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Interview: Director of ‘The Brainwashing of My Dad’ on What Happened to Our Media?

Jen Senko who wrote, directed and produced 'The Brainwashing of My Dad' speaks with Citizen Truth's Steve Matteo on the state of media in 2019 and how we got here. (Photo: Jen Senko)
Jen Senko who wrote, directed and produced 'The Brainwashing of My Dad' speaks with Citizen Truth's Steve Matteo on the state of media in 2019 and how we got here. (Photo: Jen Senko)

“We have to be cognizant that multi-national corporations with interests in fossil fuels and pharmaceuticals own all of the major media.” – Jen Senko

Jen Senko is a filmmaker who, with her most recent film, The Brainwashing of My Dad, from 2016, outfoxes Outfoxed, Robert Greenwald’s 2004 film on FOX News.

Her film chronicles the change her father went through from being a Democrat who was not very political to becoming a raging right-wing Republican, due to an increasing diet of right-wing talk radio, internet and e-mail propaganda and especially FOX news.

The film, narrated by Matthew Modine, unfolds not so as much a chronicle of her father’s angry rants, but as a road map that charts the rise and dominance of right-wing media, led by right-wing talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and a host of on-air and behind-the-scenes soldiers of Rupert Murdoch’s FOX News empire.

“In asking the question about what happened to her dad, it was really like asking what happened to our media. And in asking what happened to our media, it was really like asking what happened to our country.”

The Brainwashing Of My Dad, official trailer

Senko is uniquely qualified to make sense of the current chaotic state of today’s media, from the media’s precarious place as defender of free speech to Trump’s target of purveyors of so-called fake news and his administration’s alternative facts, because she doesn’t just understand where we are, but more importantly, she knows where we came from.

The following interview covers a wide range of issues about the media today and offers valuable knowledge, ideas and resources to shed light on the shifting and dizzying landscape of news and information and how they impact political and social discourse.

Interview With Jen Senko

Some people see today’s state of media as solely a result of Trump, but Ronald Reagan’s elimination of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 (which required broadcasters to present differing and opposite viewpoints on controversial issues) and Bill Clinton’s support of the Telecommunications Act in 1996 (which deregulated media markets including the internet) appear to be cornerstone signposts to where we are right now. Are there any other key moments that brought us to this juncture?

When you say “this juncture” I assume you mean this time of Trump and “Trumpism,” the claims of fake news, “alternative facts,” the state of our media today and our proximity to fascism.

Trump and Trumpism is largely the Frankenstein result of right-wing media. But not completely: Trump and Trumpism have been at least 40 years in the making. Right-wing media was the means by which it was mainlined, but there were other contributing factors. Ronald Reagan killing the Fairness Doctrine and Bill Clinton’s Telecommunications Reform Act certainly were two of them.

It didn’t start with Ronald Reagan but he contributed greatly to the media fix we are in today. It wasn’t just his vetoing the Fairness Doctrine. (It’s worthy of note that a year after the death of the Fairness Doctrine, Rush Limbaugh went national), he (Reagan) also cut the members of the FCC down from seven to five and drastically cut its budget.

The FCC became a shell of what it used to be. Reagan stacked it with media businessmen intent on deregulating. He also helped create media monopolies by relaxing antitrust enforcement. This was huge.

But, to me, even more significant than that was that Reagan gifted Rupert Murdoch with U.S. citizenship. Murdoch was 54 at the time and didn’t give a shit about America. The U.S. was just another (major) country whose politics he could influence for his benefit and for how he believed they should be – in the best way he knew how – through media. After gaining citizenship, Murdoch went on a spending spree. He was like Pacman gobbling up as many media companies as he could. There were still some limitations however, but then after Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications “Reform” Act, which allowed for media cross-ownership and consolidation, there was no stopping Murdoch. Six months after it passed, he created Fox News.

Rupert Murdoch
(Rupert Murdoch at the Vanity Fair party celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival, 2011. Photo: David Shankbone)

Before what Ronald Reagan did though, there was something else as monumentally influential. In 1971 there was a secret memo written by Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer who at the time happened to be neighbors with the education director of the US Chamber of Commerce.

