SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Left Will Never Thrive Without Its Own Smart, Entertaining and Well-Funded Media Organization

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Only in the right-skewed US media landscape would Salon be considered “hyper-partisan left.”

The U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is in its 17th year with no end in sight. The U.S. has killed a million Iraqis over the last 15 years. We’re killing Syrians, Yemenis and Somalis. None of the victims threatened us. We murdered them for fun and profit.

Some of the killers feel guilty. Twenty military veterans and active-duty personnel commit suicide each day.

Militarism is a gruesome sickness. Some people are trying to cure our country of this cancer. But pacifists are fighting an uphill battle.

On Sunday, October 23rd “About 1,500 women and allied men marched on the Pentagon on Sunday to demand an end to perpetual war and the funding of education, health care and other social needs instead,” reported Joe Lauria of the progressive website Consortium News.

Mainstream/corporate journalistic outlets memory-holed the event with a total media blackout.

One commenter on Facebook bemoaned national priorities: what does it say that so few attended the Women’s March on the Pentagon? More than 200,000 people crowded the Washington Mall for comedian Jon Stewart’s inane 2010 “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” a piss-take parody of protest, literally and by the definition of its organizers an apolitical march for nothing!

Cindy Sheehan, an activist who made national news by protesting her son’s death in the Iraq War at George W. Bush’s Texas ranch, responded on Facebook that people should show up rather than sit at home criticizing those who did on their computers.

Cindy is right. She usually is.

But apathy and laziness aren’t the main causes of low attendance at real, bona-fide Left protests and demonstrations (as opposed to coopted-by-the-Democratic Party marches like the annual January 20th Women’s Marches against Trump).

Our real problem is that there isn’t a real, bona-fide Left journalism outlet in the United States.

One that’s smart, i.e., well-managed. Not in the derpy leaderless consensus style that destroyed the Occupy movement, but top-down by brilliant Machiavellian can’t-be-bought leftist schemers who know how to motivate and build an organization.

One that’s well-funded. Not by some control-freak billionaire who can petulantly renege on his big promises after he loses interest or gets corrupted, but by generous ongoing crowdsourcing that guarantees editorial independence to an uncompromisingly left-wing team of editors with big budgets to hire kickass investigative reporters, back out-of-the-box journalists, humorists and editorialists. Give me $50 million a year (wonder if the person who won the $1.6 billion MegaMillions lottery is progressive?) and I could build and run an operation that could change the world. It’s not impossible: Bernie Sanders raised $100 million from small donors in one year.

One that’s entertaining. The way FoxNews and Rush Limbaugh are entertaining but MSNBC and Air America aren’t/weren’t. Because humor and entertainment are what attract new readers/listeners/watchers and keep loyalists coming back.

I only heard about the Women’s March on the Pentagon one day before. It was by happenstance. (I live in New York, six hours from DC, but like most people I can’t just drop everything and skip town with a night’s notice.)

That’s ridiculous.

I’ve been a leftie cartoonist and columnist for nearly three decades. Yet I have hardly ever received an email from a left-leaning organization inviting me to publicize or attend or cover a protest demonstration, or a press release explaining that one was about to occur. I’ve asked other pundits; they never hear from the Left either.

Meanwhile I’m constantly getting talking point lists, action memos, press releases and all sorts of sundry propaganda from right-wing organizations as well as the mainline Republican and Democratic party apparatuses. Which is all redundant because all that crap gets ample coverage on cable news, network news, talk radio, NPR, newspapers and news websites, not to mention social media.

I don’t need more junk email. Point is, my leftism-free inbox is a barometer of the state of the Left: disorganized and disconnected and incapable of broadcasting its message. If a protest march falls in the woods—or on the Washington Mall—does it make a sound? Not if the word doesn’t get out. Not if no one reports it after the fact.

Speaking for myself, I would push out events like the Women’s March on the Pentagon via my social media feeds if I knew about them in advance. I would attend some. I would cover some. I’m sure my left-leaning colleagues feel the same.

