The Monopoly of Knowledge Creation and the Illusion of Choice
The monopoly of knowledge creation brings with it an illusion of choice which is a major factor behind the massive upset or disappointment at the results of the U.S. presidential election.
This election has left most of the world — not just Americans — in a stupor of disbelief at the sweeping victory by Donald Trump. Why is this so? Because majority of the human family who have access to the news media are discipled by it. In Asia, Africa and across the globe, many are disappointed at the results because the news media and polls reported in favour of Clinton while demonizing Trump but reality revealed something else.
What happened and why are so many disenchanted and/or confused? This is the subject this piece will attempt to interrogate.
I am neither a North American nor a supporter of either of its two major parties. I am simply a global citizen who is interested in happenings in the government, governance and leadership spaces in our world. The just ended presidential election is of particular interest to me because it was historic, game-changing and filled with many lessons in the aforementioned spaces of interest which I will cover in subsequent papers.
This election and the subsequent results have unearthed the current architecture of global governance infrastructure and the systems that run on them. The current world order was set in place after World War 2.
Today we’ll discuss the news media and its role in the global upset of this decade. We will look at its role in the just ended US presidential elections.
What is the Fourth Estate?
The news media is sometimes known as the Fourth Estate. What does this mean? The Fourth Estate is used with reference to the news media, especially print journalism or “the press”. Thomas Carlyle attributed the origin of the term to Edmund Burke, who used it in a parliamentary debate in 1787 on the opening up of press reporting of the House of Commons of Great Britain.
What specifically did Carlyle say about the Fourth Estate? He wrote:
Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact, … Printing, which comes necessarily out of Writing, I say often, is equivalent to Democracy: invent Writing, Democracy is inevitable … Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in lawmaking, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures: the requisite thing is that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite.
— Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History (1845)
Burke understood the immense influence that reporters have — so much so he equated their work to a branch of government with inalienable weight in lawmaking, in all acts of authority. And yet many will argue that this is the only branch of government which under big-brother government goes largely unregulated because speech must be “free”.
The Fourth Estate stands for the fourth ‘power’ which checks and counterbalances the three state ‘powers’ namely the executive, legislature and judiciary. But the question is who balances their unfettered power and authority?
Role of the Fourth Estate
The Fourth Estate is depicted as the people’s watchdog. To be effective as a watchdog, it is commonly assumed that the news media must be independent of the state. In other words, it can only act as a watchdog by a free market organization of the news media. It is also commonly assumed that news media is concerned with rational debate and for this to transpire; it must not only be independent of national governments but also of their owners who may at times operate as transnational entities. The news media is not only accorded the role of watchdog but also as a civic forum and agenda setter — speaking truth to power.
The question though is who speaks truth to the new media? They shape public opinion but who shapes theirs?
Politicasters and the Fourth Estate
Because of the power they wield, the owners of these news media outlets are sometimes more powerful than presidents. The next sections will capture why. And because politicasters know and understand the power of the new media to shape the perception and public opinion, they form alliances with these owners who have influence in their organizations. It is an age old truth that “he who pays the piper calls the tune” and this is certainly true for the news media. Owners call shots. And majority of the news media are owned by a few families with close ties to politicasters. An example of how this happened in the 2016 elections strategy of the Clinton camp is this PDF (150407-strategy-on-gop-2016ers) via Wikileaks. Notice the statement, “Tell the press…” It goes without saying that “Clinton’s Pied Piper Strategy (use media contacts to promote Trump) has backfired spectacularly”.
Who Owns the Fourth Estate?
Media cross-ownership is the phenomenon whereby multiple media businesses are owned by one person or corporation. These businesses can include broadcast and cable television, film, radio, newspaper, magazine, book publishing, music, video games, and various online entities. But before discussing monopoly of the news, what is the nature of news media ownership?
