmental guidance,” as Loewenthal so delicately puts it. Those unions which do exist under the military dictatorships established and maintained with the help of the CIA, the State Department, and the AFL-CIO’s Department of International Affairs, practice a “business unionism.” “Unions” collaborate with the local dictatorships and work to insure labor peace while the multinational corporations which help sponsor AIFLD exploit the workers.

In Chile, the first educator to come to AIFLD’s Front Royal training center after the coup was a man named Gaston Gilbert. Gilbert was an administrator of the police academy of Santiago, one of the centers of the coup.

In fact, “labor leaders” of the kind Loewenthal sponsors live by the grace of their dictators and their dictators’ masters in the U.S. Labor leaders that are not favored by the AFL-CIO risk their lives to organize in their native lands.

At the end of his essay on Godson’s book, Loewenthal discourses on the renewed danger of Communism (of the “Moscow variety,” we are left to assume) in Europe under the guise of Eurocommunism. Loewenthal is upset that the new European Confederation of Trade Unions has recently admitted the Italian Trade Union Federation which is led by members of the Italian Communist Party.

Apparently, European trade union leaders are not as wise as those leaders of the American Labor movement who supported the Taft Hartley Act and other laws aimed at eliminating communists at home after World War II. Irving Brown and his “colleagues” in Marseilles used money sent through the Jewish Labor Committee in New York to hire Mafia goons in Europe to eliminate communists there. Of course, the association between the anti-communist “socialists” of New York and organized crime goes back long before World War II. But that’s another part of the story. The mafia has always been a bulwark of anti-communism, just as it has been staunch in its opposition to “quotas”….

Although Loewenthal claims to be “pessimistic,” his hope lies with books like Godson’s and folks like Brown:

Are we witnessing a replay of 1945-47? Godson lets current grim facts fall into place and the picture is once again grim.

Can the rest of history repeat itself, i.e. the enormously successful role of the American trade unions? Will American multinational corporations operating in Europe agree to  collective bargaining, American style? If they do, Godson suggests, all sorts of benefits to strengthen democracy could be the result in European and American unions….

Such benefits to democracy are apparent both abroad and at home. CIA unionism is insuring low wages in Latin America. The multinational corporations benefit. The workers suffer. The same freedom is coming home to the AFT: published votes; suppression of dissident locals….

The working people of New York are being educated by labor leaders like Shanker. Lowering wages and labor peace there, too. Educationally, this is pure Orwell.

But as educators, the leaders of the American Federation of Teachers are working overtime to insure that as many of us as possible have these lessons in our curricula.

Loewenthal’s acquaintance with Professor Godson and the Georgetown University program inInternational Labor Affairs and Labor Economics is not one that came about through a book review.

In fact, the AFT jointly sponsors graduate study programs at Georgetown and Rutgers through the union’s Department of International Education. Work done under supervised programs, including onefor “graduate credit for overseas travel and study,” can be applied to an M.A. in Labor Studies from Rutgers or even a D.Ed. For a year’s study at Georgetown, selected AFT members can now receive an M.A. in International Relations.

The International Education Department of AFT, established under Loewenthal’s direction in January, 1975, has been moving fast.

What does Al Loewenthal think of the CIA? He says he likes it. While members of the United Action Caucus were leafleting “Who Is Irving Brown” to delegates entering the convention at the Hynes Veterans Auditorium in Boston in August, 1977, he stopped to pick up a leaflet.

“What’s wrong with the CIA?” he asked a member of the New York teachers union, “I’ve beenworking with them for years.”

Anthony DiBlasi:  AFT–CIA Man?

Immediately after the 1977 AFT convention in Boston, the union’s Executive Council met and made several appointments to national union positions.

The September, 1977 issue of the American Teacher noted:

Tony DiBlasi has been appointed as the AFT’s International Affairs representative under the direction of Al Loewenthal, assistant to AFT President Shanker. DiBlasi, 39, will be the AFT representative in coordinating IFFTU in Latin America….

Before taking his post with the AFT, DiBlasi was, since 1974, an assistant director for the American Institute for Free Labor Development at AIFLD’s Front Royal training center in Virginia, which offers labor education for South American trade unionists. Previously, he was an AIFLD field representative in Honduras and Ecuador.

Born in Somalia, Africa, DiBlasi spent twelve years in his native country, Italy, before moving to Washington, D.C. He holds a B.S. degree from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and did graduate work in economics and linguistics.

As we noted earlier, Front Royal’s graduates today staff some of the most important union posts in Latin America. Virtually all of them are leaders of unions which exist by the grace of Caribbean and South American military dictators, including the present governments of the two countries where DiBlasi has served for AIFLD.

The unions that AIFLD has supported in Ecuador, for example, have maintained or helped maintain astatus quo which, in 1973, meant that:

….84% of all Ecuadoreans earn roughly five times less than that required to support a minimal standard of living….

….54% of the population receives only 9.5% of total income, while 7% receives fully one-half of total income generated in Ecuador.

Ecuador today, along with Honduras, stand among the poorest nations of the world. At the other end of the income spread in these countries stand the local elites who help maintain the power of the multinational corporations which co-sponsor AIFLD.

Just as we are to believe that turtles fly, we will soon be told of the achievements of “free trade unionism” in the countries that DiBlasi has helped to pacify for multinational capital. AIFLD’s free trade unionism in Ecuador and Honduras is part of the problem, not part of the solution to working people there.

What the future holds for the AFT in international affairs, no one can say. One thing is clear. Neither AIFLD nor the AFT’s special relationship with it is going to go away.

Chapter Four: The African American Labor Center (AALC)

AIFLD’s counterpart for Africa is the African American Labor Center  (AALC). The two organizations refer to one another as “sister” organizations.

The AALC was founded in 1965 after more than a decade of tension between George Meany and the Lovestone people, on the one hand, and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, on the other, over what to do in Africa. The contradictions within the ICFTU over African policy resulted from the simple fact that the U.S. government and the governments of the former colonial powers of Europe had conflicting interests in the African continent at each step in the struggle for freedom from colonialism. These were reflected in the labor unions working through the ICFTU. Even Force Ouvriere (FO), which had been created by Irving Brown with AFL-CIO and CIA money in France, balked at supporting the AFL-CIO’s policies in the French colonies of North Africa. The result was that the AFL-CIO accused the ICFTU of obstructing the work of decolonization and of being soft on communism. AALC—a totally owned subsidiary of the AFL-CIO whose money comes from the U.S. government—was born.

Unlike the AIFLD, AALC does not enshrine “tripartism” in its Board of Directors. George Meany is President and Chairman of the Board. Irving Brown was Executive Director from 1965 until 1973, when he was succeeded by Patrick O’Farrell. The entire Board of Directors is composed of leaders of AFL-CIO unions.

Like AIFLD, the AALC pushes programs of workers education and technical assistance for Africanunion leaders and members. It also makes direct grants and low interest loans to African unions for various purposes. In 1970, the Center paid $350,000 to build the headquarters of the Confederation of Ethiopian Labor Unions (CELU). Former Emperor Haile Selassie attended the dedication ceremonies for the building.

Most of the AALC’s projects are less grandiose than the CELU headquarters in Ethiopia. They include mobile health clinics, smaller buildings, office equipment, and technical assistance. AALC “technical assistants” operate today in more than 40 sub-Saharan African nations training African workers in skills ranging from tailoring in Dakar to diesel mechanics in Ghana. The AALC even gave a 16 mm. movie projector to SWAPO, the Southwest Africa People’s Organization, which is fighting a guerilla war against the illegal occupation of Namibia (the African name for Southwest Africa) by the Union of South Africa.

The core of the AALC program is “workers education.” Unlike AIFLD, the AALC does not have a Front Royal, Virginia, at which to host large numbers of scholarship students. Most training is done at various locations in Africa itself. A small number of handpicked leaders are sent to Harvard University, where they study in the Harvard Trade Union Program. After completing their classroom work, they spend time in the United States visiting American unions.

AALC educational work emphasizes collective bargaining and workers’ self-help as opposed to strike action. Typical courses in Africa are devoted to collective bargaining, union management (a sample: “How to Establish a Stable Dues Structure”), and cooperatives. The Center has spent millions of dollars financing African workers’ credit unions and cooperatives.

By the end of 1971, just six years after its founding, the AALC had projects in 31 sub-Saharan African nations and in Tunisia. Since that time, projects have expanded to more than 40 nations.

Since Patrick O’Farrell became Executive Director in 1973, the AALC has given more and more space to the work of the International Trade Secretariats (ITS’s) in Africa. The most active ITS’s have been the International Journalists Federation, the Retail Clerks International Association (RCIA), the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF), and the International Federation of Free Teachers Unions (IFFTU). Much of the work done by the ITS’s in Africa is financed by the AALC, which tightly controls the money to insure political reliability among its subcontractors and its African proteges. In1972, AALC announced that Force Ouvriere, the French union established with Irving Brown’s AFL-CIO and CIA money after World War II, had established a parallel organization, the Institute Syndicale Cooperation, which would work with the AALC in French-speaking Africa.

Free Trade Unionism in Southern Africa

The AFL-CIO has been on record for almost two decades in opposition to the apartheid policies of the Union of South Africa. AFL-CIO unions have participated actively in boycotting Rhodesian chrome, and the federation has lobbied for sanctions against the two main white supremacist regimes in Southern Africa.

The specific programs of the AALC in Southern Africa, however, reveal a great deal about itsintentions and its allies.

Prior to the liberation of Angola from Portuguese colonialism, the AALC devoted a great deal of timeand money to programs for Angolan unionists in exile in Zaire (formerly the Belgian Congo). At theend of 1973, the two “exile” Angolan union federations in Zaire merged to form the Centrale Syndicate Angolaise (CSA), which was affiliated with the GRAE (the “Angolan Revolutionary Government in Exile”).

At the time, there was a minimum of three “national liberation movements” for Angola. The Angolans in Zaire were affiliated with Holden Roberto’s National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA). The majority of those inside Angola were fighting for Augustin Neto’s Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), while a tribal movement in southern Angola had been organized into UNITA, led by Jonas Savimbi.

After the MPLA liberated Luanda, the capitol of Angola, in 1975, negotiations began between the three movements towards the formation of a new government. These ended when the FNLA and UNITA attacked the MPLA from the north and south respectively. Troops from the Union of South Africa aided UNITA, while it was charged at the same time that the FNLA in Zaire was under the control of the CIA.

Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon denied any CIA support for Holden Roberto and the FNLA. The MPLA has since defeated the FNLA “army” and most of UNITA. Angola, under President Neto, istrying to rebuild.

Nixon and Kissinger were lying four years ago. In 1978, the former head of CIA in Angola, John Stockwell, published a book detailing the CIA’s operationagainst the MPLA from Zaire. The FNLA, with its affiliated “unions” and army, it turns out, was a CIA operation. With the defeat of Roberto’s army and the establishment of MPLA control in Angola, the AALC’s “free trade union” federation, the CSA, has dropped out of sight.

Similar contradictions exist in Zimbabwe, where American policy has changed since the days of Kissinger only to the extent that U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young is able to speak out forcefully for  black majority rule while the agencies of the U.S. government work to insure that it will be the “right” kind of blacks who rule the majority. In 1973 the third world was scandalized (but not surprised) with the revelation that Kissinger had organized a plan for NATO intervention in Southern Africa (called, typically, “Operation Tar Baby”) to prevent a radical takeover of Southern Africa.

With the liberation of Angola and Mozambique in 1974, the position of Zimbabwe (the African name for the settler state of Rhodesia) changed radically. Even the intransigents behind Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith admit that some form of “majority rule” will be necessary in the future. The question for the black workers and peasants of Zimbabwe will be what kind of economic, political, andsocial life they will face with the onset of “majority rule.”

Irving Brown is already working on it. The AFL-CIO’s “freedom fighter” in Zimbabwe is Reuben Jamela. According to Philemon Mabuza, who served for seven years with the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union(ZAPU) as a guerrilla fighter and who is now living in exile in Britain:

Reuben Jamela was a protagonist during the early sixties for affiliation with the American dominated International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. He was a good friend of Irving Brown, the international representative of the AFL-CIO, the conservative U.S. trade union federation, and was one of the several Zimbabwean trade union movement individuals showered with money by the ICFTU. During its heyday, he was an executive board member of that body.

Much hated by the nationalists, he was stoned at a nationalist figure’s funeral. He is remembered by the workers in Haare, Salisbury, as the man who pulled the rug from under their feet in several wage struggles. He quit his high position in the trade union movement in the early 1960’s, but remained a member of the Salisbury Municipal Workers Union. Like many Zimbabwean power seekers, he has an uncanny way of bouncing back.

Late last year (i.e. late 1977), he announced that he was going to form, with the backing of the AFL-CIO, the Zimbabwean Labour Confederation, a body that could again split the trade union movement if it gained support.

A million dollars can go a long way toward creating a labor leader, even if he has no base among the rank and file and is at odds with his own people. And millions of dollars are being spent by the AALC and the other organizations promoting the AFL-CIO’s “free trade unionism” in Africa, just as they arein Latin America.

By 1969, in less than five years, the AALC had officially spent more than $9 million on its African program. Since that time, the amount spent annually has increased. While much of the money can be accounted for through the organization’s “educational” and “technical” programs, a good deal of it is used directly to bribe African trade unionists. Brown’s methods haven’t changed much since he boughta French labor movement of sorts to support the Marshall Plan in the late 1940’s.

In an exclusive interview in December, 1977, with Jean Bruck, former Secretary General of the World Confederation of Labor (WCL), Transnational Features Services reporters Rodney Larson and Don Thomson received confirmation of how Irving Brown was spending some of the money supplied to him by the AFL-CIO and AID:

They were influencing these conferences (of labor federations) through important gifts of money—large amounts of money—and the decisions of the meetings and conferences in order to make foremost the influence of the Americans on the African trade unions.

They did not leave space for other influence. Before the meeting would open, Irving Brown and his associates would be the first in the hotel. They were welcoming people and they were giving money to people, sometimes openly in the corridors with one suitcase and plenty of envelopes. They were giving their envelopes and they were giving their instructions to the people of the unions.

And after the meetings, when the meeting was successful in the way they were wishing it to be successful, they were giving additional envelopes to people who had assured their majority in the meetings.

(1977, Transnational Features Service. Reprinted by permission)

The “envelopes in the corridors” almost sounds too fantastic to believe, and perhaps it was when M. Bruck and the WCL faced Brown and Co. during the 1960’s. Since the “Koreagate” scandals in Washington, the idea of envelopes in suitcases is not as hard to believe. And the money came from the same place; the American taxpayers through the CIA or its conduits.

Since 1973, the AALC has been developing programs for black workers in the Union of South Africa itself. AALC projects in South Africa are undertaken in the “tribal homelands” and the black provinces of Swaziland and Lesotho. A question could well be asked why the AFL-CIO is permitted to work inthese areas while the government of the Union of South Africa kills organizers like Steven Biko.

As early as 1966, Brown was warning the U.S. Congress about the need for stronger measures for dealing with Southern Africa. In testifying before the House of Representatives subcommittee on Africa, he made an analogy between South Africa and Vietnam which sounds more ominous today than it did 12 years ago:

The great involvement of America in Vietnam today (1966) is not unrelated to the need to be concerned about the rising and eventual threat to peace and freedom in South Africa. For South Africa today presents the kind of problem that Vietnam was some years ago before it became necessary to involve over 200,000 American troops in a war to maintain the rights of people to their own kind of self-determination. If the Western World had supported the nationalist movement in those early days and helped them to attain their independence in a peaceful and democratic manner, the resort to violence might have been averted by democratic mass movements within the country itself.

Eleven years after he made the above remarks to the U.S. House of Representatives, Mr. Brown stroked the same string in his speech as “AFL-CIO Representative in Europe” to the American Federation of Teachers. At the AFT convention in Boston in 1977, he said the same thing, warning that South Africa could become “another Vietnam.”

Considering the results of American involvement in Vietnam, we need to consider—as Brown told us to—our involvement in Africa. But we should also consider whether we want to drive into the Southern African quagmire with the same chauffeurs who brought us Vietnam and stuck with it until the bitter end. Irving Brown, Jay Lovestone, and the money they have been spending so lavishly since World War II have no more place in a truly free trade union movement than J. Peter Grace and the Rockefeller corporations. In practice, their definition of freedom—whether for Vietnam or Africa—has more to it of Orwell than of the Declaration of Independence.

As we pointed out in Chapter 3, the CIA was forced to reorganize its money conduits after the exposures of the CIA foundation-fronts during the 1960’s. Most observers credit the Agency for International Development (AID) with taking up the slack for the intelligence agency. It is certainly clear that AID is not offering U.S. unions $40 million to organize the unorganized into “free trade unions” inside the United States. In fact, trade union membership in America as a percentage of the workforce is now at its lowest point since World War II and continues to drop. The same Congress that approves the AID package for AIFLD and the AALC defeats Labor Law Reform. Why?

It should be obvious that those who defeat Labor Law Reform for the United States and approve “free  rade union” missionary work abroad are working for the same ends. What is confusing is that the people who are doing the missionary work don’t see the contradiction.

In 1972, George Meany bragged that 20% of the AFL-CIO budget was now going for international affairs. That’s nothing to brag about in a time when the organizing department has shrunk and unions all over the country are losing members.

Nevertheless, the AFT, which has likewise suffered a drop in membership, is preparing to get on the bandwagon with the African American Labor Center.

Teachers in Africa: Local 2 Takes the Lead

The AFT’s involvement with Irving Brown’s programs in Africa is still in its infancy. The 1978 national union convention is the first to consider a resolution dealing with the AALC.

Nevertheless, AFT members, especially those from New York’s Local 2, have been active in AALC work for years.

In 1972, AALC took AFT national organizer Richard Arnold onto its staff to work in Addis Adaba.

In April 1973, the AALC Reporter announced that Doug McQuillan, a former member of the Delegate Assembly of AFT Local 2, the United Federation of Teachers, would join the AALC staff as a technical expert.

In October, 1973, the Reporter noted that UFT Assistant Treasurer Ponsie Hillman had toured Africa under AALC auspices, visiting Zaire, Kenya and Ethiopia. She also visited Europe and met with Force Ouvriere in France.

On April 22, 1974, the International Federation of Free Teachers Unions (IFFTU) met to discuss Pan Africanism in Zaire.

On June 8, 1975, AFT Vice-President Velma Hill represented the AFT at the AALC “Exchange of Views” in Choully, Switzerland.

On June 6, 1976, Albert Shanker, AFT President, joined Irving Brown and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Lane Kirkland for the AALC “Exchange of Views” at Choully.

From April 16 to 21, 1978, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) Executive Director Vito DiLeonardis lectured on collective bargaining and trade union management in Kenya.

August, 1978, the AFT national convention considers a resolution proposed by the Executive Council on South Africa. Among other things, the resolution states:

The AFT reaffirms its commitment to the work of the African American Labor Centersupported by the AFL-CIO. Aid and assistance must be provided to free trade unionswhich are operating under repressive conditions. As teachers, we offer special assistanceto free teacher unions and urge their affiliation with the International Federation of FreeTeachers Unions.

(Proposed AFT Convention Resolution #78).


Harold Laski on Foundations and Universities

The following quotes are from Harold Laski’s important 1930 essay “Foundations, Universities, and Research,” which was published in his book The Dangers of Obedience and Other Essays.

laski dangers of obediance

“The research institutes report to the universities; the universities report to the directors of foundations; the directors of foundations report to their trustees; the trustees seek reports from detached outsiders upon the reports they have received. Conferences are held for the reception of reports; and men are judged by the impression of them the reports convey. Trustees look to university presidents to pick the professors likely to attract endowments from the foundations; university presidents look for professors who can produce the kind of research in which the foundations are interested; professors search for healthy young graduates who can provide the basis for the ultimate generalizations. There are endless committees to coordinate or correlate or integrate. There are new executive positions for men who do not themselves research but judge whether other people are suitable for the task of research. These are formidable people, widely traveled, gracious, but firm in manner, as befits men who have vast benefactions to dispense. There are interim reports, special reports, confidential reports, final reports. There are programs for the development of every theme. There are surveys for the dissection of every problem, industrial, racial, national, international. There are experimental centers, statistical centers, analytical centers. More energy, I venture to believe, has gone this last five years into the systematization of research in this field than in any previous generation of intellectual effort.” (pp.153-4)

“I turn to the second aspect of the problem: the effect of the system upon the universities. Here, the controlling fact is that the great foundations have immense sums to disburse. It is the inevitable result that an energetic university president or an ambitious university teacher should think out his plans in terms of what the foundation is likely to approve. Certain obvious consequences follow. “Dangerous” problems are not likely to be investigated, especially not by “dangerous” men; that would not win the esteem of the trustees who can be counted upon to dislike disturbing themes. I know, for instance, of an important project, brought to a point after long and difficult negotiation, which was killed by a foundation in the belief that its completion would be displeasing to Signor Mussolini. And it must be remembered that the system, as it works, is all to the disadvantage of the scholar whose results, however important, come slowly. The president wants material for a formidable annual report which will obtain a renewal of the grant. Other things being equal, his blessing goes to the members of the staff who can give him material for such a report; and, where vacancies occur, search will be made for men of a similar stamp elsewhere. The personnel where vacancies occur, search will be made for men of a similar stamp elsewhere. The personnel of the university, in a word, comes to be dominated by the “executive” type of professor, who is active in putting its goods into the shop-window. The university with a big grant has its place in the press. The president is marked out as a man able to do things. The enthusiasm for quantity the most insidious of all academic diseases-grows by what it feeds on. Those who cannot aid the development of the new tendencies find themselves without influence and discouraged. Men, only too often, are judged by their output; and, as soon as that point is reached, they spend their time, not in reflection upon ultimate principle, but in the description of social machinery or the collection of “materials. It is the business of a university to breed great scholars; and in such an atmosphere great scholars will hardly be bred.” (pp.163-4)

“Nor is it easy to be satisfied with the position of the foundations themselves. Here, let me’ say at once that some of them are blessed indeed in their personnel; when one thinks of a man like Abraham Flexner, with his insight, his wisdom, his humility, one wonders why, long ago, one of the great universities had not implored him to lend it the aid, as its president, of his creative imagination. But a man like Abraham Flexner is rare indeed among the executives of a foundation. Usually the director gives the impression of considerable complacency and a keen sense of the power at his disposal. He has not often himself engaged in the serious business of research. He has dipped into an immense number of subjects; he is usually captivated by the latest fashion in each. He travels luxuriously, is amply entertained wherever he goes (he has so much to give), and he speaks always to hearers keenly alert to sense the direction of his own interests in order that they may explain that this is the one thing they are anxious to develop in their own university. When you see him at a college, it is like nothing so much as the vision of an important customer in a department store. Deferential salesmen surround him on every hand, anticipating his every wish, alive to the importance of his good opinion, fearful lest he be dissatisfied and go to their rival across the way. The effect on him is to make him feel that he in fact is shaping the future of the social sciences. Only a very big man can do that. From which it follows that he is a very big man.

“He has no desire — let it be admitted in the fullest possible degree — to control the universities he seeks to benefit. The gifts are made; and it is, I believe, only in the most exceptional instances that any conditions of any kind are attached to them. But, with all the good will in the world, he cannot help controlling them. A university principal who wants his institution to expand has no alternative except to see it expand in the directions of which one or other of the foundations happens to approve. There may be doubt, or even dissent among the teachers in the institution, but what possible chance has doubt or dissent against a possible gift of, say, a hundred thousand dollars? And how, conceivably, can the teacher whose work fits in with the scheme of the prospective endowment fail to appear more important in the eyes of the principal or his trustees than the teacher for whose subject, or whose views, the foundation has neither interest nor liking? What possible chance has the teacher of an “unendowed” subject to pull an equal weight in his institution with the teacher of one that is “endowed”? How can he avoid the embarrassment that may come when he is asked, as he has been ‘asked, to put his own work on one side and cooperate in the particular piece of research the foundation has adopted and upon the report about which the standing of his own institution may depend? What are his chances of promotion if he pursues a path of solitary inquiry in a world of colleges competing for the substantial crumbs which fall from the foundation’s table? And, observe, there is not a single point here in which there is the slightest control from, or interference by, the foundation itself. It is merely the fact that a fund is within reach which permeates everything and alters everything. The college develops along the lines the foundation approves. The dependence is merely implicit, but it is in fact quite final. If a foundation is interested in international affairs the college will develop a zeal for its study, or for anthropology, or the negro problem, or questions of population. But it would also, whatever the cost, develop a passion for ballistics or the Bantu languages if these were the subjects upon which the foundation was prepared to smile.

“I remember vividly a summer school in a European city which was visited by the director of an important foundation. Its organizers were hard pressed for funds and hopeful that some manna might fall from the particular heaven in which this director dwelt. I was invited to meet him at dinner, and instructions were offered to me about the kind of reception he was to have. Though none of us felt that what he has written possessed any special importance, we were to treat him as a high authority upon his subject. We were to elicit his frank views about the school, and explain that his hopes and fears coincided with our own. We were to discuss-of course in an impersonal way-the great achievements to the credit of his foundation, and the high influence it had exerted in the promotion of international good will. We were to refer delicately to our sense of the fitness of things which had led a foreign government to decorate him for his services. We were to indicate our faint hope that the light of his countenance might be pleased to shine upon so humble an effort as the summer school. In so delicately perfumed an atmosphere it was indeed comforting to watch the expansion of his personality. I think we almost convinced him that he was a great man; certainly he was pleased to indicate that he believed a distinguished future lay before “some of your group.” Am in me time the school made its formal application, and the appropriate manna fell from heaven.

