Introduction by Caroline Szylowicz
...our library colloquium committee and welcome to our first 2008 library colloquium. We were a little late in getting this series started, but very glad to welcome our first speaker here, a distinguished speaker. Robert McChesney is a research professor in the department of communication. Professor McChesney's work concentrates on the history and political economy of communication with an emphasis of the role that media in democratic and capitalistic societies. Professor McChesney is the president and co-founding of [Free Press?] a national media reform organization which seeks to promote diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media, and universal access to communication through education, organization, and advocacy. Professor McChesney also hosts “Media Matters” a weekly radio program every Sunday afternoon on our very own WILL AM Radio. Professor McChesney author of already a dozen books including, and I speak a few titles among many “Rich Media, Poor Democracy: communications and politics in dubious times”, “The Problem of the Media: U.S. communication politics in the 21st Century”, which was published in 2004, and “Communication Revolution: critical junctures in the future of media.” Professor McChesney has also written numerous journal articles, book chapters, and numerous magazine and newspaper articles and book reviews. And his work has been widely translated, as I've been checking the online catalog. He is also co-editor, [which .....], the “History of Communication” series for the University of Illinois press. And Professor McChesney has made hundreds of conference presentations and visiting guest lectures and more than, according to your website, six hundred radio and television appearances. So we are very grateful to you for coming to speak to us today. And Professor McChesney's talk today is entitled, “Revolution in the Digital Revolution, We Must Learn from the Past to rid the [clothes] of the Past in the Future.” Please welcome Professor McChesney.
Lecture by Professor Robert McChesney
Well, thank you very much, Caroline, for inviting me, and thank you for attending. Especially since it's so lovely day like this. Knowing the alternative of being in nice weather after this last winter. I'm very flattered that you came and graced me with your presence.
I was once on the GSLS faculty. So you probably can see an aura of library about me. I lasted, I think, like four years until my other department nabbed me away. They said that they wanted me. So my library credentials are pretty slender, to be frank. But that's about it.
What I want to do in this talk, and I think we've got an hour exactly as I understand it, we break up at five, is just say a few very broad, sweeping generalizations. And then sort of throw it open to questions and discussion and comments. And I'll start very broad and go down to semi-broad.
And the very broad thing is, we know we're in a digital revolution. We are in the process by which all communication is becoming digital, and the importance of communication in general is being, elevating our society to unprecedented levels, unimaginable levels. Even a generation or two ago. We all know that's going on. And what's really interesting about this, one of the really interesting points about the communication revolution, the digital revolution is it's already, I think, obvious that this isn't like radio and satellite and cable television and FM radio or films, all which were major and crucial communication revolutions in their own right. This is going way beyond that. What's unclear know is how far beyond that it's going to go. What's unclear now is whether this is going to become what I call a transformational communication revolution. And by transformational I refer to the until now three communications revolutions that have taken place that have, in effect, defined us as a species, that made us what we are to be humans.
And the first of those, obviously, was language, speech. Aristotle called us the “talking animal.” And if you look at the history of humanity, I think there's now, especially with genetic, DNA research that's been done in the last ten years, there's a growing consensus among anthropologists that roughly 50 or 55 thousand years ago in a fairly remote corner of Africa, it was the emergence of language that took our ancestors, and took our ancestors from, probably, a soon to be extinct group of primates and led them in a historical nanosecond in conquer the world and put us where we are 55 thousand years later. The emergence of speech and language not only saved us, it changed us. We became different creatures as a result. Our brains developed in a way, they never would have developed otherwise. Clearly this is a transformational communications revolution by any standard.
The second great transformation communication revolution, one that came very close to home, but not quite in the bulls-eye for the people in this room, writing, which emerged four or five thousand years ago, and fundamentally changed human society in ways both positive and negative, but largely positive, with unanticipated consequences.
And then the third great communication transformation revolution being the printing press, five or six hundred years ago, and what with it helped generate. In terms of changing human societies and changing human beings.
These are the sort of three big ones that define us as a species. And the question is whether the digital revolution would join that. I think there is a case to be made that it will. We don't know yet. We don't, none of us will unless they prefect the technology so that in a thousand years, none of us are going to be around to know the answer to that. That is going to be done probably by our great-grandchildren, that will really know the answer to that, but it won't be us who know for sure. But there are interesting signs about it. That not merely the idea that people can communicate with each other and have access to all the information in the world at the speed of light, which eventually will be possible, but also that with this will come all sorts of unexpected and unanticipated consequences. Many of which could be possibly quite positive and will change the nature of our lives. That the sum with become greater, the whole will become greater than the sum of the parts exponentially. Just now with things like Wikipedia and Wiki's, that we just is the tip of the ice-burg, that we can see the potential. We don't know where it's going to go but it could be absolutely extraordinary, what will develop down the road.
But having said that, the one thing I think we can say for certain is that this process is not guaranteed, it's not inexorable, it's not a technological terminus by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, quite the obvious as you're about to see. And hence the title of my talk today. And it doesn't always have to be a positive development either. No communication revolution or transformational communication revolution is unambiguously good. There's always a cost for new technology that we pay. Language, for example, saved our species, made us what we are, but it begat agriculture. And I think that there is more than ample evidence that for most of the people of our species, the transition to agriculture as a distinct step down in quality of life, because they'd end up being slaves for the most part. It was a much better life pre-agriculture for most people. Not any longer, but that may be the price you pay to get where you are today. But certainly to the extent language facilitated the rise of agriculture it was a mixed blessing for many of our relatives.
Likewise, writing does all sorts of wonderful things, but as Claude Levi-Strauss put it, the one immediate accomplishment of writing was to be the enslavement to the vast majority of people on the planet. Because what writing was created for initially what it was best at was making empires possible. To keep domains much larger than had been pre-writing. And those empires are predicated on conscripted, forced slave labor. So writing is a wonderful thing. And you have to learn those skills. But it was hardly a necessary cause for celebration for those at the receiving end of empire, three or four thousand years ago and thereafter.
And the printing press for all its great wonders, and there are many that it had, some of the most literate societies in the world engaged in genocide, world wars, all sorts of crimes we're familiar with, crimes that were unthinkable before the printing press. So it hardly can be said that it was unambiguous[ly good] in the era it helped create.