In a 2003 paper published in the Journal of Law and Economics, vol. XLVI (October 2003)] and authored by Simeon Djankov (World Bank), Caralee Mcliesh (World Bank), Tatiana Nenova (World Bank) and Andrei Shleifer (Harvard University), the authors acknowledge that, “In modern economies and societies, the availability of information is central to better decision making by voters, consumers, and investors. Much of that information is provided by the media, including newspapers, television, and radio, which collect information and make it available to the public”.
Put in simple language, what majority of people know as reality is shaped by the news media they have access to. The news media is a discipler of men — a great tool for manufacturing and shaping knowledge.
The question asked by the aforementioned paper is whether the news media should be owned by government or private entities. It goes without saying that the answer is both, except that it should tilt more towards private ownership. A better question is whether it should be owned by a few private entities or whether monopolies should be broken up between many private actors who are not interlinked or tightly knitted together.
According to the paper, “newspapers in Western Europe and the Americas are held predominately privately. In Western Europe, none of the top five daily newspapers are owned by the state. In the Americas, the majority of the newspapers have been owned and managed by single families for many decades.”
There is a 2012 article by Ashley Lutz in the Business Insider titled, “These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America” in which she shares an infographic by Jason at Frugal Dad which explains that, “almost all media comes from the same six sources…consolidated from 50 companies back in 1983”. The title of the Infographic is “Media Consolidation: The Illusion of Choice”. The big six own news outlets on multiple continents.
Here is an example: In the Clinton camp were the likes of George Soros who bet against the Great British pound and won and Lynn Forester de Rothschild, Lady de Rothschild an American-British businesswoman who is the chief executive officer of E.L. Rothschild, a holding company she owns with her third husband, Sir Evelyn Robert de Rothschild, a member of the Rothschild family. The company manages investments in The Economist Group, owner of The Economist magazine, Congressional Quarterly and the Economist Intelligence Unit, E.L. Rothschild LP, a leading independent wealth management firm in the United States, as well as real estate, agricultural and food interests. Is it any wonder that none of these publications would say anything positive about Mr. Trump.
One article states that, as time has progressed, consolidations and mergers of media entities has created a situation where now, fewer individuals and corporations own many media outlets, increasing the concentration of ownership. The article explains that in 1983, 90% of US media was controlled by fifty companies; today, 90% is controlled by just six companies. It is thus not surprising that more than half of Americans via a 2012 Gallup poll say they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.
Another article by Anup Shah which discusses Media Conglomerates, Mergers, Concentration of Ownership states that, “Some nations can influence and control their media greatly. In addition, powerful corporations also have enormous influence on mainstream media”. It further explains that not only is there concentration of ownership but also Interlocking Directorates, that is, “where a director of one company may sit on a board of another company. As pointed out by U.S. media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) for example, Media corporations share members of the board of directors with a variety of other large corporations, including banks, investment companies, oil companies, health care and pharmaceutical companies and technology companies”. It adds the following quote from “The Media Monopoly”, 6th Edition, (Beacon Press, 2000), pp. 35–36, 45 authored by Ben H. Bagdikian
It is not often the public hears of … clear destruction of editorial independence. In most cases there is no visible imposition of the parent firm’s policies, and the policies are often not absolute, conditioned as they are by the desire for profits. … The problem is … subtle and profound. In a democracy … a wide spectrum of ideas has equitable access to the marketplace [justifying a private publisher’s imposing his personal politics on the decision of what to print]. The effect of a corporate line [exerting control over public ideas] is not so different from that of a party line [of a country imposing controls]. … Detecting how most of the mass media impose political tests on what the public will see and hear is not as straightforward as [it may] seem. Political intervention in its most pervasive form is not open and explicit but is concealed under seemingly apolitical reasons [such as the natural choices that have to be made on the countless number of works that might not be published for legitimate non-political based reasons]. … Most difficult of all to document is the implicit influence of corporate chiefs. Most bosses do not have to tell their subordinates what they like and dislike. (Emphasis added)
The deeper social loss of giantism in the media is not in its unfair advantage in profits and power; this is real and it is serious. But the gravest loss is in the self-serving censorship of political and social ideas, in news, magazine articles, books, broadcasting, and movies. Some intervention by owners is direct and blunt. But most of the screening is subtle, some not even occurring at a conscious level, as when subordinates learn by habit to conform to owners’ ideas. But subtle or not, the ultimate result is distorted reality and impoverished ideas.