Grassroots organizing will never build into 1960s-level mass demonstrations without big, rich, smart, cool media distribution channels to give it space to breathe and expand.

First, we need a big-ass left-wing media group to educate people about what’s going on. You can’t expect people to get riled up about what the U.S. is doing in Yemen if they don’t know what’s going on there. Mainstream corporate media doesn’t cover the U.S. role in the proxy civil war.

Second, to redefine what’s “normal.” In the current media landscape, opposing war is abnormal. That message is subliminal: when’s the last time, during a foreign policy crisis, that a mainstream pundit suggested the U.S. simply stay out of it? A smart, well-funded, entertaining-as-hell media organization would provide an alternative to the establishment narrative. You can’t dream of peace if it’s not in your brain as a possibility in the first place.

Third, to showcase activism and direct action as feasible, fun and effective. 1,500 people is a good turnout for a wedding but a bit depressing if you drove hundreds of miles to attend a national protest demonstration. Movement-based media could get more people to rallies. It could frame such gatherings as exciting, fun and important. That framing would create real political pressure on the powers that be.

In the 1960s the corporate mainstream media allowed antiwar, pro-civil rights and other antiestablishment journalists and pundits to disseminate their views on TV (Cronkite criticizing the Vietnam War), on the opinion pages of major newspapers and in bestselling books. And they covered protests.

No more. The Left has been ruthlessly purged.

Not one single opinion writer or staff columnist or cartoonist employed by an American newspaper is a real, bonafide leftist—not a single one even supported Bernie Sanders (whose politics are basically McGovern in 1972 and was supported by half of Democrats) during the 2016 primaries.

Not one single TV or major radio talk show host is a real, bonafide leftist. None supported Bernie.

The same goes for “liberal” outlets like The Atlantic, Salon, Slate, etc.

It’s censorship. It’s systemic. It’s killing the Left.

Considering that it’s impossible for the Left to get coverage for anything, it’s a miracle that 1,500 people showed up for the Women’s March on the Pentagon.

If we had a real, smart, well-funded, organized media organization to publicize the news and the world from a socialist or communist viewpoint—an ideology shared by at least one out of three American voters overall and 57% of Democrats—there could easily have been 150,000 or 1,500,000.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

20 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Left Will Never Thrive Without Its Own Smart, Entertaining and Well-Funded Media Organization

  1. Ted, it’s a good idea on the media organization. I hope you’ll follow up on it. It’s clearly needed, and you’d be good at it. Draw something up. Shop your 50 million proposal around.
    Push it properly for a few years, who knows?

    All you need is a great name…

    USATV (yeah right, there’s an Armenian site there now, oh well, first problem…)

  2. Concerning the graphic. With the exception of InfoWars and whatever the hell that is next to it, everything is either “high” or “mixed” quality. This sounds like Lake Wobegone.

    Another problem. I think the chart is, in and of itself, not useful. For instance, let’s look at the unemployment stats and the DJIA. Every news source reports them. They’re worthless though. And that’s not me standing in my Russian greatcoat flinging copies of Marx into the crowd of the unwashed masses. The unemployment stats not only don’t count the people who aren’t working (i.e., the ones who have, literally, given up and are sleeping on someone’s couch until they get pushed onto the street), they also don’t discuss the kinds of jobs the employed have and what those jobs mean as far as things such as renting v. home ownership, retirement, children, etc. The DJIA has similar problems (I won’t go into it here for brevity’s sake). The “fake news” unemployment statistics and the “fake news” DJIA reports get reported by the news organizations, and those numbers allow a lot of politicians to kid the public that everything is fine. 300,000 jobs were added last month. Sure, they were almost all in fast-food and retail and are only 35 hours a week without benefits, but it’s 300,000 jobs!!!!!! That doesn’t hurt the powerful, the rich, or the politicians. It only hurts the poor. So how can an organization be considered left-leaning when it just mindlessly parrots these numbers?