Powell’s memo, named “Confidential Memorandum: Attack of American Free Enterprise System” was a reaction to the radical but popular social changes going on at the time. There was the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. There was the anti-war movement and Women’s Lib and the Black Panthers. It was all happening in a 10- or 11-year period. Thom Hartmann says in my film: “Every group in America other than wealthy white guys was in open revolt and calling for change.”

Powell’s memo claimed the whole country (meaning the government, the universities and the media) was being taken over by the radical Left. So, this memo was a call to arms for the business community and wealthy conservatives to come together and do whatever they could to push the country away from these social movements and to the Right: to have the American people respect corporations, to sell them on a free market ideology and privatization.

One of the suggested methods was for uber rich right-wingers and corporations to fund think tanks. The think tanks were paid to come up with their own policies and conservative arguments against liberal ideas and policies. The other part of the Powell memo plan was to buy media and start publishing houses to put these ideas by the think tanks out there. They would also aim to install professors of free market ideology into colleges. They would try to create conservative judges and get them elected to the bench.

The memo was very anti Ralph Nader who was a hero to many at the time for the work he did to defend and protect consumers against being taken advantage of by corporations either with unsafe and shoddy products or unfair practices. It was understood the Powell Memo was to be a long-range plan. It was widely distributed and the Right’s new bible. It was eventually discovered but never understood how incredibly influential it was. So, the Powell Memo recognized the Right had to get hold of media to help push the country to the Right.

As far as other key happenings that have brought us to this juncture in terms of Trumpism or being close to fascism if you will, there are plenty, some that even happened out in the open like Grover Norquist’s Wednesday meetings, gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement and computer voting, the Supreme Court decision to make Bush II president in Gore v. Bush, Citizens United, the Right’s focus on language with the help of the brilliant Frank Luntz, etc.

And all the while, the effort was being made to sell “ conservative” ideas to a vulnerable audience through right-wing media like Fox News, talk radio (like Rush Limbaugh who started playing on military bases in 1993, Alex Jones [Infowars], Mark Levin [Life, Liberty & Levin], etc.), seemingly homespun personal emails, many of which were born from think tanks and then spread through online and social media sites and emails.

Meanwhile, as right-wing media rose in popularity because of its sensationalism, the mainstream media failed to call them out. Instead, they tried to emulate them. I think a couple of things were happening. A.) I think they were traumatized from always being accused of being “liberal” and B.) Some thought they might get higher ratings.

“It is a monumental mistake for anyone to assume the state of media (and being at this juncture) today is just a result of Donald J. Trump and that Trumpers are simply a result of a broken system that hasn’t worked for them. That’s simplistic and dangerous.”

It was a 40-year campaign to bring the country to the Right, and getting control of media was like mainlining it into large parts of the electorate. But I do believe more people are awakening to what has really happened, and mainstream media is finally getting the courage to criticize other media.

FOX is working hand-in-glove with the Trump administration and is actively recruiting FOX on-air pundits and producers to join the administration. Is this active authoritarianism? Have we seen similar behavior in any other presidencies?

I don’t see Trump’s relationship with FOX exactly as “authoritarian” in that Trump dictates to them what he wants and they put his message out there, and then, the country has to strictly obey. (If it were the only “news” TV show, it would be pretty damn close). Although Trump wishes it were that way.  It is at the least propaganda put out on behalf of the president and of Fox. Pundits on Fox or Rupert Murdoch will give ideas to Trump indirectly or sometimes directly.

Some claim it is state TV. I think that state TV is more a television news show run by and for the state. I don’t think that the relationship is quite that. There are a few aspects that adhere to state TV like these (from Wikipedia): 1. To promote the regime in a favorable light, 2. Vilify opposition to the ruler (rephrased by me) 3. Giving skewed coverage to opposition views. But since there is no funding given to Fox by the state and no reporting on legislation “only after it has already become law,” it is not exactly state TV either in my opinion. 4. (as listed in Wikipedia) “Act as a mouthpiece to advocate a regime’s ideology.” And that is the main reason it is not quite state TV.

Trump doesn’t have an ideology. Trump is too shallow to really have his own agenda. He doesn’t know enough about politics. He doesn’t care enough.

He only knows and cares about the issues he’s learned about from Fox, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones or Breitbart. He craves revenge on those he imagines disapprove of him or work against him (Fox helps him there).

