Join Tomiwa Aladekomo, CEO of Big Cabal Media, TechCabal and Zikoko, Paul Jay, the founder and host of theAnalysis.news, and Joe Lauria, the editor-in-chief of the Consortium News, as they navigate independent media in the Digital Age.
The media landscape in the process of ongoing and dramatic evolution, so we’re going to join the chief executive of Big Cabal Media, TechCabal and Zikoko, Tomiwa Aladekomo, the founder and host of theAnalysis.news, Paul Jay, the editor in chief of the Consortium News Joe Lauria. Now, as they navigate independent media in the digital age. Hello, hi, and welcome and thank you for joining us for this session. It’s independent media in the digital age.
With us today is Paul Jay, he’s a journalist and a filmmaker, the founder and host of theAnalysis.news, a video and audio, current affairs interview and commentary show and website. His films won numerous awards at major festivals around the world. He was past chair of the documentary Organization of Canada and was the founding chair of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Welcome, Paul. Thank you. Also with us is Joe Lauria, and Joe Lauria is the editor in chief of Conservative News, and he’s a former UN correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe and numerous other newspapers.
He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London and began his professional career as a stringer for The New York Times. Welcome, Joe. Thank you very much. Good to be here. Thanks. It’s great to have you. I’m going to start just sort of kick it off, talking a little bit about kind of the transition from sort of big established media companies to sort of smaller, more independent platforms. Joe, if I could kind of kick it off with you and ask you sort of what that transition’s been like and sort of what your experiences have been. What’s the good what’s the bad of that?
OK, I just want to tell you a little bit about Consortium News, if I can, because if we’re talking about independent media, Consortium News holds a very important place in the history of independent media, online in particular. I mean, there’s been independent media for centuries, I guess, outside of major daily newspapers and TV stations. And Consortium News was founded on November 15, 1995, by Robert Parry, who was an investigative reporter, a real one for the AP and later for Newsweek.
And at the AP, he broke some of the biggest Iran-Contra stories in the 80s during the Reagan administration. It was Bob and his partner at the AP who broke the story that named Oliver North, the Marine who was working in the basement of the White House to facilitate these illegal arms transfers and payments to Iran and sending the money on to the Contras in Nicaragua after Congress had cut off that funding, a totally unconstitutional act. Major scandal, doesn’t get its credit in the list of American scandals was Iran-Contra. Bob, however, got very fed up with AP because they continuously tried to spike that story.
Not a surprise to anybody who’s familiar with how big corporate media works that they protect normally, too often, the interests of powerful Americans. They’re part of that power. And Bob, they kept telling him to go and interview more people. And finally they asked him, can’t Oliver North just confess? And of course, they had documents and interviews. The article was published inadvertently in Spanish translation on AP Spanish Wire, which, of course, went out to Central America.
And at that point, the AP could not do anything but publish it in English. So Bob went on to Newsweek. Same kind of thing happened. He was told by a senior Newsweek editor not to dig too deep into a story because it’s not good for the country, not good for the leaders of the country. This is not Bob’s idea of journalism. Shouldn’t be any journalist’s idea of journalism to do the bidding of the powerful. It’s supposed to be just the opposite, to hold them accountable.
So he started in 1995, this first independent news website on the worldwide web. And I did a little bit of research, it actually came out two months before the New York Times website was launched on January 22 1996 and five months before the L.A. Times website in April of 96. The Wall Street Journal came out on April 29 1996 just a few weeks later. It seems like the Chicago Tribune may have been online a few weeks before Consortium News and Salon.com, funnily enough, launched five days after Bob started Consortium News.
Bob died almost three years ago now, in January of 2018. I became editor in chief on April 1st of 2018 and I’ve kept going. His vision for what this site is and essentially nonpartisanship is a very major part of this web site and has been from the beginning where as journalists we should not be pushing an agenda of any sort politically, particularly of any political party. It’s quite easy for Consortium News to continue to be nonpartisan because we really can’t stand either major party, we are critical of both major US parties.
