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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]

Discussion

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 www.projectcensored.org) 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.

Conclusion

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 http://www.freepress.org), 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.

Footnotes

[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.

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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.

Abstract

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.”

Conclusions

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)

Footnotes

[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. http://www.ned.org/dbtw-wpd/textbase/projects-search.htm 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

Introduction

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 http://www.projectcensored.org).

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.

Conclusions

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’.

Conclusions

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. projectcensored.org

[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 https://underthemaskofphilanthropy.wordpress.com

Trump’s Opportunist Non-Profit Tax Attacks

Donald Trump is no anomaly, he is a creature of our tumultuous times — a man on a dangerous mission who seeks to plunder the many to enrich the few. Trump’s new tax cuts in his own hollow words “will be the biggest in the history of our country!” neatly side-lining the small matter that around two-thirds of his £2.4 trillion of proposed cuts will line the pockets of the 1%.

The rift between the super-rich and working-class America is now colossal. And all the better to consolidate the gaping gap between the haves and have-nots. In a twisted response to soaring corporate profits, Republicans are now vying to slash corporation tax from 35% to 20%.

Ever the populist, Trump stands alongside the majority of Americans in opposing the extent of this corporate giveaway, but, as always, for all the wrong reasons. Trump in fact has high hopes that corporation tax can be reduced further still to just 15%!

trump tax

Thus now more than ever Americans will be required to redouble their already magnificent contributions towards fighting to either impeach Trump, or force him from office. Needless to say, this will require a renewed commitment to grassroots organizing that bypasses the misleadership of the Democratic Party and builds a mass movement on the streets that politicians of all stripes can no longer ignore.

Like every demagogue that has gone before him, Trump needs implacable allegedly all-powerful enemies that he can oppress on behalf of the people, and the non-profit sector serves exactly this purpose for Trump.

In fact Trump’s paranoid attacks on the philanthropic/non-profit sector are very much in keeping with Trump’s ultraconservative forerunners, and he openly draws political inspiration from the playbook of Robert Welch, the infamous founder of the John Birch Society. Professor Terry Lautz, author of John Birch: A Life (Oxford University Press, 2016) accurately puts it this way:

“Trump has tapped into alienation and anxiety about rapid social change. He uses conspiracy theories and bogus information to provoke and disrupt. His supporters, who harbor a distrust for government and fear of foreign entanglements, are willing to look beyond his inflammatory rhetoric. And like members of the Birch Society, they believe that their individual rights are threatened, the federal government needs to be curtailed, and international agreements cannot be trusted.”

Now in the latest Trumpian tax-related revelations, David Callahan, the author of numerous book-length apologies for elite philanthropy, highlights howRepublicans in Congress are advancing tax proposals that would lower charitable giving by billions of dollars and deal a major blow to the nonprofit sector.” (“Why is Donald Trump launching a withering attack on nonprofits?The Guardian, November 20, 2017.)

This move actually “isn’t so surprising,” Callahan says, as “Trumpist culture warriors have cast nonprofits and philanthropists as key villains in a narrative that pits coastal elites against the common (white) man.”

He goes on to add that Trump’s ire is particularly focused on perennial enemies of the far-right like the Clinton Foundation, which as Callahan points out, still “remains at the center of feverish conspiracy theories.” But the only genuine conspiracies that really matter in this regard revolve around how such liberal foundations have actively coopted working class struggles to maintain and deepen an international capitalist system favoring its interests; and how socialist alternatives to capitalism have been repressed and maligned throughout history by both the Democrat’s and the Birchite right.

Callahan, to be thankful for small mercies, does at least seem to be vaguely aware of the reasoning behind Trump’s populist attacks on the Democrat-dominated non-profit sector, as he admits that elite philanthropy “deserves new scrutiny.” “It’s an opaque sector that’s become more dominated by super-wealthy donors who do, in fact, largely live on both coasts and often hold different views from those of most Americans.”

All true. But rather than use his critical words to demand the overhaul of America’s economic system – a system that is so thoroughly bankrupt that the public is forced to rely upon charity and elite ‘hand-outs’ from paradise island tax dodgers to merely scrape by — Callahan simply pleads for “thoughtful reform” and “strong champions in both” of the parties that continue to represent the billionaire-class.

This worse than useless counsel however isn’t so surprising considering that Callahan himself plumped for Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders in the tragically (but unsurprisingly) rigged Democratic primary race.

Furthermore, in much the same way it shouldn’t be so surprising that after decades of misery and lies, that so many people would opt out of voting altogether when the ‘choice’ presented to them was Clinton or worse. Or that those who did partake in the presidential farce would prefer to try their luck with a new liar rather than one who had already been tried-tested-and failed.

American’s, like ordinary working-class people all over the world, are searching for new solutions to their old problems. Trump has already proved himself unwilling to side with the millions against the millionaires and we must collectively make sure that Trump and his ruling-class brethren are dumped at the earliest possible opportunity.

Robert Arnove and Under the Mask of Philanthropy

“Michael Barker’s Under the Mask of Philanthropy brilliantly illuminates how the various mechanisms of the ruling class have coopted working class struggles to maintain and deepen an international capitalist system favoring its interests. The book’s various chapters examine in detail specific policies, such as the eugenics movements and its various offshoots, locally and globally, while illustrating how powerful philanthropic foundations manufacture consent and quell dissent –thereby perpetuating various forms of imperialism. The overarching framework of Masking is conceptually rich and pragmatically realistic. A major lesson derived from Barker’ meticulous research is that if radical social change is to take place, it must necessarily be the result of the efforts of progressive grassroots movements, such as Black Lives Matter, joining forces transnationally. It is an honor for me to add my name to those endorsing this significant contribution to critical scholarship and activism.” — Professor Robert Arnove, author of Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism

robert arnove

The Fiction of Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland

The following article was published by Counterpunch on October 20, 2017.

Kurt Andersen is the author of the “instant best-selling” book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire—A 500-Year History (Random House, 2017) – a problematic volume which deserved the more suitable subtitle Why America’s Elites Can’t Think! This much is clear from reading Andersen’s 13,000 word essay (as adapted from Fantasyland) that was featured in the September issue of The Atlantic. Providing an intriguing overview of the leading proponents of magical-thinking (i.e., believing in UFOs, superstitions, miracles, etc) over the past half century, this subject matter, as interpreted through Andersen’s factually-troubled article, has been given its very own fantastic twist. Blame for widespread irrationality apparently rests with the delusions of the working-class majority, not with the powerful elites who have actively reaped the benefits from sowing seeds of confusion. As Andersen bluntly puts it, perhaps two thirds of Americans are now so hopelessly lost that “the solidly reality-based” citizens are now just a minority… “maybe a third of us…” This classic case of victim-blaming dovetails with Andersen’s electoral fantasies. Thus, in the recent faceoff between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, he arrived at the wrongheaded conclusion that the only realistic choice for the people of America was to plump for the Wall Street Democrat, Hillary, a serial liar and warmonger to boot!?

Fantasyland

So when Andersen repeatedly refers to “we Americans,” I can only imagine that what he is really referring to are fellow liberal elites who, like their right-wing counterparts, have no faith in the working-class to make democratic decisions about America’s future. As he explains “we Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation—small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us.” Too right as far as the elites are concerned. And there is nothing more feared by libertarian or liberal elites than the prospect of the collective and democratic empowerment of ordinary people. This is precisely why this class-based aspect of history remains marginalized by Andersen and his undemocratic cohort of pessimists who peddle their toxic wares in the mainstream media.

Like the many conspiracy theorists that he so despises, Andersen is mostly wrong… and right only occasionally. For instance, he seems to stumble over the truth when he lays blame for the current state of affairs at the doorstep of mainstream institutions including the “media, academia, government, corporate America, professional associations, respectable opinion in the aggregate”. These institutions have, as he points out, “enabled and encouraged every species of fantasy over the past few decades.”[1] But rather than being a problem of recent pedigree, such institutional elite commitments to fantasy far predates the last few decades. It is a problem that is umbilically-connected to capitalism and its perpetual need to place profit before human need. Thus, contrary to Andersen’s rose-tinted view of history, capitalist institutions have never had any principled dedication to keeping the public well-informed about anything much except the righteousness of the political system.

The Descent to Fantasy

Somewhat arbitrarily the befuddled author in question, rather than focus his full rage against mainstream institutions, traces the “descent into full Fantasyland” to two “momentous changes.” One, he says, was the onset of the new era of information” that allowed ordinary people to have easy access to new narratives of social change that had previously been excluded from the liberal media. And secondly, that there was “a profound shift in thinking that swelled up in the ’60s” that led many people to start doing their own thing – his problem being that people started to explore political and social alternatives to the deadening confines of a consumer society. But here, should I be accused of wilfully misrepresenting Andersen’s deep-seated anxieties, he says that he has no regrets regarding “the ways the ’60s permanently reordered American society and culture”; “just that along with the familiar benefits,” there have also “been unreckoned costs.”

Attacking the publics’ ability to think comes easily to Andersen, but again, almost in passing he reiterates that fantasy-thinking has always found a welcome home within elite networks which have incubated all manner of idiocies before serving them up to the public. Andersen states that on the forefront of the evolution of such nonsense in the recent period was the Esalen Institute which had been formed in 1962 by a pair of wealthy Stanford graduates. Esalen as it turned out became something of “a pilgrimage center for hundreds and thousands of youth interested in some sense of transcendence, breakthrough consciousness, LSD, the sexual revolution, encounter, being sensitive, finding your body, [and] yoga”.

As Andersen surmises, this group’s impact on the spread of New Age modalities has been huge: “Esalen is a mother church of a new American religion for people who think they don’t like churches or religions but who still want to believe in the supernatural.” But while it is true that one should recognize the detrimental influence of Esalen on rational thinking, the individualist spiritual ideas peddled therein had been doing the rounds for decades – as exemplified by the popular spiritual cult that was theosophy. Nevertheless, all manner of supernatural and anti-socialist ideas were certainly thrown into the melting pot of ideas at this new institute, producing irrational fads which were soon consumed and popularized by middle-class drop-outs like for instance Harvard psychology lecturer Timothy Leary. Indeed, much like the utopian socialists of the nineteenth century, many of these well-funded social experimenters then set about the task of building small communities of resistance in the belly of an inhumane society. The limited ambitions of these budding utopians however stand in stark contrast to the determined social projects embarked upon by socialists like the Black Panthers who during the same period sought to build mass based movements for social change along class lines.