As a rule, of course, the environment, on both sides, is manipulated with a finesse more exquisitely molded and more subtly staged. But that it is recognized where the real control lies no one who has watched the operation in process can possibly doubt. The man who pays the piper knows perfectly well that he can call the tune. He can shut down, at a moment’s notice, one of the most promising graduate schools in the United States by the simple process of deciding to spend its wonted subsidy in another direction. He can close an activity for which his foundation was famous all over the world, to which, also, men of international reputation have given years of devoted service, merely by deciding that there is not room for its activities in his next year’s budget; and the unfortunate subjects of his decision are without opportunity either of appeal or protest. Those who have access to him among the universities become important merely by the influence they exert. Let him select a scholar to travel among the colleges and report upon the teaching and organization of a particular subject, and the scholar will be received with the same breathless reverence as a Jacobin representative on mission. The foundations do not control, simply because, in the direct and simple sense of the word, there is no need for them to do so. ‘They have only to indicate the immediate direction of their minds for the whole university world to discover that it always meant to gravitate swiftly to that angle of the intellectual compass.


“No one, I suppose, has ever undertaken research, however humble, without feeling that the business of discovering facts is grim and necessary and infinitely laborious. But it is one thing to find them for the purpose of an end beyond themselves, and it is another thing, and a dangerous thing, to elevate the mere process of their discovery into a religious rhapsody. For immediately the second road is followed, a body of vital consequences follows. Immense sums of money become necessary; and the essential factor in the situation becomes the man or the institution with money to give. The laborers in the vineyard set themselves to cultivate his good will. And because scientific “impartiality” is important — for the donors must not be accused of subsidizing a particular point of view the emphasis of research moves away from values and ends to materials and methods.

“The men who used to be architects of ideas and systems become builders’ laborers. They are rated not for what they think and its value, but for how they can organize and its extent. The man who dominates the field is the man who knows how to “run” committees and conferences, who has influence with, and access to, a trustee here and a director there. The governing bodies of universities are naturally impressed by imposing buildings, long lists of publications, reports of committees with high-sounding names; how, for them, shall such activities not be important upon which foundations born of the grim, material success they understand, are prepared to lavish millions? The directors are, content enough, for their esteem is flattered and they have the assurance of innumerable committees that, one day, results of the first importance will be born. And if somewhere a faint doubt obtrudes, a reference to the technic of the natural sciences and the immense results secured there is usually sufficient to stifle skepticism.” (pp.169-76)



Mass Media and Social Movements: A Critical Examination of the Relation Between the Mainstream Media and Social Movements

This article was first published in 2008 as “Mediating Protests: A Critical Examination of the Relation Between the Mass Media and Social Movements, Refereed paper presented to the Convergence, Citizen Journalism & Social Change: Building Capacity conference, University of Queensland, March 25-27, 2008.

Citizen journalism conference


Social movements come and go, represent all manner of political beliefs, and aim to achieve their political objectives by influencing a particular target group’s opinion. Some groups reach out directly to just a few key decision makers or constituencies, while others act more indirectly by broadcasting their message to as wide an audience as possible.

Writing in 1993, William Gamson and Gadi Wolfsfeld suggested that social movements rely on the media for three main services, (1) mobilisation of political support, (2) legitimisation (or validation) in the mainstreams discourse, and (3) to broaden the scope of conflicts.[1] Consequently, the quality and nature of the media coverage that social movements obtain strongly influences how they are perceived in the public eye – to the extent that good or bad coverage can help to make or break a social movement.

Social movements that are long lived and effectively institutionalised within society, tend not to challenge the status quo directly, and so consequently are less dependent on media coverage for their survival.

However, media coverage may be crucial for other, less well known social movements whose often transitional and adversarial nature tends to weaken their ability to secure public legitimacy. Their outsider status – that is, their marginalisation from central political decision-making processes – along with their often resource-poor nature, means that traditional avenues of publicity are not easily accessible which forces them to rely on alternative methods to obtain media access. Traditionally, this involves some form of public spectacle – like a protest – to attract media attention.

Typical protest actions include sit-ins, pickets, street theatre, strikes, rallies, mass demonstrations and their more recent relative, reclaim the street parties. These activities have become accepted as mechanisms by which social problems are communicated in the public sphere, alongside public opinion polls and elections and they act as vital means by which citizens can signal their discontent. Consequently, the way that such protest activities are reported in the media is fundamental to the effectiveness of the feedback loop between the public and their politicians.

Unlike other ‘legitimate’ social groups, like the police and mainstream politicians, most social movements are not the focus of regular news beats. This means that unless social movements stage big public events, they struggle to get their message heard, as “the vast majority of demonstrations are ignored by the mainstream media”– particularly small demonstrations.[2] Governments are often openly critical of social movements that undermine their authority, but perhaps what is more damaging is the subtle nature of the mass media’s marginalisation of the activities of many social movements. Linda Kensicki highlighted some of these consequences:

“There are repeated cases of slanting, trivialisation, and outright omission of those who deviate from the norms of an elite media and form a political movement to combat injustice. Negative media frames have been discovered in the antinuclear movement, the women’s movement (Barker-Plummer 1995), and the gay and lesbian movement, and the National Environmental Policy Act faced a media blackout.”[3]

Joseph Chan and Chin-Chuan Lee first described the “protest paradigm” in 1984 to illustrate how the mass media tended to focus on limited features of social protests to portray protestors as the ‘other’.[4] Characteristics of this reporting paradigm, which work to separate protestors (them) from non-protesting audiences (us, or at least some of us) include a reliance on official sources to frame the event, a focus on police confrontation, and an analysis of the protestors activities (and appearances) rather than their objectives. This somewhat internalised selection process serves to filter which protests are reported, and which are ignored (for more on this, see my recent article, Conform or Reform? Social Movements and the Mass Media). Reporting within this paradigm typically gives the impression that protests “‘erupt out of nowhere’ and are ‘irrational’ manifestations of self-interest by sectional interest groups operating without concern for, and at the expense of, the ‘organic whole’ – the national interest.”[5]

Understanding the relationship between social movements and the media’s coverage of their actions is crucial, especially if this increasingly important political resource is to be utilised effectively for progressive social change. This article aims to analyse this pivotal relationship from two directions. Firstly, it will examine incidents where the media facilitates social change via protest actions within democratic countries, which will be followed by an examination of the media’s role in catalysing major social change, that is, revolutions in authoritarian nations. Secondly, the article will chart the ways in which the media (in democratic countries) can act to undermine social movements in the public sphere. Finally, the article will attempt to understand why social movement protest coverage is so variable and conclude by making recommendations for how progressive organisations may best address their relationships with the media.

Media ‘Supported’ Social Movements

Gaining positive media coverage is crucial for many social movements, as the way they are portrayed in the mass media can have important implications for their ability to mobilise citizens to participate in their protests. Indeed in 1987, social movement researchers Bert Klandermans and Dirk Oegema found that only 5% of the people who agreed with the objectives of a peace protest were motivated enough to participate in the subsequent protest.[6]

Despite such evident barriers to participation, in Belgium on 20 October 1996, a brand new social movement (formed in the wake of the controversy surrounding the arrest of murderer Marc Dutroux) mobilised the White March. What made this event remarkable was that the White March involved around 300,000 citizens and was Belgium’s largest ever demonstration. Stefaan Walgrave and Jan Manssens studied the media coverage of this mobilisation and concluded that, contrary to most social movement research, it was the media itself that made the White March successful. In fact, they described how the media “undertook large-scale and unconcealed motivational framing efforts” to actively break down barriers to participation.[7]

Similarly in Australia, the media took on an advocacy role for a protest in Australia when Howard Sattler, the host of a popular Australian talkback radio program, stirred up racist sentiments amongst his listeners, when a young indigenous boy was involved in a fatal hit and run car incident in 1991. Sattler heavily promoted a “Rally for Justice” amidst the ensuing “public hysteria” – generated for the most part from his radio show – which drew thirty thousand angry protestors on to the streets. Worryingly, the rally succeeded in pressuring the Australian government to “introduc[e] poorly framed, racist legislation which contravene[d] the Convention on Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and possibly the Racial Discrimination Act (1975)”.[8]

One US group that seem to have their protest coverage (positively) amplified in the mass media is the Promise Keepers, “an evangelical men’s organization with an anti-feminist and anti-gay theology”. Dane Claussen analysed their coverage in US newspapers – from 1991 (their founding year) through to April 1996 – and concluded that it was “overwhelmingly positive”.[9] In fact, one of their protests in Washington DC received “more than three times the coverage” the television networks devoted to a women’s march held the day before, which was more than double its size.

Another example of contrasting media coverage can be seen in the reporting of the protests surrounding the US-led invasion of Iraq (in 2003). Catherine Luther and Mark Miller analysed pro-war and anti-war coverage in eight US newspapers and showed how reporters were more likely to use delegitimation cues when referring to anti-war protestors, while using legitimation cues to refer to pro-war campaigners. Recent anti-war protests held in the US (in September 2005) were downplayed by the media, when between 100,000 and 300,000 people marched through Washington DC. There were however, a few hundred pro-war protestors and the Washington Post amazingly managed to produce a headline that reported: “Smaller but spirited crowd protests antiwar march; more than 200 say they represent majority.” Clear Channel, the US media conglomerate took this one step further in the lead-up to the war in Iraq by “sponsoring and supporting” a number of pro-war rallies through its radio stations. The various examples of media-supported protests examined here, raise concerns over the role of the media in democracies. Yet even more startling questions arise in the following section, which demonstrates how the media can in some circumstances actually work to support social movements to overthrow governments.

Media-Facilitated Revolutions (and Democracy?)

Since the recent revolution in Serbia, which ousted President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, a series of ‘coloured revolutions’ have swept across Eastern Europe. These were the Rose revolution in Georgia (2003), the Orange revolution in Ukraine (2005) and the Tulip revolution in Kyrgyzstan (2005). In each case, after stolen elections, the media played an important role in catalysing public participation in mass protests, which led to success of each of the revolutions. This section will outline, the integral role the independent media played in each of these four revolutions (for further background information on the nature of the ‘coloured revolutions’ see Taking the Risk Out of Civil Society: Harnessing Social movements and Regulating Revolutions).

To many political commentators and media scholars, it was clear that the independent media in Serbia “facilitated the regime change and paved the way for democracy”.[10] Names of independent media broadcasters (particularly, Radio B 92) were even “[c]hanted as slogans during the numerous street protests” during the 1990s, becoming “symbols of resistance” for democracy. In this case, the Serbian independent media fulfilled an overtly political function and were highly involved in coordinating and organizing protests throughout the decade prior to the revolution (in 2000). These activities made the independent media particularly prone to pressure from government censors, especially after 1998 when Milosevic’s government cracked down on their efforts to undermine his authority.[11] However, Western countries had significant interests in toppling Milosevic’s regime, so they stepped in to support Serbia’s opposition groups and the independent media. Thus, external financial and diplomatic assistance from foreign countries, particularly from the United States, played a vital role in protecting and amplifying the voice of the independent media. Assistance for the creation of the Asocijacija Nezavisnih Elektronskih Medija (Association of Independent Electronic Media) which was formed in 1993, turned out to be crucial for the survival of the Serbian independent electronic media after 1998, as the international support it received helped protect many broadcasters from state repression. External funding for media development was not insignificant and during the early 1990s the international community provided between US$7-10 million to the former Yugoslavia for this goal, while after 1995 the US gave a further US$23 million and the European Union augmented this with another 17 million Euros.

As in Serbia, Georgia’s independent media played an important role in challenging legitimacy of their authoritarian government led by President Eduard Shevardnadze. Consequently, this meant that the independent media was often viewed by Shevardnadze as an enemy of the state. So in October 2001, Shevardnadze tried to “shut down Georgia’s most popular independent TV station Rustavi 2”. This prompted Rustavi 2 and other media outlets to draw widespread public attention to the governments heavy handed attempt at censorship, which “led to three days of non-stop protest demonstrations” against the actions of the government.[12] These protests were so successful in mobilising popular support that they led to the resignation of several ministers, and enabled Rustavi 2 to continue broadcasting without further state interference. This turned out to be a critical win for the opposition parties. This is because when Shevardnadze attempted to steal the elections in November 2003, Rustavi 2 acted as a vital part of the opposition’s propaganda machinery, providing “almost non-stop” protest coverage and “inform[ing] Georgians about upcoming demonstrations and actions”.[13] These protests were part of the Rose Revolution, which led to the ousting of Shevardnadze, and the election (in January 2004) of the opposition’s leader, Mikhail Saakashvili. During the protests Saakashvili was aware of Rustavi 2 significance and “called on [his] supporters to protect was Rustavi-2’s headquarters”.

As the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance recognised: “The development of independent media is often considered to be the single greatest achievement of Georgia’s democratic transition.” Thus foreign assistance was arguably the key to the success of the independent media and of the Rose revolution, with opposition organisations receiving significant financial assistance from international democracy promoting bodies. In addition, Shevardnadze was placed under significant diplomatic pressure from the US government and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to leave the opposition organisations alone.[14] It is interesting to note that the independent media that helped oust Shevardnadze, have now replaced their adversarial relationship with the government with a symbiotic one: “For instance, before the new elections on March 28, 2004, major TV stations announced the shut down of all political talk-shows and debates” and the abolishment of public debate of the elections.[15]

The focal point for Ukraine’s Orange revolution was the December 2004 elections, in which authoritarian President Leonid Kuchma was accused of tampering with the electoral processes for his preferred candidate Viktor Yanukovich. Again the independent media played an important part in the success of the revolution. Indeed, prior to the revolution in July 2003, Andrii Shevchenko, the first president of the Independent Journalists Trade Union, argued that the “media is the thread which can be used to unravel the power of the establishment”. Coincidentally, around this time in mid-2003, two small media companies were able to secure a broadcast license for what was to be the opposition’s first TV station – Channel 5. Up until this point, Kuchma and his supporters had maintained control of “all the mainstream media outlets in the county”, which had enabled them to sustain an effective “information blockade” against the opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.[16]

A top Ukrainian television critic, explained how this information blockade was also used to denigrate opposition-led protests following the contested parliamentary elections in September 2002: “Initially the large protests in Kiev were not reported at all on national television, then the number of protesters who turned up was dramatically under-reported, and later the situation was misrepresented by showing images of street people and drunks when reporting on the protests”. Kuchma’s government had always tolerated some degree of dissent within society, but just before the 2004 elections they clamped down on Channel 5 by freezing their bank accounts and attempting to revoke their broadcasting license. However, Channel 5 still remained on air, so their staff launched a hunger strike on 25 October 2004 that was broadcast until the government stopped harassing them on 2 November 2004.[17]

Channel 5 went on to play an important mobilising role during the revolution, providing information on where protests were taking place: they even had a participatory presence at the opposition rallies themselves on large TV screens which broadcasted Yushchenko’s speeches and provided news and music to the protestors in the streets. The situation in previous elections had been very different, as in September 2002, the Kuchma’s government only allowed TV stations to broadcast once the regime was in “full control of all the news rooms”. While Marta Dyczok suggests that this difference might be partly explained by presences of the large international media contingent covering the 2004 elections, it also seems likely that other more direct external assistance may have had a hand in explaining Kuchma’s comparably tolerant attitude towards dissent.[18] This is because over the previous two years Ukrainian opposition groups had received around US$65 million from US democracy promoting organisations.

Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip revolution – which resulted in the ousting of President Askar Akayev – occurred in March 2005, following the disputed parliamentary elections. US democracy promoters (amongst others) were again working behind the scenes, providing US$26.5 million to various ‘independent’ groups between 2003 and 2004.[19] That said, it appears that the US was not always interested in ousting Akayev, as for most of the 15 years he was in power the US maintained fairly positive relations with Kyrgyzstan. Such congenial relations were disrupted by 2003, a change which may be partly explained by Akayev’s greater diplomatic engagement with Russia.

During his long reign in power, Akayev had not any qualms with closing down opposition newspapers that threatened his authority, so in May 2003 he forced an important opposition newspaper, Moya Stolitsa, out of business with a libel suit. Just one month later though, the indignant editor of Moya Stolitsa created a new opposition newspaper, called Moya Stolitsa-Novosti (MSN) which obtained funding from the US-based neoconservative organisation, Freedom House. In November 2003, the US then also funded the creation of a new independent printing press, on which MSM and other opposition papers were produced.[20]

The Kyrgyz regime was demonstrably worried by MSN’s adversarial coverage and at one point they cut off the electricity supply to the newspaper’s offices: however, “pressure from foreign governments” came quickly which subsequently “forced” the Kyrgyz administration to stop harassing the ‘independent’ media. In this case, as in the lead-up to the other revolutions, the foreign diplomatic and financial support for MSN (and the opposition media) was vital, as MSN has been credited as being “a major, transformative force”, “fanning the fires of dissent” and printing the locations of opposition demonstrations, facilitating the Tulip revolution that drove Akayev out of the country.[21]

As the revolutionary examples in this section have demonstrated, the media has a powerful role in both generating and harnessing public sentiment around specific issues. It then seems logical to conclude that if the media can rig the rules of the media game to create winners, it can certainly select losers.

Undermining Social Movements and Democracy

One of the first comprehensive studies on the communicative aspects of a protest (completed in 1970) investigated the press and television coverage of a mass demonstration held against the Vietnam War, in London (UK) on 27 October 1968. The demonstration in question involved approximately 60,000 protesters, most of whom marched peacefully through the streets of London (with an insignificant number of protestors involved in violent actions). Yet despite the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of the march, the media concentrated most of its coverage on the issue of violence – where even “[r]eporting of the peaceful main march suggested disorder and quasi-violence”.[22] Since then, many researchers have followed up on this investigation, examining how the interplay between social movements and the media. A notable study is Todd Gitlin’s (1980) The Whole World Is Watching, which illustrated how the mass media worked to undermine the objectives of both the Students for a Democratic Society and the anti-war movement. More recently, Christopher Martin has updated the longstanding thesis that has demonstrated the media’s hostility towards the labour movement in his excellent book Framed! Labor and the Corporate Media.

One characteristic that strongly influences a social movement’s media treatment are the degree to which they are perceived to be ‘extreme’ (that is, challenging the status quo) and ‘militant’ (in their tactics); whereby, the more extreme and militant a group, the more critical the media coverage. Critical coverage is also sometimes complemented by another delegitimising strategy, which involves downplaying the size of a protest. Prominent examples include: the British May Day protests in both 1973 and in 2001, the biggest ever British anti-war march, Washington DC’s biggest ever protest, protests opposing the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, and protests opposing the North American Free Trade Agreement in Seattle. Research in the US has shown that protests or social movements that challenge the legitimacy of the governments foreign policies, are less likely to be covered by the mass media or more likely to be heavily “denigrated and delegitimized”.

Laura Ashley and Beth Olson studied how women’s movements were represented in the New York Times, Time and Newsweek from 1986 to 1996, and concluded that one of the “most astounding” results of their research was that the “women’s movement was rarely covered”.[23] This is important, because as James Hertog and Douglas McLeod’s work demonstrated, depending on the version of protest coverage audiences watched, people showed big differences in opinion on the way they viewed both the issues raised and the protestors themselves.[24] Other research has shown how media coverage of protests can act to increase public hostility towards the protestors’ cause. These findings have particularly important implications for social movements because, if a single report can determine how sympathetic the public is to their goals, consistently antagonistic media treatment is likely to have very negative repercussions regarding public support of protests themselves.

In 1998, John McCarthy and his colleagues compared the number and coverage of protests which took place in Washington DC in 1982 and 1991, and found that although there were 50% more protests in 1991, the number reported in the media (the New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC, CBS, and NBC) decreased by 16% (from 158 to 133).[25] Critically, this reduction in protest coverage serves to increase competition between social movements to secure a piece of the valuable media pie. Rising financial pressure is then placed on smaller social movements unable to secure consistent positive media coverage, because donor organisations (especially corporate ones) may prefer to fund groups with better media profiles. Indeed, well-publicised media events – like the recent tsunami – can encourage donors to switch from funding smaller social movements towards larger more media-philic ones. Critically in order to gain a ticket to this exclusive media club, an unwritten price must be paid; because as William Gamson points out “the media may offer occasional models of collective action that make a difference, but they are highly selective ones”. [26] Moreover as Todd Gitlin points out, for progressive reformist groups to maintain any semblance of positive media coverage, they have to partake in an ongoing fight to shape the daily news to prevent their messages being rendered unintelligible.[27] These processes encourage social movements to water down their political demands – to make themselves appear less challenging to the status quo – which in turn leaves them more vulnerable to cooption by political and economic elites. Problematically even when progressive activist groups obtain positive media coverage supportive of some of their objectives, their longer-term ambitions may still be undermined – on this point, see Josh Greenberg and Graham Knight’s work for a discussion of the US anti-sweatshop movements relations with the media.[28]


The issues arising in this article amply demonstrate the wide variety in the quality and quantity of the media’s coverage of protests: but how might these differences be explained, and what are there consequences for progressive social change? Answering these questions is particularly important, as it is fundamental to the maintenance of democratic institutions that citizens are able to participate actively in the administration of their society to determine their collective objectives. On this point it is important to reflect upon the neoliberal environment in which the media currently operates (within Western democracies at least). This is because neoliberal politics facilitates the rising power of (predominantly Western) global media conglomerates and serves to marginalise the majority of citizens from meaningful participation in media policy making. Consequently for any social movement to draw beneficial attention to its activities in the media the first barrier they must overcome are the structural constraints of this communicative medium itself.

Despite the extremely negative picture painted in the previous section, there are still some winners in the ‘media game’. So while losers, like the largest protest ever held in Washington, DC (the 2004 Women’s March) received just a “handful of march-related stories over a few days” in the New York Times and the Washington Post; other protestors have their message amplified by the media, as the first two sections of this article illustrated. Stefaan Walgrave and Jan Manssens suggest that the specific contextual factors that encouraged the media to support the White March protests in Belgium included,

  1.  clear opposition between the public and elites;
  2.  a “highly emotional and symbolic issue that create[s] an atmosphere of consensus, emotion, and togetherness”;
  3.  lack of a social movement – so that the media can appear objective and committed to the public good;
  4.  a simple issue;
  5.  a politically neutral, valence issue;
  6.  a media environment that is “commercial and characterized by depoliticisation and de-ideologisation”;
  7.  turbulent times during which the reporting should take place (that is, not under normal circumstances); and lastly
  8.  a high degree of public trust in the media.

Mobilising criteria like these are unlikely to be met by many social movements, and are even less likely to be fulfilled by any progressive movements. However, whatever the ultimate reason, the media’s differential treatment of protestors is unlikely to be conducive to supporting the diversity and longevity of social movements required to support democratic forms of governance. This appears especially true when genuine grassroots social movements find themselves competing alongside manufactured (media friendly) corporate social movements or astroturf groups, whose business driven interests are cleverly disguised from their participants and the public. All social movements and interest groups should be able to compete on equal grounds for media coverage, not just a select few that satisfy the media’s news values – which usually act to “reinforce conventional opinions and established authority”.[29]

Although the discussion so far may help explain why certain protests are ‘backed’ by the media, it does not explain why the independent media has often been able to play such a crucial role in ousting governments during revolutions. Interestingly, similar forms of independent media exist in Western democracies, but there they have little influence on the public sphere (see and are unlikely to facilitate a popular revolution in the near future. In fact, the independent media in the West, like their counterparts in authoritarian regimes, have often been targets of secret state-led ‘wars’.[30] During the 1960s and 1970s, in America:

“This offensive included a variety of repressive actions, including: the monitoring of personal finances of underground journalists; arrests and assaults on staff members; government-inspired distribution hurdles for radical periodicals; loss of printing facilities; grand-jury subpoenas for editors and reporters; the release of ‘disinformation’ falsely attributed to underground media; publication of ‘underground’ papers secretly funded by the government; the bombing, burning, and ransacking of newspaper offices; and, possibly, the destruction of the transmitter of a listener-sponsored radio station.”[31]

So how are the independent media in authoritarian states able to successfully challenge the status quo, when, in even democratic countries, governments have succeeded in repressing and marginalising their voices so effectively? Part of the answer to this question, seems to lie in the support foreign governments provide to the independent media (and social movements) in authoritarian states, financially and diplomatically, through both supportive and coercive mechanisms. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is important in this regard, as they are the main US-based democracy promoting organisation, and they act as a key coordinating body for many of the world’s democracy promoting organisations.

Since the late 1980s, Ellen Hume – who herself sits on the advisory council for the NED’s Center on International Media Assistance – estimates that international democracy promoting organisations have spent anywhere up to US$1 billion promoting independent media overseas. Many scholars have questioned the benign rhetoric surrounding the intentions of these ‘democracy promoters’, and they have illustrated that democracy promoting initiatives are usually strongly tied to the donor countries’ geo-strategic priorities, or more generically to the interests of transnational capitalism. Thus, in 1991, the NED’s president noted that “[a] lot of what [the NED] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA”.