So it’s not a stretch, it’s not hard for us to hold back some feelings in either direction. But of course, that brings enemies on from both sides and a lot of misunderstanding because people bringing this extraordinary binary thinking now is beyond hyper-partisan. I left the US a year ago. It was unbelievable. But I think since then it’s even gotten worse if that was possible. So this complete breaking down of two camps, which I attribute to back in 96, a year after Bob started, about when Fox News began.
Murdoch is really central to this extreme partisanship that’s so damaging to the United States in particular, but other countries, too. But when Fox began, they really replaced any semblance of journalism not having an agenda, trying to get to the facts of a story, with Republican Party propaganda. The problem was it destroyed the ratings of CNN and MSNBC. And they scrambled, and a few years later, they have become, in my view, partisan, even propagandistic, for the Democratic Party.
So we’ve lost us. And this is also any semblance on US television news. Look at the first, very first day of the broadcast of CNN. You can go on YouTube and find it. They have an extraordinary investigative report for twenty minutes about faulty fuel gauges on airlines. An interview with Jimmy Carter who was president then, etc. and they had a lot of support for Israel. They were reporting, like newspaper reporters. Journalism on TV was possible.
It’s gone now. It’s screaming heads. It’s partisanship. It’s embarrassing and damaging to the country. Yes, so now what we’re faced with now is this partisanship has led to censorship. I don’t like that word. I think it’s the C word. I think the C word is overused, people screaming. For example, we’re a publication, not social media and we have a comment section, because people have been conditioned to use social media now.
A lot of our readers think we are a social media platform, that we can’t use editorial judgment. Now, we have plenty of people sending in articles to Consortium news writers, and we use editorial judgment like every publication to accept some and deny others. We apply the same to comments. Big media, New York Times does that. Not every comment sent to the Times or Wall Street Journal is used. But we’re attacked for also doing censorship, which is false.
There’s a big difference, big discussion between editorial judgment and censorship. However, just two weeks ago, YouTube took down one of our videos. We have a webcast called CN Live, which we launched two and a half years ago. And CN Live interviewed Greg Palast, a journalist who’s done enormously good work for 20 years now about voter suppression. Now, YouTube was pressured by the Democrats that said openly to take down videos that question the 2020 election, that said that Trump got it robbed.
OK, we could argue Consortium News never said it was robbed. We accepted right from the first night, basically, that Biden had won, that those postal votes came in. So we’ve never been on the side of saying that this was a stolen election and it was always and the 60 lawsuits that Trump camp put forward that were rejected is the evidence that you need. They had every right to do that. But it’s failed. They lost the election. We never said that.
However, in this video, Palast is talking about voter suppression, which is different than voter fraud. Of course, voter suppression being efforts made before the vote to stop mostly minorities from voting, to hurt the Democrats because most minorities are Democrat. The electoral fraud that the Trump people are talking about is very, very rare. It hardly ever happens, a dead person voting, that kind of thing. But YouTube took our video down anyway. They gave us a warning and then without allowing us to even put up another video, gave us a strike.
And we appealed and they rejected it. The only thing that was in our video was a short opening in one of Palast’s films of Trump supporters saying it was stolen. And then immediately we have people saying, oh, that’s not true. It didn’t happen. So we were just working as reporters to show people on the Trump side saying something for one minute. That was in Palast’s film, not even ours. So we don’t really know why this was shut down, but it was clearly a mistake.
And we had a strike against us now. And this is very worrying this, I have to use the C word, is censorship now. That social media company too because it’s a platform or is it a publication? I think I can leave it there.
I mean, a lot of really big issues. I mean, some of them I’m actually quite excited to dig into. Editorial judgment, deciding what it is that you want to publish, the independence of opinion. And then tech power, I think there’s a lot in there. Paul, if you wanna give us a bit of a background about theAnalysis.news, about you and sort of your position, that would be great as well.
Yeah, I mean, I used to wear various hats, documentary filmmaker, which I made films for all the big broadcasters, you know, BBC and A&E’s and CBC’s and so on.
I grew up in Canada, but I’m a dual citizen, so I’ve spent a lot of time living and working in the US.