The Postmodern Fantasy Machine

Providing useful context for understanding the renewed interest in mysticism, Andersen is correct in stating that such developments were “understandable, given the times: colonialism ending, genocide of American Indians confessed, U.S. wars in the developing world.” Yet as he goes on to explain, in their keenness to reject all that capitalist society had bequeathed them, spiritual seekers at Esalen and elsewhere went awry when they combined their social experiments for change with frontal attacks on the legacy of the Enlightenment and the core tenets of the scientific process itself.

Thriving in this irrational milieu, anti-socialist intellectuals then took their cue from the mainstream to hype the emerging New Age. Andersen points towards influential books like professor Theodore Roszak’s The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition (1969), and Yale Law School professor Charles Reich’s The Greening of America (1970). Both books were well-publicized by elite media outlets and Reich’s bible soon “became The New York Times’ best-selling book (as well as a much-read 70-page New Yorker excerpt), and remained on the list for most of a year.”

Here Andersen once again emphasizes the backward role play by elite institutions, noting how in the 70s “mainstream publishers and media organizations were falling over themselves to promote and sell fantasies as nonfiction.” One good example is The Secret Life of Plants (1970) which wasa big best seller arguing that plants were sentient” which Andersen notes made the outlandish claim that this new truth about plants was being “suppressed by the FDA and agribusiness.” Other similarly ludicrous books mentioned by Andersen included Uri Geller’s 1975 autobiography, and Life After Life (1975) by Raymond Moody, the latter being “a philosophy Ph.D. who presented the anecdotes of several dozen people who’d nearly died as evidence of an afterlife” and whose “book sold many millions of copies”.

class struggle

In addition to these developing fads, Andersen observes how “During the ’60s, large swaths of academia made a turn away from reason and rationalism as they’d been understood.” This was most pronounced in that area of intellectual enquiry now commonly referred to as postmodernism. Early leading lights in this field, as highlighted by Andersen, included the French philosopher Michel Foucault — a man whose “suspicion of reason became deeply and widely embedded in American academia.” Andersen continues: “Ever since, the American right has insistently decried the spread of relativism, the idea that nothing is any more correct or true than anything else.” This may be true, but Andersen neglects to mention that the relativist proponents of post-modernism have always faced vocal opposition from socialists (and particularly Marxists), i.e., those people who are serious about organizing and not just theorizing about ending oppression.

By contrast, ever content to muddy the intellectual waters of history, conservatives continue to promote the lie that an authoritarian clique of cultural Marxists control and dominate America’s academic institutions with relativist mumbo jumbo. However, those on the Left continue to oppose both the conservatives and all irrational philosophical turns precisely because they recognise the threat posed by such intrigues to the future of democracy. Andersen partially comprehends this danger, writing that when this relativist groundswell eventually “flowed out across America” “it helped enable” the spread of “extreme Christianities and lunacies on the right—gun-rights hysteria, black-helicopter conspiracism, climate-change denial, and more.” More to the point he adds:

“The term useful idiot was originally deployed to accuse liberals of serving the interests of true believers further on the left. In this instance, however, postmodern intellectuals—post-positivists, poststructuralists, social constructivists, post-empiricists, epistemic relativists, cognitive relativists, descriptive relativists—turned out to be useful idiots most consequentially for the American right.”

Attacking the Left and Right

Keen to badmouth both socialists and conservatives, Andersen contrasts what he calls the “zealots on the left” with the moderate left. He was apparently particularly taken by the “sweet and reasonable” founding manifesto that was drafted in 1962 by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which Andersen holds in esteem because, he states, they declared themselves “in basic opposition to the communist system.” To be polite to Andersen, this is a fairly mechanistic appreciation of the founding of SDS, as a good case can be made that it was the powerful lobbying efforts undertaken by liberal civil rights activists like Bayard Rustin that were most responsible for convincing SDS to adopt his own fierce opposition to communism. In later years Rustin was not as successful in foisting his views upon other young activists, as he failed to get the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to moderate their constitution to include a formal commitment to anti-communism, while SDS themselves had no qualms about working alongside the far-left.[2]

Returning to Andersen’s left-wing zealots, it turns out that the group that he had to the fore of his mind when making this point was the terrorist group Weather Underground — the tiny successor organization to the SDS. Having set up his own crude caricature of what constituted left-wing politics, Andersen then adds that the right-wing had become “unhinged” as well. He explains how leading agencies of the State (including the police, the FBI and the CIA) began to “to spy on, infiltrate, and besmirch” organizations on the left which he said “thereby validated the preexisting paranoia on the new left and encouraged its wing nuts’ revolutionary delusions.” But on the issue of repression this is an understatement to say the least as State agencies went far beyond merely besmirching the left, they also helps others to firebomb their offices and murdered their leaders. A prominent example of the latter took place on December 4, 1969 when the police slaughtered two leaders of the Black Panther Party, a group which had been successfully working alongside many others on the left including the SDS. We should also recall just one of the many other reasons why the left might have been feeling paranoid in the 1960s. For instance, the US government gave vital aid to Indonesia’s Suharto dictatorship that upon assuming power in 1965 proceeded to murder hundreds of thousands of “left-wing zealots”!

Having ostensibly established the unhinged nature of left-wing politics, Andersen then draws attention to the far-right conspiracies of the John Birch Society — an organization that had been founded in 1958 and is truly deserving of the unhinged descriptor. Andersen, however, fails to see the connection between the exceptionally paranoid anti-communism of the Birchers and the ingrained anti-communism of liberals like himself, or of the Cold War liberals of the past. It was, after all, the fear of the influence of the Marxist left upon the working-class that had led liberals to lay the groundwork for the McCarthyite excesses that followed. Cold War liberals threw fuel on the fires on conspiracism that were raised to new levels by demagogic groups like the John Birch Society who went on to denounce both Republican and Democratic presidential Cabinets as including “conscious, deliberate, dedicated agent[s] of the Soviet conspiracy”.

Although Andersen states that “Delusional conspiracism wouldn’t spread quite as widely or as deeply on the left,” he remains astounded that “more and more people on both sides would come to believe that an extraordinarily powerful cabal—international organizations and think tanks and big businesses and politicians—secretly ran America.” But what Andersen is describing here is not really a conspiracy at all, it is capitalism at its most effective. An “extraordinarily powerful cabal” – that is, the ruling-class – do run America as best they can, but they definitely don’t do it secretly. Their profit-driven actions only appear to be hatched in secrecy because of the mainstream media’s ongoing failure to accurately report on the exploitation of the global working-class; and much like Andersen, the media continue to downplay or ignore any successful efforts to resist their misrule. Nevertheless, Andersen is correct that “real life made such stories plausible.” And although he primarily faults the far-right for this confusion, he feels compelled to reiterate his critique of the left by stating: “the belief that the federal government had secret plans to open detention camps for dissidents sprouted in the ’70s on the paranoid left before it became a fixture on the right.” Yet this troublesome concern should hardly be surprising, as in 1973 the US government openly backed the rise of the dictatorship in Chile where vast detention camps had been openly employed to devastating effects against democratic activists on the left. (Here a powerful early film that warned against the potential persecution of left-wing activists in America was the 1971 mockumentary Punishment Park.)

Ruling Class Delusions

Of course, in spite of his disdain with the so-called irrationality of the majority of citizens, who, as he puts it inhabit a “post-factual America,” Andersen repeats again (with little emphasis) that elite forces in society have nurtured America’s interest in conspiracies. Specifically, he draws attention to the international best-selling book Chariots of the Gods? which was written by the “convicted thief and embezzler” Erich Von Däniken – a book that describes how extraterrestrials apparently seeded life on Earth. Andersen then explains how the subsequent spin-off documentary “had a huge box-office take in 1970” and was only topped when NBC “aired an hour-long version of the documentary in prime time.” This was all part and parcel of the disempowering media milieu that titillated both the liberal left and the far-right but was categorically rebuked as a dangerous distraction by the socialist left. As always, the upper-class strata within society, whether they be in the corporate world or at the top of the CIA, were particularly enamoured by such irrationalities, and “In the ’70s, the CIA and Army intelligence set up their infamous Project Star Gate to see whether they could conduct espionage by means of ESP.”

The persistence of grand delusions and magical thinking within ruling elites is of course nothing new, and in many ways such fantasies have been a mainstay of American history. But amongst the broader public a good case can be made that the flight to fantasy tends to ebb and flow depending upon the tempo of working-class struggles. During times of vigorous and successful grassroots organizing one might expect to observe a decline in supernatural thinking, while during periods of intense repression and political defeat the intrigues boosted by the “fantasy-industrial complex” are able to rise to the fore. These problems are further exacerbated by a corporate media environment that serves to confuse and befuddle the public, all the better to allow corporate elites and their shareholders to profit from our hard labour. Thus, the same mainstream media that is so intent on ridiculing socialists, alternatively places the gurus of mumbo jumbo on a golden pedestal. From this position they are able to make immense profits, both for themselves and the mainstream press, and confuse the public to boot!

What is to be Done?

Moving to the present day, Andersen is again partially correct to say that Donald Trump rose to power because he was able “to exploit the skeptical disillusion with politics,” but he is wrong to suggest that Trump can be credited with any form of “genius.” The orange-tinted beast only did what any mildly intelligent demagogue does when their opponents are discredited: adopt populist rhetoric that appeals to a section of angry people — those who can still stomach voting — who have been worn down by the lies and poverty of the status quo. The key in the matter is that Trump’s Presidency represented change. Furthermore, we should never forget that Trump has only been given the opportunity to sell his populist right-wing lies to the public because his so-called progressive counterpart, Hillary Clinton, was so downright appalling. Only a genuine socialist representative of the 99% could have undermined the rising tide of division and hate that is personified in Trump. The Democrat’s have therefore proved once again — as they have throughout the past century — that the American public desperately needs a genuine working-class alternative to that raised time and time again by the tired old corporate shell that is the Democratic Party.

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With Trump now in the White House, Andersen, having plumped for the fantasy candidature embodied by Hillary, is apoplectic with the majority of Americans who he blames for the rise of Trump. “I really can imagine, for the first time in my life, that America has permanently tipped into irreversible decline, heading deeper into Fantasyland.” But apparently because Andersen remains a fact-loving American, fortified by his faith in the shining power of truth, we can breathe a sigh of relief as he still remains “(barely) more of an optimist than a pessimist.” This is despite the fact that Andersen is adamant that America has entered a period of “foolishness and darkness” where “too many Americans are losing their grip on reason and reality”. If one truly believed Andersen’s ill-informed diagnosis then surely any level of optimism would seem unwarranted.