So there's potential for great things in the era of the digital revolution but there are potential for not great things too. We should always keep that in mind. And this is a minor point compared to what I'm going to be talking about, but it's worth mentioning. Because sometimes we get so lost in genius of instantaneous digital communication at the speed of light globally, access to all sorts of types of information. We forget what we've lost. I can tell you one of the things I've lost- it's called a “weekend.” I don't have one anymore. If I have somebody who emails me on a Saturday. If I don't reply until Monday, they think that I'm either dead or a drunk. You know they have, “what's your excuse, pal?” So I've lost my weekend. I've lost a lot of my liberty. I've lost a lot of my time. I think, as a society, it has contributed to our loosing a lot of our conversational ability. And I think there are other unanticipated, negative consequences that we still don't understand. They're so closely intermingled with commercialism and other pressures, it's oftentimes difficult to disentangle the technological effect. But I think there are some negative effects. And a political sense for all the liberty it gives us, to go to websites, that we read people trashing the President and saying outrageous things that couldn't be said in conventional news media. Understand that will this technological comes a level of surveillance that's also been absolutely unthinkable until recently. That there's a real lost in our ability to truly be free and independent of large powerful forces. We're all pretty much, part of the deal if you want to become one of the digital society is that you've got to be willing to be pretty much on call for these people in this society, that you've got to have your cookies activated, so to speak. And there's a cost. There's a cost most of us are willing to make, but it's not a ledger where it's all black ink and no red ink. There's some serious red ink there. And usually though, because there is so much economic incentive for the, to do the digital revolution, those debates have always had a sort of postmortems, they've never had a sort of pre-mortems regrettably. Although sometimes I think it would be nice if we some sort of a pre-mortem.
Now there are major issues though too, about the digital revolution that are absolutely essential to make it one that would be more positive than negative, that emphasizes the best possible values and de-emphasizes the worst possible values. And I think the starting point for understanding my argument here is understanding that the genius of the Internet, for example, that we often talk about, which is the openness, the open-access, the ability for people to get on and do whatever they want without having to get anyone's permission and have access to what other people have to say, without getting anyone's permission. Americans, perhaps people elsewhere but certainly Americans, have often assumed that was put into the technology. That was just something that the great, wonderful Technology invented, and there is nothing that can be done about it. That's not true. It's not something that's inexorably built into the technology and that it can't be changed. That genius of the Internet was not the result of technology, it was the result of policy. It was the result of the fact that as the Internet developed in the 1990's in the United States, the phone company and later the cable companies when they began to offer broad-band, were required to follow the law put in place in 1934 the Communications Act, which required phone companies to be what are called “common-carriers.” Anyone who wanted to use the phone system could, they couldn't discriminate against anyone, and they had to charge everyone the same price. That was sort of the deal that was made with AT&T, that they were allowed to have a monopoly. Because of that, AT&T had to let any website on, anyone use it at the same price. They couldn't discriminate. When the cable companies, when they offered broad-band, they had to follow the same policies. It's not in the technology. The technology give them the power to cut anyone off if they want to. It was the policy, not the technology, that made the Internet open.
Now that's a pretty good policy, most people think. Anyone here that has followed the [?] policy? This is a real gut check. Politic names and you see hands go up. Yeah that's a nice policy. Everyone can go online. You don't have to get the government's permission or a corporations permission as long as you don't, you know, do something that's illegal. Then, like anything else, you have to pay the consequences.
Well, there are two groups of individuals in this country. Not too many people who think it's a terrible policy, who think it's one of the stupidest policies ever- the cable companies and the phone companies. Because they know, the key to their financial future, their Nirvana, is to have the right to basically privatize the Internet, and say which websites come through and which don't. So if you want your website to get through you have to pay them a cut of the action. Sorta like Tony Soprano. Or else you get on the slow lane. Now, I don't know about you, but if a website is on the slow lane, if it takes me 90 seconds to download, in the digital era, I don't have 90 seconds. That's just 90 seconds of my life that's wasted. I'm going to the one that comes through at the speed of light, thank you, instantly. And that's the power they have. They have the power to take you off, to slow you down, or put you so that you will not be, have a chance to the public.
And it's especially a problem in the United States because these companies deliver, between them, 99% of Americans, their only broadband access comes from one of these two companies. And 40% of Americans only have one choice, and they don't have two viable competitors to give them broadband. So that's the amount of power they have. If there were like 15 ISP's competing, if one or two of them wanted to privatize it, it wouldn't be that big of a deal. You'd have 13 others to go to, and they'd say, “wow, we're not privatized yet, everyone's here are equal.” But that's not the option we have. There's only two. It's going to stay that way, given their political power, for a while. And they might use their power to basically turn it into private property.
So this, right there, gets you to the heart of my talk. We need a revolution in the digital revolution. We haft to, for the digital revolution to become a positive, humane, democratic force to promote, dare I say it, the values of the people in this room, that you were educated in, for access to information. I believe we are going to have to do something that has not been done in the United States for quite some time, which is to have a significant increase in popular awareness and involvement in media policies, to prevent the privatization of the Internet. As Exhibit A and we could fill the whole alphabet with exhibits, and that's Exhibit A. And that means we are going to have to overcome the traditional pattern of how media policy making has been done in the United States for a good century, with only a couple of exceptions. And that is, it has been exceptionally corrupt. Media policy making is made behind closed doors by the most powerful firms in the world. And then, when they carve up a pig between themselves, doled out by the politicians and regulators they own. And when they're done they hire a few PR people to tell you it's the free-market and they're giving the people what they want. When it is no such thing.
The phone companies and the cable companies are especially ironic candidates for any sort of claim to free-market credentials. These are industries that wouldn't know free-markets if they kicked them in the butt. These are industries that only exist because they have government monopoly licenses, government monopoly licenses. Every phone company, every cable company business model is built on buying off politicians to get a government monopoly license, and once you've got that, it's a golden egg. It's not a free market. They've never competed. That's why, in almost any list of the most unpopular industries with consumers in this country, there's like a top five- cellphone, telephone, cable, every satellite, everyone hates these guys. That's because their most important comparative advantage, competitive advantage as a firm, is in Washington getting a monopoly license and buying off the politicians. It's not with consumers. Once they win in Washington, “Screw you!” They've got it made. Even the bad companies can make a lot of money. And that's what they're trying to do now, is parlay their great political strength in Washington with lobbyists into privatizing the Internet and dominating the digital era in the United States. That's Exhibit A of why we need to stop that, to have a revolution in the digital revolution.