William I. Robinson suggests it is more appropriate to refer to the activities of the democracy manipulating community as promoting polyarchy (that is, low-intensity democracy) and explains that:

“The promotion of ‘low-intensity democracy’ is aimed not only at mitigating the social and political tensions produced by elite-based and undemocratic status quos, but also at suppressing popular and mass aspirations for more thoroughgoing democratisation of social life in the twenty-first century international order.”[32]

The implications of such revelations are huge for the promotion of independent media organisations overseas (a phenomenon dealt with in full by Barker, In Press, The National Endowment for Democracy and the promotion of ‘democratic’ media systems worldwide). However, rather than just focusing on revolutions supported by foreign so-called ‘democracy promoters’ (read: democracy manipulators), it is enlightening to examine a case of an unsuccessful revolution in which the independent media played a supportive role for the would-be-revolutionaries.

In Azerbaijan, on 15 October 2003, the incumbent authoritarian President Heydar Aliyev was accused of stealing the election results when he handed over control of his regime to his son, Ilham Aliyev. Thousands of citizens immediately took to the streets to protest the results, but unlike the other successful colour revolutions in Eastern Europe, these protests were violently broken up, with hundreds of protestors imprisoned and one killed. For the three weeks following the elections, Ilgar Khudiyev compared the media coverage of the protests between state and independent newspapers, and found that the independent media were supportive of the protestors. He also showed how the independent media, as in the colour revolutions, “cited the protestors more than official and authoritative sources” and quoted “those sources that strengthened the position of the protestors”.[33] However, although external democracy manipulating organisations provided financial support to the independent media in Azerbaijan, it seemed that without international diplomatic support (as well), the calls for a revolution fell on deaf ears. So the revolution failed, with the US government even congratulating Ilham on his election ‘win’.

In part, the contradictory nature of the international democracy manipulating communities support for Azerbaijan’s government may be explained by the favorable relations they maintain with the US and other transnational elites. A relationship that was further bolstered by their support for the ‘War on Terrorism’, and for American and British interests in the development of the geostrategically important Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. So while democracy manipulating groups are happy to support and defend independent media organisations overseas (within limits) as a means of promoting social change, they will only fully support regime change when they are certain that they can ensure a smooth transition to polyarchal political arrangements that will serve the interests of imperial transnational elites more effectively than the incumbent government. So without apparent contradiction, while the US is openly supportive of Azerbaijan’s authoritarian regime it also simultaneously supports the ousting of other less ‘friendly’ authoritarian governments in other countries (i.e. the colour revolutions).

Not surprisingly the selective nature of the US’s ‘democracy promoting’ policies are echoed in the American media, which effectively serves to manufacture public consent for elite interests. So the US media provided strong support for the ousting of Milosevic while they ‘ignored’ other revolutions:[34] for example, in 2000 Greg Palast demonstrated how the Washington Post dismissed one of the biggest international stories of the year – the people’s revolution in Bolivia (which rejected the US corporate-led privatisation of their water supply) – which it covered, or rather marginalised, in the Style section “dangled from the bottom of a cute little story on the lifestyle of some local anti-WTO protesters.” It seems that in the minds of the democracy manipulators and the US media that the Bolivian citizens were supporting the wrong type of democracy, that is, popular democracy rather than polyarchy.

A similar affront on popular democracy occurred in Venezuela, in April 2002, when President Hugo Chávez (who was democratically elected in 1998) was temporarily removed from power in coup. In a manner reminiscent of the colour revolutions in Eastern Europe, there was clear support for the ouster of Chávez by transnational elites. In fact, the group which led the coup against Chávez received financial support from the NED, while the coup itself also received widespread support from the local independent media and from “some sections of the international media”.[35]

Prior to the coup, the Venezuelan independent media – “which includes five out of the seven major TV networks and nine out of the 10 major daily papers” – had called for the ousting of Chávez, and made regular broadcasts encouraging people to participate in the coup. That is, they were working in direct opposition to the will of the majority of the Venezuelan public who had shown their overwhelming support for Chávez in numerous democratic elections. In the days following the coup, the radio, television and press then ignored the massive protests calling for the return of Chávez, casting a veil of invisibility over the protestors presence on the streets: this was clearly evident to Chávez’s supporters, who subsequently focused their countercoup campaign on the primary supporters of the coup, the media institutions.[36] However, even when the media gave in to the protestors’ demands for media coverage, they depicted the pro-Chávez campaigners as “the mob”, in stark contrast to their coverage of the protestors who led the coup, who were framed as “civil society”. So as this example illustrates, the presence of a vigorous independent media system, free from government control or manipulation, does not necessarily facilitate democratic decision-making. Lastly, it is important to acknowledge that both internal and external efforts to undermine Chávez’s government continue to this day, with the strong support of the US media and government.


The Eastern European case studies provided in this article demonstrate how the development and selective support of independent media outlets may be used as one important part of an array of foreign policy tools that are used by neoliberal elites to promote polyarchy through the ouster of ‘unfriendly’ governments (be they authoritarian or democratic). In part this helps explain why progressive social movements challenging the status quo in Western democracies are so regularly denigrated, while those groups whose interests are more easily incorporated into, already aligned with, or of marginal importance to the policy frameworks of powerful political and economic elites are more readily supported by the media. This occurs because the media in the West are powerful corporate actors themselves and are staunch defenders of the status quo, and their interests are one and the same as those of transnational capitalism.[37] Consequently, it is readily apparent that Western media systems are not fulfilling their democratic role within Western societies, and are in fact acting instead in ways that work to undermine popularly understood conceptions of democracy. In the light of this information, social movement activists need to start seriously thinking about how they might improve the (often anti-democratic) mainstream media they are forced to operate within, as Robert McChesney notes:

“…regardless of what a progressive group’s first issue of importance is, its second issue should be media and communication, because so long as the media are in corporate hands, the task of social change will be vastly more difficult, if not impossible, across the board.”[38]

In the US, media reform groups are already on the rise (see, but in other countries the signs of change are less promising. So now is the time for social movements from across the board to work together in solidarity, to support independent, or what might be more accurately termed autonomous media, so they may begin to focus their efforts on the urgent task of global media reform.

Two particularly strong reasons stand out for why activists should address the issue of media democratisation right now, and they are:

  1.  a democratic media would let them get their unadulterated message out to the public “enabling the movement to have its own definition of the situation featured rather than marginalized”, and
  2.  it is “integral to any radically democratic politics… because media corporations are part of the system that critical social movements are challenging”.

Each group may opt for different tactics, but together they need to collaborate on a common project that serves to democratise the mainstream media. In fact, media reform may be the one issue that can unite all progressive social movements in a “broadly resonant counter-hegemonic discourse” that may enable them to overcome their differences and allow them to begin to work together against the antidemocratic discourse of neoliberalism for a progressive and equitable new world order.

This article was presented as a peer-reviewed paper at the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre’s conference titled: “Convergence, Citizen Journalism & Social Change: Building Capacity” (Brisbane, Australia, March 26-28, 2008). The referenced paper with all references can be found here. Michael Barkers other articles can be found here.


[1] Gamson, W. A. and Wolfsfeld, G. (1993) “Movements and media as interacting systems” in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 528 pp. 114-125.

[2] McCarthy, J. D., McPhail, C. and Smith, J. (1996) “Images of protest: Dimensions of selection bias in media coverage of Washington demonstrations, 1982 and 1991” in American Sociological Review, vol. 61 no. 3 p.494.

[3] Kensicki, L. J. (2001a) “Deaf president now! Positive media framing of a social movement within a hegemonic political environment” in Journal of Communication Inquiry, vol. 25, p.150.

[4] Chan, J. M. and Lee, C. C. (1984) “The journalistic paradigm on civil protests: A case study of Hong Kong” in A. Arno and W. Dissanayake (eds) The news media in national and international conflict, pp.183-202. Boulder: Westview Press.

[5] Goldlust, J. (1980) “The mass media and the social typification of industrial conflict: The case of the air traffic controllers strike” in P. Edgar (eds) The news in focus: The journalism of exception, pp. 77-102, South Melbourne: Macmillan company of Australia, p.98.

[6] Klandermans, B. and Oegema, D. (1987) “Potentials, networks, motivations and barriers: Steps towards participation in social movements” in American Sociological Review, vol. 52, p.529.

[7] Walgrave, S. and Manssens, J. (2005) “Mobilizing the White March: Media frames as alternatives to movement organizations”, in H. Johnston and J. A. Noakes (eds) Frames of protest: Social movements and the framing perspective, pp. 113-140, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, p.132.

[8] Mickler, S. (1998) The myth of privilege: Aboriginal status, media visions, public ideas, Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, p.64; Stockwell, C. (1992) “The role of the media in the juvenile justice debate in Western Australia”, Australian Institute of Criminology Conference Proceedings, September 22-24, 1992, p.279.

[9] Claussen, D. (1998) “Print mass media coverage of the Promise Keepers: The first five years” in Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Convention, August 5 to 8, Baltimore, Maryland.

[10] Kumar, K. (2004) USAID’s media assistance: Policy and programmatic lessons. Evaluation working paper 16, U.S. Agency for International Development, Bureau for Policy and Program Coordination, p.xiii.

[11] Bosnjak, S. (2005) “Fight the power, The role of the Serbian independent electronic media in the democratization of Serbia”, Simon Fraser University, Unpublished MA thesis, p.5, 71.

[12] Sulkanishvili, G. (2003) “Freedom of Expression in the Republic of Georgia: Framing the Attempted Shut-down of the Independent TV Station”, Unpublished MSc thesis, Louisiana State University, p.2.

[13] Khudiyev, I. (2005) “Coverage of the 2003 post-election protests in Azerbaijan: Impact of media ownership on objectivity”, Unpublished BA thesis, Louisiana State University, p.60.

[14] Ashwell, N. (2003) “World Bank ready to co-operate with Georgia” in WMRC Daily Analysis, 28 November 2003.

[15] Koplatadze, B. (2004) “Media coverage of the 2003 parliamentary election in the Republic of Georgia”, Unpublished MA thesis, Louisiana State University, p.39.

[16] Dyczok, M. (2006) “Was Kuchma’s censorship effective? Mass media in Ukraine before 2004” in Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 58 no. 2, p.223; Dyczok, M. (2005) “Breaking through the information blockade: Election and revolution in Ukraine 2004” in Canadian Slavonic Papers, vol. 47, p.262, 248.

[17] Dyczok, “Was Kuchma’s censorship effective?”, p.224; Dyczok, “Breaking through the information blockade”, p.255-6.

[18] Dyczok, “Breaking through the information blockade”, p.259, 257.

[19] Olcott, M. B. (2005) Central Asia’s second chance, Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, p.256.

[20] Manzella, J. and Yacher, L. (2005) “The Kyrgyz republic’s liminal media: Assessing a journalistic rite of passage” in Journalism Studies, vol. 6 no. 4, p.435, 437.

[21] Manzella and Yacher, “The Kyrgyz republic’s liminal media”, p.411.

[22] Halloran, J. D., Elliott, P. and Murdock, G. (1970) Demonstrations and communication: A case study, Harmondsworth: Penguin, p.237.

[23] Ashley, L. and Olson, B. (1998) “Constructing reality: Print media’s framing of the women’s movement, 1966 to 1986” in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, vol. 75 no. 2, p.272.

[24] Hertog, J. K. and McLeod, D. M. (1995) “Anarchists wreak havoc in downtown Minneapolis: A multi-level study of media coverage of radical protest” in Journalism and Mass Communication Monographs, vol. 151.

[25] McCarthy, J. D., McPhail, J. D., Smith, J. and Crishock, L. J. (1998) “Electronic and print media representations of Washington, D.C. demonstration, 1982 and 1991: A demography of description bias” in D. Rucht, R. Koopmans and F. Neidhardt (eds) Acts of Dissent: New Developments in the Study of Protest, Berlin.

[26] Gamson, W. A. (1995) “Constructing social protest” in H. Johnston and B. Klandermans (eds) Social movements and culture, pp. 85-106, London: UCL Press, p.99.

[27] Gitlin, T. (1980) The whole world is watching: Mass media in the making and unmaking of the New Left, Berkeley: University of California Press, p.287

[28] Greenberg, J. and Knight, G. (2004) “Framing sweatshops: Nike, global production, and the American news media” in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, vol. [28]pp. 151-175.

[29] Seaton, J. (1997) “The sociology of the mass media” in J. Curran and J. Seaton (eds) Power without responsibility: The press and broadcasting in Britain, pp. 264-287, London: Routledge, p.277.

[30] Mackenzie, A. (1997) Secrets: The CIA’s war at home, London: University of California Press.

[31] Armstrong, D. (1981) A trumpet to arms: Alternative media in America, Boston: South End Press, p.137-8.

[32] Robinson, W. I. (1996) Promoting polyarchy: Globalization, US intervention, and hegemony, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.6.

[33] Khudiyev, “Coverage of the 2003 post-election protests in Azerbaijan”, p.10, 58.

[34] Hammond, P. and Herman, E. S. (2000) Degraded capability: The media and the Kosovo crisis, London: Pluto Press.

[35] Castillo, A. (2003) “Breaking democracy: Venezuela’s media coup” in Media International Australia, vol. 108 no. 12, p.151.

[36] Castillo, “Breaking democracy”, p.149.

[37] Berry, D. and Theobald, J. (2006) Radical mass media criticism: A cultural genealogy. Montreal: Black Rose Books; Klaehn, J. (2005) Filtering the news: Essays on Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model, Montreal: Black Rose Books; McChesney, R. W. and Scott, B. (2004) Our unfree press: 100 years of radical media criticism, New York: New Press.

[38] McChesney, R. W. (1997) Corporate media and the threat to democracy, New York: Seven Stories Press, p.71.

The Liberal Foundations of Media Reform? Creating Sustainable Funding Opportunities for Radical Media Reform

This article was published as “The Liberal Foundations of Media Reform? Creating Sustainable Funding Opportunities for Radical Media Reform,” Global Media Journal, 1 (2), June 2, 2008.


Today in America, tens of thousands of philanthropic foundations finance social change and, in the year 2000 alone, these foundations distributed $26.7 billion worth of grants. To date, while scholarly attention has been paid to the role of right-wing foundations in promoting a neoliberal media environment, few studies have critiqued the role of liberal foundations in funding similar media reforms. Thus with next to no critical inquiry from media researchers, the Ford Foundation – which is arguably one of the most influencial liberal foundations – supplied over $292 million to American public broadcasting between 1951 and 1977 and continues to fund progressive media groups like FreePress and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. This article provides a much needed overview of the problematic nexus between liberal philanthropy and progressive media reform, and concludes by providing a number of recommendations for how media activists may begin to move away from their (arguably unsustainable) reliance on liberal philanthropy.

Barker Global Media Journal

Philanthropy is a word that rarely crops up in American mass communications research. This is strange because public broadcasting was built on the back of the financial aid provided by liberal philanthropic institutions like the Ford Foundation. In fact, only a handful of studies have critically reflected on the effect of liberal (i.e. progressive) philanthropy on the American media, or examined its historic influence on efforts to reform the mass media. This research void is not peculiar to media studies, instead it exemplifies a more general trend which extends across all academic disciplines. Indeed the effects of philanthropy have been thoroughly marginalised from scholarly discourses. One can only conclude that the majority of researchers ascribe no importance to the activities of the tens of thousands of philanthropic foundations that thrive in America’s uniquely charitable culture.

This media research blackout raises interesting questions, as it would be strange if some of the world’s most successful capitalists (turned philanthropists) would collectively provide tens of billions of dollars a year to finance social change that has little or no real researchable effects (the exact figure was $26.7 billion in 2000). Surely some of the world’s most successful business elites would want to see some tangible outcomes flowing from their philanthropy? Therefore, depending on whether philanthropic activities are beneficial or detrimental to democratic processes, it would seem more reasonable that the influence of philanthropic endeavours should be either happily celebrated and encouraged, or vigorously critiqued and discouraged – but definitely not ignored.

With the rise of global neoliberalism, which serves to alienate electorates (consumers) from the trappings of liberal democracy and openly seeks to replace social welfare with corporate welfare, some scholarly attention has documented the remarkable success of right wing foundations in forcing these changes.[1] Yet if anything, the response of the Left, (that is, those who oppose corporate-led globalisation and who are demanding more participatory forms of governance), has been to acknowledge the vision and ideological cohesion of the Right’s strategies and then to issue calls for liberal foundations to adopt similar tactics in order to turn back the neoliberal tide. This elitist answer to the neoconservatives’ organising strategies has been widely commended, but it is a solution that denies the theoretical insights that could be derived from a deeper understanding of the historical hegemonic role that liberal foundations have fulfilled within American democracy.

Liberally-Founded Social Change

Liberal foundations started seriously funding progressive activist organizations (like the Civil Rights Movement) in the 1960s. Through a process referred to as strategic philanthropy, liberal foundations were able to successfully moderate civil society by directing the bulk of their funding towards more conservative progressive groups, thus reducing the relative influence of more radical activists through a process either described as channeling or coopting. Counter to popular misunderstandings of their work, rather than promoting progressive and more participatory forms of democracy, liberal philanthropy actually serves the opposite purpose by helping preserve gross inequalities thereby legitimising the status quo. So although the largest, most influential liberal foundations “claim to attack the root causes of the ills of humanity, they essentially engage in ameliorative practices to maintain social and economic systems that generate the very inequalities and injustices they wish to correct.” Indeed while during the past few decades these foundations have adopted a “more progressive, if not radical, rhetoric and approaches to community building” that gives a “voice to those who have been disadvantaged by the workings of an increasingly global capitalist economy, they remain ultimately elitist and technocratic institutions”.[2]

Liberal Foundations and Early “Media Reform”

A comprehensive review of the involvement of all liberal foundations is beyond the scope of this article, therefore this study limits itself to investigating the media-related activities of the two most influential liberal foundations, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. In the late 1970s, Marilyn Lashner provided the first significant overview of the importance of liberal foundations in media ‘reform’ activities – from the late 1920s through to the 1970s. However, a critical (albeit limited), examination of the media-related activities of liberal foundations only eventuated in the 1990s when William Buxton published his seminal, (but little noted), critique of the influence of Rockefeller philanthropy on mass communications research. In the same year, Robert McChesney (1994) also published his influential book on the history of the media reform movement in the 1930s, which provides much useful information on the early media activities of liberal foundations. Therefore, using McChesney’s work as a launching point, this article will now provide a thorough exploration of the role of liberal foundations on media development in the United States.[3]

Media Reform in the Depression

According to McChesney, in the 1930s the “single most important” players in the media reform movement were educators whose field of work has been strongly influenced by the largesse of liberal foundations. Educators despaired over commercial radio broadcasters’ single-minded pursuit of the profit motive before all else, and so in October 1930 they launched the National Committee on Education by Radio (NCER) with the aid a five-year $200,000 grant from the Payne Fund. McChesney described the NCER as an “explicitly anti-establishment organization”, and the Payne Fund considered itself to be a “fighting committee” to combat commercial interests. To bolster the NCER’s campaign, in 1931 the Payne Fund provided a further $50,000 to a parallel project “to mobilize newspaper, congressional, and popular support for broadcast reform”. In fact, during this period Payne Funding sponsorship of media reform was so great that it “dwarfed all other expenditures for broadcast reform combined”.[4]

In July 1930, just months prior to the establishment of NCER, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and the Carnegie Corporation formed the National Advisory Council on Radio in Education (NACRE).[5] Then for the next few years NACRE received annual grants of $20,000 and $23,000 from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and the Carnegie Corporation respectively – at this time the Rockefeller Foundation had yet to be formally established. NACRE differed most significantly from NCER in their desire that educators should work with, not against, the two dominant commercial networks, the National Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcasting Company. Henry Suzzalo, the educational advisor for the Carnegie Corporation, explicitly noted that it was NACRE’s task to ensure that “radio under private ownership succeed in this country” which NACRE willingly helped along by “undercutting the sentiment for broadcast reform in the educational community” and facilitating the broadcast networks infiltration of oppositional groups associated with NCER.[6]

While NCER was clearly more progressive than NACRE and championed the need for structural reform of broadcasting, in many ways NCER still remained an elitist organization, one example of which can been seen by their dismissal of the educational importance of entertainment programming which led to their clash with organized labor. So even though “[a]ll of the NCER officers were individually enthralled by the [example set by the] British Broadcasting Company … [collectively they] determined that it would be politically impossible to achieve such a system in the United States, so it was never formally proposed or advocated”. [7]

In the long-term, NCER’s elitist approach to media reform worked against them as it meant that, despite their strong opposition to NACRE, they kept their hostility hidden “[b]eneath a cordial public veneer” – a tactic that effectively served to keep both the public and educators mystified as to the differences between the two reform groups. Of course this only worked to help NACRE and the network broadcasters who were in a prime position to dominate the media coverage of the controversy. Another problematic aspect of NCER’s lobbying efforts arose because they sharply delimited their campaign to the issue of radio broadcasting and so consequently their arguments were easily undermined by their failure to extend their critiques of radio broadcasting to capitalism itself. [8]

NCER’s media reform efforts were effectively defeated by 1934, a point marked symbolically by the creation of the 1934 Communications Act. To ensure that NCER (abruptly) brought an end to their campaign, politicians quickly moved to exert political pressure on the Payne Fund, in 1935 going so far as warning them that “the Fund might be in some danger” if it continued funding NCER (Representative Chester C. Bolton cited in McChesney). Shortly after this (and other warnings) “the Payne Fund informed the NCER that it might continue to fund the group, at a greatly reduced level, for another year provided the purpose of the NCER be changed to ‘cooperate with established radio stations and networks’”. NCER signalled their final demise in January 1936 and accepted these terms when they agreed to receive a two-year $15,000 grant from the Payne Fund. Ironically, just after NCER’s hopes for reform were extinguished, NACRE issued a study in 1937 reviewing their past four years work which amazingly “denounce[ed] cooperation as unworkable and failed”.[9]

McChesney concluded that the two primary reasons the reform movement failed were: (1) their ‘political incompetence’, in part due to their ‘establishment’ credentials, which meant they “had little capacity for engaging in the type of full-scale political battle that was necessary”; and (2) the economic depression, which undermined the viability of the already diminishing number of non-profit broadcasters, weakening the case of reformers campaigning against the commercial broadcasters who were in one of the few industries to prosper during the early years of the depression.[10] In conclusion the defeat of the broadcast reform movement was much more than a victory for oligopolistic, commercial broadcasting, in fact it was a defeat for the very notion that the public had the right to determine how best to structure its broadcasting services.

Once the 1934 Communications Act came into effect, William Buxton observed that the Rockefeller Foundation rapidly began to “broaden and deepen its support for cooperation between educators and broadcasters”. He goes on to note that although this change appeared to be related to prior Rockefeller commitments, it actually represented a fundamental shift in the thinking of their Humanities Division, which was interested in promoting work that examined how popular media could be used to influence the ‘masses’.[11] According to Buxton the person in charge of the execution of the Rockefeller Humanities Program was the newly recruited assistant director, John Marshall (who worked alongside the program director, David H. Stephens).

Rockefeller Media Developments: Post 1934

In 1935 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established the Federal Radio Education Committee (FREC) – which was chaired by John W. Studebaker – to examine ways in which broadcasters and non-profit groups could work together. The following year, Levering Tyson – the first Director of NACRE – reported that he “expected few results from the activities of [FREC’s initial] subcommittees, except for the technical subcommittee under the direction of Hadley Cantril” who is widely regarded as a founding father of modern mass communications research.  Just days later, John Marshall met with Cantril, and proposed that the Foundation finance his research. Cantril, however, was not funded directly by the Rockefeller Foundation but instead (in January 1937) he was offered a place on the FREC committee that would decide which research proposals should be supported, and it was not surprising that Cantril envisaged that his own work should “serve as the organizing framework for all of the studies under consideration”.[12] Cantril was then joined on the FREC committee by two other educators (W. W. Charters and Levering Tyson) and three broadcasters. Buxton observed that:

Marshall was undoubtedly pleased at the composition of the “informal committee” [which later became an executive committee]. The three educators represented were firmly in the Rockefeller camp, and the industry spokesmen had views congenial with the thinking in the Humanities program radio project. Not only would this review committee provide direction to the proposed projects, but it could serve as a mediating body between the Rockefeller Foundation, and FREC…[13]

Indeed, Buxton concluded that the Rockefeller’s involvement in communications research and policy in the 1930s indicates “the degree to which a wealthy and powerful private philanthropy can shape, influence – and possibly even determine – the policy-formation process.”[14]

Marilyn Lashner’s pioneering study undertaken in the 1970s correctly noted that foundation support for educational broadcasting was withdrawn in the late 1930s (not to be renewed until “the growth of FM and the advent of television”), but she neglected to mention that during the late 1930s, the Rockefeller Foundation still “underwrote much of the most innovative communication research then underway in the United States”.[15] Indeed, Harold Lasswell’s (1948) dictum “Who; Says What; In Which Channel; To Whom; With What Effects?” evolved from a number of seminars sponsored and organized by the Rockefeller Foundation between 1939 and 1940. A close analysis of the Rockefeller Foundations archives also determined that John Marshall (not Lasswell) first formulated “Lasswell’s” phrase (on May 8, 1940) during one of these seminars. This seminar series (also referred to as the Communications Group or the Communications Seminar) was a very important investment for the Rockefeller Foundation, as its intellectual outputs helped map the future of American communications research.[16]

Critically, the Communications Group acknowledged the need to develop ways in which to manufacture public consent for desired policy changes, noting in 1940 that: “Government which rests upon consent rests also upon knowledge of how best to secure consent … Research in the field of mass communication is a new and sure weapon to achieve that end”.[17] This is significant because even before the US had joined World War II, the Communications Group were laying the foundations for developing more effective ways to manufacture public consent.