If anyone is living in Fantasyland it is Andersen himself, who concludes his shallow list of reasons for being (barely) hopeful by saying: “Since 1981, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty around the globe has plummeted from 44 percent to 10 percent.” This statement of apparently uncontroversial fact is emblematic of an individual who has retreated into the statistical depths of unreason. Andersen is wrong on so many fronts, not least the decline in poverty. But if he really wanted to understand the poverty of the world around him, but especially within America itself, he might look to books like The American Way of Poverty or more critical texts like They Rule: The 1% Vs. Democracy – the latter of which highlights the ritual complicity of the Democrat’s in the ongoing transfer of wealth and power to a tiny plutocratic elite.

When Andersen concludes his essay by asking “What is to be done?”, ironically echoing the title of a seminal text by one of history’s most renowned “left wing zealots”, his own fantastic and irrational response is to admit that he doesn’t actually “have an actionable agenda” for change; although almost as an afterthought he adds, we should do our best to “stop things from getting any worse.” To undertake this task he rallies his troops, pleading that “we in reality-based America” must now stand firm and commit to waging a “struggle” of fact against falsehoods. He sees no urgent need to fight for meaningful political change, or to even partake in collective democratic action. Instead he implores his reality-based readers to “Fight the good fight in your private life.” But remember, he warns “You needn’t get into an argument with the stranger” who persists in promoting magical thinking; save your energy for winning over only your acquaintances, friends and family members (particularly your “children or grandchildren” if you have any). On that note of fantasy, I will leave you (the reader) to decide whether you stand in solidarity with Andersen or with the ordinary Americans that the author of Fantasyland has so little respect for.

NOTES

[1] The publisher of Fantasyland, Random House, is a good example of a mainstream media organization that derives immense profits from selling all manner of mumbo jumbo from Erich Von Daniken’s infamous books about ancient aliens, to an endless stream of books about anti-scientific health remedies written by the likes of Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil.

[2] James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries (Open Hand Publishing, 1985 [1972]), p.220.

Gambling With Our Planet

This peer-reviewed article was first published by the journal Theory In Action (Vol.7, No.1) in January 2014.

This essay presents an unfortunate story of conservatives and conservation. Unfortunate because it is highly problematic that so many of the reactionary ideas of conservative elites have entered the lexicon of the mainstream environmental movement: an age-old conundrum that can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century, but nevertheless needs to be scrutinized if meaningful and democratic solutions are going to be counterpoised to capitalism’s desire to destroy the planet. Previous studies have produced detailed examinations documenting the cynical way in which ruling class elites manipulate green concerns to legitimize class war.[1] This investigation differs from earlier studies, however, in that it traces the influence of three men of ruling class stock, whose thoroughbred lives have been as varied and colorful, as they have been intimately entwined by their obsession for all things wild. The names of these three men being: gambling legend cum zoo owner John Aspinall (1926-2000), billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith (1933-1997) and his brother, the influential deep ecologist Edward “Teddy” Goldsmith (1928-2009). All were born to a life of plenty, coming together in Oxford in 1949 as friends through their shared addiction to gambling.

Aspinall’s Wild Side

The elder of the trio, and the man whose gambling clique brought the three together in the first place was John Aspinall. A man who was also the first of the three to seriously develop his preoccupation with the majesty of nature untamed. Born in Delhi in 1926, when just thirteen years old Aspinall was introduced to the novels of H. Rider Haggard, with his entry point into Haggard’s opus being Nada the Lily. Nada presented a tale of Zulu witchcraft, wilderness and adventure, which “opened Aspinall’s eyes to a world so different from the one he knew, so much more romantic and impressive, on a scale so super-human, that he was entranced.” From that time onwards Aspinall’s obsession with comprehending Zulu history was second only to his addiction to Haggard’s imperial tropes of spiritual fiction.[2] A lifelong commitment that culminated with him being rewarded with his dedication to their cause by being initiated into the Zulu ‘nation’ as a ‘white Zulu’ by King Goodwill Zwelithini.

John Aspinall

Living in central London during the 1950s, Aspinall used his backyard to bring a little wilderness into his life of pleasure-seeking and gambling, beginning his erstwhile zoo by purchasing a monkey, tiger cub, and two Himalayan brown bears. “In the presence of these proud, secretive, untameable creatures, he felt moved.” And soon after making these new ‘wild’ friends, he used the rich dividends from his gambling enterprises to purchase Howletts country house and estate in Kent, and in 1956 he set about creating a private zoo on his new premises. As his biographer added, Aspinall’s new found animal friends at Howlett’s “strengthen[ed] his belief in elitism and confirm[ed] his distaste for social egalitarianism”.[3] Such views were de rigueur among Aspinall’s ruling-class patrons.[4]

With his public wildlife profile growing rapidly during the 1960s, Aspinall was soon courted by the aristocrats of eco-imperialism, the World Wildlife Fund, and in his first television experience he was invited to discuss whether people or wildlife should be prioritized. Talking on behalf of animals with Aspinall was his good friend Teddy Goldsmith. “Goldsmith thundered about the redundant millions of humans in the world and disastrous progress of medical technique which eliminated many useful natural diseases.” Aspinall joined the anti-humanist debacle such that their opponents concluded “that he and Goldsmith were no better than fascists in their denial of democratic advance; [Aspinall and Goldsmith] were happy to agree”. Perhaps because of such elitist beliefs, in 1970 WWF asked him (for the second time) to become a member of their group of rapacious capitalist funders known as the ‘1001’ Club.[5] Being very much a lone misanthrope on wilderness matters Aspinall sent the requested money but refused to join the committee. Although he would later have quarrels with WWF for choosing leaders prone to big-game hunting, Aspinall “continued to support Friends of the Earth, the Fauna Preservation Society, and many like bodies, both financially and morally”.[6].

Teddy’s Primitive Past 

Although born to great wealth, Teddy Goldsmith initially made his private fortune in the 1950s by marketing, with his brothers aid, a miracle cream developed by a well-known quack that touted itself as a cure for rheumatism. Teddy however was not cut out for the cut-throat business world, and by the late 1960s he retired and purchased a 300-acre farm in Cornwall, UK, where he continued his private studies into the history of life on earth.[7] When his father passed away in 1967, Teddy inherited a handsome legacy, and soon decided to put his long-abiding interest in indigenous cultures into action. To do so he picked an issue that resonated with Aspinall’s longstanding interest in Zulu culture, and in 1969 they both served as founding members of the Primitive People’s Fund (now called Survival International) — group formed to protect the human rights of indigenous tribal peoples and uncontacted peoples. Yet despite the professed concern for primitive others, as expressed by Survival International’s bourgeois founders, “by rooting their concern — and persuading their clients — to preserve” indigenous culture in “false essentialist premises,” they arguably acted to “subvert efforts to address issues of… inequality and poverty in realistic political terms”.[8]

Teddy Goldsmith Worthyvale-Manor-Farm-Camelford-1970s

Now on a roll, the following year Teddy launched The Ecologist magazine, which adopted the sub-title, the Journal of the Post Industrial Age. The first issue, hot off the press in July 1970, led with an editorial on primitive peoples, and was succeeded with what would become a mainstay of Teddy’s writing, a declaration that overpopulation was the world’s number one problem. The solution?… enforced sterilisation to halve the world’s population! In subsequent years Teddy would rise to global fame when he published his neo-Malthusian tract Blueprint for Survival, which contained many proposals for action, one of which included the formation of an apocalyptic sounding Movement for Survival.

In the summer of 1972 a small group of well-to-do friends in Napton, Warwickshire, began to discuss their environmental concerns. These discussions led to the formation of a transient group known as the Thirteen Club. “In particular they were influenced by the Blueprint for Survival, the Report of the Club of Rome and other writings of Paul Ehrlich”. Four members of this group who were particularly intent on taking political action ended up splitting off from the Thirteen Club around Christmas time, and by February 1973 they had organized the first meeting of their new political party, which they named PEOPLE (this later became known as the Ecology party, and in turn the Green party). To their eternal benefit, Teddy was an “early member of the new party and contributed the mailing list of the Movement for Survival.”[9] Aspinall having earlier arranged for his gambling friends to raise funds for Friends of the Earth’s Director, Graham Searle, jumped at the chance to support Teddy’s short-lived electoral ambitions, and lent Teddy a camel to ride upon during his campaigning in February 1974 as a PEOPLE candidate.

Later in 1974 Teddy spent a few months at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in India (which was organized by his friend Satish Kumar), and followed his (mis)enlightenment in India by dedicating a special issue of The Ecologist to Gandhi and India. The following year Teddy then helped found Ecoropa (Ecological Action for Europe), serving as vice-president and president of the French branch; and in 1978 helped set up Green Alliance, a parliamentary lobbying group ostensibly concerned with the environment, even if sustaining capitalism would be a more appropriate descriptor of their work. Romanticizing feudalism, and maintaining false illusions about a wholesome (“organic”) history of the days of folklore in India or otherwise is hardly progressive.[10]

Sir James: Green Raider

Unlike his brother, Sir James Goldsmith remained in the business world throughout his life, and during the 1970s and 1980s he rose to global infamy for his predatory exploits as a corporate raider — activities that in common parlance became known as hostile takeovers. Like Teddy, Sir James continued to lend a hand to green exploits, making his own early contribution to conservative environmental efforts by purchasing a 400,000-acre ranch in the right-wing state of Paraguay. Politically-speaking his good friend Mr. Aspinall was of much the same mind as Sir James, and in a typically outrageous speech made to his colleagues in the business world, Aspinall “applauded the chimpanzee custom of dividing into rival armies which engaged in wholesome slaughter as a useful exercise in keeping down numbers.” This was something he referred to as “beneficial genocide”. In a similar way Sir James slaughtered any business competition on his rise to global power, and when he broke-up Cavenham Foods in July 1980 his own personal fiefdom had been “the third-largest retailer in the world after Safeway and Kroger.” James however still railed against the food industry, and was “proud of a speech he made at a conference in Woldson College, Cambridge, in 1976 on the subject of poison in food” which he saw as an explicit “attack on the food industry, in particular on intensive farming”. Here he was clearly picking up on the green zeitgeist of his day, which saw the controversial growth of all manner of highly profitable, albeit exploitative, natural enterprises.[11]