Now the good news is that we've been very successful. It has been an extraordinary development. In the introduction, Carolyn graciously mentioned Free Press, the group I helped co-found. Free Press didn't exist five and a half years ago. Today we have thirty five organizers, four hundred thousand members. Today in Congress, in the United States Senate, there was a hearing on network neutrality- the principle that all websites should be created equal. And Free Press organized that hearing. There is a world of popular organizing that's forcing Congress to address this issue. And I think there is a very good chance, depending on what happens in November, even regardless of what happens in November, if one outcome happens it will definitely happen, we will have a law in this country by January, February next year mandating network neutrality for all ISP's. That's all due to popular organizing. We've made that happen. It would have been unthinkable a decade ago. And ironically that organizing that Free Press has led, but other groups have certainly participated in, has been assisted greatly by the Internet. Our existence as a group, our political work would be impossible if we didn't have email and the Internet. And if we didn't have social networking. The costs would be way to high to do what we're doing if we had to do it too old, ten years ago, twenty years ago- mailing out letters, phone-trees. It would just be impossible to do this sort of work. We've benefited by the technology in, I think, groups like ours, and MoveOn with who we work closely with and others, have actually been at the forefront of developing new applications for the technology for social and political uses as a result. So network neutrality is one of the key issues. That's been really one we have to fight. And it's one I hope you're all aware in and are involved in and if not please go to the FreePress.net website. You can click on “Save the Internet.” We don't want your money. We just want you to stay tuned on the issue. You can sign up for free and get Web-alerts. It's even here on our Free Press list, Al-Ur. You won't get bombarded with junk mail or anything. We don't care what your anatomy looks like. We aren't selling real estate in Nigeria. Nothing like that, we're serious. We have a very sophisticated system. You don't get emails unless it's something we know you're interested in. And we're not asking for money. That's not our program. So I urge you to do that.
But having said that, how important is network neutrality, it's really not the last issue, the most important in that sense, if we win in this we won the war. It's really just the ante to admission. We have to win that to even have a game, to get on the playing field. Once we've win network neutrality, at that point we have a ton of other stuff to do, if we're going to win. And what we have to do, in my mind, there are two great political issues concerning communication for us that are only getting worse, and as a society we have to face. And they go directly, I think, to librarian's issues, that librarians care about, and the values librarians traditionally have, their professional craft has been centered upon. And these are areas that I'm deeply concerned in personally. And they're going to be, in my view, the defining communications issues after network neutrality for the next ten or twenty years. The first one is journalism.
Journalism in the United States today is in free fall. It's disintegrating. It's like like one of those rockets from outer space coming back through the atmosphere hitting at the wrong angle and it blows up. That's what's happening to journalism in the United States today. It's in a sheer, utter crises. The crises manifests itself in numerous ways. Resources are dwindling for starters. Twenty years ago, in the average American city, there were twice as many working reporters as there are today. Twice as many. The number is falling sharply. Part of that, a significant part of that is due to media concentration. Fewer and fewer media owned by fewer and fewer large firms. Part of it is due to policy changes made by those big firms to relax the amount of commitment to journalism that had to make. So, looking around this room, I can see many from my cohort. So what I'm going to say won't seem very weird. But to anyone under the age of thirty it's going to sound very weird, or even forty. But in the early 1970s, for example, if you were to go to Washington, D.C. there were two dozen radio journalists in Washington D.C., full time, who did nothing but cover the District of Columbia. Not Capital Hill, the District of Columbia. If you were to go to Chicago, I bet there would have been fifty. In Cleveland, where I grew up, there were two dozen. That was because, every radio station, to get a license had to do news. Five minutes at the top of the hour. So every station had at least one news director. And now, granted, these people weren't the greatest journalists on earth, but compared to who we've got today they look like Edward R. Murrow. They look like absolute giants compared to what we've got today on television news.
And so it meant though that when a story happened in a community, you had twenty five people with microphones there. Maybe some of them would stumble across a good story. None of those people exist anymore. And that's a policy change, made by powerful commercial concerns who got that rule wiped out because it cost them money and they wanted to get rid of it. So it's both economic factors and policy factors intertwined that have sharply reduced the amount of resources. Similarly, for the same reasons, commercial pressure, professional standards are collapsing. And I write books on this topic, I'm not going to go into it now. I suspect you are all familiar with it. Just go down the roster of what you think are news stories and see how asinine most of them are. That explains what I'm talking about with professional standards collapsing. [aside: oops, sorry about that] And I think, you know, this is a very important issue. This is really the center of a lot of my research and I'm just going to say a couple more things about it because I think everyone in this room probably shares my interests in these issues.
Journalism is especially important in a few areas. The one that we are in the midst of right now is elections. We can't have viable elections or electoral system without credible political journalism. And I think the problem we have today is almost self-evident. With regard to the quality of journalism in our elections are deplorable. It is. The communication system we have. And I won't go into depth. I'll just say one comment about it. Amy Goodman who I'm sure many of you are familiar with at Democracy Now! I was talking to her last week. And one thing I noticed every time I talk with Amy Goodman or I hear her lecture on the subject, she always begins her comments, ends up saying in her talk, “journalism today is now at an all time low.” She's been saying that for about fifteen years. Now, I figured if you backwards by that comment, it must have been really great at point, like at 1790, because it keeps hitting at an all time low. It's kind of like a limbo dance, they're doing there apparently. But you can just find so much evidence. But part of it goes to dwindling resources. There are fewer people covering it. Journalists are paid less. Commercial pressure to basically do trivial stories. They're easy to do and inexpensive. And it leads to dreadful journalism. And the point is that we can't have a self-governing society without a credible source of journalism. It's a given. Our Founders understood that. The Supreme Court has made that clear, that the Constitution is predicated on there being a viable press system, without it you can't have a free society.
In a lot of my research recently it has been on what exactly did the Founders think when they put freedom of the press in the Constitution along with freedom of speech. They didn't just think freedom of speech covered everything. They actually put press separately. And, in doing the research for it it quickly becomes apparent that two of our founder, in particular, were the one's obsessed with this issue: Jefferson, and Madison. They were the ones who wrote at length about it, who thought about it, who- issues of freedom of the press were central to what they were thinking about. And what's interesting, if you look at the issues, why it was so important, beyond the fact that you needed a press system to live in a free society- you had to have an informed citizenry. And they had all these wonderful quotes. In fact, I used a Madison quote as the title of one of the books I wrote, “Tragedy and Farce”. Where he said that if you didn't have a, Madison wrote in 1822- that a society without a viable free press, a viable information system- if it thought it was going to be a self-governing republic, it was either going to be a tragedy or a farce or both. It was absolutely impossible. But there were specific reasons why they thought the press system was so important to have a free society. And for Jefferson, in his most famous essay on the subject, in 1787, the famous essay where he argued that he'd rather live in a country without government than a country without newspapers, which is the one quote that is taken from that essay. Regrettably, it's the weakest quote in the whole essay. Because shortly thereafter he gives an explanation why freedom of press is so important, that it is to the United States. And he says, look at Europe. Europe today is divided up between wolves and sheep. The wolves devour the sheep. The rich devour the poor. This was a society that was completely unequal. Only with a free press will we not follow that path in this country, become a completely unequal society. It's the only hope people without property have to govern their lives viably in a republic. Without a free press the wolves will always win as they win now in Europe. Jefferson understood what was at stake.