He wants to be important and he wants to be adored and eulogized, so he’s a useful idiot to the Right. He’s a useful idiot to Rupert Murdoch (as they are sometimes useful idiots for him as well). Fox helps him smear other media that report on his misdeeds and foibles, and he helps Fox by smearing other media. So, the relationship is symbiotic. “So happy together.” It’s not a surprise Trump ordered the FDA to keep all the TVs on in break rooms, reception areas or anywhere in the government there is a TV to be tuned to Fox. It’s a hugely destructive and dangerous relationship (as many co-dependent relationships are). But it’s not quite State TV.

The fact that he had recruited Fox on-air pundits to join his administration and others, such as Bill Shine, former co-president of Fox TV, as White House Communications Director and Deputy Chief of Staff (who is gone now) is to me partly another sign of Trump’s need to stay inside his comfort zone.

Ben Carson was a former Fox contributor, and he was appointed to be his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. John Bolton was a frequent Fox commentator, and now he is his national security adviser. Hope Hicks who had Bill Shine’s job left the White House and now does public relations at Fox Corp. And, of course, he has his bedtime chats every night with Sean Hannity (occasionally mixing it up with Rupert Murdoch).

To Trump, these are his friends. These are his peeps. And they more than likely won’t show disapproval of him because they have a better chance of getting him to do what they want if he thinks they approve of him. And hopefully, to him, to get the riches he hopes to make from being one of the most famous and powerful men in the world.

The result being is that it is like authoritarianism (“authoritarianistic”) because it provides a strong central power with the ideas only coming from the state and the Fox TV shows, not just from Trump. Democracy is impossible when there is no dissent or ideas other than those presented by those in power. When you have Fox News as cable news’ most watched news show, that has an authoritarian effect on those millions who watch nothing else and vote. It’s a good thing it is not the only news show (so far!), or we would have an entirely brainwashed country. And this is why media consolidation is really bad for democracy. But if it were up to Rupert Murdoch, he would own it all.

Though there have been times in history when other presidents have had cozy relationships with the press, this level today is unprecedented in America. Murdoch, of course, cultivated and manipulated relationships with heads of states of the countries he owned media in like Australia and Great Britain. In America, in the past, FDR had a great relationship with the press and would have cozy press conferences sometimes under the trees of his family picnic grounds. He had his fireside chats on radio, which contributed to a majority of the country loving him.

The press was kind to President Reagan. Murdoch also helped Reagan get elected with positive coverage in the NY Post. I’m not an expert on this, but I don’t know of any other American president who worked hand-in-glove with a television station the way Trump does with Fox. But I believe the relationship had its beginnings long ago and that Fox is largely responsible for creating who Trump is today. After all, he used to be a Democrat. Think about it. What made him change? I contend a huge contributing factor was his discovery of and obsession with right-wing media. It created a monster.

Has the left-leaning media done the same thing with a revolving door of pundits and administration staffers who simply reflect the left’s political leanings or agenda?   

To be clear, mainstream media (MSM) is not left-leaning.

We have to be cognizant that multi-national corporations with interests in fossil fuels and pharmaceuticals own all the major media. So, though some of that media, in some aspects, may slightly pander to a liberal market, they are never going to sell their own interests out completely and be full-on liberal.

The result of MSM being corporately owned is that the scope of what is talked about on their shows is narrowed. For example, you won’t hear vehement anti-war views. You’ll never see one of the world’s greatest thinkers, Noam Chomsky on MSNBC or CNN, for example.

You only started hearing about climate change when it got to be too hard to ignore. And, though these political news shows also use a revolving door of pundits and former staffers from different administrations, I find that they sometimes go to ridiculous lengths to “be fair and balanced.” (I don’t know if they are just really trying to be “fair” for their idea of what journalism should entail or if they are trying to appeal to a wider audience when they have on “conservative” pundits. The reasons aren’t all the same.) You will see just as many Republican guests, if not more, than Democratic ones. And you’ll see guests like Kellyanne Conway that they know lie but don’t stop them.

Whereas guests you see on Fox are almost always a right-wing ideologue or if not, they are usually talked over, bullied or discredited. So yes, corporate media does have a revolving door of some of the same olds, same olds and they should have a wider variety of guests, but it still does not compare to Fox News.