    On a second point, a lot of these news sources are of minimal circulation or of fragmentary circulation. Salon? I don’t read it. DailyKos? I used to dip in once in a while to be horrified at what I was seeing. Due to the Internet, I don’t think I “read” any of these regularly; I just dip in when I have the time. The graphic should incorporate some size differential to show that. Fox News has a far bigger footprint than Salon or The Hill or Vice News. How many of these publications pull in new subscribers and change minds? How much time does the average viewer spend engaged with each publication? I suspect there are lots of people watching Fox for hours on end.

    And finally, why count NBC, ABC and CBS news differently. If you look at the primetime coverage of the three, it’s almost always identical.

    • The particular beauty redefining unemployment out of existence is that people in the US come to associate the job problems they themselves actually experience with the fantasy number given by the press stenographers (say 5%). This low number is already is designed to make it seem as if the status quo is already near the optimum achievable.

      For foreign countries, however, readers are given somewhat more realistic figures (say 15% unemployment overall, 30% youth unemployment for many European countries). Readers can be relied on to intuitively make the connection that Europeans suffer from all of their familiar problems but multiplied by 3 to 5 and recoil in shock. This blunts Bernie’s message that another slightly less shitty system is eminently possible ™.

      Of course, actual statistics are well in line with what our lying eyes tell us: the “labor participation rate” is historically quite low and is actually not that different between industrialized countries.

      As Alex points out, an outlet participating in this charade can hardly be considered to report news even if their missives look more polished than Alex Jones’ frothing at the mouth.

  3. Perhaps, but it ain’t gonna happen. Remember ‘Air America’? liberal-ish news and it couldn’t stay afloat. NPR is funded and left-of-center, but it doesn’t have a very large listener base. Could a truly left-of-left-of-center make it?

    The first problem is that lefties are nowhere near as susceptible to “noise and fury, signifying nothing” as are the righties. Nor are they as impressed by smoke, mirrors, dogs, and ponies.

    The second problem is that we’re diverse. If you want to reach the righties you only need one message, “Rich, White, Males: good.” To reach lefites, you need a multitude of messages.

    While a “Smart, Entertaining and Well-Funded Media Organization” certainly wouldn’t hurt, it wouldn’t be as effectual as the righties’ version.

  4. Pingback: The Left Will Never Thrive Without Its Own Smart, Entertaining and Well-Funded Media Organization - LA Progressive

  5. Who drew the graphic anyway? And why did he like AP so much? 😉

    Funny how differences that look fairly small can look so big to people looking from a different vantage point.

    Maybe Ted could come up with an alternative graphic, presumably one with most of these outlets into a very small range labeled “calculated mainstream mediocrity”, with the top and the left being mostly empty space…

    I would nominate RealNews for video reporting, and magazines like Jacobin and Red Pepper for actual left perspectives (if sometimes a bit overly academic). Clearly all small players though. At least include Le Monde Diplomatique on the actual center-left (Five-thirty-eight? Seriously?). I was going to say the Guardian or the Independent (UK), but their online platforms have long given in to blatant clickbait (not to mention the Guardian’s knee-jerk anti-Corbyn editorial line).

    What do you guys think of as examples of actually left-leaning media (ideally measured not just in content but also in how they do business…)?

      • Come on. I don’t think you read as much of the Guardian as I do. I’ve got a lot of time on my hands.

        I hesitate to name-drop here, cuz it’s your house, but: Aditya Chakrabortty, Owen Jones, and George Monbiot are plenty left-enough for a wide-audience site. The leftist you’ll find on a mainstream site.

  6. Great Column Ted.

    Phil Donahue tried to make Bush’s invasion of Iraq an issue for discussion on MSNBC, and had his hat handed to him.

    Fred Hampton tried to give schoolchildren breakfast and was killed in his bed by a barrage of police bullets.

    Most Americans know how dangerous thought can be to their health and financial well-being, and so live a practiced denial that provides a homey comfort feel and makes no political demands.