Madison wrote even more about it. His work is, I think, if anything, more profound. Madison, like Jefferson and many of the other Founders, had been a scholar of the classics, and had studied Greece and Rome, and understood that Greek democracy and the Roman republic both collapsed because they became empires, because of militarism. And he was obsessed with the idea that the United States not become an empire. Madison wasn't a dumb guy. He knew, it didn't take a genius really but he was a genius nonetheless, he understood, even in 1792, that the United States was sitting on top of this extraordinary wealthy continent. And it was just a matter of time before the United States became an extraordinary rich and powerful country, just a few generations. And any rich and powerful country, no matter how benevolent the people, no matter how wonderful the words are in the constitution, how sweet the laws and literature and poetry, any rich country, history had shown him, would probably become an empire. There were always advantages to go take over other places. And Madison, therefore, was obsessed with making sure we didn't become one. If you want to know why all those crazy provisions we no longer pay attention to in the Constitution, like Congress has to declare before we go in to it. Congress has to budget the war before we go do it. You're not allowed to lock people up and torture them. Those sort of antiquated ideas. That's all Madison. Madison knew that this was going to be a serious problem. No matter how wonderful people in our country would be. And he argued that any government that became an empire cannot remain a republic. Empires and militarism always breed inequality, corruption, and secrecy. All three are anathema for a free society. And in Madison's view, that was what the role of free press was. That was going to be the forum that gave us the power to keep tabs on the rulers, who would always be pushing to become an empire. Without the free press we'd be powerless. That was the way we did it.
Now it's interesting, since I did that research I have been doing some on Abraham Lincoln. And Lincoln sort of combined the two of them. And in some of his correspondences shortly before the end of the Civil War, he wrote about his concern about as a result of the Civil War all of this great wealth would be created in the north. Not unlike today with the Iraq war. Companies making huge profits and buying off politicians. And he thought it was leading to a degree of inequality that would make it impossible for the republic to remain solvent. This was one of his last great letters that he wrote. And I think these, these are concerns that have traditionally existed. And the role of the free press as being really the solution to that problem. For a free society it was understood from the get-go. And what's interesting if you look at Jefferson and Madison and the whole Founders and right through Lincolns era and beyond, is that they did not regard, they didn't think freedom of the press, you just, just give some rich people some room to operate and hope you get lucky, that they can make money doing it. And if they can't make money doing that, well too bad, you can't have democracy. That's not how they thought. It was too important not to do some roll of the dice and hope some rich dude can make money doing freedom of the press, that let the whole thing ride on that. And because of that Jefferson and Madison and the Founders instituted massive subsides. Printing and postal subsides to spawn a rich, diverse print culture that would have never existed otherwise.
I'd argue today to get, to cut to the chase because I don't think I have a lot of time left. I'd argue today that that's the sort of thinking we need. The commercial system has basically declared war on journalism. They can't make money doing it. If we are going to sit around and wait for rich guys to come up with a way to give us quality journalism- the evidence is in. They've made their vote. They're stripping the car for parts. It's not happening anymore. It's just not happening. We've got to come up with policies, creative policies, to spawn a vibrant, well-resourced, competitive, independent press system. Because it's not going to happen otherwise. We've got to go to the Madison and Jefferson play-book and get out of the Wall Street play-book if we are going to solve that problem. And that entails a lot of things we've been fighting over. Public media, not just broadcasting, but all forms of the community media. More local ownership. All sorts of tax and credit codes to encourage employee ownership of failed newspapers. Anything we can do to get resources and competing, independent newsrooms is absolutely mandatory. The evidence is in. The Internet is not going to solve that one for us. The Internet's not spawning a lot of well payed journalists with money, who have training, who can cover communities. It's spawning a lot of people, 'blogs. I've got a 'blog. No one reads it. They shouldn't. I'm mean I make mistakes. I'm not a journalist. I mean, 'blogs are great, but let's face it. If you're working in a coal mine or a library or an office all day, then you go home, you cook dinner, be with you kids, and you do laundry, and you clean your house, you sit down to 'blog on U.S., Syrian relations before you go to bed, it's probably going to suck. That's not good enough. And just because a thousand people do it, that's just a thousand people writing garbage. You need someone doing the melody, someone with dirt under their fingernails, someone actually covering it, not just one person, but people competing for the story. And then you use that to 'blog on. That's when the two things combined really become something special. But they have to go together. You have to have people doing the journalism, representing all the voices. too, of our society. Or it's not going to happen. And that's, the market has said, that's not in our interest. We can't make money doing that. We've given up on that. And that's just the way that happens to be. So we have, as a people we can't stand for that. And neither would have Madison and Jefferson settled for that.
The second great issue, and this is one that is near and dear to my heart, it gets less attention but I hope it will start to get more is what I call “hyper-commercialism.” The fact that everything in our society is for sale. Everything in our society is marinated in commercialism and commercial values and advertising. The line between...what's the fairly distinct line between what's editorial and what's commercial in our media culture and our culture at large is disintegrating. It's evaporating. And ironically, the Internet accentuates this. One of the effects of the Internet has been to really make it so easy to integrate commercial factors into content. The digital revolution assists this, quite a bit. And I think this is, there is a lot of research. I won't cite it now. I suspect many of you are familiar with it. But you know, what we're doing, and this is for children, and it's not just children we're doing it to, it's all of us, adults too. But I've got a couple kids and I suspect a few of usfrom all. Many of you have had children and you know what I'm talk about. Especially, if it's young children now because it's changed so qualitatively in the last twenty years to what kids are going through today. I mean, a friend of mine, he used to teach here, he's now at Rutgers, spent a summer over at an ad agency about three or four years ago in Chicago as a resident. He said they have a whole wing in their building in downtown Chicago doing research on how to sell to children age 18 months to five. 'Cause that's the future. The consensus is that you brand your brand on that 24 month year old kid's brain, the first one who gets the brand in there and keeps it in there, sizzling on that brain, is the one that they're going to remember when they're buying stuff. Or when they're belly-aching for their parents to buy something. That's where the action is in advertising, getting at those kids. Isn't it self-evident how immoral and asinine and grotesque that is. Do I even have to, I won't even waste your time, you know, heaping abuse on that and getting us all righteously infuriated about that process. But it makes perfect sense in our system. In the way our economic system works. But there is something natural about it. We have policies and write that policies to locate where commercialism is appropriate and where it isn't. There is no law that it has to be in schools or in textbooks. That's a policy. We can stop that. There are no billboards in Vermont. Is that because billboards companies don't want to be in Vermont? No. That's because the people of Vermont said, get out of here, get your billboards out of here. There are no malt liquor billboards anywhere is Baltimore or in Maryland. Is that because malt liquor companies can't solve their products Baltimore, Maryland. No. It's because the people in Baltimore said, get your malt liquor billboards away from our kids and our schools. This is something we can go after. But the problem with hyper-commercialism is that most advertising is done by very large firms. And so you're going directly against the center of power in our society when you do that.