But I used to be executive producer for ten years of a show on CBC, which was the main current affairs debate show nightly, as I say, for a decade called CounterSpin.
And we used to do these shows, for example, in the lead up to the Iraq war, we would have a debate on whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and we would have a proper left and right debate about it, including the Canadian left debating American neocons who couldn’t believe such a debate would even take place.
But it was clear, out of the debates came, that there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
And then the next night on the Canadian news, never mind American news, there’d be practically no follow up on what happened in the debate. The same thing happened after the invasion of Afghanistan.
Canadian National News would be doing stories about should Canadian jeeps have more armor on them in Afghanistan, and we’d be doing a debate on should there be an alliance with warlords if you’re pretending to create democracy in Afghanistan.
So I got very fed up with, even though I was on mainstream news, mainstream television, very frustrated with the fact that the daily news cycle would never pick up the stuff we were revealing in our show, even though we’re on the same network. And then after 10 years, our show, even though we were, I believe, the highest rated show on the network, this is CBC’s news channel, we got canceled and replaced by a young host who was supposed to increase the youth demographics. And in fact, his ratings were less than ours.
So I went on, I created something called the Real News Network. I moved to the states, I lived in, first in the Washington area, then in Baltimore for almost nine years.
And we created a decent, small, modest footprint in the media landscape with independent journalism. And we framed interviews and stories in a way not many others were doing, with Consortium and a couple of others were also exceptions. But I actually become quite frustrated with one, how much our voices are still so marginalized.
Even when I’ve had enormous what I think are real breakthrough stories, the mainstream news just completely ignores them, even though I do everything I can to let them know. For example, and I can talk more about it later, but Senator Bob Graham, who was the co-chair of the joint congressional investigation into 9/11 and was the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said to me in a series of interviews that his investigation into 9/11 came to the conclusion that, one, the Saudi government, through their ambassador, Prince Bandar, was directly involved in facilitating and supporting the attacks on 9/11.
Number two, that Cheney and Bush knew the attacks were coming and deliberately created a culture amongst the American intelligence agencies of not wanting to know what was happening, that this Keystone Cops idea that the intelligence agencies weren’t simply communicating and that’s why there was such chaos.
Senator Graham said that it was a deliberate creation of chaos, that Richard Clarke, who was supposed to be the anti-terrorism czar, said on camera that even though all intelligence information was supposed to come to him, so there wouldn’t be such lack of coordination, Cheney deliberately set up a second channel. So everything went to him and not to Clarke. And then Cheney sat on the information and Graham says to me on camera that Cheney and Bush deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen.
Now, whether you believe any of that or not, the guy is a serious member of the American intelligence community, the senior senator. His story was virtually ignored. When I had this guy on camera saying the stuff, I sent it to all the major news networks up and down the East Coast where most of them are and said, you can have it for free. All you got to do is say it came from my organization. That’s it. Not a single one took me up on it. So I’m frustrated with that. So it’s not that we didn’t have some impact, but in some ways today I’m frustrated with something even more. I mean, I left Real News. I’ve created The Analysis that gives me more space and time to do the kind of work I want.
But I’m very frustrated that it’s very difficult to get to the sections of the population that are so befuddled, first of all, by Trumpian stuff and also by corporate Democrat stuff. I’m trying to figure out how do we get to those sections, particularly of the working class, because the issue of distribution is so critical.
I think many of our type of sites are creating good content, but we’re not getting to those sections of the population. So I’m trying to deal with that. In terms of The Analysis, you know, I do a half hour to an hour, mostly video podcasts, in-depth interviews, some commentary and reports of my own.
And I’m trying to deal with questions of, just quickly, another example, which I’m happy to get into more in detail, but the events of January six on Capitol Hill have been completely obfuscated. It’s very clear, I think, that Trump and his acting secretary of defense, it seems, I can’t be definitive because I don’t have subpoena powers, but there’s enough evidence out there in the public domain, that 10 former secretaries of defense, wrote a letter in The Washington Post warning the acting secretary of defense not to get the military involved in the outcome of the election.