James Goldsmith

During the 1980s, amid his continuing financial escapades Sir James became obsessed with AIDS which — following his brothers nihilist cue — he thought would soon wipe out much of the human species. He read widely upon the subject that so obsessed him, and even funded his own dubious research on the matter — research that he was unable to persuade even his own newspaper L’Express to run with. “When the drug AZT came along, Goldsmith dismissed it as only adding to the problem — it simply meant a longer period for the disease to spread, and created a false impression that its development had slowed”. This of course is nonsense, but nonsense that would have fatal consequences for thousands of Africans in the coming years. In the light of Sir James’ attraction to anti-scientific ‘research,’ it is fitting that in 1997, after chemotherapy and surgery had proved unsuccessful in stopping the spread of Sir James’ diagnosed cancer, he chose to utilize the services of a famous practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine — the quack in question being Balendu Prakash, a man who had allegedly successfully treated brain cancer in one of Teddy’s friends.[12]

Inspired by his taming of the French left-wing newspaper L’Express (which he had purchased in March 1977), in January 1979 Sir James announced the creation of a new magazine Now! which was to be edited by the former political editor of the Daily Mail, Anthony Shrimsley. Upon its launch, one of their regular columnists was Brian Crozier, who “preached the dangers of left-wing infiltration even more fervently than Goldsmith”. Another Now! contributor of extreme far-right pedigree whose connections are worth drawing attention to is Michael Ledeen, whose articles in both Now! and L’Express, aimed to discredit Jimmy Carter’s 1980 presidential campaign, contributing to what became known as the ‘Billygate’ affair. Not to be outdone by such servility to great power, yet another master of disinformation who was more than capable of injecting “black propaganda” into Now! was Brian Crozier’s protege Robert Moss. Amalgamating all his and others paranoid anti-communist conspiracy theories in one place, in 1980 Moss published an international best-selling novel titled The Spike. His coauthor on this vicious propaganda tract was the Newsweek journalist, Arnaud de Borchgrave. Considering the mystical proclivities of the Goldsmith brothers, it is interesting to note that both of these writers somehow managed to take their obsessions with disinformation one step beyond. Moss has now reinvented himself as a shamanic counselor and dream teacher (an issue upon which he has written numerous books), and since 1985 de Borchgrave has spent all his time editing newspapers and magazines belonging to Sun Myung Moon’s cultish Unification Church.[13]

Not long after founding Now! Sir James was invited to join a host of right-wing elites to support “Project Democracy,” a covert propaganda effort dedicated to weakening democratic institutions abroad.[14] Sir James was thus just one of a gaggle of powerful businessmen who met President Reagan (in March 1983) to support his war on popular democracy; other members of the group included Rupert Murdoch and self-help guru W. Clement Stone.[15] Bolstering his efforts to bolster neoconservative networking across the Atlantic, Sir James was also counted as a member of the Committee for a Free World. A group which was founded in 1981 by Midge Decter, who is the spouse of another prime neoconservative mover, Norman Podhoretz. As late as 1989 the chairman of this group was Donald Rumsfeld, while other board members sitting alongside Sir James were the president of the misnamed National Endowment for Democracy, Carl Gerschman, and the author Jacqueline Wheldon, who headed the British branch of the Committee for a Free World.

No surprise then that in November 1990, Sir James was in attendance at a dinner hosted by his good buddy Aspinall whose guest of honour was the reactionary head of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Mangosuthu Buthelezi; with another notable diner being Marc Gordon, the Director of the London office of the International Freedom Foundation — a right-wing think-tank with close links to Inkatha.[16] This so-called International Freedom Foundation had been founded in 1985 by former Republican “superlobbyist”/convicted and sentenced felon, Jack Abramoff, growing out of an initial meeting Abramoff had organized (known as the Democratic International) which took place at the headquarters of Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. The meeting was “attended by a who’s who of the extreme Right: members of the Oliver North group, Laotian guerrillas, Nicaraguan Contras, Afghan mujahideen and South African security police”. As it turned out, the International Freedom Foundation was a South African military intelligence front formed to campaign against the ANC, financed to the tune of up to $1.5 million a year by the apartheid regime; funding that was maintained until 1992. When the underhand activities of the Foundation were finally wound down in 1993 their activists went on to join other right-wing causes, with Marc Gordon moving smoothly on to serve as the field organiser for Sir James’ Referendum Party.[17]

As luck would have it, Sir James’ stellar contacts in the conservative media world provided exactly the type of propaganda that the Inkatha Freedom Party needed in the West. One of Sir James’ well-placed acquaintances being former Now! contributor, Frank Johnson, who acted as the editor of The Spectator between 1995 and 1999. Sir James and Aspinall’s good friend, Taki Theodoracopulos, then used his longstanding column in The Spectator to good effect, and along with Carla Powell (the wife of Mrs Thatcher’s former private secretary) the deadly duo “led the campaign in the British right-wing press to canonise Buthulezi”.[18] Here it is significant that Carla’s husband, Lord Powell, until recently worked under the supervision of Rothschild banker, Sir Henry Keswick, a powerful individual whom some years earlier had actually been the proprietor of The Spectator (1975-81). Natural history and elitist conservation measures having long provided useful sources of entertainment for the ruling class, with Sir Henry himself being a former president of the Royal Highland Agriculture Society, and current trustee of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In addition, the CEO of Caterpillar (the world’s largest maker of earthmoving machinery) also resides on the board of the ‘big green’ wannabe, the World Resources Institute, which is significant because the aforementioned Lord Powell is one of Caterpillar’s current board members. Here one would do well to recognize that green connections among the earth excavation business are not exceptional, and billionaire industrialist and head of the JCB Group, Sir Anthony Bamford, is a patron of the eco-mystically inclined Resurgence magazine. In addition, Bamford is the proud owner of an organic farm, whose shop is patronized by David Cameron; and Bamford even counts organic anti-modernist, Prince Charles, among his green circle of friends. Prince Charles was of course also close to the Goldsmiths, and Sir James’ wife, Annabel, became a trusted confidante of the Princess of Wales in the early 1980s.[19]

Right-Wing Nationalism and Zulu Heritage

Organizing dinner parties and public relations for Buthelezi is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Aspinall and Sir James’ support for the Zulu cause is concerned — some funding from this dubious duo having been directed through the KwaZulu Conservation Trust (later the Wildlands Trust) and some to scholarship funds. According to one former Inkatha Freedom Party politician, “Aspinall and Goldsmith donated around R4,000,000 to the party before the 1994 elections. It was in these tense years that Aspinall publicly recommended the sabotage of Duban’s power lines and, at an IFP rally in Ulundi, urged Zulu nationalists to ‘sharpen their spears and fall on the Xhosas’”.[20]

Aspinall was a personal friend of both Buthelezi and the famous South African conservationist, Ian Player, and it is through his connection to the latter that he serves as a patron of the Magqubu Ntombela Foundation. Aspinall likewise penned the foreword to Player’s Zululand Wilderness: Shadow and Soul (David Philip, 1997), a passionate memoir documenting Ntombela’s defining influence on his life as his friend and spiritual guide.

It was Ntombela’s vision and Player’s global maneuvering that led to the first World Wilderness Congress in 1977. This was a crucial node for a network sharing Aspinall’s concerns, such as Laurens van der Post, who met Buthelezi and provided the chief with the ear of British politicians (most significantly Margaret Thatcher) and royalty (in the form of Prince Charles). Aspinall, introduced to van der Post by Player, was seen as a crucial contact for raising the capital to give effect to van der Post and Buthelezi’s dream of a Zulu renaissance. [21]

Such concerns for the wilderness are not merely green in value, and environmental protection is closely entwined with the capitalist politics of nationalism. For example, one might note that one of the “prime lobbying and facilitating organizations” for the creation of Trans-Frontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) “is the South African Peace Park Foundation (PPF), presided by Anton Rupert who started his career as a nationalist thinker in the Afrikaner Broederbond, which sought to empower Afrikaners in the business world.” In this way, a strong argument can be made that “through the TFCAs the PPF manages to foster cohesion between the old — mainly white — and new political and business elites in post-apartheid South Africa.” Bonding is thus achieved by manufacturing “a de-politicized, aesthetic Edenic landscape” built on primitivist discourses of Africa and Africans which have room aplenty for ‘noble savages.’ “The good native is given a place to stay in wildlife areas. The bad native is ‘naturally’ evicted.” Yet as many elitist conservation organisations have shown, despite the fact that they can be sometimes critical of so-called ‘enforced primitivism’; these problems may not always derive from conscious policy, but reoccur time and time again “through latent, but deeply held values”.[22]

Ian Player

So let’s now return to Ian Player, who by 1964 was the chief conservator of Zululand, and whose “name is closely associated with Operation Rhino at Umfolozi in the 1960s where he was officer-in-charge”. On top of helping save the white rhinoceros from extinction, Player fulfilled a crucial role in creating the first officially designated wilderness areas in South Africa as part of already existing Zululand game reserves. However, prior to enacting the requisite environmental legislation in the 1960s, Player founded the non-government Wilderness Leadership School in 1957 — with funding provided courtesy of his golf-star brother, Gary Player. Building upon these successes, in 1974 Player retired from his position as chief conservator of Natal and KwaZulu, and traveled to the United States as a guest of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to film To Catch a Rhino. But owing to his wilderness vocation, in the same year he formed the International Wilderness Leadership Foundation (WILD). Subsequently in 1976 he took over the reins of his Wilderness Leadership School and set about organising the first World Wilderness Congress in Johannesburg, in 1977. Two people who collaborated with Player in establishing the Congress were Ntombela and Laurens van der Post, who sharing his new-found obsession with Jungian metaphysics, worked with him to set up both the Wilderness Foundation and the Cape of Good Hope Center for Jungian studies. Unfortunately, given his company it is unsurprising that their strategy of wilderness preservation is “backward looking and conservative”.[23]

Player has begun to see environmental problems as wrapped up with problems of power but has difficulty articulating more than a mystical atavistic whim for a better planet. His journey into the wilderness within took him into New Age ideas which he embraces. He rejects unmitigated western Enlightenment science and identifies with post-modem social thought which features amongst the current reading in his personal library. In the end, however, Player owes to Jung and van der Post an essentialist view of culture. (p.814)

With such problematic ideological baggage, it is fitting that Player, like his friends, moved to embrace Zulu ethnic nationalism. One “close friend and associate,” Nick Steele (1933-1997), who perhaps more than anyone else helped move Player in this reactionary direction, and had also served as a cofounder of the Magqubu Ntombela Foundation. Steele had worked closely with Player since the 1950s at the National Parks Board, and in the year of his death had just been appointed as Chief Director of Environmental Affairs and Nature Conservation for KwaZulu-Natal. As Steele would go on to demonstrate in his controversial conservation work, he was an “unbending ‘securocrat’ from military tradition”. [24]

Green Traditionalism: The Answer?

