What kind of a media critic says “tone down the rhetoric and Peterson has a point,” referring to David Peterson’s accusation that the Chicago Tribune is not an independent newspaper because it will not print criticisms of paid advertisements, even when one ad in question affects public policy and the criticism is well-founded (Hot Type, April 26)? Perhaps a media critic who likes having access to the “important” people, the bosses, at the paper in question. It’s an understandable career decision. This type of rewarding institutional (and not conspiratorial) relationship, where access to decision makers is controlled by powerful institutions, is one of the ways that the corporate mass media function as a propaganda system. Our media critic, and reporters generally, if they’re docile, gain stories and status of sorts by being able to call and quote people with power.
As an editor of a so-called alternative weekly and a media critic, one might expect Michael Miner to have a bit more independence. However his “tone down the rhetoric” advice betrays his abdication of the independent stance of criticizing, confronting, and condemning power. So does one quote of Tribune editorial page editor Don Wycliff, which reads like a defensive insult of Peterson. Then Miner allows Wycliff to reassure readers that “if something wasn’t done that should have been done I have to find out why.” End of story. The Tribune Company will do what is right, so we are left to believe. One suspects Miner believes this, having internalized the journalistic ideology that the media’s job is to inform its readers (or listeners/viewers) of all things. However, the Tribune Company has already done what it thinks is the right thing to do. It refused to print Peterson’s criticism of a misleading advertisement. There was no mistake, indeed it was Peterson’s claim that this is the Tribune Company’s policy. The Tribune Company protects the hands that feed it–its advertisers–and the citizens of Illinois get misinformed. Given the editorial decision-making power and First Amendment rights conferred solely upon the Tribune Company due to its ownership of the means of producing the Chicago Tribune, we should not be surprised to find the Chicago Tribune secondarily, if at all, reflects the interests of workers or citizens or readers, even in matters of public policy. Peterson’s complaint is exactly a case in point.
Let’s face it, the Chicago Tribune is a marketing tool for corporations and capitalism. The Tribune Company as a corporation is not organized to inform people to act as citizens of a democracy, but to induce people to act as consumers in capitalism. And many of us who have managed to find out, despite the corporate mass media, what the world has suffered under the rule of capitalism, free trade, and free markets want to turn up the rhetoric against this power immediately. An independent media and media critic would help us do this.