And then the same day, this is all about January 4th, I believe, like two days before the events of the 6th, Admiral Stavridis, who is the former supreme commander of NATO, writes a letter in Time magazine supporting the letter from the ten former secretaries of defense warning the military not to get involved. And then two days later and now everybody at this point knows there’s a massive crowd coming to Congress two days later. The idea that they didn’t have intelligence is nonsense because the chief of police of the Capitol Hill Police on January, I guess it’s fifth, the day before, asks the sergeant of arms of the House and the Senate, and the one at the Senate reports to Mitch McConnell, the House reports to Nancy Pelosi, asks for the National Guard to be brought in and is told no.
So clearly there’s enough intelligence about what’s coming for him to ask for the National Guard. So put all these pieces together and the Financial Times on January 4th actually says, quote, “A coup is in progress”. This is a day before the sixth, or two days before the sixth.
So why is no one reporting on this? I mean, frankly, I seem to be the only one going on about this. And of course, I’m accused of having conspiracy theories. But if The Financial Times says there’s a coup in progress, and now who talks about a coup in progress? Almost nobody. And you know, this whole idea that every time you report on something like this, oh, you’re a conspiracy theorist. Well, what the hell was the lead up to the Iraq war? A whole campaign of lies about weapons of mass destruction. That wasn’t a conspiracy. And nobody wants to talk about that either.
So we are able still, by we meaning sites like Consortium and Analysis and a few others, we are able to say these sorts of things and do this kind of reporting. We’re not closed down yet, although we were one of our videos was taken down from YouTube for the exact same reason as Joe’s. And then I did a second video when I figured the algorithm had taken down the first one, because like Joe, I’d put a clip of Trump speaking to the audience. And I was using that to show how he incited the audience, his crowd, not to confirm there was a fraud, but I figured the algorithm picked it up.
So I did another version with some more information. I took Trump right out of it. So this time they left the video up. But then I tried to advertise on YouTube to promote the video. Not only did they not allow me to advertise that video, they actually banned me from advertising on all of Google forever.
I mean, the stuff’s insane, I appealed it twice, turned down. So it does lead to, and I won’t get into this too much more, but I think we do need to talk about it. How do institutions like ours start to work together better and more with more clout? Because right now, like when we complain about YouTube and Google, nothing happens. I talked to the guy at ACLU who’s in charge of this kind of stuff and he wrote a letter to Amazon. They haven’t even answered him. You know, they’re private companies, they can do as they please. But anyway, the issue of more collaboration amongst sites that do this kind of work I think is important.
So thank you very much for that all. I guess let me ask a question for either of you. Do you see some of these alternative positions, some of these independent positions, when there are things that you find independent sites concerned about, do you ever see them move into the mainstream? And if so, how so? I know you’ve both identified the issue of sort of pursuing lines of investigation or sort of the lines of investigation that the mainstream or perspectives that the mainstream is missing. Do you ever see where some of these positions jump from the independent sites to the front of a newspaper? And what happens? Like what happens to trigger that? Joe, do you want to give it a shot?
That’s a very good question. And I’m searching my memory. I can’t come up with one example of a Consortium news story even going back in the twenty three years that Bob Parry was the editor, that a story that we broke or that we put a different angle on. I mean, basically what we tried to do is cover stories that the mainstream media is either not covering at all or an angle that they’re suppressing. Which is why there’s a lot of stories that we don’t touch because that gets sufficient coverage in corporate media.
So that’s an extremely good question. And I’m going to have to think some more about that. The other media, it’s very possible that that did happen, that it started. Whether they gave credit to an alternative media for starting it or not is another question. You could say Matt Drudge, but I don’t know if I want to go there. But Matt Drudge, of course, who started the Drudge Report and his first big story, he’s not a journalist, he just aggregates. But Newsweek had a story about Monica Lewinsky and the dress that they apparently suppressed for a while. Anyway, someone at Newsweek leaked it to him, it seems, and he put it out there. So that was the big story that everybody knew was going in the US leading to an impeachment. That was in that day, at least, an online sort of alternative website.