The Intelligence Communities Foundation of Choice

Christopher Simpson’s examination of communication research in the US between 1945 and 1960, showed that after federal government grants, the “principal secondary source of large-scale communication research” funding came from the large foundations like the Carnegie Corporation and the Ford Foundation, which “usually operated in close coordination with government propaganda and intelligence programs”.[18] Media research funded by the Rockefeller Foundation from the late 1930s onwards thus “laid the groundwork for a wide range of national security projects that were eventually absorbed by the state”. [19] In fact, during the 1950s the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations’ activities were highly entwined with those of the CIA’s, and both were considered to be conscious instruments of covert US foreign policy, with directors and officers who were closely connected to, or even members of American intelligence.

Not coincidentally, many of the veterans of the US government’s Office of War Information (a wartime propaganda agency) went on to become powerful foundation executives. For example, Charles Dollard became head of the Carnegie Corporation, Leland DeVinney worked for the Rockefeller Foundation, William McPeak became vice president of the Ford Foundation, and W. Parker Mauldin went on to become vice president of the Population Council – a group that received most of its funding from the Ford Foundation.[20] Likewise in 1951, Paul Hoffman, who had administered the Marshall plan for the US government, made a smooth transition to become the first president of the Ford Foundation. Hoffman’s recruitment also marked the Ford Foundation’s transition to the big league, as recent endowments had made it the largest and most influential philanthropic foundation in the World. Two years later, another former Marshall planner, Richard Bissell (who incidentally had worked under Hoffman), also joined the Ford Foundation. Bissell maintained close links with the CIA during his tenure at Ford and eventually left the Foundation in 1954 to become special assistant to Allen Dulles in the CIA.

An early example of the close secretive links between the Ford Foundation and the CIA was evident in 1948 with the creation of the monthly German magazine Der Monat, a magazine that was launched

to construct an ideological bridge between German and American intellectuals and, as explicitly set forth by [Melvin] Lasky, to ease the passage of American foreign policy interests by supporting `the general objectives of U.S. policy in Germany and Europe’. … Across the years, Der Monat was financed through “confidential funds” of the Marshall Plan, then from the coffers of the Central Intelligence Agency, then with Ford Foundation money, and then again with CIA dollars.[21]

A few years later, in 1952, under the guidance of James Laughlin, the Ford Foundation created its Intercultural Publications program with an initial $500,000 grant. In Laughlin’s words this program was designed not “so much to defeat the leftist intellectuals in dialectical combat as to lure them away from their positions by aesthetic and rational persuasion”.[22]

In large part due to the “vociferous advoca[cy]” of Shepherd Stone, who directed the Ford Foundation’s International Affairs division from 1954, the Ford Foundation from 1956 onwards also provided the CIA’s main propaganda outlet, the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), with sizable grants: for example, in 1960 the CCF received $550,000. Saunders also pointed out that Stone acted as the “key link between the Congress and the Ford Foundation.”[23] Increasingly intimate relations between CCF and the Ford Foundation were also facilitated by the Ford Foundation’s director, John J. McCloy (as of 1953), who simultaneously served informally as President Eisenhower’s chief political advisor and had an agreement with the intelligence agency that the Ford Foundation would serve as a cover for CIA projects.[24] McCloy’s official biographer Kai Bird points out, that prior to coming to the Foundation, while McCloy was High Commissioner of Germany:

The largest chunk of the CIA’s budget … went to financing Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, whose propaganda activities McCloy strongly supported. Even in the summer and fall of 1950 … McCloy still believed [in opposition to many of his colleagues, that] the Cold War would be won mainly with ideas, not arms.[25]

Furthermore, prior to joining the Ford Foundation, McCloy “took a personal interest” in Der Monat, as he considered that “there was no better way to win the battle for Germany’s intellectuals”, and CIA payments, some as high as $50,000, “became common in West Germany during McCloy’s tenure” as High Commissioner. Before leaving Germany, McCloy even wrote to the Ford Foundation asking them to consider funding certain CIA operations like Der Monat. [26]

From then on the Ford Foundation became an important pass-through in the CIA’s war on Communism. Examples of media groups funded via the Foundation in this regard included: the East European Fund (associated with George Kennan) which worked closely with the Chekhov Publishing House; the International Rescue Committee; and the World Assembly of Youth.[27] The Ford Foundation also provided $850,000 for the CIA-funded Center for International Studies (CENIS) “which emerged as one of the most important centers of communication studies midway through the 1950s”. Bissel who left the Ford Foundation in the fall of 1952, notes in his autobiography that his friend Max Millikan resigned from the CIA in 1952 to direct CENIS’s research, and he adds that because they had “similar interests” he was “able to get the trustees of the Ford Foundation to fund research at CENIS.”[28]

In 1966, McGeorge Bundy moved straight from his position as Special Assistant to the President in Charge of National Security to the presidency of the Ford Foundation – a position he held until 1979. The CIA-organized CCF, as previously noted, continued to be an important recipient of Ford largesse, and by the early 1960s it had received $7 million from the foundation. In 1964, the CCF created the London-based magazine, Censorship, which Saunders suggests “was the model for Index on Censorship, [which was] founded in 1972 by Stephen Spender, with a substantial grant from the Ford Foundation.” The CCF’s funding of International PEN was also controversial, as “the CIA made every effort to turn PEN into a vehicle for American government interests”.[29]

In 1967, when it became common knowledge that the CCF was a CIA-front, the Ford Foundation quickly stepped in to take over its entire funding. However, the Ford Foundation gradually reduced their grants from $1.3 million for 1968 to $0.6 million by 1972 to “encourage the new organization to find other sources of funds – or dissolve”. Stone became the Congress’s new president and chief executive, a post in maintained until 1973; as Saunders cynically observed, “Everything had changed, but nothing had really changed.”[30]

 The Institutionalization of Liberal Propaganda

Although it is clear that the Ford Foundation played a strong system supportive role in the United States, Saunders notes that the “convergence between the Rockefeller billions and the US government exceeded even that of the Ford Foundation.” Former Rockefeller Foundation chairman, John Foster Dulles, and president, Dean Rusk (1952 to 1960) went on to became secretaries of state; the Ford Foundation’s John J. McCloy served as a Rockefeller trustee; and Nelson Rockefeller provided an integral link to the CIA. Indeed, Nelson Rockefeller was “among the most prominent promoters of psychological operations, serving as Eisenhower’s principal advisor and strategist on the subject during 1954-55”. This helps explain why during the 1950s, the Rockefeller Foundation provided grants to the “the CIA’s MK-ULTRA (or ‘Manchurian Candidate’) programme of mind-control research”.[31]

According to Simpson, while Leland DeVinney headed the social science funding at the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1950s, the Foundation “appears to have been used as a public front to conceal the source of at least $1 million in CIA funds for Hadley Cantril’s Institute for International Social Research.”[32] Prior to this in 1940 with a $90,000 grant, the Rockefeller Foundation had established the Office of Public Opinion Research at Princeton University, which was also led by Cantril who as discussed earlier had been an integral member of FREC. Timothy Glander notes that in the same year the US government’s Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, Nelson Rockefeller, invited Cantril to study public opinion in Latin America. Thus in 1941 Cantril accepted this position and along with George Gallup set up a company called American Social Surveys. In 1942, Cantril then set up The Research Council Inc with his associate Lloyd Free (who was the secretary of the Rockefeller Communications Groups) in an office within his own Psychological Warfare Research Bureau at Princeton. Interestingly subsequent media investigations have shown that The Research Council received “almost limitless” funds from the government, mostly in the form of covert funding channelled to them from the CIA.[33] Therefore it is not surprising that during World War II, the government ran its G2 program in an office within Cantril’s Psychological Warfare Research Bureau.[34]

Another leading communications researcher who received support from both the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations was Bernard Berelson. Prior to World War II Berelson had worked at the University of Chicago, but after WWII he directed the Columbia University Bureau of Applied Social Research. His first project there was undertaken with Paul Lazarsfeld, which was published in 1944 as The People’s Choice (1944), and received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation amongst others. During this study Berelson and his colleagues began developing the theoretical underpinnings for what would become known as “the two-step flow of communications,” which was further developed in their 1954 book Voting, which again received financial support from the three largest liberal foundations, the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, and the Carnegie Corporation. Glander argues that contrary to popular interpretations of these studies and the two-step flow of communications (exemplified in Lazarsfeld and Katz’s (1955) Personal Influence) which imply limited media effects, their work had

enormous practical utility to propagandists and advertisers, because identifying … opinion leaders and finding particular ways in which to persuade them has led to an increased capacity to persuade the larger population. This was precisely what was motivating Lazarsfeld and his colleagues in sharpening the conceptualization of “the two-step flow,” and this conceptualization was widely used by propaganda organizations, including the Voice of America and the United States Information Agency.[35]

The Ford Foundation’s Public Broadcasting System

Only after having reviewed the historical links between liberal foundations, the US government, the intelligence community and the mass media, it is possible to really appreciate the ideological allegiances of the liberal foundations. Therefore, it is perhaps shocking to observe that the Ford Foundation “used to be the single largest source of contributions to public television” and during its “early years, Ford grants literally kept the system alive”. In fact, between 1951 and 1977 the Ford Foundation alone supplied over $292 million to public broadcasting. Lashner notes that “most experts admit that foundation support has shaped the cause and the course of the [Public Broadcasting] [S]ystem to a position it would otherwise not have been able to attain.” Lashner also observed that

the most important moment in the history [of] th[e] movement [for public television] came in 1951 when the recently enriched Ford Foundation launched The Fund for Adult Education and set about dispersing its massive resources to the development of educational broadcasting, particularly television.[36]

The Fund’s first project was to launch the Radio-Television Workshop, which was created to “explore the possibilities of educational programming within the framework of the commercial system”. Lashner describes Omnibus – which was first broadcast in 1952 over CBS – as the “most ambitious” project organized by the workshop which won many commendations, but after five seasons it was cancelled, apparently because “its limited audience appeal eventually made it unpalatable as a commercial enterprise”. [37] Then:

In 1964, [President] Johnson’s Office of Education sponsored a conference on long-range financing for educational television. The most significant result of that conference was the formation in November 1965 of the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television, which was assigned to examine public television financing issues.[38]

With a $500,000 grant, the Carnegie Corporation then appointed the 15 strong Carnegie Commission on Educational Television, and in January 1967 they released their finding in a report titled Public Television: A Program for Action. This report concluded: “that a well-financed and well-directed educational television system, substantially larger and far more pervasive and effective than that which now exists in the United States, must be brought into being if the full needs of the American public are to be served.” President Johnson then picked up the baton and pushed for the rapid creation of a Corporation for Public Broadcasting to administer the distribution of federal funding for public broadcasting. Shortly thereafter, on November 7, 1967 – just two days after the first Ford Foundation funded Public Broadcasting Laboratory show was aired on educational television – the idea for establishing the CPB became law. President Johnson also decided to review the CPB’s funding arrangements annually (contrary to the Carnegie Commissions recommendations for long-term funding) which “put PBS on a very short leash and compromised its independence from the outset”.[39]

Like many pioneering foundation-supported projects, the generous grants that served to launch public television were quickly phased out when public broadcasting was able to stand on it’s own two feet, and the lucrative Ford grants ended in 1977. Furthermore, as foundation support decreased public broadcasting became increasing reliant on corporate support.

Lashner’s study examining the Ford Foundation’s role in promoting public broadcasting, concluded that “philanthropic foundations have emerged with a heroism to be applauded” but despite her evident support of their efforts she ended with a note of caution that this should not “cloud whatever flaws may exist” which (if found) should be “matters for further investigation”. Since then although critiques of public broadcasting have been plentiful – see for example Rowland’s aptly named Continuing Crisis in Public Broadcasting (1986) which agreed with Williams’ earlier study that described public broadcasting as a mere ‘palliative’ to society’s problems – only Glenda Balas has drawn attention to the fundamentally elitist nature of the Ford Foundation’s support for public broadcasting.[40] Balas surmises that:

Just as the Great Society contained public TV’s potential as a change agent, the Ford Foundation’s influence limited its range, scope, and audience base. Moving through a liberal arts initiative into public policy and taste engineering, the foundation put educational TV to use in meeting its own agenda for U.S. society: promoting liberal arts education, elite culture, and governance by experts. Not only did this work to authorize the discourse and interests of the educated classes, it also contained diversity, silenced popular speech, and entrenched a class-based hierarchy of knowledge and taste. (pp.96-7)

Ford Foundation Funding for Contemporary Media Organizations

Historically, the Ford Foundation has certainly been one of the most influential liberal foundations financing social change and media-related activities. So it is no surprise that their pioneering, entrepreneurial funding strategies have now spawned an entire cottage industry of liberal (and more activist-orientated) philanthropic foundations which fund progressive causes. Having already examined some examples illustrating the Ford Foundation’s pre-1980 media funding strategies, this section will now focus on their post-1980s grantees in order to determine if their funding priorities have changed over time. At this point it is worth noting that although some organisations may only receive small grants from the Ford Foundation, these grants are still important, as they send an important agenda setting signal to the wider philanthropic world, allowing grantees to leverage funding from the multitude of other like-minded foundations, governments and/or corporations.

Contrary to their decidedly anti-democratic history, the Ford Foundation’s grant making process has always been transparent, with their grantees listed in their annual reports – which in turn are all online. Arguably, this openness has helped the Foundation present their work as democratic, the implication being that, as they appear to have nothing to hide, they must be doing ‘good’. Picking up on the success of this strategy, foreign policy-making elites appear to have learnt a valuable lesson, as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the US’s most important democracy manipulating organization operates in much the same way as the Ford Foundation, and lists all their grantees on their website. Furthermore, by adopting the powerful rhetoric of democracy, the NED, like the liberal foundations, has successfully shielded the true anti-democratic nature of their work from serious interrogation. That said, the liberal foundations cooption of progressive activists appears to be far more subtle than that undertaken by the NED, which regularly lends its support to neoconservative organizations or anti-democratic labor groups seeking to overthrow ‘enemy’ governments. The end result of both organizations work though is very similar, as both support dissent in ways that will prevent significant challenges to the deeper structural elements of society that actually serve to perpetrate injustices. Finally, although liberal foundations effectively exist to maintain the capitalist status quo, this does not prevent them from supporting a limited number of activists who are seeking radical social change. In fact, sponsoring radicals is integral to their overall mission, as arguably it allows them to keep a close eye on the ideas of radicals, while simultaneously enabling them to improve their progressive PR credentials (thereby helping deter critical investigations of their work).

Perhaps in response to the media war waged by the reactionary Reagan administration,[41] in 1988 the Ford Foundation launched “a media program to support projects using film, video, and radio to explore public policy issues.” Funding for this media program was modest to begin with, and by 1992 they had only dispersed 43 media grants worth a total of just under $14 million. This began to change in 1993, when in that year alone they awarded $9.3 million worth of grants for media projects. By 2005, the Ford Foundation was distributing just under $38 million of grants for media projects (of which approximately $2 million was for international media programs).

During the early years of the Ford media program, one particularly interesting $200,000 grant was awarded (in 1991) to Blackside Inc. so they could produce a film about Malcolm X. This is noteworthy as throughout the 1960s the Ford Foundation had worked to undermine public support of Malcolm X, by providing selective support to more moderate black leaders. Yet despite the controversial nature of this documentary’s funding, the film was released in 1994 as Malcolm X: Make it Plain, with no public examination of the Ford Foundation’s sponsorship of the film. Continuing on their longstanding interest in civil rights, in 1993 the Ford Foundation gave a substantial proportion of their overall media grants to the Civil Rights Project, which received a $1.5 million “supplement for a public television series, America’s War on Poverty, documenting the programs initiated by the federal government in the 1960s to assist disadvantaged groups.” Again, there is an obvious conflict of interest here, as the Foundation itself was the primary architect of the government’s War on Poverty.[42] In the same year, the Foundation also provided another group with $0.7 million to produce a “documentary film series titled Chicano! A History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, and another group with $0.5 million to make “a television series documenting the contemporary women’s movement.” Like the Malcolm X example, there is evidence to suggest that the Ford Foundation also played a crucial role in undermining the radicalizing tendencies of both the Chicano and Women’s movements,[43] but again there is no critical commentary of these documentaries with regards to their controversial funding.

In a manner similar to the aforementioned examples, in 1993 the Ford Foundation gave $55,000 to the American NGO, Media for Development International (MDI), to make a documentary “on micro enterprise credit programs in the United States and in developing countries.” Ford funding for this project is worth mentioning as MDI has received aid from numerous government agencies (including the US Agency for International Development), a number of corporations (including British Petroleum), and from the key democracy manipulating organization the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). However, the Ford Foundation’s funding links with the NED does not end here as in 1995, the NED-linked Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists (now known as the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, CJFE) received $160,000 from the Ford Foundation. This organization is important because in 1992, with aid from the Ford Foundation, they organized the inaugural meeting of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), which is an influential international network of media organizations. Although CJFE itself has not received any direct grants from the NED, a large proportion of the members of IFEX have received support from the NED. Furthermore, even some IFEX members who have not received NED funding are indirectly linked to the NED. For example, the Media Foundation for West Africa (a NGO based in Ghana that was established “to defend and promote the rights and freedoms of the media”) received $68,000 from the Ford Foundation in 1997 (the year it was launched) and $400,000 in 1999, and half of the ten organizations they collaborate with have received support from either the NED or one of its sister organizations.[44] One of these groups, Media Rights Agenda (Nigeria), also received a $170,000 grant from the Ford Foundation in 2001.

Based on this preliminary and selective review of some of the Ford Foundation’s recent grantees it is clear that many questions still remain unanswered about the Foundation’s ulterior motives for supporting media projects. The Foundation still supports cutting edge media research in American universities, and as the previous NED-linked examples illustrated it still invests a lot of resources in supporting international media projects. Likewise, the Ford Foundation also supports a large number alternative media groups, amongst which are a large number of media organizations upon which American (and global) progressive activists rely. Perhaps the best known of these is the progressive media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).  Other well-known progressive media groups that have been the recipients of the Ford Foundation’s largesse in the past few years also include, the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Public Integrity, Democracy Now!, Free Press, Media Channel, the Prometheus Radio Project, and the Independent Press Association  Furthermore, two lesser known groups, the Center for International Media Action and Funding Exchange (a progressive philanthropic foundation) received Ford funding in 2005. The former group was awarded a grant to “strengthen media reform/media justice organizations in the United States and create linkages to organizations working on global media and communications issues”; and Funding Exchange received support to “enable the Media Justice Fund to promote socially responsible communications policy through grassroots advocacy.”


Considering the antidemocratic credentials of liberal foundations, it is perhaps unlikely that a truly progressive media reform movement (under-girded by participatory principles) can rely upon the support of liberal philanthropists. Therefore, it is a matter of urgency that all progressive media groups (whether they receive liberal foundation support or not) publicly address the ethics and sustainability of receiving funds from elitist organizations like the Ford Foundation. To date, few researchers have examined the conservatising effects of liberal philanthropy on social change, but the issue facing media activists is the same one facing all progressive activists worldwide.

So the question remains: what type of funding mechanisms can provide the basis for sustainable radical media activism? Fortunately, the answer to this question is rather simple, but before solutions can be implemented media groups will first need to acknowledge that a problem exists. Given the paucity of information about and interest in this subject, it is likely that this will be the most difficult step for liberal activist organizations to make. It is unreasonable to assume that the evidence presented in this article will be enough to radically alter the high regard many activists have for liberal philanthropists. Therefore, the first step that I propose needs to be taken is to launch a vibrant public discussion of the broader role of liberal foundations in funding social change – an action that will rely for the most part upon the interest and support of grassroots activists all over the world. Only then, once media activists have considered all the evidence, will it be possible for them to decide collectively upon the most appropriate way to fund truly sustainable radical media activism.

Of course in the short-term it is possible (and desirable) for individual media groups to begin supporting and developing more appropriate funding bodies. However, it is crucial to remember that the power of liberal foundations rests upon their ability to work behind the scenes promoting their favoured groups’ hegemony within the public sphere. Thus countering their power will most probably necessitate the wholesale rejection by the media reform movements of everything liberal foundations stand for. If this step is not taken, it seems unlikely that truly progressive philanthropic organizations would ever receive much public support (both morally and financially), or move beyond their currently marginalized status.

With a growing literature on the anti-democratic influence of liberal foundations, a number of authors have begun discussing the types of funding mechanism best suited to promoting participatory democracy and radical social change. Institutional inertia alone is likely to render the democratization of liberal foundations impossible, therefore, inspiration for democratic forms of philanthropy may draw hope from existing philanthropic organizations that utilize constituency-controlled funding with community members and progressive activists occupying board positions. Alternatively, activists may choose to model their funding strategies on indigenous philanthropy, like African stokvels, or adopt the Women’s Funds model, both of which aim to break down the divide between donor and grantees by inviting everyone to be a donor.[45] In this way, progressive activists may be able to devise democratic funding strategies that can harness and distribute the generous philanthropic donations of the general public, which for the most part are currently harvested by those NGOs with the best public relations and few democratic structures. Perhaps then social change may be able to move more freely in directions dictated by the mass public rather than elite and undemocratic liberal foundations.

Michael Barker is a British citizen based in Australia. Most of his other articles can be found here. This article was recently published in the academic journal Global Media (full references provided)


[1] Joseph Peschek, Policy-Planning Organizations: Elite Agendas and America’s Rightward Turn (Temple University Press, 1987).

[2] Robert Arnove and Nadine Pinede, “Revisiting the “big three” foundations,” Critical Sociology, 33(3), 2007, pp.389-442.

[3] Marilyn Lashner, “The role of foundations in public broadcasting, I: development and trends,” Journal of Broadcasting, 20(4), 1976, pp.529-547; Lashner, “The role of foundations in public broadcasting, II: the Ford Foundation,” Journal of Broadcasting, 21(2), 1977, pp.235-254; William Buxton, “The political economy of communications research,” in Robert Babe, (ed.), Information and Communication in Economics (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994), pp.147-175.; Robert McChesney, Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for Control of U.S. Broadcasting 1928-1935 (Oxford University Press, 1994).

[4] Robert McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times (University of Illinois Press, 1999), p.189, p.197, pp.198-9; McChesney, Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy, p.62..

[5] NACRE “was established by the American Association for Adult Education (AAAE), which itself had been established by the Carnegie Corporation in 1926”. McChesney adds that the “Carnegie Corporation and the AAAE were unabashed proponents of commercial broadcasting stations.” NACRE board of directors included Robert M. Hutchins (president of the University of Chicago), Robert Millikan (president of the California Institute of Technology – who later joined the CIA), Walter Dill Scott (president of Northwestern University), Owen Young, and Levering Tyson (an adult educator from Columbia University) who was the Director of NACRE. Interestingly, in 1930 Robert Millikan had reversed his support of the non-profit Pacific-Western Broadcasting Federation, not long after his university had received a $6 million gift from the Rockefeller family and a $3 million donation from AT&T. McChesney, Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy, p.52, p.53, p.79.

The Rockefeller family was well connected to at least one founding father of propaganda, as John D. Rockefeller’s chief PR man was Ivy L. Lee – who was recruited by Hitler in the interwar period (during the last year of his life) to “make Nazi principles and methods less hateful to the average American citizen”. Critically, in 1934, Lee played an integral role in developing Columbia Broadcasting Company’s successful campaign against non-commerical media interests. Will Irwin, Propaganda and the News, or, What Makes you Think so? (Johnson Reprint, 1969), pp.267-8; Glenda Balas, Recovering a Public Vision for Public Television (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003), pp.50-4.

[6] McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, p.206, p.190, p.209. “Perhaps the most important member of the NACRE’s board of directors was” Robert M. Hutchins who although at times had been critical of commercial broadcasting, was a reliable reformer due to “his belief that the status quo was entrenched.” McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, p.207.

[7] McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, p.203, p.204.

[8] McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, p.210, p.214; McChesney, Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy, p.264.

[9] McChesney, Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy, p.230, p.231.

[10] McChesney, Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy, pp.261-2, pp.234-5.

[11] Buxton, “The political economy of communications research,” p.155, p.156. Mass communications “was of interest because it was so closely bound with problems of generating public consent for the policy measures undertaken during the ‘emergency’ period of World War II.” William Buxton, “From radio research to communications intelligence: Rockefeller philanthropy, communications specialists, and the American intelligence community,” in: Sandra Braman, (ed.), Communication Researchers and Policy-Making (MIT Press. 2003), pp.298-9.

[12] Buxton, “The political economy of communications research,” p.161, p.163. With the approval of FREC, in 1937 Cantril received a two-year $67,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation for his Princeton Radio Research Project. The first director of this project was Paul Lazarsfeld – who emigrated to America from Austria on a Rockefeller Fellowship – as neither Cantril nor Frank Stanton was willing to assume the position. Interestingly, Theodor W. Adorno was hired by Lazarfeld in the late 1930s, and reflecting on his time working with Cantril, Adorno recalled that the Princeton Project’s “charter, which came from the Rockefeller Foundation, expressly stipulated that the investigations must be performed within the limits of the commercial radio system prevailing in the United States. It was thereby implied that the system itself, its cultural and sociological consequences and its social and economic presuppositions were not to be analyzed”. William Rowland, The Politics of TV Violence: Policy Uses of Communication Research (Sage, 1983), p.61.