As a pioneer of the new frontiers of capitalist conservation, Nick Steele’s “own idea and practical definition of wilderness was far less mystical than [Ian] Player’s”. The same of course largely applied to Sir James environmental approach which came into its own when he retired from his days as a corporate raider to join his brother as the new born-again saviour of the planet. Sir James however found gaining “entry into the environmental world far from easy.” For example, he thought a good campaign idea would be for various environmental groups to threaten to sue individual corporations and their directors for not taking action fast enough to reduce CFC emissions. “Teddy got the environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth, to form a rough alliance, and Goldsmith outlined his proposal for major legal actions around the world.” Some environmentalists were evidently suspicious of Sir James’ green credentials, which is unsurprising considering the fact that he was still a “major shareholder” in Newmont Mining. Thus despite his best efforts at white-washing his immensely destructive investment portfolio, the green groups in question refused — in this instance anyway — to allow Sir James to take an active role in their campaign. So in response Sir James withheld his promised investment of £250,000. Considering his growing influence in environmental circles this was no skin off the nose for Sir James, as at Teddy’s urging in 1990 Sir James had set up the Goldsmith Charitable Foundation, which provides tens of millions of pounds a year to environmental enterprises all over the world.[25]

In 1987 Teddy had retired as the editor of The Ecologist, and considering Sir James’ full-blown love affair with the reactionary traditions of the Zulu’s it might seem that their ideological obsessions about the failure of the modern world were drawing ever closer together. Teddy now took the time to document his personal desire to re-establish the values of small-scale pre-industrial traditional societies (via something called bioregionalism) in his book The Great U-Turn: Deindustrialising Society (Green Books, 1988): the content of which “go[es] beyond rational expression, being articulated in nature mysticism, creative art, folk legend and paganism”.  A commitment to such traditionalist ideas helps explain why around this time Sir James provided £80,000 to help finance a film, later shown on BBC, “about a tribe of Colombian Indians called the Kogi which had survived untouched and unscathed by the outside world, high in the mountains”.[26] The Kogi base their lifestyles on their belief in “The Great Mother,” their creator figure, whom they believe is the force behind nature, providing guidance.

A dedication to popularizing ancient traditions and primitive spiritual practices is for the ‘Goldsmith brothers grim’ (and for their friend Aspinall), therefore seen as the ideal way to reverse the secularizing and democratic trends of the Enlightenment. Speaking to these concerns, in 1989 Teddy argued (within the pages of the Financial Times) that as a traditionalist he sought to oppose “the holocaust of modernisation”. The reactionary and conservative nature of such a belief system is clear,[27] and in a later interview Teddy traced the intellectual origins of his traditionalism to his interest in the perennial philosophy, saying:

It this interest has basically been cultivated, and promoted, by a group of people, perhaps the most famous was Molander Gumalaswami, but there are others — Europeans, like René Guenon, and, Lord Northborne in this country — all sorts of people. And they are really interested in the wisdom which underlies all your traditional societies, and there is such a wisdom. They call it The Perennial Philosophy, and of course, it is based largely on tradition.[28]

The Traditionalist scholars mentioned here are critical to the Goldsmith story, as the right-wing Soil Association activist Lord Northbourne (1896-1982) had translated Rene Guenon’s The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times. Lord Northbourne who was one of the cofounders of the Soil Association was “a frequent contributor” to the British periodical Studies in Comparative Religion, which was a major source of Traditionalist scholarship and has been described by E.F. Schumacher “as one of the two most important journals to read”. Indeed, it was Traditionalism that actually served as “one of the main sources of Schumacher’s anti-modernism”; a philosophical trend which combined neatly with the leading role he assumed within the anthrosopically-inspired Soil Association, which happened to provide the initial staff for The Ecologist.[29]

One infamous writer situated with Traditionalism whose influence is relevant here is the prolific fascist writer and activist Julius Evola, whose vile work has been revived in the work of French Nouvelle Droite (New Right) ideologues like Alain de Benoist.  De Benoist is best-known for founding an ethnonationalist and neopagan think-tank known as the Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne (“Research and Study Group for European Civilization” or GRECE). Formed in 1968, an early member of GRECE was Louis Pauwels, coauthor of the 1960 irrationalist, Romantic treatise, Les matin des magiciens, which was published in the United States as Morning of the Magicians in 1964, and has the dubious distinction of helping launch a revival of interest in the occult and Traditionalist ideas more generally. In recent years, the extreme-right-wing GRECE has sought out and made connections to green Traditionalists like Teddy Goldsmith, who in 1994 accepted their invitation to address its 25th Anniversary Meeting. Here one person who has been particularly forthright in his criticism of Teddy’s propensity to embrace such authoritarian forms of cultural essentialism has been Nicholas Hildyard, who had worked at The Ecologist from 1972-1997, and had assumed the journal’s editorship (with others) from 1990-97. Having spent much of the 1990s advising Sir James on environmental affairs, he recalls that “political differences” with Teddy “over ethnicity and gender issues” eventually led him and the rest of the editorial team to quit The Ecologist.[30]

GRECE

Considering these fascist connections, it is intriguing to observe that when Sir James purchased the left-wing L’Express in 1977, which he identified as “the source of intellectual sickness of France”, he recalled that: “When I appointed Raymond Aron — he came from Figaro — I had a strike because I was imposing a fascist!” A strike, and accusation, that arose for good reasons because the prestigious French daily Le Figaro was at the time playing a key role in dispensing the ideas of the Nouvelle Droite, counting Louis Pauwels as one of their editors. Later Aron was remembers as being one of only a few scholars “willing to engage in dialogue” with the Nouvelle Droite.[31]

Unfortunately Teddy’s embrace of the French New Right as suitable allies in his bid to save the planet was not a passing fad, and was very much in keeping with his own, and his brothers, explicit conservatism and elitism. In subsequent years Teddy kept in contact with de Benoist and his GRECE comrades, and when challenged about the reactionary nature of their work he pleads that GRECE “have changed very much these last dozen years”. This is not the case, GRECE and their politics of green Traditionalism mesh perfectly with Teddy’s political orientation. Either way, in late 1997 Teddy was the main guest on the third TeKoS colloquium in Antwerp, Belgium: TeKoS being a sister organisation of GRECE. The following year Teddy then gave a lecture in Paris at the first colloquium of the New-Right ecology organisation Le recours aux forêts, which was headed by Laurent Ozon, the head of GRECE’s ecology branch. Other lecturers in attendance included Alain de Benoist and members of the French extreme-right party Mouvement Pour la France, which had been founded in 1994 by none other than Sir James Goldsmith. Working in collaboration with Ozon, Teddy then agreed to stand in the June 1999 elections for the right-wing ecological party Mouvement ecologiste independante (MEI). Teddy even convinced Ozon to allow his friend Antoine Waechter to head the party — Waechter having founded the French Green Party in 1973. But before Teddy’s electoral bid ever got off the ground he dropped the project when the French media decided to cause a ruckus about Waechter’s obviously extreme right-wing ideas.[32]

In addition to harboring right-wing views, Teddy’s interest in hidden (occult) knowledge is shared by many of his green-fingered bourgeois friends.[33] The third ever World Wilderness Congress was thus held at the anthrosophically-inspired Findhorn Community, in Scotland, in October 1983. In the same year the Foundation for GAIA was created in the UK “to do something for Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth representing the living beings of this planet as embodied in all its life-forms and ecosystems.” Current trustees of the Foundation for GAIA include green capitalist entrepreneur Jonathan Porritt, and Italian conservationist Franco Zunino, who is an Associate Editor of the International Journal of Wilderness which is published by the WILD Foundation (US) — the WILD Foundation being headed by the former coordinator of environmental programs at Findhorn, Vance Martin. While another former Findhorn leader, Vita de Waal, is a trustee of the Foundation for GAIA, and is the vice president of the Institute for Planetary Synthesis, a group which dedicates itself to promotion of various variants of theosophy. When Teddy passed away in 2009, the Foundation for GAIA honored his longstanding service to their spiritual cause by thanking him for serving on their board for “over 20 years.” Occult connections are also derived through Foundation for GAIA trustee, Eileen Noakes, who in 1973 was a founding member of the misnamed Scientific and Medical Network, another theosophical project which counted Teddy as a former member.

Until his death Teddy bolstered such mystical ties through his service on the advisory board of the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), which describes itself as “a non-profit organization dedicated to the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.” Here he worked alongside the likes of eco-mystic guru Frijof Capra and famed eco-feminist Vandana Shiva, with ISEC itself having been founded in 1975 by Helena Norberg-Hodge. Norberg-Hodge is the author of many books including the primitivist hit, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh (Sierra Club Books, 1991). Moreover the two current Associate Directors of ISEC are Tracy Worcester and Zac Goldsmith. Tracy, the Marchioness of Worcester, is a former patron of the Soil Association, former trustee of Friends of the Earth, and counts the thoroughly anti-modernist, Prince Charles — as her eco-hero (he also attended her wedding). [34] In her spare time Tracy promotes anthroposophy, has served on the advisory board of The Ecologist, and was a member of Sir James’ Referendum Party. Zac Goldsmith on the other hand is the son of Sir James, and after recently acting as the editor of The Ecologist he is now the Conservative MP for the constituency of Richmond Park and North Kingston.

Another well-known group that counted Teddy as an emeritus director is the International Forum on Globalization, an organization that was formed in 1994, and whose work has been heavily supported by Douglas Tompkins’ controversial eco-philanthropy. Tompkins is better known as the founder of the Foundation for Deep Ecology, although he is also a patron of Satish Kumar’s Resurgence magazine, which recently merged with The Ecologist. Former Foundation for Deep Ecology staffer, Victor Menotti, presently serves as the International Forum on Globalization’s executive director. However, the key person involved in establishing the International Forum on Globalization was Jerry Mander, a former president of a major San Francisco advertising company, and ‘Grateful Dead’ promoter, who decided to turn his talents at manipulating symbols and images to protecting the environment in the late 1960s (initially working with David Brower while he was based at the Sierra Club). In addition to Mander’s work at the International Forum on Globalization, he also found the time to briefly serve as a program director for the Foundation for Deep Ecology. Following Teddy’s example, the International Forum on Globalization has played a key role in bringing progressives into dangerous coalitions with the right-wing forces.[35]

Perhaps Mander’s most influential book, vis-à-vis the alter-globalization movement was his co-authorship with Teddy Goldsmith of the edited volume, The Case Against the Global Economy and For a Turn Toward the Local (Sierra Club Books, 1996) — some of the many contributors to this book included Maude Barlow, Richard Barnet, Wendell Berry, John Cavanagh, William Grieder, David Korten, Ralph Nader, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Jeremy Rifkin, Kirkpatrick Sale, and Vandana Shiva. Mander however has written numerous other books, some providing a romantic celebration of indigenous culture, and others providing naïve criticisms of industrial society. Thus much like Teddy and Vandana Shiva’s anti-modern turn, despite his good intentions –when he published his book In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations (Sierra Club Books, 1991)Mander has ended up reinforcing the very hegemony he purports to oppose.[36]

Finally, much like Teddy who is a Bija guru at Vandana Shiva’s Bija Vidyapeeth (Center for Learning) in India, Shiva’s politics are far from anti-capitalist and more closely approximate those of a nationalist. So it is appropriate that Shiva has worked closely with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (a Hindu paramilitary group formed in 1925) and other assorted Hindu nationalist groups in India. She has thus not only lent them her international prestige, but has also furnished the popular farmers’ movements with “the much-needed agrarian myth” that is so compatible with conservative ruralism. As Meera Nanda concludes: “The connecting thread [between the right and left] is the defence of the traditional way of life.”[37]

Reviving Nationalism?