He did that with a story that the Sunday Times of London didn’t run and then it was given to him about a cloning lab. It’s a big, long story that I’d found in West Virginia. And he put that out and Wolf Blitzer interviewed me and I was going to be on the next day, but it was September 10, 2001. So that was the end of that story. But those are only two examples that I could think of where Drudge did that.
I’ve got two of my things that went mainstream viral, but they’re both, if I could use the word quirky, I guess the first one was I did a lot of coverage, and I think people should really go look at it, but of the G20 protests in Toronto a few years ago.
But one of our stories was this cop facing a protester, and she’s blowing bubbles, like soap bubbles. And one of them hits him on the shoulder and he threatens to arrest her and nobody can believe it. So that went so viral that even Fox picked it up. It went everywhere around the world on TV. But nobody, of course, followed up on the actual coverage we were doing of the substance of G20. You know, they arrested a thousand people there literally for no reason. They arrest, I’m quite sure it was done, as a training exercise. And that was one of the stories we broke, is that they were doing this at various things, including the Democratic Party convention, the Republican Party conventions, where they would do mass arrests when the only possible rationale for it was to train police on how to do mass arrests. Well, of course, nobody picked up on that.
Then the second thing I did, which went viral, was when Julian Assange was arrested, he was carrying my book of interviews I did with Gore Vidal. He held it up and that went on television everywhere. The Washington Post interviewed me about it and gave me a decent interview about what the book was about, why Julian might have been holding it up. Practically every other broadcaster, newspaper, like if you look up Julian Assange, Paul Jay, Gore Vidal, there’s like tens of thousands of media institutions that covered it. Nobody else interviewed me. Nobody else asked me what the book was about.
And so the only one I know that’s kind of in the space we’re talking about is maybe The Intercept. Some of their stories do get treated in the mainstream media and get referred to, not much else.
Interesting. So, I’ll give you guys a bit of background on myself because I didn’t actually do an intro. So my name is Tomiwa and I run a company called Big Cabal Media. We have two publications, one’s called TechCabal, covering technology in Africa. The other one’s called Zikoko and its kind of youth content and youth publication. And I mean, speaking to this question of sort of seeing stories jump from the edge to the mainstream, we’re obviously not in the US, so we’re not covering US topics the same way you two are.
But I mean, there’s a story we did late last year in the middle of a series of pretty major protests in Nigeria. And one of the stories that we covered was that the Nigerian army had a big operation pushing out propaganda around these protests. And they actually announced that they were going to do a cyber warfare sort of training. And we saw quite a bit of evidence that at the time they were pushing out all kinds of propaganda to sort of muddy the issue and to confuse what was a legitimate protest and what was all of this false information flooding the airwaves.
And it’s quite interesting because we saw that story get picked up by Google. And Joe mentioned the way the algorithm kind of decides, or the various algorithms these big tech companies have, make these decisions that are a bit opaque. But sometimes they work against you, sometimes they work for you. But what was interesting was we saw that picked up by Google and then it started to sort of set on the front of searches for these protests. And we saw it get picked up by a bunch of other outlets. And that was everything. A few names, I think writers might have picked it up. And we saw a couple of other American outlets picked it up as well and so it got a bit of lift.
Well, I think it is quite interesting in the way and the place I do want to take this conversation to is the way the tech companies have this huge power to amplify stories and to amplify or to take down stories or to take down angles. And Joe talked about some of the censorship that he sees being done by the tech platforms.
It’s quite an interesting conundrum for me because I clearly see the harm where legitimate conversations are being suppressed. But I also see the dangers where these platforms allow certain conversations to be amplified to such an extent that they literally drown any other conversation. Or the hyper amplified voices like, I think the example Joe gave was, everybody who said it wasn’t a legitimate election, despite the stop the steal platforms on Facebook, for example, which are hugely, hugely amplifying all of this, quite frankly, conspiracy theories and sort of like nonsensical ideas or your QAnons. And they’re amplifying them to a huge, huge sort of impact, drowning out any other conversation.
