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How the Far Right Built a Media Empire to Manufacture Consent

StoryNovember 04, 2004
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We speak with veteran investigative journalist Robert Parry about how the far right “intimidates mainstream journalists and news executives who will bend over backwards and cater to the conservative side.” [includes rush transcript]

We speak with veteran investigative journalist Robert Parry who writes in his latest article:

George W. Bush’s electoral victory is chilling proof that the conservatives have achieved dominance over the flow of information to the American people and that even a well-run Democratic campaign stands virtually no chance for national success without major changes in how the news media operates.

It is not an exaggeration to say today that the most powerful nation on earth is in the grip of an ideological administration–backed by a vast network of right-wing think tanks, media outlets and attack groups–that can neutralize any political enemy with smears, such as the Swift boat ads against John Kerry’s war record, or convince large numbers of people that clearly false notions are true, like Saddam Hussein’s link to the Sept. 11 attacks.

The outcome of Election 2004 also highlights perhaps the greatest failure of the Democratic/liberal side in American politics: a refusal to invest in the development of a comparable system for distributing information that can counter the Right’s potent media infrastructure. Democrats and liberals have refused to learn from the lessons of the Republican/conservative success.

  • Robert Parry, veteran investigative journalist and author of the new book “Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.” For years he worked as an investigative reporter for both the Associated Press and Newsweek magazine. His reporting led to the exposure of what is now known as the “Iran-Contra” scandal.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about the media infrastructure that some say facilitated this, and bring Robert Parry into this conversation, former Newsweek and Associated Press reporter, who did some of the pioneering groundbreaking exposés on the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980’s. Bob Parry’s latest piece, “Too Little, Too Late,” says: “George W. Bush’s electoral victory is chilling proof that the conservatives have achieved dominance over the flow of information to the American people, and that even a well-run Democratic campaign stands virtually no chance for national success without major changes in how the news media operates.” Robert Parry, you can expand on this?

ROBERT PARRY: Well, Amy, really, for the past quarter century or so, the conservatives and Republicans had been working very assiduously to build their own media infrastructure. Much of that came out of the bitterness they felt after the Watergate ouster of Richard Nixon, the defeat in Vietnam, which they blamed in some part on elements of the American public that had turned against the war. So, the conservatives went out, very — (and we know their — we have their thinking and their writings on this) to build their own establishment and in large part to build their own media. They began with money from conservative foundations, later on Reverend Moon stepped in with hundreds of millions of dollars that he brought in for the Washington Times and other publications. Later on, the talk radio came into this, and eventually FOX news. So it’s really almost a — a vertically integrated media infrastructure that the conservatives now have, and it reaches across the country. It reaches into many of these smaller towns, in agro — in these rural areas where — where much of what we have been talking about has happened. And a big part of what the conservative media has done is to demonize liberals, to make liberals simply something that Americans don’t want to be near — at least many Americans. So, that’s been the goal, and it’s been very successful. By contrast on the liberal Democratic side, there’s been a lot less investment in media. Not that there isn’t any, but it’s much, much less and the focus has been much different. So the conservatives have really achieved a tremendous success, I think, because they have invested over time, over a long period of time, assiduously in year-in-year-out media — not something that’s put together for the campaign, but put together for constant working their messages, getting their messages to their base, recruiting new people and demonizing their enemies.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But Bob, the argument that many of these conservative media outlets constantly espouse and many of their listeners also repeat is that the liberals have their own media in the so-called national press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS and ABC and so forth. And that they are constantly — in fact, you can’t find probably people who criticize the, quote, national media, as much as they do those from the conservative movement in the United States.

ROBERT PARRY: Right. But it’s largely a myth. What you have in the corporate or mainstream media is not a liberal media. It’s only liberal, I suppose, from the context that if you put it up against some of the hard right positions; but the position of the major media has been to try to be centrist. When I was at Newsweek there was — it would be — we’d talk about how the goal of Newsweek was to be in the center. Now, obviously, that means that as things move to the right, your journalism moves to the right. If you wanted to stay in the center. So what we’ve seen is this phenomenon of the mainstream press, which is definitely afraid of being called liberal, and this is true not just for organizations, but for individual journalists. They’re afraid of being called liberal because it damages their careers. So they have moved also more to the right in trying to finesse this development. To consider the mainstream press liberal is I think — is just mythical. It’s not — it doesn’t exist; and there are obviously liberals in the media, but overall, the mainstream press it tries to be centrist, whatever that means.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Parry, you said the investment in the non-right-wing media goes in different places. What do you mean by that?

ROBERT PARRY: Well, overall, the Democrats and the liberals have not seen media as their priority. They’ve invested more in either activism or in things like projects like buying up endangered wetlands or helping to support AIDS research. Certainly, worthy causes, but they have not invested in the way the conservatives have in this sort of — this sort of strategic approach toward media. That is if you build a strong media that makes your points, puts your arguments before the people, recruits more, that that will help you ultimately get control of the government. There’s been more of a stopgap approach on the left. As we saw during the — during this campaign period, there were groups that were set up just for the 2004 campaign that raised money for advertisements, and those advertisements went on on mainstream corporate media. They were paid for and then after that was done, it disappears. There’s no residual effect, whereas the conservatives have built institutions that continue day in and day out, year in, year out, putting their message across, being consistent and being out there so the American people can listen to them.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting, the University of Maryland just came out with a study, American Public on International Issues, found that seventy-five percent of Bush supporters continue to believe Iraq was providing substantial report — support to Al Qaeda, and that the majority, again, still believe weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.

ROBERT PARRY: Well, that makes sense, because what the people are hearing across the country when they tune in their AM dial and they’re on a long drive or they’re a truck driver and they’re out working that way, they’re going to be hearing these kinds of messages constantly being presented; and when there is honest reporting in the mainstream press, it can be disparaged as liberal and not to be believed. So, you have a large number of Americans who have really reached that point that they believe the propaganda that they get from the conservative media. And that has changed American politics dramatically.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Parry, I want to thank you for being with us. Bob Parry is author of the book, Secrecy and Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. It’s a new book. Esther Kaplan is author of With God on Their Side.

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