But the significance of hyper-commercialism, in my view, is still greatly underestimated and the problems it creates at a couple of levels. At the individual level, we live in a paradox in the United States today. That we've seen a great advance in economic development and material bounty over the last fifty or hundred years, but we also have a situation in which, arguably, people are much less happy today than they were twenty-five or thirty or fifty years ago. It's certainly not much happier than they were. We have in some parts of our society, not just poor people, a suicide epidemic going on. I mean, we have serious questions. And I think there is grounds to believe that living in a society where everything is for sale and everything is commercial doesn't really do wonders for human happiness. I mean, it has to be developed, but I'm willing to bet that's a good starting point if they want to understand some of the problems in our society.
Secondly, I think hyper-commercialism is cancerous for civic life. Because in a hyper-commercialist society truth becomes irrelevant. Truth is whatever you can con people into believing if you sell them something. Making money is all that counts. Truth is purely coincidental. It's very corrosive of the kind of shared common trust necessary for a civic society, in my view. So, I think on that ground is hyper-commercialism becomes one of the big fights we're facing. So, there too we need a revolution in the digital revolution.
Now at this point I'm an optimist but I'm also a realist. One of the interesting things about the current media reform movement is that it has an interesting relationship with ideology and politics. It's a non-partisan movement but it's progressive; it's non-partisan but it's progressive. In a way, it's like, as you'll see in a second, librarians- non-partisan, but progressive. It's non-partisan because all the policies I'm talking about don't favor a specific viewpoint. None of the issues we work on would throw Bill O'Reilly off the air and give Al Franken another show if he looses this election. It's nothing like that. It's intended to enrich the system for all voices, to make it a stronger system for everyone. So it's non-partisan in that sense. And in the network-neutrality fight, do know who our biggest ally is? The Christian Coalition. Because they don't want these companies through their websites off the air either. So it's non-partisan in that sense. But it's also progressive because if we're successful, like librarians are successful, it means common people will have the tools to govern their lives and challenge people in power. And so it's progressive in that sense. And that's scares the begeesus out of people in power. And that's why we face so much hostile opposition, especially from entrenched commercial interests who benefit by the status quo. If you understand this movement as non-partisan but progressive, you see who our first-cousins are- people working on campaign finance, voting rights, public education, libraries. All the tools that make society, self-government, egalitarian society viable, not just empty words but real words that have bite behind them, to give the tools to the people from the lowest rung have the chance to really achieve all that they can achieve, in the best liberal sense of the term, in their lifetimes, in their communities.
Ultimately though we aren't going to win this fight in the current political environment. I think ultimately to be successful in the digital revolution for media reform and for all the issues I just mentioned we have to be really be part of a much broader awakening or renaissance in American life that I regret has not yet taken place. And the success of media reform, the success of all the things I've talked about, we're going to rise and fall with a broader moment of political reform that's so overdue in the United States today. We've had these in the past- the New Deal, the Great Society, the Progressive era, the Jacksonian era, Reconstruction- were all periods in which the United States attempted in one form or another to address growing corruption and inequality and come up with reforms that would better enhance the quality of life for those in the bottom two-thirds or three-quarters of the population. To varying degrees all of them were successful. And if you go back and look at the time-line you'll see they're all roughly thirty or forty years apart, give or take a decade. And the last one, say, generously, in the '60s or early '70s, we're starting to get pretty overdue. And we are definitely overdue. And I think we're seeing all the signs around us, historians are seeing them, that we're entering that sort of period. The dominant sort-of Republican ethos now, that has been the governing neo-liberal philosophy of the last twenty-five or thirty years, by Democrats as well as Republicans to be fair, it's not purely Republican party, is increasingly discredited. The idea that we should take care of “number one”, and if everyone takes care of “number one” and prays, the world will be a good place- the sum of individual happiness breeds the most happiness for all, if people can't take care of themselves, well tough luck, they just need to work harder. That sort of rhetoric has collapsed in the reality of the extraordinary corruption. The people at the top weren't working any harder. They were just buying off the right politicians and getting the policies and benefiting by them. To the point that I think that credibility is an electoral regime is now in a severe crises starting with the 2006 elections. But all the polling data, the polling data is extraordinary strong for people under the age of thirty. By historical standards it's happening for people under the age of thirty, especially like 16 to 22, is something we haven't seen for generations in terms of complete rejection of the dominant political forces that have ruled this country for the last two or three decades. And so it's clear we're getting the signs. I mean it's like the rumblings of a volcano. But it doesn't mean you're going to get the volcano. But the rumblings are there. They weren't there five years ago. Then, it was wishful thinking on my part. Now, it's more than wishful thinking.
But one of the great barriers of this happenings is our press system itself, which does everything in our news media to avoid these issues all together, and to say in the old school, stay aligned to the same old tired issues, the same old tired analysis. And apparently one of the saving graces for our young people is that they don't pay attention to that media anymore. So they're missing the barrage of nonsense. But it is a barrier. And it's one of the reasons we need media reform. It's one of the reasons why we have to have media reform, have social reform, that we have to have a vibrant new social form before we have media reform. They rise and fall together. They go hand in hand. And in that sense it's truly a progressive movement. Thank you.
[Professor McChesney] I have no idea- my cellphones screwed up. I don't what time it is. How much time do we have?
[female voice, distantly] About fifteen minutes.
[Professor McChesney] Ok. So I'm glad to take questions if you folks would like.
[different female voice] Maybe I'm misremembering, but it seems to me [something] bothers to William Hurst in the Spanish-American war, journalism in that era was very salacious, very partisan, very polemic, and you hold it up as the free press. Is free press, as you envision it, the objective press? Is it a source for facts? Or is it a source for diversity of individual groups shouting? As long as they're allowed to shout. Does that count for a free press? Is that good enough?
[Professor McChesney] Well, it's not and either or. It's not it forces you to either go that way or go that way. Those aren't the only two choices. And I've dealt, this has actually been the source for a lot of my research for the last decades has been the evolution of journalism in the United States. And, you know, the notion of objective, professional journalism as we know it is really a very recent invention. It's only been in the last hundred years, hundred and five years, the idea that journalism be non-partisan, neutral, objective.
[female voice] It wasn't what the Founder's envisioned?
[Professor McChesney] No, not at all. Oh my god, not at all. I mean well, Paul you know this well. I mean the age of Lincoln, the abuse Lincoln took in the press makes anything Bill Clinton got or George W. Bush got look like a day at the beach. It, I mean it was worse for Jefferson. And one of Jefferson's hallmarks, just to get but not answer question, but this is quick story about Jefferson. He would, Jefferson despised the press of his era. He was a proponent of freedom of the press, but he thought editors and journalists of era were the biggest scoundrels ever, had no respect for truth, and were scumballs in his view. And his comments are, you can't believe what you're reading. This same guy, at this same time saying how important the press system is, and this is one thing I really admire about Jefferson- he had, in office when he was President from 1801 to 1809, he had a pile of newspapers. He had in his waiting room. And when foreign dignitaries would come, would have to sit and wait to meet the President, and he always put the hostile papers to him in the pile. And the foreign leaders would come in his office after reading these papers and say, jesus man! What in the hell's name is going on in this country! Do you realize what these papers are saying about you? And he'd say, yeah, I know, but, you know, we have freedom of the press here, and if you believe in that, you have to believe in letting dissident viewpoints in. So they didn't believe in a neutral free press. They were certainly critical of press they didn't like. But I think the vision that they had was of a type of journalism that's very common still around the world, partisan journalism. And it's partisan in the sense that the papers are subsidized directly or indirectly by political parties or have very strong links to political parties. And that type of journalism has gotten a very bad rep' in the United States.
