Sen. Bernie Sanders: Corporate
Control of the Media
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
in Memphis, Tennessee at the third National Conference for Media
Reform - January 2007
Democracy Now, January 22, 2007
We have already taken a giant step forward
in transforming our country, because what we have done -- and
the size of this conference indicates our success -- we have begun
the long road to make media a major political issue in America.
And more and more, in campaigns and in non-campaigns, when people
who are running for office go before the public and, as been mentioned,
when they talk about healthcare or the environment or the dozens
of other important issues, somebody in the front of the room is
going to raise their hand and say, "Well, what do you think
about corporate control over the media? What are you going to
do about that?" So, to the degree that we have already raised
consciousness on this issue, we should be very proud. But, obviously,
we know that we still have a very, very long way to go.
I happen to believe that we are reaching
a moment when critical mass is kicking in. Because of your efforts,
because of a growing grassroots movement all over America, what
I can tell you is that not only in the House is there a media
caucus where this issue is now going to reach a higher level than
ever before, I can tell you that it's going to happen in the Senate,
as well. I can also tell you, absolutely, that we will not succeed
unless you are there, unless there is a strong grassroots media,
which demands fundamental changes in media today and the end of
corporate control over our media. We've got to work together on
Now, you are going to hear from a lot
of folks who know more about the details of the media than I do,
but what I do know a lot about is how media impacts the political
process, what media means for those of us who day after day struggle
with the major issues facing our country and a goal of trying
to improve the quality of life for all of our people.
And I want to spend just a minute in telling
you what I suspect most of you already know. If you are concerned,
as been said, about healthcare, if you are concerned about foreign
policy and Iraq, if you are concerned about the economy, if you
are concerned about global warming, you are kidding yourselves
if you are not concerned about corporate control over the media,
because every one of these issues is directly controlled and directly
relevant to the media.
Let me just talk about a few. Four years
ago, George W. Bush told the American people that a third-rate
military power country called Iraq had weapons of mass destruction
and that they were about to attack the United States of America.
That's what he told us. I can tell you, because I was there in
the middle of that, in opposition to that -- that day after day,
those of us who oppose the war, among many other things, would
be holding national press conferences that you never saw. I can
tell you, as you know, that hundreds of thousands of people in
our country were so disgusted with the media simply acting as
a megaphone for the President that they turned off American media,
and they went to the BBC or the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
In terms of the war in Iraq, the American
media failed, and failed grotesquely, in exposing the dishonest
and misleading assertions of the Bush administration in the lead-up
to that war, and they are as responsible as is President Bush
for the disaster that now befalls us. Media plays a role. And
the disintegration of Iraq, the death of hundreds of thousands
of Iraqis, of over 3,000 Americans, the cost of hundreds of billons
of dollars out of our pockets -- directly related to the failure
of the media.
Let me touch on another issue, an issue
that I am deeply involved in. If you were to ask me what the most
significant untold story of our time is, in terms of domestic
politics, I would tell you very simply that that story happens
to be the collapse of the American middle class. Simply stated
-- I don't want to speak at great length on it, but simply stated,
despite an explosion of technology, huge increase in worker productivity,
tens of millions of our fellow Americans have seen a decline in
their real wages and are working longer hours for lower wages.
In fact, what you probably don't know is that the working people
in our country work longer hours than do the working people in
any other industrialized nation on earth.
How did that happen? How did it happen
today that a two-income family has less disposal income than a
one-income family did thirty years ago? How does it happen that
thirty years ago, one person working forty hours a week could
earn enough money to take care of the family; now, you need two,
and they're still not doing it? Now, one might think that this
is an interesting story. One might think that globalization and
disastrous trade policies, which have lowered the standard of
living of millions of American workers, might be a story that
should be covered.
What I can tell you is that when NAFTA
was first passed over ten years ago -- and I strongly opposed
NAFTA -- we did some research. We did some research. We went through
the editorial pages of every major newspaper in America, every
single one of them was prone after, and today, despite a $600
billion trade deficit, the loss of millions of good-paying blue-collar
and white-collar jobs, these corporate titans are still in favor
of unfettered free trade, despite the disastrous impact it has
had on America's workers.