    Gore Vidal was one of the most frequent guests on the Johnny Carson show, but the episodes with him have mysteriously “disappeared” and so are absent from reruns. Airbrushed totally from media history.

    Most Americans are not brave enough to come out with ideas that challenge American myths, and are waiting to see if its safe to go in the water before going in themselves. Too many people get disappeared from the media and so others don’t want to become shark food.

    Now censorship is becoming entrenched on the internet.

    You have my respect, Ted.

  7. Great column. I had the same idea last night while fantasizing about what I’d do with that much lottery money. “Give some to Ted!” I says. (After I had moved into a fancy hotel in Manchester, ordered room service eggs Benedict, and called the concierge for some Manchester City tickets!)

    Such an organization would have a huge roll to play in education. I’d love to cut-away for the Economics Minute and, rather than be told stock ups and downs, be educated on the latest studies dealing with wages-to-productivity decline and what to do about it (“It’s been 44 years since Americans were payed a fair wage!”); ratio of CEO to worker pay and what to do about it; and decline in percentage of taxes payed by the rich and corporations, among many others.

    Features like: “Tax wealth or income? You decide.” “UBI, could it work here?”

    Rolling coverage of the latest offshore tax scandal, and why not even a counter: “Today the US lost xxx millions in revenue to offshore shenanigans, bringing the lifetime total up to xxx trillions. That money could have bought X, Y, and Z.”

    • Stock buyback counter: “Today US corporations bought xxx millions of their own stock, had that money been paid to workers, each one would have received xxx dollars, bringing the lifetime total to xxx billions.”

  8. The right has taken over media, especially radio. No wonder people are taken in by the right’s spin.If you hear this perspective all the time you will adopt it, unless you somehow break away from this thinking, perhaps through a college education. The Left is definitely atomized through different interest groups also known as identity politics.

  9. Ted,
    As briefly as I can. The problem is that progressivism does not lend itself to journalism.

    Pick an issue. Before you do, realize that progressives tend to do the whole “measure twice, cut once” thing. So whatever issue you picked, it should be an apex one. Climate change is a good example. Another would be neo-liberal capitalism reform. Single-payer health care is a third. Each has a batch of smaller problems under it that would resolve or lessen considerably if the apex issue were dealt with.

    Climate change? That would involve elimination of fossil fuel. That means a discussion about OPEC/the Middle East, the whole Israel/Palestine thing, too. Successful climate change also means that the Middle East is going to cool off because both sides realize the U.S. is no longer going to give a shit about which batch of crazies blows up which other batch of crazies. Say good-bye to $2 billion a year Israel. Saudi royal family? I hope you can all sleep with both eyes open because you are gonna get your throats slit open once all that oil’s value drops to zero.

    (I leave capitalism reform and single-payer as exercises for the students. Either one, by definition, triggers a slew of other corrections.)

    And that’s the problem. Once you present the calm, rational explanation about climate change (or single-payer or capitalism) it’s like the solution to a murder mystery. Once you know Mrs. Pennyfarthing smothered the archduke with her idiot twin-sister’s breasts during the masquerade party to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Jerome and Hyacinth’s wedding, you aren’t going to want to reread the story over and over. So the writer has to come up with a new story. And that’s a lot of work.

    You mentioned Afghanistan. Eventually, as the progressives predicted even before the war started, the two sides will have to sit down and talk terms. The progressives wanted that 17 years ago. History will point out the waste of human life and all the misery caused and the progressives will be sitting there, yardsticks in hand: “Measure twice, cut once. Think about what the consequences will be before you act. And if you don’t, be ready to explain why you couldn’t think through to what was going to be simply unavoidable anyway.” The pacifists of whom you speak can’t win the argument because all those media outlets need the debate to keep going. All those empty hours and empty column inches need to be filled. And refilled.

    “Cindy Sheehan, an activist who made national news by protesting her son’s death in the Iraq War at George W. Bush’s Texas ranch, responded on Facebook that people should show up rather than sit at home criticizing those who did on their computers.

