In the context of Venezuelanalysis.com’s annual fundraising drive, VA contributing writer Juan Reardon interviewed author and independent media activist Joe McCraw on the current state of US public opinion towards Venezuela and the menacing role played by the mainstream media. The two also discussed the importance of online independent media portals – such as Venezuelanalysis.com – which bring together a wide range of voices on specific subjects of concern and the invaluable resource they represent in the struggle to democratize access to accurate information across the globe.
[JR] What is the state of mainstream media in the US today? What impact does it have on US democracy, on public opinion, on the development of ideas/discourse/etc.?
[McCraw] Corporatism and the media inevitably leads to a bottle-neck in information dissemination. Talking-points have become the standard mechanism by which political messages are sold to the public. Fox News continues to exemplify the problems endemic in how media is integrated with partisan political apparati which manipulate the news that the US public is meant to consume. Fox News, Rupert Murdoch's media empire, is a clear example of a vertical integration of corporate politics within a particular media organization. The Fox News organization directly employs a number of viable presidential candidates for the Republican Party, including Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and John Bolton. With political and media systems organized in such a way, we lose even a fleeting sense of objectivity.
This revolving door system of politic and media reinforces the status quo and offers us the illusion of journalism, without actually having any of the burdens that truth may confront us with. These political commentators are incentivized to offer a specific self-interested opinion for the benefit of this politically-integrated media structure, and offer little in the way of investigative journalism.
In light of the control that media institutions such as Fox News have upon forming public opinion, we can see their handiwork in the ways in which the Venezuelan government is being represented. Positive depictions of the Venezuelan government have been completely absent from the mainstream media in the US. Complicity of the US mainstream media with anti-Chavez media companies (Globovision being among the most egregious of offenders) continues the fabricated narrative of Chavez as a ruthless anti-democratic dictator.
Sensationalist inflammatory anti-Chavez rhetoric is the only form of discussion that the US public has been offered regarding the state of politics in Venezuela today. Alternative voices are just not heard in the mainstream.
[JR] If you could, please speak a bit more to the mainstream media's depiction of the Venezuelan President. What does the average US citizen think of when he or she hears the name “Hugo Chavez” mentioned today, at the start of 2011?
[McCraw] Unfortunately, the average US citizen is largely ignorant of the political situation in Venezuela, as the US media spends far more time doting over the lives of vapid celebrities than engaged in intelligent discourse about world politics. What they have heard though has been filtered through a process which strips facts from stories which fit within their pre-conceived narrative. Anti-Chavez media outlets tend to characterize Chavez in the most negative light possible. No mention is made to social programs he has pioneered, or to achievements he has made with his people.
When corporations partner with China, for example, it's hailed as a breakthrough in diplomacy and global unity. When Venezuela enters a trade agreement with China, it's described in politically charged terms meant to de-legitimize their relationship. Cold-war terminology is used in order to incite fear, uncertainty and distrust of the Chavez government.
It would be safe to assume that without personal investigation, the public would have only negative views of the Chavez administration. Media consolidation has left very few opportunities for a clear, objective discussion of Latin American politics. Alternatives to these disingenuous sources of “news” must be sought.
[JR] Given what we've discussed about the mainstream media environment and coverage of Venezuela, how would you describe the overall state of independent media in the US today?
[McCraw] Independent media in the US is trying to find its place. There are varying degrees of success for alternative sources of news and opinion. One example of independent media, Democracy Now!, points to a success in this realm, adopting new technologies to bolster their position as a more legitimate source of news. Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman continues to be the best source of world news and analysis available in English today. Real journalism and inspired interviewing skills offer to us another voice in the cacophony of media we find ourselves exposed to.
Far too often, we find that the mainstream media channels are no more than an echo chamber of similar opinions. DemocracyNow.org, for example, continues to gain ground as a more mainstream source of media on the internet due to its role as a source of reliable investigative journalism. As print journalism tapers is in decline, new forms of news distribution and media consumption will take its place. It is within these new forms of media distribution through which independent media will thrive.
[JR] And what about public radio and television? Is there an "alternative" voice on those airwaves, or is publicly-owned media in the US also affected by the mainstream discourse?
[McCraw] NPR (National Public Radio) and other public media venues fall victim to the same sorts of (un-)intentional mechanisms of deceit which afflict privately owned media institutions. With the collusion of media and politics, there is little difference in terms of legitimizing the status-quo.