The only left-leaning, but strictly accurate TV news is Democracy Now, hosted by Amy Goodman, who does have on guests who reflect a more liberal leaning. My impression is left-leaning podcasts or talk radio shows that I know of mostly have guests that reflect their views. But as we know there are very few liberal talk radio shows. The majority of talk radio shows are right-wing.

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Amy Goodman, Green Festival 2008. (Photo Riza Falk)

On Media Accountability

Some say those in the mainstream media, particularly on network or cable news, don’t seem to be holding elected officials accountable. Do White House press briefings reflect a timidity and lack of toughness by those that cover the White House?  

Yes. I think much of the press is afraid that if they ask a challenging question or press for answers, they will be punished; they will lose access or not be called on the next time, especially in the days of Trump who is openly hostile and scornful toward the press. The result ends up being that much of the press is too lenient on some politicians.

I am hopeful that with all the talk against the press that they will push back more, and it does seem they are already a bit more cognizant of doing that.

Aside from needing to be more skeptical and aggressive, they also need to stick together. A great example to follow would be what the Dutch media did when Pete Hoekstra, a former Republican congressman from Michigan and now appointed ambassador to the Netherlands tried to evade a question about a false statement he made about chaos in the Netherlands with cars and politicians being burned because of Islamic “No-Go Zones.” When he declined to answer a question about his untrue statement from a reporter and he went on to the next reporter, the next reporter also asked him the same question and so did the third reporter and so on until he finally had to answer the question. The question was asked at least five times.

Do you see any changes coming?  

I think I see some change happening, but it seems to be at times inconsistent. I do think the press is more self-aware or self-conscious these days. For instance, The New York Times seems to always be evaluating itself. That’s good. (Sometimes they miss, and sometimes they get it right.)

I guess the press is more self-aware is the only good thing that has come out of all this anger and accusation thrown at them from the Right of being fake. I think the result of that among some outlets is a stronger effort to be accurate.

However, the reason I say sometimes, is that it was really disappointing to see how the corporate media all reported after the Mueller report came out that Trump was exonerated of everything and anything just on the basis of William Barr’s lousy four-page report. They took it at face value initially and ran with it like dogs with a bone. That was lazy, idiotic and irresponsible. They backslid.

I have some hope that because they are under such pressure from all sides, they will try harder to be more accurate and more brave, and I believe I see that some already are. I see mainstream media now actually coming out and calling a lie a lie. That has changed and that’s good. They are also finally recognizing false equivalencies like Trump saying “both sides” during Charlottesville, and they have been good about criticizing the tech companies.

Did the press years ago do a better job of holding politicians accountable?

Yes, I would say the press (generally speaking) did a better job in the days of Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Peter Jennings and Chet Huntley. It still wasn’t perfect, as Noam Chomsky would tell you. The press was complicit about the Honduran Death Squads for instance. But it was more objective, not concerned about ratings and not trying to be entertainment.

Walter Cronkite
(American broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite (b. 1916) on television during 1st presidential debate between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 23 September 1976. Photo: U.S. Library of Congress)

The press dramatically turned a page after 9/11. There was a lot of pressure to be patriotic and everyone was so traumatized that the press was easy to manipulate. Hence, Bush II, the first Fox News president, got away with lying about WMD in Iraq; Judith Miller allowed herself to get sucked into the Karl Rove scoop about Saddam Hussein’s supposed search for uranium in Africa that turned out to be a lie provided by Scooter Libby.

But even before 9/11 there was timidity in the days of Reagan. The Iran-Contra Affair should have had the lead headline on every newspaper when it was uncovered. Instead it was buried on page 12 of the New York Times.

And the media/press didn’t really hold the politicians that were relentlessly and frivolously going after President Clinton accountable. I believe they were intimidated by these new “Newt Gingrich Republicans” who made politics war, and didn’t want to be on the outs with them. Also suffice it to say there are media organizations that are truly journalistic and those that are not.

On Media Influence

For all the bashing of CNN by Trump, were they a key to his election?

Yes, CNN was a key factor to Trump’s election. Because Trump was such a spectacle and so easily accessible (he often would just phone in), the networks always featured him during the campaign. When half of the challenge of candidates is to build name recognition, all that attention on him was helpful to him.