Do you see, do you have any concerns about the way technology works, not just in suppressing but also in amplifying some of these angles? Does that concern you or do you have any thoughts about that? Let’s start with you, Paul.
Well, I think we have to see what’s happening with the big tech companies within the context of what’s happening in the society, in the US but globally, and that’s the process of financialization, which means the domination of the financial sector, and the fascistization of most societies, but in the United States to the extreme.
There is a real growing fascism. And I see it in two forms. One, there’s kind of this slower moving one, which is done through the mainstream, including the corporate Democrats. It’s not that they’re all setting out to organize fascism. It’s a process that takes place when one sector of the elites starts getting such control over the state.
Roosevelt called that the definition of fascism, when a sector of the corporations control the state. And right now the banks primarily not only control most of government, they actually own almost everything on the stock market. They have what amounts to controlling interest.
So you have this kind of fascistization taking place and then you get a malignant tumor like Trump, which is an even more overt form of fascism. So the tech companies to a large extent represent this more corporate banking control. They’re themselves becoming practically like financial companies; Apple and others are almost more financial companies now than tech companies.
They don’t like that malignant tumor, Trump. Especially when he wouldn’t peacefully hand over power, that created the potential for such chaos. It wasn’t good for business. Which is why 90 minutes after the storming of the doors of Congress, the Association of American Manufacturers calls for Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump. I mean, 90 minutes, so obviously they had already planned this ahead of time. Trump became, after being very useful in terms of tax cuts and deregulation, Trump had outlived his purpose and the corporate elites wanted him gone.
But the suppression and censorship of these far right conspiracies is becoming a broom to sweep up anything that seems oppositional. I don’t think it’s all algorithm either. I can’t tell yet just how deliberate. But I know, for example, when we appealed our advertising ban, some human actually looked at it and turned us down on the appeal. There’s a guy’s name at the end. I have no idea how senior it is. I also know that the ACLU wrote them and they never replied.
But it’s a process, not so much a conspiracy. But part of that process is anything that’s considered to get at some of the core mythology of the state, like that book that Assange was holding up was called The History of the National Security State, this interview with Gore Vidal. They don’t want that kind of stuff talked about. And I got to say, Consortium is one of the places, and Parry, were one of the ones that really went after some of this core mythology of the Cold War and the state. So, I’m sorry, I’m losing track. What was your question?
It’s very deliberate, it’s not just an impersonal algorithm kind of going after things. There is sort of like a deliberate agenda. And do you see this as a collusion between the tech companies?
Well, let me say one thing. I just learned something the other day, which, if this is true, that apparently that showing of the Trump video that the algorithm picked up, that if you’re a news site on YouTube that has more than three million views a month or something, maybe it’s a week. I don’t know. There’s some level that makes you mainstream. Then the algorithm didn’t kick in and they didn’t delete videos that had that same clip from Trump because, of course, they’re all reporting on Trump’s speech. So they’re already making this division between what’s legitimate.
In other words, if mainstream television or newspapers say something’s legitimate to report, then the tech companies will say, OK, that’s within the mainstream discourse, so it’s OK. And if you’re big enough, you’re OK. So it’s a very broad kind of censorship where The New York Times or CNNs and all this, they get to establish what’s truth. And then other people, oh we’re all conspiracy theorists. So, you know, you can suppress them one way or the other. I’m sure the algorithms are suppressing our views on YouTube. We were doing tens, twenty thousand, fifty thousand views. And then after this stuff started, all of a sudden our views are down under ten thousand.
Let me answer your question. You asked whether there’s a danger here in certain narratives becoming too big because they’re spread and they’re damaging narratives, basically. And I think it’s a complicated question. I would say in general, yes, there is some kind of danger here, but how to deal with it is not an easy question to answer.
What Paul just said is quite interesting. I didn’t know that. But it goes to the heart of what I was about to say, which is monopoly is at the core of this issue in both ways. One, the social media companies are too large. There is an antitrust movement in the DOJ, but they are investigating YouTube and the other social media companies, I believe, for antitrust violation. So this is at the heart of it.