[JR] And what role do you see the internet playing in the struggle to democratize the media, the discourse? The struggle to bring the truth to the People?
[McCraw] Independent media has had new life breathed into it through the tools of the internet. These tools are available to anyone with any viewpoint, and offer to us a variety of ways in which one can speak truth to power. Blogging, Twitter, and Facebook are all examples by which one can introduce an idea into wider discourse. These tools are great for building an audience from which to draw support for a given cause. These communities are united through a shared mindset, and can organize to implement real-world social change. Social networks can alleviate the limitations imposed by geography, and can unite minority opinions into politically substantial organizations otherwise impossible without the aid of the internet. The internet also provides a record of interactions between varying groups for all others to see. Opposing groups will inevitably argue online, and those with truth on their side will eventually win out.
Social Networking (Facebook, Orkut) function mainly as recommendation engines for groups of friends to aggregate and share information, pointing to articles of more substance. Media Sharing (Youtube/P2P) offer a multi-media experience. Each of these outlets offers to our next generation a global mouthpeice from which they can speak their mind.
[JR] Given the diverse array of online mediums, how important is it to have sites that bring views together on any given subject? Axisoflogic.com (on Latin America), Havanatimes.org (on Cuba), Venezuelanalysis.com (on Venezuela), for example.
[McCraw] Having web portals which focus upon a unique media subject are a necessary aspect for discovering and analyzing any complex social issue. Media aggregation allows for an interested individual to seek out a broad range of perspectives on a single topic and build, for themselves, an educated opinion about the subject. These communities can help to organize information about a particular subject from the chaos of internet searching, bringing enlightening ideas to a wider audience interested in this issue.
[JR] Speaking of the internet, information and access to the truth, how has the media addressed the internet-based Cablegate story (aka WikiLeaks)? How has the mainstream vs. independent media covered WikiLeaks?
[McCraw] The depiction of Wikileaks by the mainstream US media is frightening. WikiLeaks has had no charges filed against them for any crimes, yet their DNS servers have been denied access to Wikileaks.org and their donation systems shut down by the US Government. There are even some political figureheads in the media which have gone as far as to advocate the extra-judicial assassination of Julian Assange for his role in founding Wikileaks.
Transparency is a goal to which all groups should be seeking, but it is clear that the status quo could have its claims to power de-legitimized in the light of the whistle blowing activities for which Wikileaks is responsible. The only US media outlet which has offered Wikileaks a fair chance at defending their actions is, of course, Democracy Now!, an independent media organization unfettered by corporate/political influence.
Every effort should be employed in our attempts to know the governments which (purportedly) act on our behalf. A government shrouded in secrecy ceases to act on the behalf of the people by whom it is governed.
[JR] What role do independent sources like Venezuelanalysis.com (VA) play in the struggle to democratize the discourse? How can websites like VA reach a wider, mainstream audience, without becoming "mainstreamed" in their news/analysis? How can the average person (US-based or otherwise) contribute to the democratization of the media?
[McCraw] Venezuelaanalysis.com plays a unique role in fostering an online presence in which a deeper level of discussion is expected and delivered. While more casual forms of media become increasingly common, in-depth thoughtful journalism becomes increasingly more important. The US media clearly does a terrible job of informing the public about issues in Latin America, and alternatives to the dominant paradigm must be advocated and legitimized.
Sites like Venezuelaanalysis.com occupy a difficult position, as they maintain their autonomy from the corporate media system through voluntary donations without the aid of corporate funding.
The information media landscape is moving toward a more pluralistic offering of news an opinion, and the value we find in independent media is priceless. Well-researched and documented articles written in English about Venezuela are few and far between and should be considered invaluable as a resource. Venezuelaanalysis.com occupies that role, and I thank everyone there for their hard work as an excellent source of news and opinion on current events in Venezuela.
*Joe McCraw is an author, blogger and activist in the San Francisco Bay Area (California, US). He is currently blogging at Intolerantfaith.com (investigating human rights violations justified by faith) and Shouldwekill.com (a discussion of the ethics of state-sponsored murder). McCraw is also co-cuthor ofWhy Mass Unemployment? and his upcoming book,The Authority of Faith, will be available in late 2011.