The tracking firm, mediaQuant reported that he received over $5 billion in free media throughout his campaign. In comparison, Hillary Clinton got $746 million and Bernie Sanders got $321 million in free media coverage. CNN received almost $1 billion in gross profit in 2016 according to Forbes. And CNN gave Trump the most airtime.

CNN even hired Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski while he was still being paid by the Trump campaign. They also hired Clinton operatives, but let’s be real, Lewandowski is a bit of a jerk and not capable of even pretending to be non-partisan. And according to Internet Archive data, CNN largely ignored the other 2016 Republican candidates in favor of Trump. Of the Republicans, they covered Trump 55.4% of the time. The rest of that time was split between all of the 13 other Republican candidates.

As if that weren’t bad enough, instead of policy or issues being discussed, his clownish antics were discussed. Instead of following up on his delusional boasts of creating beautiful healthcare or his “plans” for defeating ISIS or his shady business practices, his boasts about his hand size were discussed.

A Shorenstein Center study found that Hillary’s emails, “accounted for a full sixth of Clinton’s coverage on CNN’s The Situation Room.” Rarely was it pointed out that she was following previous examples when she used a private server. So, when most people thought of Hillary, they associated her name with the email story. The other outrageous story, though, is the way CNN and all major media gave short shrift to Bernie Sanders when he had crowds that rivaled Donald Trump’s marveled-at-crowd sizes! They virtually ignored him.


(Original warning signs for trump – REPOSTING AGAIN from AUGUST 27th 2015. Photo: Torbak Hopper)

(Original warning signs for trump — from August 27th 2015. Photo: Torbak Hopper)

As Ryan Grim in HuffPost reported in 2016: When Fox, CNN and MSNBC all refused to carry Bernie’s speech, they instead just offered chyrons that read Standing by for Trump. Sanders got giant crowds remarkably even with barely a fraction of the coverage, yet there was a “Bernie Blackout” in the news. Since the electorate was looking for someone who was not an establishment politician and completely different maybe he could have won if he was covered more fairly and taken more seriously. How different the world would be now.

How much do lobbyists influence the media, other than through say writing op-eds or related activities?

Lobbyists do influence the media in that they provide free opinions, they are cheap to have on and help maintain the current system. In turn they influence the viewers. There is a cumulative effect when lobbyist after lobbyist, unidentified but seeming oh so official and sincere, repeats the same propaganda on show after show.

How buddy-buddy are media with politicians and government? On both sides, the left and the right. Do they go to the same social events, work together to spread certain types of messaging?

Media is indeed buddy-buddy with politicians and government but not all media and not all politicians. It depends on what media and what politicians. But in general, they do all dine together, go to functions together and there’s even the yearly Correspondents’ Dinner.

It is not an easy situation because politicians and government need media, and media needs politicians and government. Politicians understand that media shapes opinion and thus shapes government and politics and that’s why they need media. Media needs politicians to fill time, sell eyeballs and inform people—and sometimes to entertain.

Even though politicians blame the media, they also use the media and the media also allows for themselves to be used for various reasons. They either sympathize with the politician or need material or want the cachet of having them on their shows.

Talk shows can help a politician by asking softball questions or ask questions that allow the politician to show a human side. Sometimes a politician can just call in to a talk radio show they know will be supportive of them. Or, a campaign manager will often dangle an “exclusive” interview to a TV talk show, TV news show, newspaper or magazine or a talk radio show. That’s free publicity for the politician or candidate. If in that exclusive interview they show the family dog or the politician’s kids that can improve the candidate or politician’s image regardless of their policies.

When Trump was holding his rallies, TV news would be sure to cover those rallies because they were sensational and drew gawking viewers. If Fox News were covering the rally, they may stage the cameras in such a way that might make it look like there is a bigger crowd than there is or focus on people that make it look like there’s a diverse crowd.

Likewise, a candidate or politician may announce they are having a news conference, but really there is no news. That amounts to free publicity for them and cheap filler for their chosen media.

I hate it when you see any interviewer ask a question of a politician and then let the politician answer the question they want to answer or the interviewer lets them blather on or lets them lie without stopping them or pointing out they lied.

