host of Media Matters, challenges
listeners to be critical media consumers
from June 2002 issue of Patterns magazine
Robert McChesney was in high school when he heard something on television that changed his way of thinking about the world.
Author Gore Vidal said the United States was the greatest empire in the world since Rome. “Well, I had always thought of the United States as an anti-empire, one that would never colonize other places or exploit other people,” says McChesney. “It caused me to reflect and completely rethink the way I thought about the country I lived in.”
That chance exposure to Vidal’s point of view helped set McChesney on the course to become a media critic, challenging the growing domination of media by giant corporations and advocating for democratization of the current media system.
He hopes his new program on WILL-AM 580, Media Matters, airing at 1 pm Sundays, can trigger the same kind of reflection and rethinking in listeners. “As a teacher, you strive to create a little bit of uncertainty where people have been certain before,” says McChesney, professor in the University of Illinois Institute for Communications Research.
The program is not an outlet for him to promote his own point of view, he says, but rather a place where important media issues can be discussed by national experts in the field and by listeners who call in to comment. “My job is to facilitate the discussion,” he says. “From my experience, people are really interested in issues like new technology in media, bias in journalism, FCC policies addressing protection of children, and copyright legislation.”
“We’re bringing in some of the smartest people working on these issues today, and encouraging the public to call in and discuss the issues with them,” he says.
Among the first guests was John Nichols, The Nation’s Washington correspondent who wrote the magazine’s cover story on Enron. The media have done a poor job of covering the Enron story, which isn’t a business story, but “entirely a story about politics,” Nichols said when he was on the program April 7. On April 14, Greg Palast, an American journalist based in Britain, talked about his investigation into the disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. Palast said 57,700 voters were targeted to have their names scrubbed from the voter lists by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris because they were allegedly felons. “At least 90.2 percent of them were innocent,” he said. “They weren’t innocent of being black or Gore voters.”
The third edition of the program featured Janine Jackson, program director of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) and the co-host of CounterSpin, heard on public radio stations including WILL-AM.
People from around the country have discovered the program and are calling in to question the guests and comment on the media. “The show has gone well so far, and it’s going to get a lot better," says McChesney. "My producer Ben Scott and I have plans for guests like Naomi Klein, Jim Hightower, and Gary Webb. We are having no trouble finding people to be on the show.”
McChesney has written or edited seven books. Telecommunications,
Mass Media, & Democracy is widely acclaimed as a
definitive history of U.S. broadcasting. His most recent books are
Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times and
It’s the Media, Stupid!, written with John Nichols. McChesney’s eighth book,
The Big Picture: Understanding Media Through Political
Economy, will be published in 2003 by Monthly Review Press.