Incidentally, in 1937 the (progressive) Institute for Propaganda Analysis was formed and headed by Cantril. However, by 1941 their operations were wound down, partly as a result of the political pressures created by their opposition to the Roosevelt Administrations defense policies, and consequently many of the people associated with the institute moved from being strong opponents of propaganda to becoming influential proponents for its use. During the final years of its existence the Institute was unable to obtain support from the Rockefeller Foundation (apparently because their “work was not ‘unassailably scientific’”) – and they faced increasing pressure from other powerful business and political constituents, including the Catholic Church and even the Teachers College of Columbia University. See Timothy Glander, Origins of Mass Communications Research During the American Cold War: Educational Effects and Contemporary Implications (Routledge, 2000), p.40, p.24; Michael Sproule, “Propaganda studies in American social science: the rise and fall of the critical paradigm,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, 73, 1987, p.70.

[13] Buxton, “The political economy of communications research,” p.163.

[14] Buxton, “The political economy of communications research,” p.168.

[15] Christopher Simpson, Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960 (Oxford University Press, 1994), p.22.

[16]“Besides Marshall, other Rockefeller Foundation officers included Stevens, May, and R. H. Havighurst. The academic members of the original Communications Group included Lasswell; Lynd; Lazarsfeld; Cantril; Geoffrey Gorer, an Oxford-trained anthropologist; Lyman Bryson, an adult education specialist; Donald Slesinger, former dean of the Social Sciences at Chicago and director of the American Film Center; I. A. Richards, literary theorist and sematicist; Douglas Waples of the University of Chicago, the leading researcher on print communication and reading behavior, and Charles Siepmann, a communication analyst for the BBC [Lloyd] Free served as secretary.” Brett Gary, “Communication research, the Rockefeller foundation, and mobilization for the war on words, 1938-1944,” Journal of Communication, 46 (3), 1996, pp.132-3.

“The application of political-psychological theories to management-specifically, the [Elton] Mayo-Lasswell collaboration-brought to management the idea that the masses (i.e., the workers) needed a governing elite to manage them, owing to their limitations and problems. Lasswell was Mayo’s student, and they worked closely together after Mayo arrived at the Harvard Business School in 1925.” Ellen O’Connor, “The Politics of Management Thought: A Case Study of the Harvard Business School and the Human Relations School,” Academy of Management Review, 24(1), 1999, p.120.

[17] Cited in Buxton, “From radio research to communications intelligence,” p.310.

[18] This was also a time when their total psychological warfare budget was around $1 billion a year, with the US federal government spending between $7 million to $13 million each year on communications research in universities and think-tanks. Simpson, Science of coercion, p.9.

[19] Gary, “Communication research, the Rockefeller foundation, and mobilization for the war on words,” p.125, p.148.

[20] John Clausen, “Research on ‘the American Soldier’ as career contingency,” Social Psychology Quarterly, 47(2), 1984, p.212. Also see Mark Solovey, Shaky Foundations: The Politics-Patronage-Social Science Nexus in Cold War America (Rutgers University Press, 2013).

The Russell Sage Foundation also played a key role in shaping the US military use of psychological operations. As Christopher Simpson writes in his book Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960 (Oxford University Press, 1994): “At Russell Sage, Leonard Cottrell served as the chief social psychologist from 1951 to 1967; he was frequently a public spokesman for the group and enjoyed substantial influence in the Sage Foundation’s decision making. Cottrell simultaneously became chairman of the Defense Department’s advisory group on psychological and unconventional warfare (1952-53), member of the scientific advisory panel of the U.S. Air Force (1954-58) and of the U.S. Army scientific advisory panel (1956-58), and a longtime director of the Social Sciences Research Council. Cottrell was among the most enthusiastic boosters within the social science community for psychological warfare operations, repeatedly calling for ‘a new club [among social scientists] dedicated to the task of bringing the full capacity of our disciplines to bear on this field.” (pp.60-1)

[21] Frances Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (Granta, 1999), p.30.

[22] Cited in Kathleen McCarthy, “From Cold War to cultural development: the international cultural activities of the Ford Foundation, 1950-1980,” Daedalus, 116(1), 1987, pp.93-117.

[23] Volker Berghahn, America and the Intellectual Cold Wars in Europe: Shepard Stone Between Philanthropy, Academy, and Diplomacy (Princeton University Press, 2001), p.224; Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, p.143. Prior to World War II, Stone (a close friend of Hadley Cantril) had been an editor at the New York Times, during the war he then worked with G2 (Intelligence), and in 1949 he worked in Germany as Director of Public Affairs under the American High Commissioner John McCloy, finally arriving at the Ford Foundation in 1952, where he stayed until 1967.

[24] John J. McCloy was a longtime Wall Street colleague of William Donovan who was director of the (US intelligence agency) Office of Strategic Services and ran the government’s secret black propaganda operations. During World War II, while acting as the Assistant Secretary of War, McCloy “established a small, highly secret Psychologic Branch with the War Department General Staff G-2 (Intelligence) organization”. McCoy was a key player in the philanthropic world, as when he became the president of the Ford Foundation, he was also chairman of the Rockefellers’ Chase Manhattan and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Saunders observed that McCloy had also been a former president of the World Bank, while Bird noted that in the 1950s, McCloy served as a member of the Rockefeller Foundation’s board of trustees.

[25] Kai Bird, The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy and William Bundy, Brothers in Arms (Simon & Schuster, 1998), p.357.

[26] Bird, The Color of Truth, pp.357-8.

[27] Chekhov Publishing House is still funded by the Ford Foundation; for example, in 1995 they received a $190,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. Also see Eric Chester, Covert Network: Progressives, the International Rescue Committee, and the CIA. (Routledge, 1995), p.51.

[28] Victor Marchetti and John Marks, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence (Knopf, 1974), p.175; Simpson, Science of Coercion, p.82; Richard Bissell, Reflections of a Cold Warrior: From Yalta to the Bay of Pigs (Yale University Press, 1996), p.75.

[29] Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, p.142, p.335, p.362. For a discussion of McGeorge Bundy’s links to the CIA in 1949 and 1954 see Bird, The Color of Truth, p.106, p.141.

[30] Peter Coleman, The Liberal Conspiracy: The Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Postwar Europe (Free Press, 1989), pp.224-7, p.225; Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, p.412.

[31] Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?, p.144; Gerald Colby and Charlotte Dennett, Thy Will be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil (HarperPerennial, 1995), pp.265-6; John Marks, The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: the CIA and Mind Control (Times Books, 1979).

[32] Simpson, Science of Coercion, pp.60-1, p.81. Cantril received CIA funds to “gather intelligence on popular attitudes in countries of interest to the agency” and his studies “could serve as a checklist of CIA interventions of the period: Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, and others”. Simpson, Science of Coercion, p.81. For further details on these interventions see, William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (Common Courage Press, 2004); and Hadley Cantril, The Human Dimension: Experiences in Policy Research (Rutgers University Press, 1967), pp.1-5, p.44.

[33] Anon (1977). Worldwide network for dissemination of propaganda was built by the CIA. New York Times, December 26, 1977, A1, 37.

[34] Glander, Origins of Mass Communications Research During the American Cold War, p.88; “Worldwide network for dissemination of propaganda was built by the CIA,” New York Times, December 26, 1977, A1, p.37; Inderjeet Parmar, “’To Relate knowledge and action’: the impact of the Rockefeller Foundation on foreign policy thinking during America’s rise to globalism 1939–1945,” Minerva, 40, 2002, p.256.

[35] Glander, Origins of Mass Communications Research During the American Cold War, p.108. Glander explains: “[I]t is only a secret to historians of mass communications research that Lazarsfeld and Katz’s 1955 text Personal Influence was essentially an attempt to refine the means by which propaganda could be aimed at opinion leaders … Propagandist (and Freud’s nephew) Edward L. Bernays thought that Lazarsfeld had stolen the idea of the opinion leader from him, although Lazarsfeld argued that he had given this notion a new twist by maintaining that opinion leaders could be found in all social strata and not just within the educated class, as Bernays had maintained. Lazarsfeld himself spoke freely of the commercial and ideological applications of the two-step flow of communications research. And the United States Information Agency, among other organizations, noted the idea’s practical utility and trained USIA officers how to locate these opinion leaders and devise ways to influence them. Like other work Lazarsfeld and the bureau conducted for commercial and governmental organizations, the dominant paradigm of personal influence had its origins and reason for existence in the applied needs of the propagandist.” (pp.209-10)

[36] Lashner, “The role of foundations in public broadcasting, I: development and trends,” p.532.

[37] Lashner, “The role of foundations in public broadcasting, II: the Ford Foundation,” p.241.

[38] Laurence Jarvik, PBS, Behind the Screen (Forum, 1997), p.18.

[39] Martin Lee and Norman Solomon, Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media (Carol Publishing Group, 1992), p.85.

[40] Balas, Recovering a Public Vision for Public Television, pp.93-120. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a US-based media reform group has focused a lot of its energy on illustrating the pro-corporate bias of PBS. For further critiques of public broadcasting please refer to work of Bruce Cumings, War and Television (Verso, 1992); William Hoynes, Public Television for Sale: Media, the Market, and the Public Sphere (Westview Press, 1994); James Ledbetter, Made Possible By: The Death of Public Broadcasting in the United States (Verso, 1997).

[41] Mark Hertsgaard, On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1988).

[42] A key book that is widely credited with providing the launching pad for the Ford Foundation funded/driven War on Poverty — that benefited from the largesse of liberal philanthropy — is Michael Harrington’s The Other America: Poverty in the United States (Macmillan Co., 1962). Again, although rarely mentioned in historical accounts relating to the book, liberal foundations were integral to the completion of the book. Indeed, the founding director of the Ford Foundation’s Fund for the Republic, the oil executive Richard R. Parten, worked closely with the Fund’s president “to establish programs, including….Michael Harrington’s project on poverty (published as The Other America).” Like Myrdal, Harrington was the perfect black voice-piece for the Ford Foundation, having previously founded the Democratic Socialists of America.

Gregory Raynor, “The Ford Foundation’s War on Poverty,” In: Ellen Condliffe Lagemann (ed.), Philanthropic Foundations: New Scholarship, New Possibilities (Indiana University Press, 1999). In 1962, Richard Parten served in the Kennedy administration as official advisor for oil policy for the secretary of the interior (Stewart Udall).

[43] Rosa Proietto, “The Ford foundation and women’s studies in American higher education: seeds of change?,” in: E. C. Lagemann, (ed.), Philanthropic Foundations: New Scholarship, New Possibilities (Indiana University Press, 1991), pp.271-284; Rodolfo Acuña, The Making of Chicana/o Studies: In the Trenches of Academe (Rutgers University Press, 2011), pp.123-42; Christine Sierra, The Political Transformation of a Minority Organization – Council of La Raza, Ph.D. Dissertation, Stanford University, 1983.

[44] Centre for Conflict Resolution (Uganda) 1998 Westminster Foundation (WF); West African Journalists Association (Ghana) 1997 WF; Media Rights Agenda (Nigeria) 1998, 2000 NED; Media Institute of Southern Africa 1997 WF; Article 19 1996, 1997 WF, 1997 Rights and Democracy. Accessed 10/02/07.

[45] Susan Ostrander, “Legacy and promise for social justice funding: charitable foundations and progressive social movements, past and present,” in: Daniel Faber and Deborah McCarthy, (eds.), Foundations for Social Change: Critical Perspectives on Philanthropy and Popular Movements (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005), pp.33-60.

Conform or Reform? Social Movements and the Mass Media

This article was previously published online in February 2007 as a peer-reviewed article by Fifth-Estate-Online – International Journal of Radical Mass Media Criticism. This journal has now stopped operating. 

Abstract: The mass media is an important outlet for social movements, where the quality and nature of media coverage strongly influences how they are perceived in the public eye. This paper examines the complex interface existing between the mass media and social movements, and considers what collective actions social movements may need to undertake, if they are to improve their media coverage in the future. The paper discusses the relationship between social movements (as outsiders) and the mass media in both a historical and contemporary context and argues that media reform is required to enable dissident voices to be democratically heard.

Keywords: Social Movements, Protest, Demonstration, Participatory Democracy, Global Justice, Reform.

Barker Fifth Estate Online


The mass media is a vital resource for most political actors, and it may be even more important for social movements, whose transitional and adversarial nature weakens their ability to secure public legitimacy (Kielbowicz & Scherer, 1986; Gamson, 1995: 85). Their outsider status, along with their usual resource-poor nature, means that traditional avenues of publicity are not easily accessible and forces them to rely on alternative methods to obtain media access. Traditionally, this involves some form of public spectacle – like a protest – to attract media attention. These activities have become accepted as mechanisms by which social problems are communicated in the public sphere, alongside public opinion polls and elections (Herbst 1993) and they act as vital means by which citizens can signal their discontent.

One of the first detailed examinations of a social movement protest in the media (both press and television) focused on a mass demonstration held against the Vietnam war in Britain (Halloran et al., 1970). The demonstration involved approximately 60,000 protesters, most of who marched peacefully through the streets of London (with an insignificant number of protestors involved in violent actions). However, despite the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of the march, the media concentrated most of its coverage on the issue of violence (Halloran et al., 1970: 237). Although Halloran et al., (1970: 301) noted that there were differences between media outlets in their coverage, they were all united by the overall focus on ‘the same limited aspect – the issue of violence.’ The misrepresentation of this massive political rally, and the totality of the negative coverage across all media outlets led the investigators to conclude that such reporting poses extreme problems for democracy, which may only be remedied by ‘some form of institutional rearrangement’ (Halloran et al., 1970: 318). These are serious charges, and the authors acknowledged that further studies needed to be carried out to determine how systemic these problems were. Since then, many researchers have followed up on this investigation, examining how various social movements interact with media systems. Drawing upon this body of work, this paper will analyse the importance of the role of the mass media for social movements. This will include a review of the literature and recommendations on how such groups may best address their relationships with the mass media. To begin with, a brief discussion of some of the external forces beside the media, which effect the development of social movements and their ensuing relations with the mass media, will be presented.

Foundations of Change

The inherent conflict between corporate driven capitalism and democracy has always caused ruling elites to have their work cut out dissipating the ebb and flow of popular dissent. This contradiction is best exemplified by Crozier et al.’s (1975) classic study, The Crisis of Democracy, which controversially diagnosed the need for ‘a greater degree of moderation in democracy.’ The first political theorist to accurately document this ‘management’ dilemma was Antonio Gramsci, who described how elites were able to successfully maintain hegemony over the masses through the use of consensual rather than coercive institutional arrangements. Theobald (2006: 26) notes that the ‘central importance’ of Gramsci’s view to radical mass media criticism is ‘that current bourgeois control of society, while certainly manifest in material modes of production, is culturally embedded and naturalised in the minds of the people via its hegemony over discourse.’

One vital but overlooked organ of hegemony, that Gramsci was unable to include in his work, are philanthropic foundations, whose rising influence on the contours of civil society only became visible some decades after Gramsci’s death (Roelofs, 2003; Faber & McCarthy, 2005). The hegemonic power of foundations, however, is arguably even greater than other hegemonic elements, like the mass media, precisely because their influence has been downplayed (or in many cases simply omitted) by academia. This is especially the case with liberal foundations, which have actively influenced progressive social change by directly co-opting organisations or channelling their activists towards less radical activities (Arnove, 1980; Fisher, 1983; Jenkins, 1998; Roelofs, 2003).

Historically, the work of philanthropic foundations has been most influential in the US, but now similar foundations operate all over the world, and with the resurgence of corporate social responsibility, corporations are also becoming prominent philanthropists. For example, during the 2000 election cycle in the US, ‘the corporate outlay on political philanthropy… was probably a minimum of $1-2 billion’ dwarfing combined PAC and soft money contributions (Sims 2003: 166-167). Some academics have begun to address the urgent task of proposing solutions to counteract the anti-democratic nature of such subtle yet pervasive social engineering (see Faber & McCarthy, 2005), because it is clear that manipulation of civil society (by foundations or governments) through selective support of non-governmental organisations raises questions that reach to the heart of all democracies. Furthermore, a growing body of work suggests that similar ‘democracy promoting’ practices now serve as an integral foreign policy tool to help ‘promote polyarchy’ (Dahl, 1971) over more substantive and participatory forms of democracy (Robinson, 1996: Barker, 2006a). Likewise, other research has begun to examine how selective support of ‘independent’ media organisations in geo-strategically important countries has helped facilitate revolutions (e.g., the coloured revolutions in Eastern Europe) to further the polyarchal interests of trans-national capitalism (Barker, 2006b; Barker, Submitted a). Referring to the Orange Revolution, Herman (2006) observed ‘that the civil society uprising in the Ukraine in 2004-2005, [which was] funded heavily by U.S. government agencies and friendly NGOs, was given much more lavish news treatment than domestic [US] protests, along with editorial support.’ Indeed, elite patronage – either by governments or philanthropic foundations – confers a degree of ‘legitimacy’ upon social activists, which in turn may be accompanied by more favourable media coverage. In the light of these findings, Robinson’s (1996) promoting polyarchy thesis predicts that individuals or groups vigorously challenging the status quo and/or trans-national capitalist elites would be most likely to be marginalised by the mass media.

Struggling for Praise
The hostile media playing field

For any social movement to draw beneficial attention to its activities in the mass media, the first barrier it must overcome is the structural constraints of the medium itself. According to Herman and Chomsky’s (1988) Propaganda Model, there are five filters through which all news must pass, that actively shape the media’s content. These are (1) the size, ownership and profit orientation of the media, (2) advertising, (3) sourcing, (4) flak (criticism) and (5) anti-communist ideology, which can be interpreted as keeping the discourse within the boundaries of elite interests. (For a critical review of the Propaganda Model see Klaehn 2002; and for a review of its significance to domestic and foreign policy making processes see Barker 2005). The fact that the Propaganda Model itself is marginalised from most media scholarship is consistent with the model’s predictions (Herring & Robinson, 2003). Yet there are still a small number of critical scholars who have been able to illustrate the applicability of the Propaganda Model to countries other than the US (where the model was first developed), e.g., in Australia (Linder 1994, 1998; Cryle & Hillier, 2005), Canada (Babe, 2005; Eglin, 2005; Klaehn, 2005; Winter & Klaehn, 2005), and the UK (Cromwell 2001, Chapter 3; Carvalho, 2005; Doherty, 2005; McKiggan, 2005; Edwards & Cromwell, 2006).

In this way, news values filter what appears in the media – and more importantly what doesn’t – not in any prescribed way, but more as a result of a sort of tacit professional consensus which usually acts to ‘reinforce conventional opinions and established authority’ (Seaton, 1997: 277). Meyer (2002: 30-31) suggests that news must also pass through another filter, which he calls ‘the rules of stage-managing’, which selects news based on its style of presentation and ability to attract an audience’s attention.

Most protestors are not the focus of regular news beats and so tend to rely on protest events to broadcast their news, however, most of these are ignored in the mainstream media (McCarthy et al., 1996a: 494). In addition, social movements have to contend with representative democracy, which leads governments to emphasise that dissent should take place in ballot boxes and not on the streets: a point of view endorsed by the mass media (McChesney, 1999). In spite of this, the mass media’s influence is not monolithic and some social movements and interest groups are able to maintain moderately useful media relations, publicising their activities in a predominantly positive light – something that will be discussed later in more detail. The overall inadequacy, or inequality, of coverage of protestors and social movements compared to other better placed insider groups has caused some authors to lament that the only way for social movements to obtain positive coverage is through the adoption of public relations techniques (Shoemaker, 1989: 215). This has led to the development of various media handbooks, which explore how social movements may better exploit the mass media (Monbiot, 2002). At this stage, it is worth considering that it is not only social movements that complain about adversarial media coverage. Both governments and corporations also convey the same general attitude (to the public at least), regarding their negative treatment by the mythical left wing media (Edwards & Cromwell, 2006). However, the big difference between insider groups and most social movements is that the former can mobilise huge political and financial resources to publicise their positive activities, and still spend fifty per cent or more of their public relations resources on preventing media attention to their more secretive ‘closed door’ activities (Davis, 2002: 179).

Arguably the largest, most credentialed and well-resourced social organisation prior to the 1980s was the labour movement, but research has shown that despite these advantages, the British labour movement has been systematically treated with hostility by the media (Philo & Glasgow University Media Group, 1982). In 1990, US media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) published a report entitled ‘Lost in the margins: labor and the media’ which concluded that ‘the lives of 100 million working people are being routinely ignored, marginalised or inaccurately portrayed in the media’ (FAIR 1990). Current research from the US also shows how the labour movement is still systematically misrepresented in the media, despite its financial strength, application of professional public relations techniques and fundamentally democratic ideals (Martin, 2004 and

Ignoring campaigners

Other social movements in less influential political positions than the labour movement suffer even more under the strain to publicise their activities, especially when their activities confront the status quo. The US civil rights movement (1954 to 1968) took years of organising and massive public support (and increased militancy) before the media started regularly covering and supporting the protests in the 1960s (Solomon, 1995; Flournoy, 2003). Few people know the names of the thousands of heroic leaders and ordinary citizens who gave their lives struggling for freedom. Instead, the media focused their positive coverage on the star like qualities of the movement’s more moderate leaders, like Martin Luther King, while demonising and marginalising the more radical elements of the movement (Gitlin, 1980: 212, 284; Rhodes, 1999). Two characteristics that strongly influence a social movement’s media treatment are the degree to which they are perceived to be ‘extreme’ (that is, challenging the status quo) and ‘militant’ (in their tactics); whereby, the more extreme and militant a group, the more critical the media coverage (McLeod & Hertog, 1999). Thus, although Martin Luther King benefited from his relative moderation in both these regards for most of his life (McAdam, 1996), this changed just prior to his assassination (Paletz & Entman, 1981: 129-130). It is then that he began to link the civil rights movement to basic human rights and economic rights, which subsequently led him to oppose the Vietnam War in 1967 and start building the Poor People’s Campaign in the last few months of his life. These events were widely dismissed by the media at the time, and even today few Americans are familiar with them, due to an effective media blackout in media reviews of his life (Solomon, 1995). This highlights how central the media’s representations of social movements are for generating and sustaining public support. In addition, the elevation of movement leaders to the media’s centre stage, to the exclusion of ordinary movement participants, may have the effect of discouraging ‘normal’ citizens from identifying with the movement, which can prevent their active involvement. Tunstall (1996: 200) points out how most labour stories during the Thatcher years in the UK focused on the movements leaders, dismissing the grassroots base of ordinary workers. This served to dramatically weaken the labour movement’s bargaining position in the media when the Thatcher government decided to phase out much of their communication with the trade union leaders after 1979.

One major difference between earlier popular social movements and the current global justice movement is that the latter tend not to rely on distinct leaders or top-down hierarchal structures to drive their activities. So, in some respects, the media’s apparent ‘confusion about the protestors’ political goals is understandable’ (Klein 2002: 3). Unfortunately, this equitable trait of the global justice movement has supplied the media with even more ammunition to undermine the protestors’ ideals by portraying them as ‘lost’ and ‘leaderless’. However, it should be recognised that the global justice movements’ strong emphasis on grassroots participation and consensus decision-making – which admittedly is sometimes messy (or democratic) is their very strength in countering the domineering corporate power structures evident in society today.

Us and them

Chan and Lee (1984) first described the ‘protest paradigm’ to illustrate how the mass media tended to focus on limited features of social protests to portray protestors as the ‘other’. Characteristics of this reporting paradigm, which separates protestors (them) from non-protesting audiences (us, or some of us), include a reliance on official sources to frame the event, a focus on police confrontation, and an analysis of the protestors’ activities (and appearances) rather than their objectives. This somewhat internalised selection process serves to filter which protests are reported, and which are ignored.

The media’s exploitation of broad unsubstantiated statements concerning the public’s negative opinion of protestors is used to naturalise the status quo, a practice often supported by the utilisation of unfavourable eyewitness comments (McLeod & Hertog, 1992). Media depictions of hostile bystander reactions act as a powerful form of social control, and serve to undermine the protestors’ opinions, as passers-by who are sympathetic to the protestors are often considered to be part of the protest, so tend not to be interviewed (Hertog & McLeod, 1995). Research has also shown how the media often fail to report the protestors’ official opponents, and instead tend to replace them with the police, thus reducing the chance of any meaningful dialogue or debate between the protestors and the targets of their protests (McLeod & Hertog, 1992; Hertog & McLeod, 1995; Boyle et al., 2004). Another factor that sometimes acts against demonstrators is the media’s focus on their social demographics, especially when protests involve high numbers of young adults and students. Under these circumstances, the media may simply dismiss their views as unrepresentative of society, and not worth listening too. In addition, when protest participants are not visibly representative of societal norms, it makes it even easier for the media to label them derogatively as ‘outsiders’ or ‘freaks’ (Gitlin 1980; McLeod & Hertog 1992; Coen 2000).

That the media makes systematic use of derogatory stereotypes and negative frames to marginalise outsider groups was born out in Bowie’s (1999) examination of the depiction of indigenous American’s in three US magazines, Time, Newsweek and US News & World Report from 1968 to 1979. Furthermore, Baylor (1996) undertook a similar assessment of NBC’s evening news over the same time period and showed how ‘the issue of militancy overshadow[ed] any presentation of the real grievances and issues behind Indian protest’ with ’98% of the news segments us[ing] either the stereotype or militant frames’ (245-246). The US media has made some progress since the nineteenth century – when in 1871 the popular press actually encouraged and justified the massacre of a hundred Indians, mostly women and children (Blankenburg, 1968) – but unfortunately the exact level of progress is still debateable.