If YouTube is a platform for, and I would say this on political issues, no matter how crazy they are, I think it’s really dangerous to shut it down. But when you get to science and health issues, which should be nonpartisan, should not be political, like the virus. I have a big question whether social media should allow groups that say the virus is a hoax, that it’s only a flu, etc, and then not allow scientists which should be nonpolitical.
That’s a different issue than political speech. But even then, there’s a problem. So if you break up, A, the big social media companies, they may not have that wide scope that you said and be able to spread that everywhere and, B, if you break up the monopoly basically, the corporate media. There’s only six major corporations that own all the newspapers, all the major TV stations. And they, as Paul just pointed out, they get a pass if they’re over three million viewers a week or whatever, and they can report Trump saying something, even though they weren’t supporting it, and Paul wasn’t supporting it, whereas our videos are taken down. That’s really damaging. And I did not know that. And I thank Paul for letting us know about that, because that also shows the monopoly that major media has.
And I think that they find, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out in his extremely good writings on this, that they’re threatened by independent media. Particularly good independent media like Paul Jay’s Real News Network and now his Analysis, Consortium News, and a few others that have ex-journalists like myself and Paul, who have a lot of time inside the mainstream. And we know how to do this job. Not saying anybody who declares themselves a journalist can’t do good journalistic work, but every citizen journalist is not really good at it just because you declare yourself one.
But if you also examined the monopoly of corporate media, where they, I think, as Greenwald said, are threatened by independent media. They want to have control of the narrative and the eyeballs and the advertising, and they don’t want to share this. And now all of a sudden, everybody with a camera and a modem can set themselves up and some of them do really good work without any background in journalism like Paul or I had. So I think this is also a threat to the business of big corporate media and clearly to social media.
People say, well, YouTube is letting you publish that for free. Well, they’re getting our content for free and they’re making money off of that content. So they should be broken up. We have to look really closely at breaking up the big monopoly of social media and corporate media. That’s the heart of some of these issues.
I mean, I agree with both of you. I particularly like this point about the idea of Monopoly being at the heart of this. There’s been a large wave of deregulation and reducing the regulation of even traditional media platforms from TV to the radio stations, which led to pretty massive consolidation across the US. And we saw the impact that had on the diversity of voices.
I guess as somebody who covers the technology industry, I do have the concern of how these technology platforms determine what are good independent voices and what are bad independent voices? And there is, like you said, anyone can declare themselves a journalist these days. Anyone can declare themselves a publisher, start their own site. And you do wonder how as a society we judge those signals and decide which of them have people really doing the hard work and relying on facts versus which are more people shouting into the echo chamber, whatever it is. Conspiracies, they have come up with or whatever sort of agenda it is that they have.
So that can be, again, that’s one of those places where it does feel like the answers aren’t super clear cut. And I think it’s a murky future. I’m quite curious to see how this sort of break up of the big social media companies or the big technology companies, how it happens if it does happen. And I guess I am concerned about what happens in the wake of it. Technology is an interesting space.
One of the arguments that Facebook makes often is that in order to provide the kind of moderation that’s required to make sure the bad actors aren’t taking over the place, you need the kind of skill that they have. Which is obviously very self-serving argument.
But it does make you wonder at the point where there’s six or seven companies, if you break Facebook into six or seven companies, do they all suddenly become better actors because they’re six or seven companies? Or do you just have six or seven people to chase, to see if they’ll behave better? And those aren’t answers, those are questions more than anything.
If you don’t mind, I just want to add something. First of all, the fact that big corporate media protects powerful interests and institutions rather than challenge them, which journalism should do, spawns the speculation that can go off the rails into some crazy theories. If corporate media were doing their job, there wouldn’t be, maybe, this space to fill. And number two, well, I forgot the second point so I’ll let Paul go.
I think breaking up the big monopolies, it’s a good thing, but it’s not a panacea by any means. And I think you make a good point. You can have six Facebooks. More or less, it’s the commercial imperative that drives them and their elite ideology, of course. But why wouldn’t you just have six Facebook similarly? So I’m for breaking them up, but we shouldn’t over expect or exaggerate what would come of it.