Now, what is all of this about? What happens?
If the reality of working people's lives are not reflected in
the TV, in the newspapers, what happens? This is what happens.
People lose their jobs, because corporations shut down. Just had
an instance in Vermont this week. 175 workers shut down, lost
their jobs, because of free trade.
People working long hours, people working
for lower wages, they turn on the television set, they do not
see that reality. What they see is the issue is personal responsibility.
You can't afford healthcare? You're losing your pension? Then
the problem is with you. Work a little bit harder. It is not a
systemic problem. It is not a problem that can be solved by government.
It is not a problem which asked you to be involved in the political
process. You are the only person who can find a job that pays
you a living wage. That's your fault! And you are the only person
who can't find a job that provides you with healthcare. That's
your fault! And you're the only father who can't afford to send
your kid to college. That's your fault! Don't get involved in
the political process. It won't do any good. So people turn on
the television -- they're hurting, they're exhausted -- they do
not see a reflection of their reality in the media. They do not
understand that participation in the political process can bring
about change, and that is not by accident.
When we wake up in the morning and we
brush our teeth, for better or worse, we see our own reflections
in the mirror. When we turn on the television, somebody is providing
us a mirror to the world, and what we want is that mirror to reflect
the reality of ordinary people and not the illusions of a few.
Talk about healthcare. We are told that
it is quite amazing. After sixteen years in the Congress, you
hear these guys getting up on the floor announce, "We have
the best healthcare system in the world. Yeah!" 47 million
Americans have no health insurance. Even more are underinsured.
We pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.
Costs are soaring. Best healthcare system in the world.
But, you know, go out on the street and
ask people how many major countries in the world do not have a
national healthcare program, which guarantees healthcare to all
people. And you know what? Most people do not know, because they
have not seen it reflected in the media, that the United States
of America is the only nation on earth that does not guarantee
healthcare to all of its people. They do not know about the healthcare
systems in Scandinavia. They do not know about European healthcare
systems. And the only thing they will hear about the Canadian
healthcare system are the problems that that system has. That's
what they will hear.
I can remember in the early 1990s, during
the early years of the Clinton administration, there was a lot
of debate about the need for real healthcare reform. Do you happen
to know which piece of legislation in the House had far more support
than any other concept? You probably don't. It was legislation
to support a single-payer national healthcare system. That's a
fact. But, as somebody who was involved in that fight, we would
turn on the television and say, "Hey, single payer has more
support than any other concept. Are you going to talk about single
payer?" "Oh, no, no. We don't talk about single payer.
It's not feasible." Virtually no coverage about what a single-payer
concept is about. Virtually no coverage about international healthcare
and how other countries are doing a better job than we are doing.
In terms of the environment. In terms
of the environment, if we are told over and over again that there
is a serious scientific debate about the causation of global warming
or whether global warming actually exists, it has an impact upon
our consciousness. Why should we break our dependency on fossil
fuels, why should we move to sustainable energy, if there is a
debate among the scientific community? And that is, in fact, what
you hear in the media. Well, you know what? There is no debate
among the scientific community.
Now, here's an issue that I'm sure you
see on the TV almost every night -- it probably bores you, you
see it so much -- and that is that the United States today has
the most unfair distribution of wealth and income of any major
country on earth. I was joking. You don't see that on television
very often. Now, here is at issue, you know, which is of enormous
significance from an economic point of view, as well as a political
point of view, as well as a moral point of view. Richest 1% of
the population in America owns more wealth than the bottom 90%.
Richest 13,000 families earn more income than do the bottom 20
million families. In many ways, in my view, we are moving toward
an oligarchic form of society. Do you think that maybe this is
an issue that should be thrown out there on the table? Do we think
it's a good idea that so few have so much and so many have so
little? But that is an issue that is beyond the scope of what
establishment media is literally allowed to discuss.
Now, I have been in politics for a long
time. I have been asked a thousand questions by media. Not one
member of the media has ever come up to me and said, "Bernie,
what are you going to do to deal with the outrage of America having
the most unfair distribution of wealth of any country on earth?
What are you going to do about it?" Have you ever heard any
political leader ever being asked that question? Why not? Why
is that issue outside of the scope of what we are allowed to talk
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