The politician will often stick the lie somewhere in the middle of their pitch, and once they get past it, the interviewer has let it pass. The interviewer has to take control of the interview. Like him or not, Ari Melber of MSNBC is good at taking control of the interview.

The upshot is you can’t have those that are supposed to monitor a group be part of that group. That is not healthy for democracy. We must rely on media to be able to give us objective and accurate information on that candidate, politician or policy. That doesn’t mean they have to be enemies but they certainly shouldn’t have such a close or mutually dependent relationship that it makes it difficult to be honest, accurate or critical if need be.

Are there any examples of past elections or events where media really dictated the public narrative, influenced an election or influenced public perception?

I’m going to assume we’re talking mostly about mainstream media because we know right-wing media did and does hit pieces on any and every Democrat running for office.

We know Hillary was portrayed and talked about as “unlikable” and that her emails were focused on ad nauseum without the explanation that she was not doing something uncommon.

Al Gore was depicted on Fox as a sore loser in 2000 and was trying to steal the election just because he wanted a recount. But corporate media focused on his likability factor and how they’d rather have a beer with Bush. They pinned Gore as a liar because he said he took “the initiative” in creating the Internet and distorted that to mean that he himself said he created the “Internets.”

George Bush I was portrayed as weak because he had a somewhat goofy/nerdy/preppy manner and fainted once after playing tennis because of dehydration.

Michael Dukakis (when he ran against Bush I) was portrayed as soft on crime. He had a 17-point lead until the Willie Horton ad came out. The “liberal media” were complicit in running the photo of Willie Horton over and over again. As we know, Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes came up with the Willie Horton ad. Lee Atwater on his deathbed apologized for it. Dukakis always regretted not fighting back, a typical Democratic approach to appear above it all or mistakenly thinking it will just die if they pay no attention to it.

The meek mainstream media did not push back enough when John Kerry was “swift-boated” by Texas billionaire Bob Perry who gave $4.4 million to a group of POWs to make a video accusing Kerry of exaggerating and distorting his conduct in the war. That was given so much airtime without much pushback.

Howard Dean’s “scream” was replayed over 600 times and the background noise level had been brought down so that you really heard Dean’s scream at an insanely loud level.

And as I explained above, Bernie Sanders was ignored and when he wasn’t ignored, he wasn’t taken seriously. They acted like he was cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, far out there and extreme.

These are just some examples that stick out in my mind where media dictated the public narrative and influenced an election by influencing public perception.

On the Future of Media

Do Democrats have a different platform regarding the FCC than Republicans? 

I wasn’t sure I had the complete answer to this question so I checked in with my colleague, Sue Wilson from Media Action Center. She says that the short answer is that most Democrats do have a different platform.

The GOP-led FCC (Ajit Pai heading it) that wanted to get rid of Net Neutrality faked millions of phony comments against it. Fortunately, they were busted. Dems championed a Net Neutrality bill in Congress, which it will soon vote on. This is huge. Despite the fact that small businesses rally for Net Neutrality, the Republicans are soft on the issue, possibly due to giant campaign contributions from companies like Verizon. Here is a great piece that Sue Wilson wrote some years ago for McClatchy’s Sacramento Bee that is one of the best pieces written on the topic: https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/california-forum/article2674439.html  

Are there any ways to educate the public about the various people from think tanks, PACS, etc., who appear as pundits on cable news and what their specific affiliation is and who is paying them?

News shows should always identify the backgrounds of pundits and their specific affiliations that they have on their news shows.

They should also mention whom they work for, and if they are being paid to be a talking head or a lobbyist, mention who is paying them, or if they are from a specific think tank or a super PAC what the purpose of that think tank or PAC is should be explained.

The same goes for if they are writing a column they should be required to identify themselves and whom they may be affiliated with.

SO, given that they don’t, WE, their consumers, need to complain to them when they don’t. We can tweet them immediately (that’s what I do), or email them, or leave a message on their website or complain on their Facebook page.

It’s up to us to speak out and demand what we require from these cable news shows.

Should media literacy be taught in elementary school?  

Yes! And in middle school and high school and in college as a way to prepare young people how to better make decisions for their lives, how to see through media manipulation and to understand how advertising works so they’re not sucked into the state of “acquire-itis.”