The reason is that partisan journalism only works well when there are a lot of parties competing. And if you only have one party doing partisan journalism like in the Soviet Union or a dictatorship it's terrible. It's propaganda. And so we often associate partisan journalism with propaganda. The United States started with partisan journalism in the era that most historians consider our most egalitarian and democratic period from 1825 to 1860. We had stridently partisan journalism, in the northern United States. I want to qualify that to make that clear. But the reason why it worked was there was a check on being propagandist in partisan journalist then, which was if you were only propagandistic you antagonized people who weren't in your party they would vote for you. So that was a check because their were other parties there. I think arguably some of our best journalism was in that era, most historians would agree, in American history. So partisan journalism has gotten a bad rep'. I'm not saying that we should have that today, but we should understand it in its context. It's one thing to have Nazi partisan journalism; it's another thing to have it in a country with twelve daily papers competing with different viewpoints. And having to “who” it out in elections to keep them in line. We had a strong partisan journalism.
It unravels as it became a commercially viable industry due to the course of the 19th century. By the end of the 19th century newspaper publishing became extremely lucrative, extremely profitable, and in most communities it became highly monopolistic, smaller towns especially. And this created a real crises because it's one thing to have stridently partisan journalism as I said if you've got ten papers competing. If you don't like the ten you can start the eleventh. The market's relatively competitive and open. But it's terrible if you've only got one paper in your town and you can't start the second because it's a closed market. Newspapers industries are closed. And that's what happened by the 1880s and 1890s and, certainly, by the Progressive era. And what that led to was a combination of very salacious and sensational journalism where people say anything to sell papers and standards were nonexistent, bribery of journalists was commonplace, on one hand. On the other hand, the politics in the news media in that day were almost entirely pro-business, anti-labor to a far great extent than today. I mean it's really difficult to imagine how hostile to the working class and immigrants and labor the news-media were in this country between 1890 and 1915.
It was in this era, that's when professional journalism began. And it began basically it's a crises of journalism in our society. In the 1912 presidential election, three of the four candidates, one of the major planks in their campaigns was how terrible the newspapers were. And that was really the center of the crises. And the solution to the crisis, the newspaper publishers generated themselves was, we've got to come up with something to take the heat off. And that was professional journalism. The idea that you separate the owners from the editors. So you no longer- it used to be that the owner and the editor were synonymous until 1900 in this country. Nothing like they were two different people, two different offices for the same person. And they separated them. The business people over here. The editors over here. You can trust them even though these guys have a monopoly in your town because they're not controlled by these guys any more. They're trained professionals. They are getting educated in schools of journalism. They have neutral values. They're not going to take sides. That was the birth of professional journalism. We didn't have a journalism school in the United States until 1902. That's the first one in the world. No one even thought in those terms before that. And many states, like Illinois, we had a journalism school here because all the publishers in the state went to Springfield and demanded they have one at Illinois so they could train their journalists and have credibility for their product, and have the state pay for the bill too for training them. And there are only two departments. I don't know what the other one is, but this is what I tell my journalists. Only two departments on this campus that can't be closed, by State law. One of them is journalism. So it was put into place by law in the state legislature in 1922 or something.
Now, professional journalism has its problems too. It's not perfect. And I've written at length about this. And I'm not going to bore you with the long critic because we don't have time. But I'll say the one thing you all should recognize- professional journalism wants to avoid controversy, not to... partisan journalism is always controversial. So it has to make tough decisions about what gets cut and what doesn't. Professional journalism wanted to avoid controversy so that it couldn't be called ideological. What it did to do that, and also cheaper to do the news, was it relied upon official sources as the basis of news. People in power were talking about something. You cover it. People in power aren't talking about it. You don't cover it. And if you try to cover something people in power don't want to talk about then you're being ideological and unprofessional, trying push your own agenda on the news. And it has given our journalism, as a result, professionalism for all its strengths, and there great strengths to it, it has given it a very strong establishment cast. When people in power agree on something, like we should invade this country, it is almost impossible for professional journalism to get outside that straight-jacket and present a critical voice without being accused as being ideological. So that's the weakness side of it.
So the solution, I think what you want to do is a little bit of both. You want to have competing newsrooms trying to tell the truth the best they can, understanding it's avoidable to have some ideological part that enters it. And having multiple newsrooms competing is the centerpiece of the free press. And you start there. If you don't have that, no matter what you're shooting for, it's not going to work.
You're on a roll with the follow-up.
[female voice] Do you find that as you said the papers they would take over a small town. And that small town had one newspaper [garbled, perhaps there was a concern] sort of kept turret. What some people are concerned about the Internet, with 'blogs and with certain sites, it that people can customize their views instead of constantly being preaching to the choir. Does that [garbled] anything you have about [the political factions about?] authority figures?
[Professor McChesney] I don't know. There's a lot of discussion about that. And I think it's premature to sort of really know how it's going to play out eventually, and a lot of it will be determined by what we do for the sort of content we create. That will be available. I do think that one of the downside consequences of the digital revolution, and not just the Internet, as this applies to cable television too to some extent, is that there was a certain value in having more shared common experiences that everyone had. So there was a reference point for people to talk to each other in this country, which, when I was young, there were lot's of them. Every listened, almost everyone listened to the same top forty songs. And the top forty had every genre on it, basically in 1965- country, soul, rock, pop, garbage, some of it terrible, some of it great. And you had people watching the same TV shows, the same newscast. And it's great to get past that because there were a lot of terrible things about that, but there's also, there have been a lot of philosophers and political theorists agreeing about this, there are concerns when the only thing we share in common is the Oscar and the Super Bowl. That's like the only time you can have a party and have people from different social groups together, who share these things- the Oscar and the Super Bowl. And other than that basically we're living all on different planets. I don't think that's a good thing. How we solve that? My solution for solving that, this is my bias from my experience, is you create a society that's active politically. You draw people together to see the commonality we all have. And through political activism and political work, it's amazing how suddenly people who think they're very different find out how similar they are.
[different female voice] although you mentioned [...] you said students, college student to expect professors to get that because [...] of a day or two....
[Professor McChesney] ...If you're lucky...