I think, first of all, while I think the suppression of certain things is not a bad thing in itself, it is a bad thing in terms of the overall consequences. And by suppressing some of the crazy conspiracies about the elections or the vaccine and using then that as a way and excuse to suppress all kinds of things that shouldn’t be suppressed is actually more dangerous. Because I think the far right crap is going to find a way to get to its audience no matter what. I don’t think you’re really preventing it from being distributed. What you are doing is what’s happening to Joe and our thing.
So I actually think for what it’s worth, the First Amendment should apply on these platforms. The fact they’re privately owned. Too bad. Then if the excuse is to privately own them, make them publicly owned. And maybe that is the bigger real solution is that there needs to be a platform that’s essentially a public utility that has some kind of democratic process of control. And maybe if it’s a product of a real democratic process, some things could be suppressed.
On the other hand, there’s already laws that exist even within a public platform. Like you’re not supposed to libel and slander people. You can encourage hatred and violence. There’s already laws about that. So use the bloody laws that exist. But don’t create some blanket right of big tech to decide what’s in the public interest because they don’t have any interest in the public interest.
The second and bigger question America has to face, and probably other countries do, but let’s talk about the US. Why do so many people believe the bullshit? Why do seventy four million people vote for Trump? Why do millions and millions of people, including nurses, don’t want to take vaccines?
I was seeing this crazy story 20, 30 percent of nurses are refusing to take vaccines, the anti scientific mood. And in much of the country, and the incredible urban rural division in America, the educational system, it’s like two countries. My kids went to school in Baltimore and Brooklyn. In both of their schools they actually learned about what the civil rights movement was.
I talked to both teachers and, my kids are only eight now, so when they were seven and six I refused to let them stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. And I went to the teachers. I said, I don’t want my kids saying the Pledge of Allegiance, it’s B.S. And I couldn’t even finish my sentence because both teachers agreed with me.
I don’t think that’s happening in rural Texas and rural Iowa or wherever. So you got two different countries that exist and the corporate Democrats and the urban elites have just ignored rural America. They haven’t given a shit what’s happening to sections of the working class and especially the educational system. So the more important question is if people can believe QAnon in such crazy numbers, that is the breeding ground for such a fascist culture.
And so us who have lived in cities, I can’t say I’m so different. I mean, when’s the last time I went into rural America or rural Canada? I haven’t, not really. I’m planning to now. But the urban populations, if they don’t wake up about what’s happening in rural America because of this stupid election system where every state gets two senators. And because of the gerrymandering at the state level, how many Republicans control legislatures, not that it’s so much better when Democrats do, but it’s a little bit better.
We better figure out how to talk to rural America, rural working class, and understand the psychology, the culture, so we can really break through to people. And by we now I’m talking as journalists. I have to say I do have an agenda in the sense my agenda is we better have real change and fight this growing fascism. And so we got to we figure out how to do this.
Gotcha. Guys we’re going to have to pull this to an end, it’s been a fascinating conversation and I think there’s quite a bit that we could kind of go on about. It’s an interesting and difficult time that we’re in, with a lot of change. I am encouraged to see sort of independent thinkers and independent journalists doing the work and thinking about and chasing the stories about the way the world is. And I think we all need to continue to do that work. I think there’s a lot that we need to do to get smarter about working with the digital platforms and the big tech platforms, understanding the algorithms so we can get our messages through. And continue to pressure our governments, whether it’s US, Canada, Nigeria, in terms of ensuring that the rules they are making around these platforms increase the spread of opinions, allow the voices to cut through. I think the fascism conversation is really quite interesting and we do have to think quite deeply about what it is about our current moment. What kind of alienation it is that’s allowing so many people to sort of run up on so many, frankly, boneheaded opinions.
Or maybe it’s just a latent thing in humanity. We humans do have a huge capacity for believing all kinds of nonsense and I think always have had some of that capacity. But I’d like to thank you all for taking the time to join us today. Thank you Paul and Joe, for your comments. And have a great day. Enjoy the rest of the conference, everybody.
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