    Cindy is right. She usually is.”

    Sorry. On this one, she’s simply wrong. Showing up WON’T DO ANYTHING, ANYWAY. That isn’t nihilism. That’s reality. It won’t do anything because no one — and I mean no one — sitting in Washington is trembling in their boots at the thought of (gasp) a p-p-p-protest! Jinkies! Here they come, forms filled out in triplicate, going through the metal detectors to reach the Freedom Zone that was assigned to them. Submitting to searches by the police. Starbucks booths to the left and right (whew) and even some portajohns.

    If the OWSers ever have their moment of clarity, let me know. I’ve got some ideas …

    • Good comments, I take your points, but I think what you are describing (accurately) is a state of progressivism that has been militarily defeated. They killed MLK and they killed RFK. True would-be saviors out there know that if they really get near the money, they will be killed too. So they don’t get involved in politics. Smart people on the left are writers, musicians, actors, cartoonists(!), professors, all the professions, entrepreneurs, and (gulp) lawyers. It’s the lawyers who are giving you the “measure twice, cut once” stuff. MLK wasn’t doing that. He was really gonna change stuff.

    • Alex,

      You criticize OWS and Cindy Sheehan for her “faults” which are the same faults of which you are guilty, this being the “fault” of not being wealthy: the inability to hire an ad agency to craft a message, and a mass media outlet that will accept your ads.

      If those are Cindy’s faults they are yours faults even more so, for you criticize her for doing the only publicizing available to person of little means.

      If money is so inconsequential to promoting a political position in the style which you prescribe, then demonstrate for all of us how, by example, or admit that you are only an old fool talking through his hat.

      The modern state…declares wealth education, occupation, religion, race, in short all the real distinctions, to be non-political distinctions.

      Yet, how can wealth be non-political when it provides access to the means of political persuasion? …Are the political opportunities of the wealthy man of leisure the same as those of the harassed mother of six?

      • Glenn,
        The fault is not that of wealth or its lack. The fault is in making effort that cannot result in a desired outcome. A protest march means nothing. Why? Because there’s never follow-up. Everyone wears pink and applauds the antics of a coterie of agitators who seem to be in it partly for some good reason and partly for some celebrity cred on the D-list.
        But there is never any unified punitive follow-up.
        Compare the Montgomery bus boycott to the clownish antics we see now from the lefty-prog side.
        Read up on Larry Kramer’s stunts to get air time and press coverage for ACT UP.
        Those were successes. And in both cases, money was useful, but not essential.

      • “Because there’s never follow-up.”

        That’s been my complaint for years.

        People coming from far across the country will not regularly meet evenings and weekends, and so no sense of continual community is established.

        These protests amount to taking one step forward and then one step backwards, never getting to step two or beyond due physical distance.

        I just can’t blame people for trying in the face of the cultural atomization resulting from the dislocations required by capitalism.

        This is not a condition the hurt and victimized are responsible for creating, and they don’t deserve the blame for trying to function as humans in an inhumane society.

        I choose to recognize their humanity rather than disparage them for trying against impossible odds.

        I tend to lay into people of both left and right leanings who would rather laugh at their efforts than commend them for them.

        I remember how Cindy Sheehan was derided for even thinking of challenging Nancy Pelosi in a primary.

        Yes, Americans can be a disgusting bunch.

      • Larry Kramer didn’t need to purchase media savvy PR people because he was already media savvy and already had a media presence. So no money was needed.

        But how does the Larry Kramer example relate to the situation of Cindy Sheehan whose son was killed in a war justified by media complicit lies, media that fired Phil Donahue for his attempt to discuss merits of that war, and is still suppressed in the media to this day.

        Or your Kramer example’s relation to the situation of a harassed mother of six?

        Are you suggesting that Cindy Sheehan should have put her life on hold and become a renowned playwright?

        Your Kramer example strikes me as obtuse, and hopefully just a brain fart, and not intentional.

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