With all this history born in mind, Sir James’ support of environmental causes is highly worrying given his consistent support of the radical Right; all the more so given his brothers anarcho-primitivism and his dalliances with the far-right; it is a deadly cocktail indeed. The danger presented by this ominous combination is illustrated by the way that Sir James was able to recruit his various green acquaintances into standing in the 1997 General Election for his Referendum Party — which was truly his own pet nationalist project, that he launched with no formal democratic structures or members, only “supporters”. Prominent examples of Sir James’ green electoral candidates include Tracy Worcester, David Bellamy, and Peter Etherden (a former contributing editor to the Fourth World Review, which is edited by Teddy’s friend John Papworth). Not to mention his buddy, John Aspinall, who in an interview conducted during the 1990s was “quoted as saying he would be happy to see large numbers of human exterminated, and that the death of 200 million in the event of nuclear war would not be enough.” He added: “Statistically, in terms of real population reduction, it would mean nothing more than a slight temporary dip in the world’s population. It wouldn’t solve the problem”.[38]

Another conservative green who represented the Referendum Party in the 1996 British elections was Robin Page, who was also a member of the Party’s council, and had been the founder of the Countryside Restoration Trust — a body whose founding patron was Prince Charles’ New Age mentor, Laurens van der Post. Fellow Referendum Party candidate David Bellamy is counted as one of the Countryside Restoration Trust’s current patrons, while Zac Goldsmith resides on their board of trustees.[39] Upon Sir James Goldsmith’s death in 1997, Robin Page had no qualms in joining the racist UK Independence Party, which to boot is staunchly skeptical of climate change; this is not surprising considering Sir James’ background and that of the individual he chose to act as the field organiser for the Referendum Party, Marc Gordon (the former director of the International Freedom Foundation, see earlier). Or to take another example one might look to Referendum Party electoral candidate John Gouriet, a man who during the 1970s worked with Robert Moss — as the administrative director of the National Association for Freedom. This later group is now known as the Freedom Association, a leading council member of which is the former leader of the UK Independence Party, Lord Pearson of Rannoch.

The roots of the UK Independence Party’s and the Referendum Party’s manifestation of eurosceptic post-imperial populism “are most usefully traced back to Margaret Thatcher’s 1988 Bruges speech,” which led to the formation of the Bruges Group under the leadership of University of Oxford undergraduate student Patrick Robertson. With financial backing provided courtesy of Sir James, prominent members of the Bruges Group included Alan Sked (who went on to found the UK Independence Party in September 1993) and their founding chairman, Lord Harris of High Cross (who was the former head of the Institute of Economic Affairs, 1957-1987; and board member of Rupert Murdoch’s Times Newspapers Holdings Ltd from 1988 until 2001). Robertson would go on to act as the head of the Referendum Party’s public relations operations (working with former Downing Street press officer Ian Beaumont), and is credited with being the individual who “flogged the idea of a full-blown referendum party” to Sir James in the early 1990s; an idea allegedly first conceived in the home of Christopher Monckton in 1989. This idea was spread wide and far with Sir James’ financial backing, but that was not all, as prior to getting the Referendum Party off the ground, Sir James had stumped up $3.5 million to create the French extreme-right party Mouvement Pour la France (MPF) headed by the aristocrat Philippe de Villiers.[40]

An Ecosocialist Response

From John Aspinall’s Zulu dreams, gambling fortunes and virulent anti-humanism, to the conspiratorially minded far-right pipe dreams of a corporate raider like Sir James Goldsmith, over the past several decades, advocates of green politics have had some distasteful and highly dangerous allies. And while Teddy Goldsmith is often held up as a grandfather of the modern environmental movement, his contributions to the ideological evolution of the green thinking are as reactionary as those of both Aspinall and Sir James; perhaps even more so give the insidious way that his eloquently articulated primitivist and traditionalist anti-modernist nonsense has rooted itself in so many of his readers minds.

That the work of three such prime examples of the ruling class should have been able to encourage the institutionalization of quite so much inegalitarianism within an ostensibly liberal environmental movement clearly demonstrates the pressing need for a Marxist alternative to managing our world for the benefit of all. The task that now lies at hand is difficult and involves building a mass movement of the working class to rid our world of a small subgroup of ruling class predators who, on the one hand, consume the planet to enrich themselves, and then offer us irrational anti-human solutions to enable them to continue to sustainably rape the planet. One step towards building such a democratic movement will involve disentangling self-serving bourgeois environmental theories from those that will strengthen eco-socialist concerns for the future. In this way, we can learn from previous mistakes, and continue to build movements capable of generating the type of popular momentum for social change that will eventually be capable of eradicating, and not just domesticating, capitalism.

ENDNOTES

[1] Gray Brechin, “Conserving the race: Natural aristocracies, eugenics, and the U.S. Conservation movement,” Antipode, 28 (3), 1996.

[2] Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.29, p.30.

[3] Brian Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall (Coronet, 1989), p.84, p.131.

[4] Dorothy Roberts, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics and Big Business Re-create Race in the 21st Century (New Press, 2012).

[5] Michael Barker, “The liberal foundations of environmentalism: Revisiting the Rockefeller-Ford connection,” Capitalism Nature Socialism, 19 (2), 2008, pp.15-42; Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.139, p.140; Raymond Bonner, At the Hand of Man: Peril and Hope for Africa’s Wildlife (Vintage, 1993).

[6] Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.169, p.245.

[7] Ian Fallon, Billionaire: The Life and Times of Sir James Goldsmith (Arrow, 1992), p.83, p.470.

[8] Edwin Wilmsen, “To see ourselves as we need to see us: Ethnography’s primitive turn in the Cold War years,” Critical African Studies, 1, 2009, p.38.

[9] Sara Parkin, Green Parties: An International Guide (Heretic Books, 1989), p.217, p.218.

[10] Richard Fox, Gandhian Utopia: Experiments with Culture (Beacon Press, 1989); Simon Matthews, “Pissing in or pissing out? The ‘big tent’ of Green Alliance,” Lobster: Journal of Parapolitics, No.42, 2001/2; Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (Chatto & Windus, 1973).

[11] Geoffrey Wansell, Sir James Goldsmith: The Man and the Myth (Fontana, 1982), pp.206-7; Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.341; Fallon, Billionaire, p.356, p.471; William Friedland, Amy Barton, and Robert Thomas, Manufacturing Green Gold: Capital, Labor and Technology in the Lettuce Industry (Cambridge University Press, 1981); Julie Guthman, “Fast food/organic food: Reflexive tastes and the making of ‘yuppie chow’,” Social & Cultural Geography, 4 (1), 2003, pp.45-58.

[12] Fallon, Billionaire, p.433; Ben Goldacre, Bad Science (Forth Estate, 2009), pp.181-97; Chris Hutchins and Dominic Midgley, Goldsmith: Money, Women and Power (Mainstream Publishing, 1998), p.215.

[13] Fallon, Billionaire, p.348, p.388; Ann Louise Bardach, “Moonstruck: The Reverend and his newspaper,” In: David Wallis (ed.), Killed: Journalism Too Hot to Print (Nation Books, 2004).

[14] William I. Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge University Press, 1996).

[15] Joel Brinkley, “Iran sales linked to wide program of covert policies,” New York Times, February 15, 1987.

[16] Mzala, Gatsha Buthelezi: Chief with a Double Agenda (Zed Books, 1988); Malcolm Draper and Gerhard Mare, “Going in: The garden of England’s gaming zookeeper and Zululand,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 29 (2), 2003, p.555.

[17] Philip Van Niekerk, “How apartheid conned the West,” The Observer, July 16, 1995; Dele Olojede and Tim Phelps, “Front for apartheid: Washington-based think tank said to be part of ruse to prolong power,” Newsday, July 16, 1995; Chris Blackhurst, “Goldsmith’s party ‘too old and too few to fight’,” Independent, September 16, 1996.

[18] George Monbiot, “Adventure playground,” Guardian, August 31, 2004.

[19] Hutchins and Midgley, Goldsmith, p.62.

[20] Draper and Mare, “Going in,” p.555.

[21] Draper and Mare, “Going in,” p.556.

[22] Malcolm Draper, Marja Spierenburg and Harry Wels, “African dreams of cohesion: Elite pacting and community development in Transfrontier Conservation Areas in Southern Africa,” Culture and Organization, 10 (4), 2004, p.342, p.347, p.350.

[23] Malcolm Draper, “Zen and the art of garden province maintenance: The soft intimacy of hard men in the wilderness of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, 1952-1997,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 24 (4), 1998, p.806, p.809, p.813.

[24] Draper, “Zen and the art of garden province maintenance,” p.816, p.819.

[25] Draper, “Zen and the art of garden province maintenance,” p.818; Sally Bedell Smith, “Billionaire with a cause,” Vanity Fair, May 1997.

[26] David Pepper, Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice (Routledge, 1993), p.17; Fallon, Billionaire, p.471.

[27] Edward Goldsmith, “A society that lost its way,” Financial Times, July 1, 1989; Murray Bookchin, Re-enchanting Humanity: A Defense of the Human Spirit Against Anti-humanism, Misanthropy, Mysticism and Primitivism (Cassell, 1995); Mark Sedgwick, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the 20th Century (Oxford University Press, 2009).

[28] Edward Goldsmith, “New lamps for old (transcript),” Schumacher Series, January 1, 1991.

[29] Phillip Conford, The Origins of the Organic Movement (Floris Books, 2001); Sedgwick, Against the Modern World, p.212; Phillip Conford, The Development of the Organic Network: Linking People and Themes, 1945-95 (Floris Book, 2011).