Contrary to the needs of democracy – especially any forms of participatory democracy – citizens who hold politicians and/or corporations directly accountable by protesting in the streets are often labelled by the mass media as ‘deviant outsiders’ whose activities are directed towards disrupting the status quo for the compliant majority. Hertog and McLeod’s (1995) media coverage of anarchist groups in Minneapolis-St. Paul from 1986 to 1988 demonstrated that by systematically defining protestors as abnormal, the media are able to unfairly prejudice their audience against the issues and ideas raised by protestors. They also showed that, depending on the version of protest coverage audiences watched, people showed big differences in opinion on the way they viewed both the issues raised and the protestors themselves. Other research has also shown how media coverage of protests can act to increase public hostility towards the protestors’ cause (McLeod, 1995; McLeod & Detenber, 1999; Shoemaker, 1982). This has important implications for social movements because, if a single report can determine how sympathetic the public is to their goals, consistently antagonistic media treatment is likely to have very negative repercussions regarding public support of protests themselves.

Public empathy towards the activities of social movements changes continuously (Hertog & McLeod, 1995), but the degree to which society accepts protests may give an indication of the strength of their societies democratic values. This is because protests provide a discernible sign that ‘that the marketplace of ideas is free and diverse’, providing more possibilities for innovative social change (McLeod, 2000: 31). Therefore, in societies where even peaceful activists are depicted as deviants – a tactic exploited by President Nixon in 1970, whose election campaign focused on combating ‘the ‘anarchy’ of the anti-war protest’ (Hallin, 1986: 194) – it is not surprising that the general public often has reservations about the necessity of protest. These worries are compounded by the withdrawal of some of the larger social movements from more ‘radical’ forms of protest in favour of more ‘legitimate’ partnerships with corporations and governments: which, in the end, may work to change the boundaries for what the public considers acceptable dissent, strengthening the dividing line between us and them.

Framing protestors into obscurity

Analysis of the global justice movements’ 2001 May Day protests in London showed how most UK press coverage framed the protests in terms of (1) law and order, and the problem of policing the protest, fifty nine per cent; (2) economics, and the financial ‘cost’ of protests to the wider public, nine per cent; or (3) irrationality and spectacle, seven per cent (Wahl-Jorgensen, 2003). The remaining coverage (eighteen per cent) identified with the protestors’ concerns, but ‘with a few notable exceptions, discourses of recognition appeared either in the editorial page columns, leaders, or letters to the editor’ (Wahl-Jorgensen, 2003: 143). The little positive news that was generated was clearly isolated from the serious hard news sections of the papers, letting the readers know what the media really thought of the protests.

In the same vein, Martin (2004) identified five dominant news frames for how the mass media view labour news in the US: they are (1) ‘the consumer is king’ – which encourages an individual based (not collective) form of consumer democracy; (2) ‘the process of production is none of the public’s business’ – whereby citizen consumers should only busy their minds with making product choices; (3) ‘the economy is driven by great business leaders and entrepreneurs’ – whose efforts can be emulated by anyone with the requisite passion, regardless of background; (4) ‘the workplace is a meritocracy’ – self advancement is always possible, and the employer bears no responsibility for an individual’s problems (of course unions are excluded from this frame); and (5) ‘collective economic action is bad’ (Martin, 2004: 8-11). Understanding how such frames are continually utilised to negatively categorise social movement issues is crucial to comprehending why subsequent actions taken by activist groups – like protests – are also portrayed in an overwhelmingly bad light. There are frames that are not slanted against protestors, but mainstream media rarely uses them. Instead, the most regularly used frames are those that serve to marginalise protestors, these include the violent crime or property crime story, the carnival frame, the freak show, the Romper Room (or immaturity) frame, the riot frame, the storm watch (warning of potential actions), and lastly the moral decay story (McLeod & Hertog, 1999: 312-313).

What about the citizens who aren’t protesting?

On May 1st 1973, London witnessed one of the largest trade union protests seen for years, when nearly two million people joined together to oppose the Conservative Party’s Industrial Relations Act. In a similar manner to the coverage of the 2001 May Day protest (Wahl-Jorgensen, 2003) the media downplayed the protest, representing what was ‘a sizable manifestation of political class conflict rare in British history’ as ‘a predicable act of May Day madness’ (Young & Crutchley 1978: 31). Typical of the media framing employed surrounding this event, the Daily Telegraph’s headline read ‘Millions ignore T.U.C. day of protest’ (cited in Young & Crutchley 1978: 30). This narrative was eerily echoed some thirty years later by Newsnight (the BBCs flagship news programme) when political correspondent, David Grossman, ‘reporting’ on the biggest anti-war march ever seen in Britain (held in London on February 15th 2003) said: ‘The people have spoken, or have they? What about the millions who didn’t march? Was going to the DIY store or watching the football on Saturday a demonstration of support for the government?’ (Medialens, 2004).

Similarly, in Washington DC (US) on April 25th 2004, what might have been the capital’s biggest protest ever took place, when an estimated 500,000 to 1,150,000 people took to the streets to march for womens’ reproductive rights. However, as in the previous examples, this only seemed to encourage the media to ‘downplay the size and significance of the event’ and ‘largely ignore the issues that marchers attempted to bring back into the public discourse’ (Hollar, 2004). Likewise, after the September 11th attacks, a study of the New York Times showed that it had consistently ‘downplayed and distorted peace rallies and demonstrations against a military response’ (FAIR, 2001). The media messages emitting from the reporting of these protests to the public is unambiguous: don’t waste your time with those deviant protestors they’re not important! On the other hand, the options for the social movements involved in such demonstrations are not so obvious. Thus, it is of utmost importance that the mass media (and educational systems) should strengthen democratic principles and actively draw social movements into the wider public sphere, not isolate them at its margins.

Violence in the media and social movements

Violence tends to materialise in either personal or group conflicts, and has long been highlighted as a desirable news value in the mass media. Under normal circumstances, policymaking processes do not lend themselves to this particular media frame, as for the most part they are carried out through consensual decision making. But when individuals do choose to come into conflict verbally (or physically), this form of ‘policymaking violence’ tends to rate highly in the media. The crucial difference between the media’s focus on institutional and protestor violence is that for institutional actors the decision to illustrate their conflict through violence, is for the most part a personal choice, while the same is not usually true for peaceful protestors. This is because citizens who feel excluded from political processes often participate in mass activities like protests, and so their representation in the media may be tarred by just a few unrepresentative individuals who choose violent methods of expression over peaceful ones. Thus, Winter and Klaehn (2005: 184) describe how press coverage served to discipline protestors at the Organisation of American State meeting in 2000 (Windsor, Canada) by depicting ‘a “crisis of democracy” in the violent, misguided and indoctrinated embodiment of the protestors, who must be eradicated, so that normalcy: peace, order and “good government” may return.’ Likewise, Bennett et al’s. (2004: 452) study of protests targeting the World Economic Forum (between 2001 and 2003 in the New York Times) concluded that ‘the news actively constructed the grassroots globalisation critics as marginal, largely nameless scruffians who threatened civil order with violence, even though actually little disorder actually occurred.’

It is not likely that protestor violence will endear its participants (and their associated social movements) to the public, especially when this becomes (as it nearly always does) the focal point for media coverage. In fact, it seems most likely that media attention obtained through violence will lead to social isolation. However, disturbingly (for democracy), some suggest that the practice of ‘engaging in what is seen as spectacular, irrational, coercive, violent, and antisocial behaviour is the most reliable way to introduce [into the media] new rationalities that may have transformative consequences’ (Wahl-Jorgensen, 2003: 144; also see Owen and Palmer 2003). The use of violence is clearly a contestable, and in many people’s view, an undesirable solution to resolving the problem of the nexus between social movements’ and the media, but it proves how desperately outsider groups fight to get their message heard. Indeed, in some regards, the media encourages such behaviour, because if there are few differences between two protest groups, it is the more conflictual or violent event that obtains the most media coverage (McLeod & Hertog, 1999; Oliver and Myers, 1999). Fortunately, though, most people still believe in the power of non-violent protests (as evidenced by the majority of peaceful activists present at most mass protests) even if, as is often the case, their peaceful pleas remain unheard in the mass media (for a summary of the argument against violence see Edwards 2001).

Another problem of the media’s fixation on protestor violence is that it often means that the media overlook the role of police violence. For example, environmental protestors had occupied US Congressional Republican Representative Frank Riggs office in California October 1997 and were confronted by police who used pepper spray to restrain them. Throughout this confrontation – which was filmed – one of the protestors managed to calmly articulate her group’s reasons for protesting; however, that segment was edited out from the television news report (Opel, 2003: 58). As well as demonstrating how activists can be silenced in the media (or have their agendas distorted), this type of reporting serves to normalise police violence against protestors, which is dangerous for all involved in peaceful protest (see FAIR, 2003).

Playing the Media Game
Highly visible activists: winners of the ‘media game’

Despite the extremely negative picture painted in the previous section, there are still some winners in the ‘media game’. So while losers, like the largest protest ever held in Washington, DC (see previous description of the women’s march in 2004) received just a single story on page three in USA Today the day after the march, and a ‘handful of march-related stories over a few days’ in the New York Times and The Washington Post, ‘others ignored the event almost completely’ (Hollar, 2004). A 1997 march organised by the Promise Keepers ‘an evangelical men’s organization with an anti-feminist and anti-gay theology’ end up as winners of the media game. Again, the Promise Keepers march took place in Washington DC and although it was approximately half the size of the women’s march (estimated attendance of 480,000-750,000 demonstrators) it received far more media coverage. USA Today ran four stories before the event and four afterwards, while the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) ran ‘more than three times the coverage the networks devoted to the women’s march’ (Hollar, 2004). Furthermore, the only study examining media coverage of the Promise Keepers in US newspapers – from 1991 (their founding year) through to April 1996 – concluded that their coverage was ‘overwhelmingly positive’ (Claussen, 1998), making the Promise Keepers true winners of the media game.

Another ‘winner’ was a brand new social movement (formed in Belgium in the wake of the controversy surrounding the arrest of murderer Marc Dutroux in 1996), which mobilised Belgium’s largest ever demonstration – the White March. A study examining the media coverage surrounding this protest determined that the primary reason for its overwhelming success was because the media ‘undertook large-scale and unconcealed motivational framing efforts’ to mobilise the public in support of the protest (Walgrave and Manssens, 2005: 132). This is a perfect example of a social movement that is an impressive winner of the media game, and a crucial question to ask is why was this the case? Walgrave and Manssens (2005: 135-136) outlined a number of specific contextual factors that might have encouraged the media to support the protest. Sadly, many of these factors were met when Howard Sattler, the host of a popular Australian talkback radio program, stirred up racist sentiments amongst his listeners, promoting a ‘Rally for Justice’ which drew thirty thousand angry protestors on to the streets (Mickler, 1998: 64). The protests were even able to pressure the government to introduce racist laws that contravened international human rights legislation (Stockwell, 1992: 279).

Winners are losers?

Even when progressive activist groups ‘win’ in the media game, obtaining positive media coverage supportive of their objectives; they may still be losing in other respects, as the following discussion of the (US) anti-sweatshop movement illustrates. After a long history of labour abuse in sweatshops worldwide, it was only in the mid 1990s that the issue started receiving serious attention in the US mass media (coinciding with a couple of high profile sweatshop investigations). Contrary to ‘normal’ social movement coverage, analysis of this coverage showed that sweatshop activists actually ‘achieved a position of definitional prominence’ over corporate interests, a position typically reserved for powerful institutional actors (Greenberg & Knight, 2004: 169). This was a remarkable achievement, however, this success was undermined by the media’s dominant focus on micro-level issues, such as individual sweatshops, and their aversion to the discussion of the systemic structural inequalities supporting the use of sweatshops (Greenberg & Knight, 2004: 170). Media coverage also located the root of the problem in western consumer shopping activities, not at the doorstep of the businesses profiting from the use of sweatshops, which served to cloud the issue of responsibility. Therefore, although the anti-sweatshop movement may have successfully campaigned for limited labour reforms (i.e., by Nike) – some of which have now become institutionalised – paradoxically, this success may render their long-term goal of eradicating sweatshops inoperable. Businesses successfully avoided regulation by promoting self-regulation, and even though the use of sweatshops is still common practice, media coverage of sweatshops has been far less visible since 2000, reducing the anti-sweatshop movement’s ability to maintain public support and awareness for their campaigns. Furthermore, current estimates suggest that there are still about 250,000 sweatshop workers employed in the US alone (Ross, 2004).

Some social movements obtain their desired media coverage by adopting tactics that focus on mobilising short-term public support. One commonly used tactic – that may work against longer-term mobilisation of social movement supporters – is emotional management. Such tactics, rely upon manipulating audiences by pushing emotional hot buttons, stimulating reactive responses from targets, but not necessarily well thought out responses that might lead on to long term commitments. The use of emotive images in the media to generate support for the victims of the famine in Niger 2005 is a good example of this type of campaigning. The politics of symbols and their manipulation may be successful in the short term, but social movements engaged in such practices need to consider whether they are weakening the ability of other progressive social movements to recruit people committed to long term social change. Lasting commitments to social movements are built on the basis of trusting relationships, which are most effectively developed through one on one communications, not through the media (Gamson 1995: 106). Social movements need to encourage their participants to be critical of manipulative practices because it is the results of activities that discourage activism in the first place.

Competing for coverage

Taking a historical approach to understanding differences in movement-media relations, Rucht (2004) suggests that new social movements in the 1970s and 1980s gradually moved away from more confrontational approaches to the mass media, and increasingly utilised ‘adaptation strategies’ (44-52). This in turn, has led social movements to a greater reliance on the mainstream media, with less emphasis on maintaining their inwardly focused alternative media. The rise of trans-national social movements in the 1990s saw this trend extend, and increasingly, social movements have adopted professionalised public relations techniques to market their causes.

Davis (2002) recognised that various UK campaigning groups have been able to acquire positive media profiles by relying on professional public relations techniques, rather than the creation of dramatic mediagenic images. This seems to have enabled increasing numbers of outsider interest groups greater opportunities to obtain positive media coverage (Davis, 2002: 176). However, in order to gain a ticket to this exclusive media club, there is an unwritten price that must be paid because as Gamson (1995: 99) pointed out ‘the media may offer occasional models of collective action that make a difference, but they are highly selective ones.’ Reformist movements are far more likely to survive the ravages of media distortion than more revolutionary ones, whose public relations messages can be overwhelmed by disparaging media frames. Gitlin (1980: 284) describes how more reformist campaigns, like those led by Ralph Nader in the 1960s (which fought for consumer rights), were rewarded with acceptance by the mainstream media and promoted to the status of ‘regular news makers.’ This is particularly important, as one study comparing press and television coverage of protests in Washington DC (between 1982 and 1991), showed that overall coverage had decreased while the number of protests had increased massively (McCarthy et al., 1998). Furthermore, the ongoing corporatisation of social movements encourages the larger non-governmental organisations to view their success through an economic lens, which leads them to focus predominantly on maintaining and expanding membership/funding (Roelofs, 2003). The rational result of this economic orientation, is that they often ‘deliberately design their actions and broader campaigns to attract media attention and positive coverage’ (Rucht, 2004: 49). Therefore, social movements may water down their demands – to appear less challenging to the status quo – leaving them more vulnerable to cooption by political and economic elites (Paletz & Entman, 1981: 130). In such cases, social movement may even start to consider the development of positive relationships with the media as more important than mobilising activists or influencing policy decisions.

Playing by corporate rules

The general mainstreaming of media tactics has also been accompanied by the general dilution of radical media critiques (to ‘safer’ moderate criticisms) which only superficially confront the status quo: arguably strengthening media organisations hegemonic position in society. The future may appear to look rosy for some social movements, but if they just sit by and watch the more radical (media compromised) groups fall by the wayside, how long will it take before they themselves rank among the most ‘radical’ groups. Maybe then, such groups will have to re-evaluate their media-centric tactics in the light of their newfound ‘radical’ status.

Unions are a good example of a group that through access to significant financial resources, have been able to adapt their tactics to become more media friendly. This can be seen by their tactical focus on ‘the needs of ‘the public’ and/or attack[s on] ‘greedy’ and ‘incompetent’ corporate and government elites’ (Davis, 2002: 177). However, in utilising such strategies unions are now ‘less likely to argue about jobs and money’ and have ‘dilut[ed] some of their long-term political objectives’ (ibid.). Their media-centric approach, serves to fragment and isolate their successful actions from one another, encouraging media coverage in an episodic, instead of thematic manner (Bennett, 1988: 24). Similarly, in the 1960s and 1970s the National Organization for Women, adopted a position of media pragmatism, and although they succeeded in becoming a key feminist source for the media in the US, their ‘leader[s] were very sensitive to questions and debate on sexuality…opt[ing] out of an important part of the domain of personal politics that ha[d] been the hallmark of the feminist movement’ (Barker-Plummer, 1995: 315). As Tuchman (1978: 152) concluded: ‘Ironically, yet logically, the successful institutionalization of the women’s movement limited its ability to carry forth radical issues.’ Social movements may improve their media visibility, but paradoxically by making tactical concessions to obtain media coverage, they may render their longer-term objectives invisible to their audience.

McCarthy et al. (1998) studied which factors contributed towards media coverage of demonstrations in Washington DC and concluded that other than the estimated size of the protest, one of the best predictors of coverage is it’s conformity with current media issue attention cycles. Other research has also shown that if protests are not tied to legislative issues, they have a much harder time achieving media coverage, especially if they occurred in a ’31-day period in which many other local public message events were also occurring’ (Oliver & Maney, 2000: 496-97). These findings portend dire consequences for recruitment of future activists through the media, and for sustainable activism in general, as they place severe limitations on a movement’s ability to receive thematic coverage of their protest activities. This is because: ‘If media issue attention cycles come to play a more significant role than do the form, context, substance, or size of citizen protests in determining which demonstrations are selected for media coverage, then protest in modern democracies will have become mediated to a greater extent’ than ever supposed (McCarthy et al., 1998: 497).

Invisible activists: losers of the ‘media game

Research in the US has shown that protests or social movements that challenge the legitimacy of the governments foreign policies, are less likely to be covered by the mass media (Smith et al., 2001; Shaw 2004) or more likely to be heavily ‘denigrated and delegitimised’ (Carragee, 1991). A prominent example of this was the discussions surrounding the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Goss (2001) examined the New York Times’ coverage of NAFTA and found that it served as an effective mouthpiece for the government and corporate interests, downplaying the significance of the agreement and limiting the terms of the debate to elite interests. In this way, the labour movement, who totally opposed the terms of the agreement, were almost completely ignored in the media coverage. In direct response to the disastrous consequences of NAFTA, thousands of people came together in Seattle in 1999 to campaign for more equitable global trade rules. Previously, the mass media were able to easily bury the activist case, but in Seattle this was not so simple due to the physical presence of 50,000 concerned citizens. This placed the media in a fix, because if they were to honestly discuss the issues being raised by the protest they would have had to question the validity of the entire economic system (Martin, 2004: 179-180). So instead, the media made full use of the adversarial tactics and frames (outlined previously) to systematically misrepresent and delegitimise the protestors’ opinions (Ackerman, 2000; Herman & Chomsky, 2002: xiii; Goeddertz & Kraidy, 2003; Herman, 2006).

The same principle of marginalisation normally holds true for groups challenging domestic policy making issues where there is elite consensus. The US anti-nuclear energy movement is a good example, and their actions were rendered next-to-invisible by the media. In spite of this, through determined grassroots education and organising, the anti-nuclear energy movement slowly grew, until public opinion polls in 1975 showed that between twenty to thirty per cent of the public opposed nuclear energy (Moyer, 2001). However, even with increasing public support, the mass arrest of 177 demonstrators the following year went unreported in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, while receiving just two paragraphs on page 32 of the New York Times (Gitlin, 1980: 287). This illustrates the enormity of the media barriers facing social movements, as this occurred to a movement that had a sizable proportion of public support. Not surprisingly, the movement against nuclear weapons was treated with even more disdain by the media, so that ‘during the biggest demonstrations, in late April and early May 1978, the New York Times ran a small notice on page 14′ and the ‘Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times ran nothing’ (Gitlin, 1980: 291-292). Similarly, the environmental movement has also found itself regularly marginalised from the media (for a full account, see Barker, Submitted b).

Smaller social movements, targeting local issues, will be more likely to receive positive coverage than larger groups calling for more systemic and challenging reforms: as it tends to be the social movements that are most vigorously pushing the boundaries for dissent in society that are most marginalised from the mainstream media (McLeod & Hertog, 1999). This may be true, but that does not necessarily mean that reformist groups will obtain glowing media coverage. In fact, a recent survey of newspaper coverage of social protest in Wisconsin, US, from 1960 to 1999 concluded that even moderate reform groups tend to receive marginalising media coverage, and only ‘protest groups seeking to support the status quo can expect more favourable treatment’ (Boyle et al., 2004: 57).

All the examples in this section have shown how social movements are routinely marginalised or disappeared by the mainstream media. This may set in motion (or perpetuate) a ‘spiral of silence’, as media audiences sympathetic to social movement ideas, may feel less likely to speak out if they perceive the activists to be part of an small (invisible) minority in society, an idea forcefully communicated by the media (Noelle-Neumann, 1984). This of course has knock-on effects for a social movement’s recruitment and long-term viability. Unfortunately, despite receiving consistently negative coverage some social movements still struggle to obtain further poor coverage: so is bad publicity actually worse than no publicity? This is not an easy question to answer, as poor publicity may still result in the recruitment of new members (see Owen and Palmer, 2003). However, maybe the question need not even be asked, as surely good publicity is better than either poor publicity or none at all. Instead, perhaps social movements should be questioning the mass media’s portrayal of ‘reality’ not just their own promotional activities – with a view to changing and reforming the mass media itself.

Necessary Reforms for Social Justice

Cromwell (2001: 80) argues ‘that campaigners are often unwilling to contemplate the notion that there is an inherent media resistance to their message.’ Furthermore, he suggests that even activists who are familiar with radical mass media critiques, like Herman and Chomsky’s (1988) propaganda model, often hold the ‘false impression that “big companies try to control the news in their favour”‘ which ‘is the “conspiracy” charge that Herman and Chomsky cogently refuted from day one’ (Cromwell 2001: 80). Therefore, listening to activists, and working out how they relate to the media, should be the first step for any activists working towards developing the case for media reform.

Difficult choices: institutional or global support?

Social movements have a limited number of outlets for their stories: internally distributed news, which typically reaches few people (especially those outside of the social movements immediate activities), and externally distributed news whose distribution relies on the mainstream media. Rising use of the internet has strengthened many social movements ability to distribute their news more widely via alternative media, but most progress has been made in developing effective internal communications. Unfortunately, most people lie outside of activist communication networks, and the wealth of information produced by social movements passes them by unnoticed. A single daily newspaper already provides a vast amount of information to digest. So considering that most people do not read newspapers cover to cover, it may be reasonable to suggest that few people feel the need to actively search for additional information to supplement their daily news intake.

Social movements who wish to reach out to a mass audience must (at present) primarily rely on the mass media to publicise their cause. However, the relationship between the two is fundamentally asymmetrical, which leaves social movements vulnerable to the media’s beck and call – placing social movements in a catch-22 situation. Should they make the best of their media-given lot, good or bad? Or should they attempt to reform the media, and risk biting (or at least nibbling) the hand that feeds them?

With the advent of trans-national social movements and improved international communications, new doors have opened, which may help make such questions a little easier to answer. In recent years, in minority countries, participation in social movements has risen substantially, but it is in the majority countries where growth in social movements has advanced most rapidly. This is despite the fact that protesting is a genuinely dangerous form of political expression in countries where governments routinely utilise repressive forms of social control to clamp down on dissidents (Podobnik, 2005: 55). In the face of this oppression, millions of people from the majority world are joining together to protest against the multitude of exploitative economic reforms being imposed on them by corporate driven globalisation (Podobnik, 2005: 56). However, ‘[i]ronically… the era of globalisation has coincided with an increasingly parochial focus by the Western media… Meanwhile coverage of the South, where it existed at all, has diminished, allowing a limited and distorted view of the developing world’ (Miller, 2003: 116).

In minority countries, global justice movements are working hard to expose the gross bankruptcy of the current form of globalisation, and are sometimes able to permeate the public’s consciousness through the mass media. However, while they struggle to be heard, there are already signs in majority countries of massive mobilisations of citizens who oppose corporate hegemony (Walton and Seddon, 1994). Yet, these millions of protestors remain hidden away from most Western eyes (Palast, 2000), by the very same media that social movements in the minority countries cooperate with. Western media portray the global justice movement at home as either ‘violent troublemakers’ or ‘middle-class do-gooders’ and marginalise the bulk of protestors in majority countries who are campaigning against the same neo-liberalism by simply not reporting their activities (Podobnik, 2005: 57). To compound this problem, on the rare occasion when the media does delve into majority world issues, audiences were misinformed, due to the low level of explanations and context given, and generally hold majority world citizens in low regard (although it has been shown that such opinions could be radically changed by the quality of information received) (Glasgow University Media Group, 2001).