Independent thinking as part of Media literacy needs to be encouraged. Media literacy should be required teaching like math and English. If we cared about our future and our democracy, we would stipulate it.

My film, “The Brainwashing of My Dad” should be shown in high schools and colleges, if I do say so myself.

Recommended Media

Who are the people who are covering media today who are a must-read or a must-see?

Pew Research, WNYC On the Media, Free Press (freepress.net), Tim Karr, Eric Boehlert, sometimes John Oliver will cover the media, Media Matters, Brad Friedman at BradBlog.com, Robert McChesney, FAIR.org.

As opposed to journalists who cover the media, who are the media activists of today?  

Robert McChesney and John Nichols, Sue Wilson of Media Action Center, Jeff Cohen, Eric Boehlert, Angelo Carusone of Media Matters, FreePress.net, Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice, Dave and Erin Ninehouser of HearYourselfThink.org.

Many of the media activists I know are not well known but work really hard to bring attention to the destructive effects of right-wing media like James Burns and India Weeks of Monterey, California, who are citizen activists and the many others I know from Facebook and Twitter and in my life.

What are the most under-reported stories in media? What does media leave out?

Lots! Climate change (although finally some are covering it), all the other horrible things Trump is doing are not covered enough if at all: the deregulation Trump is doing and how that will affect our health and safety, like the EPA’s proposal to weaken the Clean Water Act, how he wants the pig industry to monitor itself, or how Trump wants to open up drilling in the Arctic, or his disregard for farm animals, wild animals and endangered species, etc. We rarely hear about QAnon’s presence at Trump’s rallies.

You don’t hear about corporate welfare, or who caused this debacle of not being able to negotiate pharmaceutical prices (hint: Bush II on free market grounds) (and now in fact Republicans are warning drug companies not to cooperate with a congressional investigation into drug prices, Paul McLeod writes in BuzzFeed; by the way, the drug industry spends billions in lobbying), or anti-war activists or how much we spend on the military, the role of think tanks and lobbyists and who those lobbyists are, the role of ALEC or Rick Scott’s healthcare fraud.

In corporate media we don’t hear that much about the power grab Scott Walker is trying to effect in Wisconsin and the unconstitutional criminality of former Michigan governor, Rick Snyder although Rachel Maddow should be given much credit for bringing attention to the Flint water crisis. You don’t hear about the harmful effects of fracking either. We basically don’t hear from the disenfranchised. Alternative media outlets discuss these things so I’m talking mostly about mainstream corporate media. The list of what is not reported or covered is hugely disproportional to what is covered.

What are some of the most reputable and non-partisan examples of media out there?

The Nation, Amy Goodman, Common Dreams, NPR, PBS, Bill Moyers’ Journal, Reader Supported News, sometimes The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The New York Times. I think some of these are left-leaning but accurate.

Like Steven Colbert said, “The truth has a liberal bias.”

I have a whole list of media that I think is objective, but again, it might not be considered “non-partisan.”

Is there any strongly anti-war media? If yes, who? If no, why not?

There is media that is anti-war but no mainstream media that is corporate owned is strongly anti-war and that’s because multi-national corporations with investments in the military industrial complex own this media.

The media that is strongly anti-war is usually totally listener/reader funded. Amy Goodman was openly critical of the Iraq war and the crimes by the government related to the war. Knight Ridder, a large media outlet now owned by McClatchy, was also critical of the Iraq invasion. Phil Donahue was against the Iraq War and got the axe for it. The Nation and Mother Jones.

What books on media are must-reads?

David Brock, “The Republican Noise Machine,” Al Franken, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” Noam Chomsky, “Media Control,” Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, “Manufacturing Consent,” Lisa Snow, “Mind, Media, and Madness,” David Brock, Ari Rabin-Havt and Media Matters, “The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph B. Cappella, “Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment,” Bill Press, “Toxic Talk: How the Radical Right Has Poisoned America’s Airwaves,” Dr. Bryant Welch, “State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind” are just a few.

Steve Matteo

Steve Matteo is the author of Let It Be (33 1/3/Bloomsbury) and Dylan (Sterling) and he has written for such publications as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, New York magazine, Time Out New York, Rolling Stone, Spin, Interview, Salon and Literary Hub. He holds a B.F.A. in Communication Arts from the New York Institute of Technology.

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