[30] Nicholas Hildyard, “Blood and culture: Ethnic conflict and the authoritarian right,” Corner House Briefing No.11, January 29, 1999.

[31] Fallon, Billionaire, p.312; Tamir Bar-On, Where Have All The Fascists Gone? (Ashgate, 2007), p.9, p.11.

[32] Eric Krebbers, “Millionaire Goldsmith supports the left and the extreme right,” De Fabel van de illegal, September 1999.

[33] Michael Barker, “Findhorn’s angels,” Swans Commentary, November 5, 2012.

[34] Rod Dreher, “Philosopher Prince: The revolutionary anti-modernism of Britain’s heir apparent,” American Conservative, March 12, 2012.

[35] Michael Barker, “Saving trees and capitalism too,” State of Nature, November 17, 2009; Doug Henwood, “Antiglobalization,” Left Business Observer, No.71, January 1999; Eric Krebbers and Merijn Schoenmaker, “Seattle ’99: Marriage party of the left and the right?”, De Fabel van de illegaal, November 1999.

[36] Regina Cochrane, “Rural poverty and impoverished theory: Cultural populism, ecofeminism, and global justice,” The Journal of Peasant Studies, 34 (2), 2007, pp.167-206; Ward Churchill, From a Native Son: Selected essays in Indigenism, 1985-1995 (South End Press, 1996).

[37] Cochrane, “Rural poverty and impoverished theory,” p.188; Meera Nanda, Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodernism, Science, and Hindu Nationalism (Permanent Black, 2006), p.253, p.256.

[38] Neil Carter, Mark Evans, Keith Alderman and Simon Gorham, “Europe, Goldsmith and the Referendum Party,” Parliamentary Affairs, 51(3), 1998, p.473; Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.324.

[39] The most recent addition to the board of trustees of the Countryside Restoration Trust  is the former campaign director of the Soil Association and former trustee of Population Matters (formerly Optimum Population Trust), Robin Maynard. Maynard is a vocal supporter of Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic farming. Robin Maynard,“Muck and magic,” The Ecologist, September 1, 2004.

[40] Simon Usherwood, “The UK Independence Party: The dilemmas of a single-issue party. Political Studies Association 57th Annual Conference, 11 to 13 April 2007, p.2; Paul Vallely, “A big little Englander,” Independent, April 26, 1996; Eric Krebbers, “Millionaire Goldsmith supports the left and the extreme right,” De Fabel van de illegal, September 1999.

The Magical Passage to Planetization

This article was first published by State of Nature on August 5, 2013.

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Although New Age mumbo-jumbo maintains a special appeal for those seeking spiritual solace, especially for those worn down by the grueling monotony of working-life under capitalism, such nonsense has always boasted its most ardent supporters within the relatively well-to-do. In fact one could almost imagine that there is a direct correlation between financial wealth and an unhealthy addiction to philosophical garbage. Much to the chagrin of Conservative Christians this mental defect seems especially pronounced within elite policy wonks concerned with “world peace” and global governance (i.e. among World Federalists at the United Nations). Here one particularly prominent group that formerly advocated New Age doctrines within the upper echelons of polite society is the little-known Planetary Citizens. Formed in 1974 by Donald Keys, this organization identified itself as a catalyst for global peace, ostensibly through democratic elite planning, albeit mixed with an unhealthy dose of magical thinking.

Donald Keys had already made quite a political name for himself when he formed Planetary Citizens in the early 1970s,[1] as not only had he just finished serving as the executive director of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and been a speech writer for Secretary-General U Thant, but between 1969 and 1982 he had acted as the World Association of World Federalists’ representative to the United Nations. SANE’s founding co-chair had been Norman Cousins (who at the time was the honorary president of the United World Federalists), and not coincidentally Cousins went on to join Keys as the honorary chairman of Planetary Citizens. Thus paradoxically, like something akin to the magical transformation that affected comic-book superhero Spiderman (who mysteriously obtained supernatural powers from a radioactive spider) Keys and Cousins came to believe that through their limited “exposure” to radioactivity – through their anti-nuclear activism – that they too could utilize magical powers to save the world.[2]

So you might well ask: “what type of magic did Keys and Cousins hope to bring into the service of world peace?” Well as it turns out it was mostly delusions of a spiritual nature. And although there was no web-shooting or climbing walls, gigantic leaps of faith were in aplenty – supernatural leaps of faith that took Keys and his cohorts back into the not-so-ancient make-believe realms of Theosophy. For instance, one especially significant early board member of Planetary Citizens was the spiritual visionary and all round New Age guru, David Spangler, who had recently served as the co-director of the Scottish-based Findhorn Foundation, and had just formed the Lorian Association for Incarnational Spirituality (in the United States).

Of the fourteen board members of Planetary Citizens (as of October 1975) at least three of them were practitioners of Robert Assagioli’s Jungian-inspired Psychosynthesis: an unique form of mystical therapy that provides a direct link between Theosophy and the human potential movement. A connection arises because the creator of Psychosynthesis, Robert Assagioli, had been the Italian representative of Alice Bailey’s Arcane School, and had gone on to found the Meditation Group for the New Age, which has its headquarters at Meditation Mount in Ojai, California.[3]

Furthermore, another Planetary Citizens board member of note is George Christie, who in 1962, along with Keys and several others, helped cofound the International Center for Integrative Studies, an organization that “works to co-create a common consciousness as a seedbed for new visions of positive futures for humanity and the planet…” The past president and now board member of this Center, Laraine Mai, likewise served on the board of Planetary Citizens, and has since gone on to work for the New York Open Center (a “holistic consciousness” learning center), and currently serves on the board of the UN Committee on Spirituality, Values and Global Concerns in New York.

Despite what initial appearances may suggest, that Planetary Citizens was just a marginal home for deluded wackos, this is far from the case, and influential members of the global bourgeois lined up to endorse their goals. A few recognizable “early endorsers” who I have written about in previous articles include Maurice Strong, Aurelio Peccei, Peter Ustinov, Konrad Lorenz, Gunnar Myrdal, the Dalai Lama, and the former Ford Foundation president, Paul Hoffman. One should also observe that Planetary Citizens’ 53 person-strong advisory council was home to a veritable smörgåsbord of New Age hucksters and World Federalists. In the latter category we have secular types like Isaac Asimov (an early member of the American Movement for World Government), and Martin Ennals (the founder of Amnesty International); and in the nonsense category we have Peter Caddy (of Findhorn fame), spiritual guide Sri Chinmoy (who underwent his spiritual training at Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram in Pondicherry, now the home for the New Age Auroville Foundation), Edgar Mitchell (founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences), William Irwin Thompson (founder of the Lindisfarne Association), and Ervin Laszlo (founder of the Club of Budapest). In 1981 Donald Keys would continue his work with Ervin Laszlo by coauthoring an UN report titled ‘Disarmament, the Human Factor’, but it is to Keys’ subsequent book, Earth at Omega: Passage to Planetization, that we now turn our attention.

In many ways this book could be seen as Planetary Citizens’ manifesto for change, or as the books back page blurb puts it “a tool for transition.” Within Earth at Omega’s pages magical thinking is seamlessly merged with demands for global governance. For instance, we are introduced to the wonders of Kirilian photography as a metaphorical means of describing how a new world order will be organized:[4] a fitting choice of New Age claptrap in which to frame Keys’ ideas. In Keys’ mystic future:

Neither capitalism, communism, socialism, democratic socialism, nor other partial ideologies as we have experienced them can possibly be adequate to a new global-level organism. The new world has its own needs, its own new requirements, which can be met only out of responses to that which the new world intrinsically is. Imposing something from the past cannot, will not meet these needs. The planetary design must and will be the collective emergence of something utterly new. It will be discovered – not theorized. It will be implemented not rationalized, as an intuitive recognition of an emerging necessity. (p.12)

Luckily for his eager devotees, some of the worthwhile values that need to be “translated to the global level” have, according to Keys, already been identified in the Club of Rome’s 1976 report, RIO – Reshaping the International Order. Likewise, he adds that scholars based at the Institute for World Order have already recommended the need to promote the necessary “values for global community”, as laid out by the chair of Planetary Citizens advisory council, Saul Mendlovitz, in his book On the Creation of a Just World Order (Free Press, 1975). In addition, work towards allowing the development of an “organismic humanity” is similarly growing in strength owing to the “scholarly and prophetic” activities of those applying General Systems Theory to everything and anything; theories “pioneered” by Ervin Laszlo in his book A Strategy for the Future: A Systems Approach to World Order (George Braziller, 1974). As Keys puts it: “New mythic awarenesses such as these anchor themselves in human consciousness through experiences which bring them home in demonstrable ways.”[5]

Of course the United Nations will, in Keys’ mind, play a key role in bringing about the necessary transition to planetatization, and he highlights three “unsung heroes” who “are unconsciously representing the energies of human unification.” The first is Dag Hammarskjold… although the “intensity of his inner life became apparent only after the publication of his spiritual diary, Markings, following his death in a plane crash in the Congo.” The “cosmic north wind” that was Hammarskjold, left his own mark at the UN by redesigning the Meditation Room – transforming it into an austere place of universal worship. The next spiritual guru cited by Keys is U Thant, who “writes as did Dag Hammarskjold that he was greatly influenced by the writings of Albert Schweitzer and his ethic of ‘reverence for life,’ and by the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.” (Chardin apparently “foresaw an organismic union of humankind based on the sharing of one consciousness.”) The final figure “who represents the subjective side of life in the UN” is Sri Chinmoy, who had “led twice-weekly meditations there for more than ten years…” An individual who “comes from the lineage of the saints and sages of the Hindu East, in the line of and in the tradition of Ramakrishna and Aurobindo.”[6]

Sri Chinmoy apparently holds a special place in Keys life as at the start of Earth at Omega he dedicates his book to his “mentors”: Max Heindel (who was the founder of the Rosicrucian Fellowship), Djwhal Khul (who was one of Madame Blavatsky’s invisible spiritual masters, and was the source of inspiration for much of Alice Bailey’s work with the Arcane School), Geshe Wangyal (a Buddhist guru closely associated with the Dalai Lama), Morya (another of Madame Blavatsky’s invisible friends), Erling (an individual who through her spiritual union with Archangel Mikael in later years formed the Angelic Temple of Illumined Faith and Protection), and last but not least, the celebrity-obsessed cult guru himself, Sri Chinmoy.[7]