[female voice] whereas in the old days you had to go to the [...] for students, which means [...] to get people to do what [...] but on the other hand I'm thinking, instead of talking to you to our [...] to our peers, to our friends, we just write to each other. Would that change the human relationships because we are just simply more writing than actually having conversations?
[Professor McChesney] You know, that's a great question, and I think you hit, the way you phrased that was very nice too. Because, you know, there are, as I said this earlier, there are positives and there are negatives. Nothing is purely good without a cost. Nothing is purely bad. And there are things that are completely bad, but not this issue, not for what we're talking about. And I think it's, this issue about conversations is something I've been thinking a lot about. Because I think the conversational skills have really eroded in our society in the last three or four decades. And I'll defer to others. This is an anecdotal analysis. It's not based on research. And I see with my students I mean, some of my students I think their conversational skills are grunts at times. And I'm concerned about it. And I have to think that living in a society in which, you know, email and texting is.... I love my daughter. She's absolutely wonderful. She's a very smart girl. But I mean she's twenty years old. She's a sophomore in college. And she has some real difficulty just going for a walk by herself for an hour in the woods, and just enjoying her own thoughts. And I used to do that at twenty, periodically. Different states of mind then, but nonetheless I would go do that. And I think that there is something that is happening. And I'm concerned. And these are the sort of things, especially because it's a transformational communicational revolution. This is just the tip of the iceberg. We've got, I mean we're talking about. Just image all the other three changes that we saw that took place in human...I mean it just changed our species. All three of them. If it does that, it could be possible. It could be spectacular. But it will be stuff we can't fully anticipate. It could also be quite negative in certain ways. It could change us for the worse.
Print, you know Neil Postman has been a wonderful advocate of the popular press, print had many wonderful things that it did for us. I mean, it disciplined our minds. It helped us with analytical reasoning. Print culture did. And we're loosing that. And writing emails and text messages is not the same as disciplining you mind as reading a 300 page book or novel.
[different female voice] [...] a foreign language. Even like Spanish [....]
[Professor McChesney] Does my critique apply to the Spanish language media as well?
You know, I don't speak Spanish very well. But from what I can see, the answer is yes. From everything I've seen. You know regrettably, in terms of journalism, that pattern is going on everywhere for the most part. In terms of media ownership, commercialism factors, I think they're taking place across the board. And I take no pleasure in saying that.
[another voice] So you're saying that in order for [....]
[Professor McChesney] Excuse me?
[voice] In order for the press to work in certain ways [..] the rich [...]
[Professor McChesney] I didn't say that. I said you have to have resources which is a different thing. You have to have resources to pay bills. That doesn't, only if you have a purely commercial system does that mean you have to have rich people making money. But if you have a vibrant public media system, community system, you can have resources allocated without rich people making money. I mean that doesn't mean you can't have rich people making money and have a good media system. That doesn't mean it isn't possible. But we should never assume that's the model we can possibly have. We've never had a purely commercial model in our society. The whole principle of professional journalism is a rejection of commercial values. As I said you can't have journalism for sale to bidders. It's got to be walled off from commercial pressures. Owners and advertisers you put over there, so the news judgment can't be bought off and payed for. It can't be commercialized. It has to be a public service haven in a commercial ocean. And we've always had strong non-commercial elements of our media culture. So I think if we do accept the assumption that we have to have a commercial system, that people have to make money to have journalism. We're in trouble based on the the evidence we're getting right now. Because the commercial interests have pretty much said they're not interested in doing journalism as we know it. They're gutting newsrooms faster than the rain forest is coming down.
[voice] so do you think the resources are available in the kind of [easing] it out of the ...
[Professor McChesney] Uh yeah. Sorry go ahead.
[voice] [..] like [..] lost and things like them now can't be [...] system.
[Professor McChesney] Well, what I'm discussing is really a series of reforms, not just one that can enhance the system. And there is no one button to push. All of which, the goal of which is to have resources to go to spawn an independent, competitive media system, a pluralistic system. At bottom though journalists covering stories, most respectable journalists covering stories in communities nationally and globally, for people living in this country. And there is no one way you do that. And we have to be open minded. We have to think of policies that no one is even talking about yet. And one of my favorite policies, and this is one I hope will get attention over time, was proposed about ten years ago by an economist named Dean Baker. He argued then, this is a period which, this is before when we ran budget surpluses so it didn't seem like such a crazy idea, but since we can blow through trillions of dollars in a war that's making us less safe, imagine we blow a few billion on something that could make us free, Dean Baker argues we should have a tax credit. Where every American could take a hundred dollars off from what they would pay the government taxes and give it to any non-profit media of your choice. The only condition on that hundred dollar gift grant would be that whatever is done with that money would automatically go in the public domain, that wouldn't be protected by copyright. And the genius of that as a policy is that the only type of media that doesn't benefit by copyright that much is journalism. Because it's the first sale that counts. So that's where the money would naturally go. Because if you're a film studio you don't want to take that money because you need your, you want your copyright. You know, you want your intellectual property. So those are the sort of policies. If we had that Dean Baker sort of policy that would create a pool of several billions dollars that conceivably could go, and you'd get to pick where it was used for, if it was used at all. So if you wanted it to go to a left wing, right wing, centrist, local, nationalist, it's your choice. But if you don't want to give it to anyone, your choice. All they have to do is be non-profit and can't be protected by copyright. And that's not the only one. We've got to basically as a society we've got to start thinking creatively about solutions to these problems. This problem has got to be solved. It's not an optional issue anymore than there are environmental crises that are not an optional issue.
[male voice] Do you believe as well as government [...] journalism as [...] directly through references to the news media. Even if we come up with the perfect policies. [...] our journalists to go out and do the research and find the information. Is there some sort of relationship in our society as a whole a way for money to be [...] to be entertained [..] would even that stymie that policy change?
[Professor McChesney] Oh I think so. I think that's sort of one of the problems we're facing. That we now have a generation that has never had any sense of what journalism is. So there is not a great market demand for it as there used to be. But I'm not a pessimist about that. And the reason I'm not a pessimist is that the interest in journalism grows as we get reoriented to be involved in society, politically and socially. And there a demand will then grow with it. It will come organically. It's unavoidable. Once someone gets, for example this year there's a whole new generation getting interested in electoral politics. And because of that they're getting interested in journalism. And becoming media critics because they want, they have to follow the news because certain politics. So, it's not we're stuck there. But you're right that we've had a problem because the journalism has gotten so bad and our expectations are so low that if we don't have some story about celebrity getting a face-lift or having an affair, hey where's the news. That seems like it should be the news. But I'm not a pessimist because I do think it's driven by larger forces, and I think we can see that turning around a little bit now. And that leads to a friction because people become more upset by the garbage they're being doled out by the Chris Matthews of the world. To pick on just one person who is on my shit list.
