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We Have All Won an Oligarchy and Lost a Democracy

The mainstream media is completely devoid of the kind of information a functional press is supposed to provide the citizens of a democratic republic.

Activists display a lit sign in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, on March 20, 2014. (Photo: Joe Brusky)

Here’s a thought experiment for you. Ask yourself, “When was the last time I heard any conversation at all about the role of corporations in the United States in the US public media?”

In the abstract, it seems like a silly question. So let me rephrase it:

When was the last time you heard in the media that Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and Donald Trump both support Citizens United and its concept that corporations are people?

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

When was the last time you heard that Hillary Clinton has said, repeatedly, that repealing Citizens United is at the top of her agenda when it comes to picking Supreme Court nominees? Or that Donald Trump wants to put somebody on the court who will reverse Roe v. Wade, and make it illegal for women to get abortions (and, possibly, many forms of birth control) in the US?

And when was the last time you heard about the role of corporations in education? Johnson and the Libertarian Party think that all state and federal funding for schools — from elementary school all the way through college — should end.

In Johnson’s US, you only get to go to college if you’re willing to go into debt or your parents are rich. You also only get to go to elementary school and junior high school and high school if you are willing to go into debt or your parents are rich.

Trump hasn’t weighed in on this issue, although Trump University would suggest that he thinks that college students are simply easy-picking suckers for for-profit college corporations.

Democrats, on the other hand, are pushing for free college education for families making under $125,000, and strengthening our public school system so that the zip code you’re born into no longer determines the quality of your education.

Have you heard any discussion of this on mainstream television news? It’s fundamental to the larger question of what role corporations, including private, for-profit school corporations, should play in our nation… and no one on mainstream cable news is talking about it.

This is true of almost every single important issue facing the country right now, especially those that have to do with corporate power.

Take, for example, the fact that Americans pay more for health care than anybody else in the world, from drugs to eyeglasses to dental work, and we are the only developed nation in the world that allows for-profit corporations to offer primary health insurance? Heard about that in the corporate media? Of course not — crickets, as usual.

How about the school-to-prison pipeline and the role that the war on drugs and the for-profit prison industry have played in it? Have you heard about that?

I certainly haven’t.

It’s yet another important dimension of the role for-profit corporations play in US life that the mainstream corporate television media completely ignores.

And then there’s the banks. They can borrow at about 1 percent, but lend to us at around 30 percent on our credit cards and 5 to 10 percent on student loans. Their profits are also at all-time highs, and we could be facing another banking crisis like 2008. But is anyone over at CNN talking about this? No, they’re not.

And what about CEO salaries? The changes in tax law made during the Reagan administration incentivized CEOs to ignore their workers, their community, the institution of their company and even their customers — all in favor of jacking up stock prices. How’s that working out for you? It’s working out great for the CEOs of the big media companies, which is probably why you haven’t heard any discussion about it on the mainstream media.

And how about the social safety net? Trump’s backers and Johnson want to privatize Social Security and end Medicare. Democrats want to strengthen both. Have you heard a conversation about this on any television program recently? I doubt it.

The list goes on. Johnson and Trump want to end or freeze, respectively, the minimum wage. Democrats want to raise it. Have you heard anyone on mainstream corporate television news talk about this recently?

Or how Republicans froze long-term unemployment insurance a few years back and Libertarians want to do away with it all together, while Democrats wanted to strengthen the system and were blocked by a filibuster? Again, crickets.

For that matter, have you heard any talk about any consequential issues this election?

On my radio show three months ago, I offered to send a free autographed book to the first caller who could point to a serious, thoughtful discussion of even one single issue in this election happening in the corporate media outside of Fareed Zakaria’s weekend program on CNN. So far nobody has won the book.

It’s fashionable to bemoan the ignorance of the US electorate. We never seem to tire of college students being unable to name the vice president or the speaker of the House. But given our media landscape, what should we expect?

Since Reagan killed the Fairness Doctrine and the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, our media has completely shifted from “news” to infotainment. It’s largely fact-free, and the only things discussed are personalities, gotchas and the horse-race claptrap.

It’s completely free of facts that would give us any information, context or understanding of the role that corporate power plays in our lives.

In other words, it’s completely devoid of the kind of information a functional media is supposed to provide the citizens of a democratic republic.

So here’s my challenge for you: Turn the TV to any news network for an hour and count how many times either the hosts or the guests recount the actual positions of each of the presidential candidates on any single issue.

If it happens even once, you may have won a book! If not, we have all won an oligarchy and lost a democracy.