Thankfully for Keys, cutting edge studies undertaken at SRI International (formerly the Stanford Research Institute) examining the specifics of human consciousness promoted by his New Age spiritual gurus (invisible or otherwise) will, according to him, soon allow such previously unquantifiable factors to be incorporated into Ervin Lazlo’s systems theories for global management. Here we are informed of Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff’s “stunning research” into “remote viewing” (formerly known as clairvoyance); of how astral projection has been revamped with a new scientifically validated title, “out-of-body experiences,” of which Robert Monroe is cited as being its “best-known practitioner”; while psychokinesis, “the capacity to move objects without touching them, retains it old name, and continues to fascinate.” “The existence of psi phenomena is not in question, only their mechanisms.” Keys continues: “These fledgling steps are regarded with some amusement, of course, by Asian practitioners of these arts, long versed in practicing the psi abilities mentioned above, and many more.”[8]

Keys is in joyous rapture about the rapid spread of intentional communities documented in Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy (J.P. Tarcher, 1980), and by the countercultures adoption of what Mark Satin referred to as “a transmaterial world view.” Keys writes: “Planetary Citizens has found a strong response to its interne program from graduates of spiritual intentional communities, such as the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. These internes seek training for involvement in societal change without sacrificing their more profound values and their inner growth orientation.” On a further triumphant note he suggests that the “political impact of the new consciousness” will “ultimately spell the end of the materialistic, inadequate and dead-end interpretations which characterize latter-day marxism and neo-marxism.” An irrational intuitive future is apparently in good hands, with ruling class members of Planetary Citizens working in collaboration with intentional spiritual communities like “The Farm,” whom Planetary Citizens came to the aid of by helping them distribute their surplus soybeans “directly to the needy of the world.” This international soybean-aid-program (PLENTY International) was apparently “so successful that it has won the backing of both the World Bank and the Canadian aid organization.” How nice. On a more “political” note, Keys draws attention to the transformative work of Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr., Governor of California, whose politics are “neither ‘right’ nor ‘left,’” and whose “administration is animated by a non-material, humane world view…”[9]

Here one might point out that former Apollo astronaut Russell Schweickart, who served as California Governor Jerry Brown’s assistant for science and technology, happened to reside on Planetary Citizens advisory council before going on to become a fellow of the Lindisfarne Association, and then a member of the New Age corporate offshoot project the Global Business Network (which had been set up in 1987). Notably, three of the five cofounders of the Global Business Network included New Age phenomena Stewart Brand (who has recently been rewarded for his longstanding spiritual commitment by the Joseph Campbell Foundation, who honored him with their Erdman-Campbell Award), and two former SRI International senior staffers, Peter Schwartz and Jay Ogilvy, who together with Findhorn-booster Paul Hawken wrote Seven Tomorrows: Toward a Voluntary History (Bantam, 1981). Presently a scholar at the Esalen Center, it is worth mentioning that in 1979 Ogilvy served alongside Donald Keys on the initial governing council of Mark Satin’s New World Alliance, which, much like Planetary Citizens, consisted of a mish-mash of theosophists, futurists, and a general assortment of do-gooders committed to “global peace” (whatever that means).[10]

Finally, I have no doubt that in order to smash capitalism, and to erect a new socialist world in its place, the working classes of the world will need to unite and work in global solidarity to oust the ruling class. But to undertake this monumental task there is no need for the working class to incorporate the metaphysics of bourgeoisie mystics into their organizing repertoires. Call me old-fashioned, but I have a hunch (although Keys might call it intuition) that rationality will win over in the end; and that at the end of the day, the oh-so-learned proponents of irrationalism – be it through their vehement belief on the magical dictates of the free-market, or in spirit voices from above – will succumb to the rational dictates of a united working class that demands a fair and equitable material world for all. Solidarity forever; irrational mumbo jumbo be vanquished!

FOOTNOTES

[1] On the founding of Planetary Citizens, Donald Keys writes: “In 1970, an opportunity arose to create a new vehicle to activate these [humane and global] values. Norman Cousins and I had been conducting a roundtable of meetings among United Nations ambassadors, with Norman as host. These dinner evenings created an arena of ‘neutral turf’ where the diplomats could express themselves more freely and share some of their more human concerns, aspirations and hopes for the United Nations. On the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, the ambassadors decided to hold at the UN a ‘Conference on Human Survival’ which would direct itself to questions and issues which they knew would be bypassed in the more routine congratulatory statements of governments in the General Assembly. The conference was arranged with the then Secretary-General, U Thant, as host, with Lester Pearson of Canada as chairman, and with financial help from the Kettering Foundation. The Quaker UN Program helped to organized the conference logistics. Robert Muller, then Director of the Office of the UN Secretary-General, and myself, provided background papers.
“More than twenty of the world’s most revered and thoughtful citizens attended this ‘Conference on Human Survival.’ During the proceedings, U Thant made a plea for a ‘second allegiance, to humanity as a whole, as represented in the world organization.’ U Thant rightly realized that all the efforts of governments and people for world peace and justice would come to naught unless there was a profound addition to our ‘pyramid of loyalties.’ That was it! This was the key. A new effort had to be made, along new lines, stressing a philosophical and attitudinal shift which alone could save Spaceship Earth from either a swift nuclear cataclysm or a slow ecological demise. Normal had penned the now famous ‘Human Manifesto.’ To this I tagged on a ‘Pledge of Planetary Citizenship.’ With U Thant and Normal Cousins as honorary chairmen, and with some funds left over from the Conference on Human Survival, we began Planetary Citizens.” Donald Keys, Earth at Omega: Passage to Planetization (Branden Books [in association with the Findhorn Foundation], 1982), pp.95-6.
For a critique of the peacekeeping credentials of Lester Pearson, see Yves Engler, Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt (RED Publishing, 2012). For a study of Planetary Citizens’ history, see Paul Adler, ‘Planetary Citizens: US NGO’s and the Struggles Over Globalization, 1972-1989’, Ph.D. Thesis In Progress, Georgetown University (Thesis adviser: Michael Kazin).

[2] For an examination of the crossover between New Age ideas – particularly the evolutionary mysticism’s that have flowed through Esalen – and comic book superheroes, see Jeffrey Kripal, Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal (University of Chicago Press, 2011).

[3] Bruce Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived: A History of the Theosophical Movement (University of California Press, 1980), p.155. Notable examples of Psychosynthesis practitioners serving on Planetary Citizens board of directors included Betsie Carter-Haar, Mark Horowitz, and Fred Rosenzveig. Another person who was an early board member of Planetary Citizens was Martha Crampton, who during the 1970s was also the director of the Canadian Institute of Psychosynthesis. Crampton remains committed to New Age spirituality, and more recently has taught at the Omega Institute and the New York Open Center. At the latter Center she taught a course in Integrative Therapy, and one of her students was Ida Urso, who went on to serve as the director of World Goodwill (which was founded by Alice Bailey) and as the founder and president of the Aquarian Age Community. Another of Crampton’s students who has gone on to become extremely influential in both New Age and corporate management circles is Jack Canfield, the bestselling author and founder of the Californian-based Foundation for Self Esteem. Canfield counts Crampton as being one of the three biggest influences on his own work; the other two being, W. Clement Stone (who was the coauthor with Napoleon Hill of The Power of Positive Mental Attitude) and Gestalt therapist Robert Resnick. Canfield served on the advisory board of Renaissance Weekend (a very exclusive elite retreat founded by PR-guru Philip Lader), and on the welcoming committee of Barbara Marx Hubbard’s latest mystical consciousness-raising outfit, Birth2012.

[4] Keys, Earth at Omega, p.4.

[5] Keys, Earth at Omega, p.13, p.14, p.71.

[6] Keys, Earth at Omega, p.58, p.59, p.63, p.66, p.69, p.66, pp.66-7.

[7] For a critical review of Sri Chinmoy’s cultish ambitions, see Jayanti Tamm, Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult (Crown/Harmony, 2009). The former wife of Grammy-winning musician Carlos Santana writes of their collective experience of being amongst Sri Chinmoy’s most treasured disciples, noting that: “There was a gaping hole between what his books taught about enlightenment and the psychological and physical requirements of energy, money, loyalty, and selfless allegiance.” Deborah Santana, Space Between the Stars: My Journey to an Open Heart (Ballatine, 2005), pp.256-7. For a further recollection of a related cult set up by one of Sri Chinmoy’s former disciples, Frederick Lenz (“Rama”), see Mark Laxer’s Take Me for a Ride: Coming of Age in a Destructive Cult (Outer Rim Press, 1993).

[8] Keys, Earth at Omega, p.74. One collaborative project mentioned in the closing pages of Keys’ book that Planetary Citizens helped launch is ‘The Planetary Initiative for the World We Choose’. Keys writes: “The original inviters of the Planetary Initiative were the leaders of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, the Club of Rome, Global Education Associates, the United Nations Association of New South Wales, and of course, Planetary Citizens.” (p.103)
Although here is not the place to go into an analysis of this Initiative, it is fitting that Victor James Zammit (a former board member of the United Nations Association of New South Wales’ Human Rights Commission) now dedicates his life to proving the existence of magic, and is the author of A Lawyer Presents the Case For The Afterlife: Irrefutable Objective Evidence (Ganmell Pty, 2002). Zammit currently resides on the advisory board of the Association for Evaluation and Communication of Evidence for Survival, serving alongside leading members of the mumbo-jumbo community such as Rhine Center advisors (Vernon Neppe and Julie Beische), and Jane Katra, who has coauthored two books with aforementioned former SRI International “remote viewing” fanatic Russell Targ.
One should recall that at the very time that the Planetary Initiative was being supported by the United Nations Association of New South Wales, democracy as such barely existed in Australia. For example New South Wales’ neighbouring State, Queensland, was at the time being managed by the right-wing hippy-hating premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen (who held a firm dictatorial grip on Queensland from 1968 to 1987). For documentation of the rampant corruption that ran throughout the New South Wales political machinery during the 1970s, see Michael Barker, ‘The CIA, Drugs, and an Australian Killer Cop‘, Swans Commentary, October 5, 2009.

[9] Keys, Earth at Omega, p.84, p.88, p.89, p.91.

[10] Findhorn fellows and founders of the Center for Visionary Leadership, Gordon Davidson and his wife Corinne McLaughlin, served on the founding governing council of the New World Alliance: they are also the coauthors of Spiritual Politics: Changing the World from the Inside Out (Ballatine, 1994). Their book includes a foreword penned by the Dalai Lama, while Gordon and Corrinne dedicate the book to Djwhal Khul (who was one of Madame Blavatsky’s invisible spiritual masters, and was the source of inspiration for much of Alice Bailey’s work with the Arcane School) and Maitreya (who following the Buddhist tradition is considered to be the future Buddha, but following Theosophical clap trap is their future World Teacher).