[female voice] It seems to me one of the key [..] of journalism in the 20th century was political journalism. And now with this interesting state with cellphone technology and web technology will be an incredible creation sharing [..]. Could your analysis hold true for visual journalism just as print or is it different in any way.
[Professor McChesney] I think, but, the visual analysis is that this is all about the digital revolution. Because that's what it is. It's not, it's changing everything so radically. It's all extraordinary the possibilities as a result. But it doesn't change them in the sense that my taking a picture and sending it on my cellphone to a lot of friends is not the same as my being able to actually have the time and resources to do the story, interview people, think about it, research it, fact check it. That process of traditional journalism can be greatly enhanced with the new technologies and work with it to make something exponentially better. But if you don't have that resource commitment, institutional commitment, that other stuff can really only go so far. It can really only go so far. And that's the dawn that we face. I mean we're in a situation now, it's not just resources, it's also institutional support. But you need a situation where people, journalists, and news organizations can cover people in power and not feel like they're going to get crushed. Be it government or corporate. And I think we're in a situation right now we're we don't, our, most journalists don't have the confidence they need to have with those relationships. Especially corporate but also government, too. There's not the independence we need.
[female voice] So what about libraries and journalism? I'm doing this oral history for this archives here and really got an emphasis on World War II. And almost everyone, I asked this, how they got the news. And almost everyone said they went to the library to read the newspapers. So what's? What do you think?
[Professor McChesney] You know, I'm not the right person to ask that to, but I really wish I had the answer. I would ask you the exact same question, but I mean I understand what. I view libraries much the same way I view public broadcasters. In the sense that, and I thought a lot about public broadcasters and dealt with a lot of public broadcasters. I had the show as well. So it's part of what I do. You know, I think public broadcasting, I'll just use this as an analogy, how it transfers I'm not sure, public broadcasting is in a situation where we all know that the traditional radio and TV channels aren't going to be around at some point. We don't know when it's going to be that they become irrelevant, but it's going to be at some point in the next five, ten, fifteen, twenty-five years. But at some point in the next twenty-five years 580 AM or channel whatever it is, I don't even know what channel it's on because I have satellite, but, you know, that's going to be irrelevant. So the argument in the 90's was well, public broadcasting has no role to play then. There's no scarcity of channels. You can go on the Internet or go to cable TV. There's a gazillion channels, and you live happily ever after. You don't need all these publicly subsidized channels. That was an erroneous formulation since the commercial stations are every bit as subsidized because they get those licenses for free too, those monopoly privileges. That was rarely spoken about. But what I've argued and I think you're seeing some public and community broadcasters do, is that they have to view themselves not as the technology of broadcasting but rather as community or public institutions, can think of gather information, gathering conversations and spreading them and any resources for the community. And translate that to the digital era. I mean one of those things I think that public broadcasters or even local, like, paid channels and cable access should think they are going to do, and I know they're doing this in a couple places, is become and ISP and offer Internet access inexpensively, take advantage of that. And basically segue into the digital world because by the logic of my argument even if you don't have radio and TV channels you're going to need local institutions that produce content, that cover the community, that are accountable to the community, and they're going to have to be public institutions based on where this country's going for sure. Because the commercial interests have totally jumped ship on local media in this country. And I think by that logic libraries, obviously a traditional thing, until the Internet came I used to camp out in libraries reading newspapers. Once a week I spent four hours just going through newspapers. Back when I was in Wisconsin they just had my place set for me in the newspaper room. They knew I was coming every Friday from 1:00 to 5:00. And, you know, I haven't done that since the Internet came along. I didn't have to. It's not necessary anymore. But that doesn't mean that there's not an institutional role for libraries to play, not just for periodicals and newspapers but for books and information and digital information. How it defines it, I'm not sure. But I know it's absolutely necessary because we can't have purely privatized resources. It would be disaster. And you can't have commercial values driving information. That would be an even greater disaster.
[female voice] [garbled]
[Professor McChesney] Well, we won't hold it against you.
[female voice] [garbled, microphone sound] ... could you be precise .... that is a radical idea for me is the basis for the society.
[Professor McChesney] Well, you're right. The neo-liberal principle, you're all in it for yourself and there's no common good. That idea. But I think that the pendulum is shifting again. If I can say so. Let's hope that it is. I do think that era of “everyone take care of number one”, because that wasn't really, that was the ideology, the reality was that meant government does everything to help the people at the top and screw you, everyone else. And the effect of that has been, I'm sure you're all familiar, a historically unprecedented degrees of economic inequality in the United States in the last twenty-five years. They've grown to extraordinary levels. Almost all the increase in income in the United States in the past two decades has gone to the top 1% of the population. And as a result of that I think that it's fraying. I think that in the United States it's not just about that ideology. There's a lot more to our history, a lot deeper richer history. It's also about people coming together to do barn raisings and to build libraries and to build schools and build churches, and understand that you are your brother's and sister's keeper. You're not just competing with them for the most marginal utility, you know, and if they get in the way you spike them on your way to the top. And I think also what, to go back to the point I made at the beginning, the research I think also goes to show that that type of world doesn't produce very many happy people. That might produce some rich people, but it also produces some really unhappy people smashing their head against the wall trying to get rich and compete with everyone else. And it's just not working.
[male voice] A lot of the period ... when there was a change back to a more socialist entire philosophy seem to be precipitated by terrible periods of suffering, by [....] does that [..] on that, is that the rumblings you're talking about, the need some terrible [..] economy [..] suffering to motivate.
[Professor McChesney] I hope not. I think I've seen enough right now. I'm rumbling already. I don't need to have happen anything more to get me rumbling. I don't know, though. You're right. We'll see. I really don't know the answer to that. Let's hope not. I mean I think things are worthy of people's getting alarmed as is right now. The environmental crises, case one. Inequality, militarism...if that's not getting someone's attention that means they're probably watching the news media, regrettably.
Thank you all very much.
[pleasentries exchanged] ... well that's wonderful. Is the press covering it? Let's put it in our series. I'd love to have it in our series.
[noise, woman's voice] ..press covered the tensions between, kind of, Christian values and market...
[Professor McChesney] Oh, that's fantastic. Congratulations. That's right about what I was talking about.
[same woman's voice] Yes, absolutely. The only thing you didn't mention was the rise of the [television] press.
[Professor McChesney] Yeah, well. I could'a. Well, I write about that. It's a ...
[same woman's voice] really revolutionary
[Professor McChesney] exactly. It's played a bit role in journalism. Yeah, that's right.
[same woman's voice] It's kind of homogenized news.
[Professor McChesney] And it also led to the Western Union monopoly, the Associated Press monopoly, and that was a very regressive voice in American political life. So yeah. But you know thanks though.
[same woman's voice] Good to see you.
[Professor McChesney] Good to see you, too.