What then would happen if the media covered these popular uprisings in the majority world in a sympathetic way? Obviously, a lot – however, it is unlikely that this will happen in the near future, as the media do not even report positively on the global justice movement in their own countries. Instead, it might be more interesting for activists to consider which of the two they should be allying themselves with: media institutions or the majority of the global citizenry? Choosing the latter does not mean neglecting all media outlets in favour of interpersonal communication. Far from it: by choosing to side wholeheartedly with the public, social movements would need to make substantial investments in alternative media (in minority and majority countries alike) to publicise their activities globally, while also concentrating on the urgent task of publicising the need for media reform. The global justice movement might then be able to stop wasting precious resources in their uphill struggle to coax the mass media to support them, which counts upon the media acting against its own – profit orientated – interests.

Democratising the messenger

If the media continues to encourage apathy through the use of ‘neutral frames’, non-coverage, or over-coverage with limited solutions, social movements need to consider how beneficial it is to seek such disempowering media coverage. Furthermore, there is the possibility that even positive coverage may ultimately work to undermine their (or other movements) long-term objectives (that is to strengthen democratic processes). Most people are aware that numerous catastrophic problems are challenging human existence, but if they learn about these issues in an episodic manner that leaves them feeling helpless, where the only consistent solution offered by the media is changing their personal consumption patterns, can social movements really expect to build a mass movement for global justice in the minority world?

The media systems we currently have are not up to this task, so social movement activists need to begin seriously thinking about how they might change the mass media. To a limited extent some social movements (especially in the US) are already undertaking some actions to create a more democratic media environment, but more needs to be done to build these actions into a truly global project, to counter the global reach of media corporations. However, to date, progressive social movements have generally rejected media democratisation as a political issue. The rationale for this un-decision may be numerous (see Hackett and Carroll, 2004), but ultimately, the desertion of media democratisation has worked against many progressive social movements, who continue to suffer within the confines of the increasingly conservative mass media.


Key to any social movement’s eventual success in reforming the current world order is its ability to garner majority support, which is severely restricted by the mass media. Global justice movements profess to want to mobilise entire communities worldwide to enable truly participative decision-making. However, if this is really the case, they need to consider whether the same media system that serves to naturalise and legitimise elite decision-making, can really encourage its antithesis, collective grassroots decision-making. It seems an anathema to even consider that by working on the terms set by the mass media, social movements are actually legitimising and tightening its hegemonic power over society, even while it simultaneously acts to de-legitimise or ignore the global justice movement.

Therefore, it is time for social movements to take collective action. To start with ‘democratic media reform needs to be recast as an end in itself – a public good – not simply a means by which each movement can get its message out’ (Hackett & Carroll, 2004). In this way, a media reform project can be linked to the wider array of social movements calling for a more equitable and participatory democracy.


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Manufacturing Policies: The Media’s Role in the Policy Making Process

The following academic article was first presented in 2005 as a refereed paper to the Journalism Education Conference, Griffith University, 29 November – 2 December 2005.

Policymaking is a political process which is affected by various social and economic factors and media systems play an integral role in shaping the social context in which policies are developed.[1] Through the media, citizens learn how government policies will affect them, and governments gain feedback on their policies and programs. Media systems act as the primary conduit between those who might want to influence policy and the policymakers – controlling the scope of political discourse and regulating the flow of information. Textbook policymaking follows an orderly sequence where problems are identified, solutions devised, policies adopted, implemented, and lastly evaluated. In reality, the policy process is more fluid, where policies are formed though the struggle of ideas of various advocacy coalitions in what has been described as a policy primeval soup.[2]

The policies, on which the media focuses can, and often does, play an important part in determining the focal issues for policymakers.[3] One of the fundamental roles of the media in a liberal democracy is to critically scrutinise governmental affairs: that is to act as the ‘Forth Estate’ of government to ensure that the government can be held accountable by the public. However, the systematic deregulation of media systems worldwide is diminishing the ability of citizens to meaningfully participate in policymaking process governing the media. The ensuing relaxation of ownership rules and control, has resulted in a move away from diversity of production to a situation where media ownership is becoming increasing concentrated by just a few (predominantly western) global conglomerates.[4]

Obvious problems arise for democratic processes, when huge media conglomerates also fulfil the role of powerful political actors; their close links with the corporate economy are widely considered to limit their ability to investigate the government and represent all points of view. Consequently, in the same way that Habermas (1989) described the colonisation of the public sphere by large corporations, the political sphere is now being colonised by the media, and politics has begun re-orientating itself to satisfy the logic of media organisations.[5] Therefore, the media are active participants in the policymaking process and the ability to stimulate change or maintain the status quo depends on their choice of subject (or policy issue) and how they frame it. Active (investigative) reporting attempts to shape policy outcomes, but this does not necessarily mean that it always represents the most successful approach for gaining policy changes.[6] In fact, sometimes passive (straight) reporting can have a greater influence on policy choices.

When this occurs, media independence is largely bypassed, as the news generated depends solely on the information released (as public relations material) from legitimate news sources. For example, White House staff routinely make ‘leaks’ – expressively to influence policy decisions.[7] Linsky (1986) noted that journalists regard “leaks… as indispensable to their work” and that they are aware of their use by officials in return for scoops.[8]

The media may also influence policy outcomes through their ability to exclude certain policy options from the media, which “sets the boundaries for ‘legitimate’ public debate”.[9] Such analyses have led some researchers to posit that the media has a powerful monolithic influence on all policy processes, while others suggest it plays an insignificant role in policy making processes; a more likely scenario is that its degree of influence varies considerably, being issue based in nature.[10]

This leads to the question, which policy issues will be most effected and which least effected by media coverage? It is one of the key questions that this paper sets out to explore; however, due to the broad scope of this critical review, it necessarily passes over the literature fairly briskly to allow ample discussion of both domestic and foreign policy making processes, which are discussed separately in turn.

The media’s role in domestic policymaking

Media selection of ‘legitimate’ policy actors

The media acts as a powerful political actor, with its interests strongly tied to the status quo and that of other corporate policy actors, instead of the general public. Journalists and editors shape policy agendas by actively filtering issues, so that reporting conforms to their dominant news values – selecting what issues are covered and which sources are used.[11] This tends to confine policy debate to the strict boundaries of current ‘accepted wisdoms’ set by the major political parties or institutional policymakers.

The conservative nature of these perceptual screens is strengthened by the media’s ‘need’ for concision, which is especially dominant on television, with its appetite for sound bite politics. Creation of credible policy frameworks influence journalists in much the same way, leading them to rely on institutional actors (encountered on daily beats) who support their perceptions of a successful policy framework. Development of such close relationships with sources is very important to the policy process, and often results in what is described as “coalition journalism” (discussed later).

Support for policies is also reinforced by, (1) credentialing supportive sources and disregarding opposing sources, (2) using labels to shorthand information about policies by placing them within frameworks (with their associated assumptions), and (3) by the way sources are then “in a sense forced, to reflect these perceptions” accepting the commonsense interpretation of these policy frameworks to protect their own reputations in the mass media.[12]

Outsider groups find it difficult to voice opinions in the media and even when they do, official sources are contacted to ‘balance’ these stories to ensure ‘objectivity’. These, often resource-poor groups, are compelled to use the media as a means of gaining recognition as trusted policy actors. However, due to the media’s reliance on established sources they may need to resort to different methods to capture media attention – which may cause distractions to their legitimacy, as the news may focus on a group’s event and not its politics.

Media stereotypes of policies, individuals or groups can influence their respective abilities to determine policy outcomes.[13] Furthermore, even if certain policies turn out to be successful, they may still be subjected to unnecessary reform, if their legitimacy has already been undermined in the media by the creation of negative stereotypes.[14] Schiraldi and Macallair (1997) also illustrated the vulnerability of juvenile crime policymaking in San Francisco to media manipulation…by election-minded politicians”, showing how difficult it is for citizen campaigners to reframe official policy frames once they have been adopted by the media.[15]

Affecting policy outcomes

Even if the media can set the actual policy agenda in some circumstances, this does not necessarily mean that they influence policy. Political rhetoric may appear to signal media impact, but if it does little more than pay lip service to media coverage, effecting only minor policy outcomes, then to what degree has the media really affected the policymaking process?

Mortensen and Serritzlew (2004) examined local media influence on policy outcomes in Denmark, and demonstrated that media coverage actually has “limited consequences for actual policy decisions” even when “policy agenda and political discussions are affected by the media”. Reiterating this point they concluded that “the media are important for understanding the political agenda and the framing of decisions about special [or sensational] issues, but ‘normal’ politics and the broader policy priorities [or governmental issues] are largely unaffected”.[16] This partly confirmed the results of Soroka’s study which suggested, that media influence is strongest with ‘sensational issues’, and weakest in ‘governmental issues’, which are predominantly policy-driven.[17] Likewise, Protess et al. (1987) demonstrated that when a policy issue is ‘nonrecurring’ in terms of media coverage (a sensational issue), media power to influence public opinion (but not necessarily policy outcomes) is greater than with ‘recurring’ policy coverage (which are more synonymous with governmental issues).

Taken together, these results present an interesting paradox for democratic governance, one in which media coverage of policy issues does not appear to affect most of society’s actual decision-making.

Media relations with policymakers

In the past it was believed that the media’s influence on policy occurred in a straightforward fashion, with journalists clearly separated from the governing processes. Media investigations (initiated by popular public sentiment) prompt widespread changes in public opinion, citizens then organise and collectively pressure the government, which capitulates to popular pressure and makes the appropriate public policy reforms. This simple linear model has recently been described as the ‘Mobilisation Model’ – while in the past it has been referred to as a ‘Popular Mobilisation’ or ‘Public Advocacy’.[18] This model assumes a strong democratic role for citizens in policymaking processes, a role which has been disputed by a number of political scientists,[19] who suggest that special interest groups and other political elites dominate the policymaking processes, not the public. Protess et al. support these contentions and suggest “that policymaking changes often occur regardless of the public’s reaction” to active (investigative) reporting.[20] By including ethnographic studies of journalists and policymakers in their study, they were able to show how prepublication collaboration between the two groups (journalists and policymakers) may be the real driver of policy agendas, not public opinion.

These collaborations were seen to have a significant affect on policy outcomes. They illustrated how prior knowledge of upcoming media attention often enabled policymakers to exploit negative media attention as “policy opportunities”. In this way, policymakers are able to manage their media coverage to maximise positive publicity for their policies. This is achieved by ensuring they were seen as part of the solution, even when they were responsible for the problem.[21]

This symbiotic relationship, entailing active collaboration between journalists and policymakers to determine policymaking agendas has been described as “coalition journalism” and would seem to stand in total opposition to the commonly perceived adversarial nature of investigative journalism.[22] Guzzardi (1985) referred to the bond as The secret love affair between the press and government, asserting that the media had become a vital “force for legitimizing governmental institutions and free enterprise”.[23]

Both parties gain by participating in “coalition journalism”; journalists obtain credentialed information and recognition by providing an ‘important’ legitimate story, while policymakers obtain publicity for their policy agendas. Perhaps the only loser is the public, who ends up losing challenging adversarial forms of journalism. In the light of this Protess et al. suggest that the “linear Mobilisation Model” be replaced with the more adaptive “Coalition Model” of investigative reporting.[24]

Coalition model of investigative reporting Protess

Figure 1.  The Coalition Model of investigative reporting (Protess et al., 1991, p.251)

Contrary to popular beliefs, Protess et al. also discovered that the amount of time being spent by muckraking journalists on investigative reporting is not declining. However, they reported a trend towards shorter investigations which, taken together with cuts in funding for longer term investigative reporting, is placing increasing pressure on journalists to replace adversarial journalism with coalition journalism. Investigative journalism is becoming less visible in the public sphere, as its work becomes more widely dispersed, conventional and less adversarial – staying closer to the borders of the dominant policy discourses.[25] A further outcome of these changes is that as shorter investigative pieces are cheaper to produce, media outlets have less incentive to actively pursue policy stories for the duration of policy processes. Dominant news values, such as ‘timeliness’ further strengthen such practises by working to constantly change those issues on the public agenda, preventing any form of sustained media attention to most issues.[26]

Media corporations may set policy agendas, but as the duration of policy attention cycles continues to decrease, influence of policy outcomes will be increasingly left out of reach of the public, and safely in the hands of established policymakers. So as coalition journalism becomes more institutionalised, the general public is being pushed further towards the margins of the policymaking processes, left ever more prone to manipulation from both the media and policymakers.

Medler and Medler (1993) illustrated how easily the media (television in this case) can mislead viewers regarding the success or failure of environmental policies: creating unwarranted pressure for policymakers, who may feel the need to alter effective policies to safeguard their public standing, or preventing other policymakers from seeking solutions to ineffective policies. These media effects on politicians would be amplified if timed to occur just prior to elections, especially if the politician(s) in question did not have clear public support. Critically, to comprehend the complex media-policy nexus, it is necessary to understand which societal players are actively working to influence the media agenda. The importance of government’s media management has already been mentioned in this respect, but not the other dominant actor in most policymaking decisions: corporations.

Corporate management of the media agenda

Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn (LLM) is one of largest lobbying firms in the UK with many powerful clients including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and News International: “Neil Lawson advised Tony Blair on campaign strategy, Ben Lucas conducted Blair’s political briefings and Jon Mendelsohn handled the Prime minister’s contacts with business”. Their massive financial resources and familiarity with key policymakers make them a perfect example of how asymmetric policy influence can be. Lawson and Lucas told undercover reporter Greg Palast how LLM recommends the indirect route of lobbying policymakers by “creating an environment” for clients by “placing things with columnists we know the chancellor [or relevant policymaker] reads”.[27]

In addition, LLM runs a captive think tank, Nexus, to give their views (or their clients’ views) legitimacy, and uses the Socialist Environmental Research Foundation, which acts as “a purchased front for retailers”.[28] Such services clearly provide a useful means, by which powerful businesses can influence the policymaking processes through the media. However, as public relations researcher Aeron Davis notes, corporate influence on business news is even more far reaching in its effects:

“…the advantages of large corporate elites in business news…appear far greater than for political elites in mainstream news. As a result, journalists are left in the position of reporting outcomes or recording those conflicts that financial elites choose to play out in the media.”

Powerful well-funded corporate public relation campaigns work to forward pro-business policy outcomes by “excluding the media, the general public and rival elites from knowledge of elite policy-making processes”.[29]

In fact, corporate and government public relations practitioners interviewed in the same study said that 50% or more of their activities involved preventing media attention.[30] When conflict in the policymaking process is reported, it is mainly because discussions spill over into the public sphere, forcing those parties involved to release selected information to the media. However, the information that is released often limits the extent to which the policy issue can be placed in context and the degree to which it can be understood.

Major reasons for this are (1) journalists tend to be limited in what they can reveal about negotiations due to their strong reliance “on small circles of public relation practitioners and elite sources”, (2) information that is reported is targeted at specific decision-makers, so is often “exclusionary in its style and content”, and (3) ‘news values’ do not favour the reporting of complicated policy issues, which has led to reduction in the reporting of such issues, and where they are covered, context is often lost making their relevance to longer patterns of change harder to determine.[31]

This all works to ensure that “macro-level trends are lost in coverage of the isolated micro-level event”, so even when critical researchers emphasize the significance of such macro trends this “rarely result[s] in more significant media campaigns or public outcries”.[32] This process is highly visible in the way that the mainstream media will occasionally attack lobbying, corruption, and certain taxes, but won’t really criticize the underlying institutional problems associated with them. Undercover reporter Greg Palast found systemic evidence of corruption in New Labour (UK), and courting of lobby firms for favours.

Yet despite the press taking up the story for a week after his expose (in the Observer July 1998), the only person to be penalised was one lobbyist. There was no immediate parliamentary investigation and no calls from the media to demand the government to open its records. When the prime minister eventually called for an investigation, the Parliamentary Committee on Standards of Conduct concluded – after declining to use the evidence gathered by the Observer’s investigations (which included tapes, faxes and witness statements) – that: “We may have serious problems but they are not of the gravest nature”.[33] Davies (2002) concludes “that, for much of the time outside electoral campaigns, the role of the media in policymaking is more connected to the manufacturing of elite rather than mass forms of consent.” Most corporate public relations resources aim to influence decision making through the business and economic press, which serves to “repeat the ‘mobilisation of bias’ identified in policymaking itself”.[34]

This claim substantiates Hawthorne’s (1993) finding, that the primary target of media coverage was an elite audience, who could directly influence policy, and the secondary target was public opinion.[35] Manufacturing of elite consent also seems to be the main purpose of coalition journalism which primarily serves policymakers and media interests, before the public. Media corporations, acting as powerful corporate bodies, engage with credentialed policymakers to set both policy agendas and the legitimate terms of discussion.

If there is sufficient disagreement, as to the terms of the debate among major political parties, then a fierce public debate can ensue under such limited conditions (confined that is within conventional truths). However, where ‘official’ opposition voices are united, it is unlikely that the media will challenge them, and policy issues will be strongly framed to support official policy positions. Powerful interests may still challenge official positions, but this will take place through more formal lobbying channels, well concealed from the prying eye of the media.

The media’s role in foreign policymaking

Understanding the influence of the CNN effect

Many studies have concluded that the media has a pivotal role in shaping government’s foreign policymaking processes through a phenomena referred to as the CNN effect.[36] This effect does not refer to the sole influence of CNN on policymaking, but rather on the power of global media networks to determine political processes through selective coverage of certain issues.

This is particularly important, as most of the public rely on the media for access to foreign policy information.[37] Gilboa (2005) notes that: “The [CNN] concept was initially suggested by politicians and officials haunted by the Vietnam media myth, the confusion of the post–Cold War era, and the communications revolution. Despite evidence to the contrary,[38] many leaders still believe that critical television coverage caused the American defeat in Vietnam.

Since then, many have viewed the media as an adversary to government policies in areas such as humanitarian intervention and international negotiation.”[39] To determine whether the media has the power to influence policymaking, Robinson (2000) devised the ‘policy–media interaction model’ (Table 1), utilising the theoretical framework of press–state relations outlined by Hallin (1986) and Bennett (1990).[40] This model was applied to a number of US humanitarian interventions, which took place in the 1990s.

The results showed, that critical reporting by the media with a strong pro-intervention frame had a ‘strong’ role in shaping the US government policies when policymakers were uncertain about their actions (resulting in the US intervention in Bosnia in 1995 to defend the Gorazde ‘safe area’) but a ‘weak’ role when government policies were already determined (Operation Allied Force in Kosovo March-June 1999). Thus, the power of the CNN effect would seem to vary depending upon the existence of cohesive policies on foreign policy matters.

Table 1. Robinson’s Policy–Media Interaction Model

Robinson Table 1

Where the media was commonly reported as driving foreign policymaking decisions such as the US humanitarian intervention in Somalia (Operation Restore Hope 1992-1993),[41] critical research has shown the opposite to be the case.[42] In fact, before the media really took up the case for intervention in Somalia, the government was persistently trying to raise awareness for it through press releases, which the media paid little attention too.

The media only started to seriously call for intervention, after the leak of the president’s decision to offer US troops to the UN for the intervention. Robinson (2001) notes that after this leak, the media (New York Times, Washington Post and CBS news) tended to frame their reporting to support the president’s decision by empathising with the Somali people and highlighting the positive aspects of the intervention.[43]

Alternative analyses of the Somalia intervention using a ‘realist’ international relations approach support Robinson’s case, concluding that the intervention was primarily due to American national strategic interests.[44] Therefore, Robinson describes the medias role as being one of “manufacturing consent or indexing rather than the CNN effect”.[45]

Governments directly benefit from this state of affairs by giving the impression of bowing to public opinion (which they equate with media coverage), despite the fact that their policy decisions may have been made long before media coverage of these issues began.[46] Under such circumstances the media acts more as a tool of the policymakers themselves, rather than the public, by reflecting elite interests and opinions and manufacturing public consent.[47]

A closer look at media power when policy uncertainty exists

Looking at the US intervention in Bosnia in 1995 as an example of strong media affects where policy uncertainty existed,[48] even then, the media strongly supported the government’s broader foreign policy agenda, and did little to question the dominant frames set by US policymakers. Prior to Bill Clinton’s inauguration on 20 January 1993, the US ‘elite’ press (New York Times and Washington Post) “reacted only mildly” to the Balkan war.[49]

This served to legitimise the Bush (senior) administrations policies, whose “priorities were the Gulf states and Somalia” with strong opposition to “any further involvement with the developments in Yugoslavia”. In stark contrast to the Bush administration, Clinton argued during his election campaign “for lifting the arms embargo against the Bosnian Muslims” and “had a much more positive attitude towards the Bosnian issue than… Bush”,[50] attacking “Bush’s inaction” and charging “him with violating American liberal values in his foreign policy”.[51]

As might be expected, if the media was to take their lead from policymakers (to manufacture public consent), the start of Clinton’s presidency would have coincided with increased media coverage of the Balkans and indeed, already in his first year as president the elite press began to “intensely” address the issue of the Balkan war.[52] During this time, Clinton’s administration may have exhibited policy uncertainty, but their public commitment to the Balkans clearly raised the media ante, encouraging a stronger media focus on the ensuing developments in the Balkans.

The media acted to exert pressure on the government, to take a firmer position in Bosnia, but they did so on the governments terms, showing strong (almost unquestioning) support to the Bosnian Muslims – who the US continued to illegally supply with arms from Iran and Turkey and with Mujahedin fighters which were “supported by Iranian special operations forces”.[53] The support the media provided to the Bosnian Muslims was strengthened by the Muslim leadership’s utilisation of powerful PR techniques, which helped provide foreign journalists with pro Muslim stories. Early on in the conflict the: “…Sarajevan Muslims realized the importance of both perception management and the need to disseminate their message to the world. This awareness, coupled with the expertise of their PR firms [including US firms Hill & Knowlton and Ruder Finn], resulted in a highly successful psychological operations campaign. Meanwhile, the more rustic Serbs proved no match for this competition.[54] In frustration with the unrelenting pro Muslim media coverage, Professor Jacobsen (Director of the Independent Committee in War Crimes in the Balkans) wrote to the editor of the New York Times, beginning his letter: “Your (deliberately?) myopic reporting on Yugoslavia mocks your masthead claim to objectively” (Jacobsen, 1994).[55] The ‘objectivity’ of this type of journalism can be seen in the coverage of the three bombings in Sarajevo: in 1992 (the “Breadline Massacre”), 1994 (the Markale “Market Massacre”) and a “Second Market Massacre” in 1995.

All three massacres were reportedly carried out by the Serbs according to US media, despite the fact that UN officials and senior Western military officials claim that there was strong evidence suggesting that the massacres were undertaken by Bosnian Muslims.[56] But why would US government and media show any favours towards the Bosnian Muslims? A Pentagon source frankly explained the reasoning behind US governments support for the Muslims in Bosnia:

“The simple facts are these: we are getting incredible pressure from the Saudis and others to help the Muslim cause in Bosnia. They remind us that the Islamic world provides us with all the oil we want at relatively low prices, that Islamic states have billions of petrodollars to invest in “friendly states” and offer a potential market of over one billion people for the goods and services of “friendly countries”; and finally, that the peace process between Israel and the Islamic world “should go better if Israel’s main friend was also a friend to Islamic countries. When you weigh these facts against what 8 million Serbs can do for America’s interests, it’s clear what direction our policy is going to take.”[57]

The media’s siding against the Serbs naturally follows from their adoption of the US government’s official foreign policy position. Therefore, if the media did strongly influence US foreign policy decisions regarding Bosnia (in 1995) as Robinson (2000) suggests, then it still did so on the government’s terms. Instead of simply acting to manufacture public consent to align with US policy lines, as the US media did in Somalia, the media’s role in Bosnia was more complicated (although the end result was still the same).

Working within government led frames of reference, the media acted to highlight weaknesses in the US governments uncertain policy line toward the Balkans, and catalysed the development of firm policy objectives that drew from the conflicting policy preferences emanating from the Clinton administration. It served “mainly as a supportive arm of the state and dominant elites, focusing heavily on what is serviceable to them, and debating and exposing within accepted frames of reference”.[58] If the media was really being critical of government policy, there would have been a much wider debate surrounding the war; instead it was highly partisan and played up to the Clinton administration’s geostrategic objectives (even if they were apparently poorly formed). This certainly calls into question the real ability of the media to effectively question or significantly influence foreign policy making, and fulfil its democratic function to the public.

Government domination of the policy agenda

Compared to domestic policymaking there is relatively less public interest in foreign affairs, which makes it relatively easy for government policymakers to dominate the media’s agenda.[59] From the wide array of ‘potentially interesting’ international stories going on at any one time, governments can actively distract media attention away from sensitive foreign policy initiatives (of which coverage might invoke more critical public reactions) by concentrating their PR machineries on less controversial policies.

As noted before, in cases of policy certainty within any given government, the national media are extremely unlikely to challenge the government or focus any form of prolonged attention to the policies. Instead, as Chang concluded, the media is most likely to have an influential role in foreign policymaking when debates “spill from the closed circle over into the public domain” – which usually occurs when there is policy uncertainty within the political elites.[60] Conclusions Despite the evident importance of foreign policymaking for democracies worldwide the media’s apparent role in ‘manufacturing consent’ may be more easily understood, when it is considered that “the foreign policy establishment represents the most elite group within the government”.[61] Foreign policymaking also rates low on most citizens concerns, making it easier for corporate and government policymakers to control.

The same is not true for domestic policymaking, where the level of interest and diversity of voices heard by the public is much larger. In practice though, the media’s role is still much the same, with elite domination of critical policymaking agendas. Policies that will directly and adversely affect people’s lives slip though unnoticed, with little media coverage, or never come up on the public (or media) agenda at all, due to the success of internal PR and lobbying activities.[62] Even when politically sensitive stories break into the media, revealing the true extent of politicians’ conspiratorial dealings, they often seem to safely disappear (a bonus for politicians, but not democracy), barely registering on the public’s consciousness. A current example is the leaked ‘Downing Street Memo’ (dated July 23, 2002 – see www. downingstreetmemo. com) which was first reported in the Sunday Times on 1st May 2005.[63]

The minutes of this meeting revealed “that Straw and Blair had conspired to use inspections to lure Saddam into obstructing the UN, providing an excuse for war” and then continued to lie about their true intentions: “war is not inevitable” and “I hope, even now, Iraq can be disarmed peacefully”.[64] The British (US and Australian) media had access to the memo, but this groundbreaking story was effectively killed to all intent and purposes.

The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland described how “much of the coverage has sought to play down the documents’ importance”; he even went on to suggest that the primary reason for this was that the media had decided that “voters were Iraq-ed out”.[65] How is this possible, how can such an important story literally drop off the public radar? Perhaps as Lee and Solomon surmise: “The world according to the mass media is not supposed to make sense; it is supposed to make money”.[66]

Davis warns about the risk of ‘outsider’ groups trivialising their policy goals through the process of reorientating their strategies (through “ideological shifts”) to curry media favour. For example, these groups may focus on media friendly topics like personal corruption instead of more complicated policy issues like corporate crime or global warming.[67] Such practises can only serve to weaken our democracies, and therefore the underlying problems need to be addressed urgently – policymaking should not have to conform to media ‘news values’.


Corporate media cannot be relied upon to nourish our democracies while it simultaneously acts to erode our democratic institutions by excluding the bulk of citizens from elite policy discourses in the mass media or private elite communication spheres.[68] Herring and Robinison (2003) illustrate how effectively anti-elite ideas are kept out of the media according to Herman and Chomsky’s (1988) ‘propaganda model’, by showing how the model itself has been ignored or dismissed within academia, especially by media scholars.[69]

However, with the rising concentration of corporate ownership of the media and the increasing dominance of what Davis (2002) referred to as PR democracy “if ever there was a time for the ‘propaganda model’ to be included in scholarly debates on media performance, it is now”.[70] The internet may hold some hope for a more democratic media, but to ensure that the internet strengthens democratic processes it is vital, that its power is harnessed through appropriate legislation and regulation.

Unfortunately, the positive realisation of this technology for democracy seems unlikely, as so far the internet “has enjoyed virtually no public debate over how it should be organized and deployed” and the internet may just be seen as a “more effective way to commercialise the public discourse”.[71] Corporate colonisation of cyberspace is already undermining the democratic potential of this resource, marginalising many voices due to the domineering presence of large corporate portals and commercial media sites drawing most of the online traffic.[72] Increasing market pressures on the internet mean that its democratising power is unlikely to be fulfilled unless there is sustained and coordinated pressure from all its users. This will require more critical approaches to the understanding of the implications of this new technology, as Mansell argues: “Only a tiny fraction of research on new media makes explicit the researcher’s own conception of the way in which power is articulated in society and its consequences.

This unproblematic approach to new media must change in the future if we want to ask questions about how technological mediation is being fostered, about its structures, processes and consequences.”[73] Founded on the principles of freedom of speech and private ownership, the media has been widely regarded as the ‘Forth Estate’ of government holding the Parliament, Judiciary and the Executive (or Crown) accountable within the democratic process.

This stands at odds with the description provided by the analyses undertaken in this paper, which indicates that the media predominantly serves to manufacture consent rather than deliberation – a finding supporting by numerous recent studies.[74] Bearing all this in mind, it is clear that the paternalistic description of the media acting as the Forth Estate urgently needs updating.

How should concerned citizens tackle these serious problems? The answer to this question depends on where one envisages the root causes of the problem to stem from. An analysis that firmly places the blame for democratic failures on the media’s doorstep is in danger of ignoring the reform of deeper (often hidden) institutional structures which drive our current media systems – effectively letting politicians and corporate powerbrokers off the hook. This paper has tried to demonstrate, that this sort of limited approach to media reform would not provide any long-term solutions.

So although positive, it is unlikely that small media reforms (like public journalism) will be enough to reduce the commercial and corporate imperatives driving our existing media systems.[75] Instead, a fundamental reform of the entire system is needed, together with a wider institutional reform of the very structures the media systems work within, our democracies. This will be a difficult task, due to powerful vested interests benefiting from the status quo, including media, political and economic elites.

Reforms will need to be driven by vibrant grassroots campaigns mobilising public support across the political spectrum, to enable the citizens of the world to have a media system that works to strengthen democratic principles as opposed to undermining them. This task is challenging, but it will become easier once people begin to understand the media’s role in policymaking within our democracies.

[1] Hofferbert, R. I., The Study of Public Policy (Bobbs-Merrill, 1974); Mazmanian, D. A. & P. A. Sabatier. Implementation and Public Policy (University Press of America, 1989).

[2] Sabatier, P. A., “Toward better theories of the policy process,” Political Science and Politics, 24, 1991, pp.147-156; Kingdon, J. W., Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies (HarperCollins, 1995).

[3] Hilgartner, S. & C. L. Bosk, “The rise and fall of social problems: a public arenas model,” American Journal of Sociology, 94, 1988, pp.53-78; Pritchard, D., “The news media and public policy agendas,” in: J. D. Kennamer (Ed.), Public Opinion, the Press, and Public Policy (Praeger, 1992); Soroka, S,. Agenda-setting Dynamics in Canada (University of British Columbia Press, 2002).

[4] McChesney, R. W, “Theses on media deregulation,” Media Culture & Society, 25, 2003, p.126; Bagdikian, B. H., The New Media Monopoly (Beacon Press, 2004); McChesney, R. W., Rich Media, Poor Democracy: communication politics in dubious times (University of Illinois Press, 1992).

[5] Habermas, J., The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: an inquiry into a category of Bourgeois society (Polity Press, 1989); Meyer, T., Media Democracy: how the media colonize politics (Polity Press, 2002), p.1.

Spitzer, R. J., “Introduction: defining the media-policy link. Media and public policy,” in:R. J. Spitzer (Ed.), Media and Public Policy (Praeger, 1993), p.7.

[7] Davis, A., Public Relations Democracy: public relations, politics and the mass media in Britain (Manchester University Press, 1992), p.143; Hertsgaard, M., On Bended Knee: the press and the Reagan presidency (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1988), pp.122-123; Robinson, P., “Operation restore hope and the illusion of a news media driven intervention,” Political Studies, 49, 2001, p.948.

[8] Linsky, M., Impact: how the press affects Federal policymaking (Norton, 1986), p.202.

[9] Borquez, J., “Newsmaking and policymaking: steps towards a dialogue,” in: R. J. Spitzer (Ed.), Media and Public Policy (Praeger, 1993), p.34.

[10] Hawthorne, M. R., “The media, economic development, and agenda-setting,” in: R. J. Spitzer (Ed.), Media and Public Policy (Praeger, 1993).

[11] Sahr, R., “Credentialing experts: the climate of opinion and journalist selection of sources in domestic and foreign policy,” in: R. J. Spitzer (Ed.), Media and Public Policy (Praeger, 1993), p.155.

[12] Sahr, Credentialing experts, p.158.

[13] Martin, C. R., Framed!: labor and the corporate media (Cornell University Press, 2004), pp.8-11; McLeod, D. M. & J. K. Hertog, “Social control, social change and the mass media’s role in the regulation of protest groups,” in: D. P. Demers & K. Viswanath (Eds.), Mass Media, Social Control, and Social Change: a macrosocial perspective (Iowa State University Press, 1999), pp.312-313.

[14] Ellwood, D. T., Poor Support: poverty in the American family (Basic Books, 1988).

[15] Schiraldi, V. & D. Macallair, “Framing the framers: changing the debate over juvenile crime in San Francisco,” in: S. Iyengar & R. Reeves (Eds.), Do the Media Govern?: politicians, voters, and reporters in America (Sage Publications, 1997), p.410.

[16] Mortensen, P. B. & S. Serritzlew, “Newspapers, agenda-setting, and local budgeting,” Draft paper presented to The European Consortium for Political Research, Joint Sessions of Workshops – Uppsala 2004 – Workshop number 15 Political Agenda-setting and the Media, p.16, p.7.

[17] Soroka, Agenda-setting Dynamics in Canada.

[18] Protess, D., F. L. Cook, J. Doppelt, J. S. Ettema, M. T. Gordon, D. R. Leff & P. Miller, The Journalism of Outrage: investigative reporting and agenda building in America (Guilford Press, 1991), p.15.

[19] Key, V. O., Politics, Parties, and Pressure Groups (Crowell, 1958); Schattschneider, E. E., The Semisovereign People: a realist’s view of democracy in America (Dryden Press, 1975).

[20] Protess et al., The Journalism of Outrage, p.19.

[21] Protess et al., The Journalism of Outrage, pp.245-246.

[22] Molotch, H. , D. L. Protess & M. T. Gordon, “The media-policy connection: ecologies of news,” in: D. L. Paletz (Ed.), Political Communication Research: approaches, studies, assessments Volume I. (Ablex, 1987).

[23] Guzzardi, W., “The secret love affair between the press and government,” Public Opinion, 8, 1985, p.2.

[24] Protess et al., The Journalism of Outrage, p.251.

[25] Protess et al. The Journalism of Outrage, p.252.

[26] Borquez, J.,” Newsmaking and policymaking: steps towards a dialogue,” in: R. J. Spitzer (Ed.), Media and Public Policy (Praeger, 1993).

[27] Palast, G., The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: an investigative reporter exposes the truth about globalization, corporate cons, and high finance fraudsters (Pluto Press, 2003), p.278, p.280.

[28] Lucas cited in Palast, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, p.280.

[29] Davis, Public Relations Democracy, p.175, p.179.

[30] Davis, Public Relations Democracy, p.179.

[31] Davis, Public Relations Democracy, p.179.

[32] Davis, Public Relations Democracy, p.179.

[33] Palast, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, pp.299-300, p.302.

[34] Davis, Public Relations Democracy, p.179, p.180; Bachrach, P. M. S. Baratz (1962). Two faces of power. American Political Science Review, 56, pp.947-952.

[35] Hawthorne, M. R., “The media, economic development, and agenda-setting,” in: R. J. Spitzer (Ed.), Media and Public Policy (Praeger, 1993).

[36] Reviewed by Gilboa, E, “The CNN effect: the search for a communication theory of international relations,” Political Communication, 22(1), 2005, pp.27-44.

[37] Brown, W. J. & R. C. Vincent, “Trading arms for hostages? How the government and print media ‘spin’ portrayals of the U. S. policy toward Iran,” Political Communication, 12, 1995, pp.65-79.

[38] Gilboa, E, “The CNN effect”; Hallin, D. C., The “Uncensored War”: the media and Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 1986).

[39] Gilboa, The CNN effect, p.37.

[40] Hallin, D. C., The “Uncensored War”: the media and Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 1986); Bennett, W. L., “Toward a theory of press-state relations in the United States,” Journal of Communication, 40, 1990, pp.103-125; Robinson, P., “The policy-media interaction model: measuring media power during humanitarian crisis,” Journal of Peace Research, 37(5), 2000, p.615.

[41] Gowing, N. (1996). Real time TV coverage from war. In Bosnia by television. London: British Film Institute, 1996); M. Mandelbaum, “The reluctance to intervene,” Foreign Policy, 95, 1994; Shaw, M., Civil Society and Media in Global Crises: representing distant violence (Pinter, 1996).

[42] Livingston, S. & T. Eachus, “Humanitarian crises and US foreign-policy – Somalia and the CNN effect reconsidered,” Political Communication, 12(4), 1995, pp.413-429; Mermin, J., “Television news and American intervention in Somalia: the myth of a media-driven foreign policy,” Political Science Quarterly, 112(3), 1997, pp.385-403; Robinson, P., “Operation restore hope and the illusion of a news media driven intervention,” Political Studies, 49, 2001, pp.941-956.

[43] Robinson, Operation restore hope and the illusion of a news media driven intervention, p.952, p.948.

[44] Gibbs, D., “Realpolitik and humanitarian intervention: the case of Somalia,” International Politics, 37, 2000, pp.41-55.

[45] Robinson, Operation restore hope and the illusion of a news media driven intervention, p.952. For more on indexing, see Bennett, W. L., “Toward a theory of press-state relations in the United States,” Journal of Communication, 40, 1990, pp.103-125.

[46] Compaine, B, “Global media,” Foreign Policy, 133, 2002.

[47] For further discussion see Herman, E. S. & N. Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: the political economy of the mass media (Pantheon Books, 1988); Herman, E. S., “The media’s role in United States foreign policy,” Journal of International Affairs, 43, 1993, pp.23-45; Paletz, D. L. & R. M. Entman, Media, Power, Politics (The Free Press, 1981).

[48] Robinson, P., “The policy-media interaction model: measuring media power during humanitarian crisis,” Journal of Peace Research, 37(5), 2000, pp.613-633.

[49] Auerbach, Y. & Y. Bloch-Elkon, “Media framing and foreign policy: the elite press vis-a-vis US policy in Bosnia, 1992–95,” Journal of Peace Research, 42, 2005, p.90.

[50] Wiebes, C., Intelligence and the War in Bosnia, 1992-1995 (Lit Verlag, 2003).

[51] Peceny, M. & S. Sanchez-Terry, “Liberal interventionism in Bosnia,” Journal of Conflict Studies, 18, 1998.

[52] Auerbach & Bloch-Elkon, “Media framing and foreign policy,” p.90.

[53] Chipoux, F., “Bosnians getting arms from Islamic countries,” Manchester Guardian Weekly, August 30, 1992; Wiebes, Intelligence and the War in Bosnia, 1992-1995; Sray, J. E., “Selling the Bosnian myth to America: buyer beware,” Foreign Military Studies, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, October 1995.

[54] Sray, Selling the Bosnian myth to America

[55] Jacobsen, C. G., “On the Bosnian quargamire and Yugoslav successor wars,” To the Editor of “The New York Times” on October 12, 1994.

[56] Senate Staff Report (1997, January 16). Clinton approved Iranian arms transfers help turn Bosnia into militant Islamic base; Wiebes, Intelligence and the War in Bosnia, pp.68-69

[57] Cited in Hatchett, R, “Bosnia and the American foreign policy agenda: implications for Russia’s Relations with the West,” Presented at the international conference on The Yugoslav Conflict jointly organised by The Russian Academy of Science and The Lord Byron Foundation, Moscow, January 16-18, 1996.

[58] Herman, The media’s role in United States foreign policy, p.5.

[59] Manheim, J. B., “Going less public: managing images to influence US foreign policy,” in: S. Iyengar & R. Reeves (Eds.), Do the Media Govern? : politicians, voters, and reporters in America (Sage Publications, 1997) p.383.

[60] Chang, T., The Press and China Policy: the illusion of Sino-American relations 1950-1984 (Ablex, 1993), p.4

[61] Malek, A. & K. E. Wiegard, “News media and foreign policy: an integrated review,” in: A. Malek (Ed.), News Media and Foreign Policy (Ablex, 1997), p.7.

[62] Davis, Public Relations Democracy, p.75; for details of forgotten stories see www.

[63] Smith, M., “Blair planned Iraq war from start,” Sunday Times (UK), May 1, 2005.

[64] Medialens Alert (2005, June 27), “Conspiracy – the Downing Street memo. Part 1”; Medialens Alert (2005, June 30) “Conspiracy – the Downing Street memo. Part 2”; Straw, J., “War with Iraq not inevitable,” BBC News, January 6, 2003; Blair, T. “Blair speech – key quotes,” BBC News, February 15, 2003.

[65] Freedland, J., “Yes, they did lie to us,” The Guardian (UK), June 22, 2005.

[66] Lee, M. A. & N. Solomon, Unreliable Sources: a guide to detecting bias in the news media (Lyle Stuart 1992), p.333.

[67] Davis, Public Relations Democracy, p.42, p.181; Davis, A., “Public relations and news sources,” in: S. Cottle (Ed.), News, Public Relations and Power (Thousand Oaks, 2003).

[68] Davis, “Public relations and news sources”; Davis, A., “Whither mass media and power? Evidence for a critical elite theory alternative,” Media, Culture & Society, 25, 2003, p.684.

[69] Herring, E. & P. Robinson, “Too polemical or too critical? Chomsky on the study of the news media and US foreign policy,” Review of International Studies, 29, 2003, pp.553–568.

[70] Klaehn, J., “A critical review and assessment of Herman and Chomsky’s ‘Propaganda Model’,” European Journal of Communication, 17, 2002, p.147.

[71] McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, p.122; Wheeler, M. C., Politics and the Mass Media (Blackwell Press, 1997), p.230.

[72] Dahlberg, J., “The corporate colonization of online attention and the marginalization of critical communication?”, Journal of Communication Inquiry, 29, 2005, p.160.

[73] Mansell, R., “Political economy, power and new media,” New Media & Society, 6, 2004, p.102.

[74] Boyd-Barrett, O., “Judith Miller, the New York Times, and the propaganda model,” Journalism Studies, 5, 2004, pp.435-449; Carvalho, A., “Representing the politics of the greenhouse effect: discursive strategies in the British media,” Critical Discourse Studies, 2, 2005, pp.1-29; Cryle, D. & J. Hillier, Consent and Consensus: politics, media and governance in twentieth century Australia (Australia Research Institute, 2005); Doherty, A., “Propaganda and the BBC,” Zmag, February 7, 2005; Edwards, D. & D. Cromwell, Guardians of Power: the myth of the liberal media (Pluto Press, 2005); Klaehn, J., Filtering the News: essays on Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model (Black Rose Books, 2005); McKiggan, M., Climate change and the mass media: a critical analysis, Unpublished MSc thesis: University of Southampton, 2005; Miller, D., Tell me Lies: propaganda and media distortion in the attack on Iraq (Pluto Press, 2004) – for a comprehensive history of corporate propaganda in Australia and the US, see Carey, A., Taking the Risk out of Democracy: propaganda in the US and Australia (University of New South Wales Press, 1995).

[75] Hackett, R. A. & Y. Zhao, Sustaining Democracy?: journalism and the politics of objectivity (Garamond Press, 1998) p.235.

Book Review: Under the Mask of Philanthropy

The following review, authored by Professor Joan Roelofs, was published in the November 2017 issue of the journal Socialism and Democracy (Volume 33, Issue 3, pp.160-4). I don’t agree with all of Professor Roelofs representations of my arguments, but I am still happy that my book has received a positive review.

Book review

Michael Barker’s Under the Mask of Philanthropy is one of the very rare extensive critiques of the “nonprofit sector” from a left perspective. Marx and Engels, in The Communist Manifesto, derided “bourgeois socialists”:

A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society.

To this section belong economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organisers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole-and-corner reformers of every imaginable kind.

How should we today characterize philanthropy’s relationship to socialism?

There is broad agreement that conservative philanthropists have conservative and often, reactionary aims. However, Barker argues that liberal philanthropy has mystified its role in co-opting those trying to promote anti-capitalist thought and action: “The overarching purpose of liberal philanthropists … is to sustain corporate profits and legitimise the capitalist status quo, not to promote global peace and human emancipation” (28).

Barker opted out of academia just before receiving his PhD and is now a socialist activist in his place of origin, England. His enormous book is a compilation of his recently published articles, 42 chapters of them. His footnotes and citations are extensive; unfortunately, an index is missing. The book is more like an encyclopedia than a monograph, yet it is useful, important, and often fascinating.

The pivot of his research is the work of the largest liberal foundations: Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Sage, Gates, Soros’ Open Society Institutes, and others. The evidence for his argument is their relationship with their grantees and advisees: progressive organizations (some created by the foundations), reform movements, policy institutes, university projects, and networks. The latter may be in the guise of councils, task forces, committees, or stakeholders. Mainstream social science often claims that networks are non-hierarchical structures appropriate to our current “egalitarian” [sic] world, but the outcomes of most deliberations attest to the power of elites. Some of the networks Barker examines are the General Education Board, the War-Peace Study Group of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Environmental Grantmakers Association, the Freeze Campaign, and the Social Science Research Council.

Barker reminds us that philanthropy critique has a history. The Walsh Commission (1915) was a Congressional investigation, primarily of the Rockefeller family, which was creating its philanthropic foundation at the time. Public opinion in that Progressive era generally assumed that the foundation’s main purpose was to improve the Rockefellers’ public relations in the wake of the Ludlow Massacre. Frank Walsh, a Progressive, led the inquiry and concluded that the Rockefeller family wanted to preserve its wealth and power by “subsidizing all agencies that make for social change and progress,” although it would be more philanthropic to treat their workers more fairly.

Horace Coon’s Money to Burn (1938) revealed that military contractors provided major support for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Robert Allen’s Black Awakening in Capitalist America (1990) reported the philanthropic co-optation of the civil rights movement, with the Ford Foundation in the lead. A major contribution to these critiques (now taboo for ad hominem reasons) was David Horowitz’s series in Ramparts, “Sinews of Empire” (1969). Barker also mentions the works of Robert Arnove, editor and contributor of Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism (1980), and Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (2003).

Other valuable histories in the book describe the role of foundations in creating the World Bank, Planned Parenthood, the Conservation Foundation, the eugenics movement, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Green Revolution. The liberal foundations, which didn’t consider US aggression and militarization as “problems” that need their fixing, shepherded major elements of the 1960s anti-war movement first into an “anti-nuke” and then into an “anti-testing” campaign. The foundation-funded SANE protest was muted when the focus shifted to fallout, because underground testing was then initiated. Nuclear weapons themselves receded as “targets.”

Radicals who regard the civil rights movement as a model for achieving social change despite entrenched attitudes might consider Barker’s evidence that the foundations channeled and co-opted the movement to remove its original challenge to business as usual. Barker describes the important role that business corporations also played in the civil rights struggle, and relevant to our present crises, among them the military contractors. For example, Lockheed was a sponsor of the United Negro College Fund and a major supporter of the NAACP. Military contractor philanthropy has been particularly generous to all minority organizations, providing not only donations but also joint programs with Native American, Black, Hispanic, and women’s organizations. In some cases, “grassroots” organizations were created by foundations, well funded in order to draw people away from financially struggling genuine grassroots movements.

Barker devotes several chapters to the role of foundations in South Africa; the African National Congress Freedom Charter’s commitment to socialism had to be suppressed (Barker claims it wasn’t socialist to begin with, but I disagree). The methods used repeated the co-optation of the US civil rights movement, with an emphasis on individual rights, black capitalism, and lavish rewards for cooperative leaders. Elements of this model have been employed in the “NGOization” of the world; Barker gives examples from Latin America, Indonesia, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere.

One reason why so much of this history is unknown is that “Given the massive power liberal foundations have welded [sic] over academia it is perhaps not too surprising that discussing their corrosive influence is a taboo subject within academia” (366). There is no career advantage in looking too closely at philanthropy.

Also contributing to obscuring history is foundation funding of alternative media, such as: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Center for Investigative Reporting, Center for Public Integrity, Democracy Now!, Media Channel, Free Press, Center for International Media Action, and the Independent Press Association (330). We rarely read or hear critical reports of liberal foundations and nonprofit organizations (from either the mainstream or alternative press) unless there has been a financial scandal, outrageous CEO pay, or a lawsuit. Investigating their barriers to badly needed social change or even democracy itself is not considered important news. Yet these institutions form an enormous part of our political, social, economic, and cultural life (and increasingly throughout the world), at the expense of traditional political parties and other popular forms of civil association.

So what is to be done? Barker argues that:

[W]orking within conventional universities only serves to legitimatize the status quo. … [Critical scholars] may need to move to these harsh edges and reject their comfortable lives within the neoliberal ideological factories that we presently call universities. (383)

This prompts the question: is there anywhere in academia where radical researchers can survive while making useful contributions to the cause? Furthermore, Barker maintains that progressive activists must “work to dissociate their progressive activism from liberal foundations … and create sustainable democratic revenue streams to enable their work to continue” (512).

His solution is not very practical. It is not so easy today to find adequate funds, as costly “professional” publication, facilitation, and communications are needed to legitimate organizations. At the same time, the tax code limits or discourages “funding the revolution.” Even when funds have been available from radical foundations seeking to promote anti-capitalist organizations, the results have not been promising. It is hard to find anti-capitalist organizations, and nonprofits cannot legally fund political parties (at least not in the US). Consequently, radical foundations, e.g., Haymarket Peoples Fund and Resist, support progressive groups and further “identity politics.” These initiatives have often increased the power, rights, and well-being of working class people and oppressed minorities. Yet beneficent reforms do not seem to lead to radical change. This is similar to the experience of the British Fabian socialists, who hoped that “gradualism” would lead to the abolition of capitalism, but that wasn’t in the stars.

Barker’s work prompts the vital question: how to bring about radical social change, which is desperately needed. Our capitalist nations are not only failing materially (supposedly their strong point) but they are breeding chaos, declining health, suicide, and addiction. They are also leading the world toward extinction from environmental or nuclear disaster.

The power of foundations to block major change arises not only from their elite networks holding top positions in politics, economy, cultural institutions, and progressive organizations, but also from their ability to shape the political ideologies of most citizens – the common wisdom – that Gramsci described as hegemony. What has been done, despite all this, may give us clues to what can be done.

For help in finding the way and avoiding the dead-ends, Under the Mask of Philanthropy is an important guide for activists and radical scholars. Barker’s research is ongoing and more may be found at