Bagdikian adds on p.222 that “If the number of outlets is growing and the number of owners declining, then each owner controls even more formidable communications power.”
Another article in Asia-Pacific Research on July 06, 2016 by Bill Rosenburg states what happens to reporters who refuse to bend to the will of their bosses. The article states:
In a notorious case, reporters at a television station owned by Fox, a News Corporation subsidiary in the USA, produced a report critical of Monsanto. They were sacked when they refused to modify their story. The station manager pressured them to back down by saying: “We paid $3 billion for these stations. We’ll tell you what the news is. The news is what we say it is!”
The Capture of the Fourth Estate
The Fourth Estate today in the global West is probably the worst source of full, accurate, and fair news because it has been “captured” through mergers and consolidations — effectively creating monopolies that supply their services to the highest bidder — mainly politicasters and interests groups. This is why so many are disenchanted with the results of the elections. They were fed garbage. I derive the term “capture” from the economic terminology regulatory capture of which it is said in the Concise Encyclopedia of Economic:
In a seminal 1971 article, “The Theory of Economic Regulation,” he [George J. Stigler] presented and gave evidence for his “capture theory.” Stigler argued that governments do not end up creating monopoly in industries by accident. Rather, he wrote, they regulate at the behest of producers who “capture” the regulatory agency and use regulation to prevent competition.
A Dictionary of Economics (4 ed.) John Black, Nigar Hashimzade, and Gareth Myles defines regulatory capture as “The tendency of regulators to identify with the interest of the industry they are supposed to regulate. This occurs when a public authority charged with regulating an industry in the public interest comes to identify the public interest with the interests of producers in the industry, rather than the interests of its customers, or the general public”.
The Fourth Estate is supposed to be a watchdog speaking truth to power — independent in its operations but alas we find it is not always so. Dogs can be captured with the right incentive — mammon. Instead of the guardians of free speech operating a system that promotes competition, the system in place promotes monopolies with all the trappings that come with it. Few families control the Fourth Estate in the world with their outlets and reach being transnational and transcontinental. What this means is few families dictate what you read, hear and listen to. Politicasters, understanding the immense power wielded by the Fourth Estate as a branch of government with inalienable weight in lawmaking, in all acts of authority, find ways and means to align with these owners.
In many instances, the owners of the Fourth Estate are backers of politicasters and their campaigns. This unholy marriage between owners and politicasters is the bane of true news. This is what leads to the capture of the Fourth Estate. Instead of seeking the interests of the public and offering a variety of news coverage from all angles, the Fourth Estate find themselves prioritising the interests of firms or political groups over the interests of the public, leading to a net loss to society as a whole. News media agencies suffering regulatory capture are called by me “captured agencies” of the Forth Estate.
The Illusion of Choice & the U.S. Elections
The idea that today’s news media can be accurate and fair is thus an illusion. If there are specific folks who determine what is news and what is not, then where is choice?
A simple survey of all the big media outlets leading towards the presidential election will show how one-sided the reporting was in favour of Mrs. Clinton. When the establishment hated Trump, so did the news media it courted. Even their polls did not tell the correct story — leaving a large section of the global population feeling disappointed by the results of the election.
The global news media spearheaded by Western bosses had assured the masses of a loss for what the news media had painted as the worst possible president for the USA. The news media predictions failed woefully.
Each time a major news media outlet came out with a poll in favour of Mrs. Clinton; there were dozens of twitter polls by ordinary citizens that contradicted it.
What’s worse is that much of the allegations against Mr. Trump were without solid basis whereas there were mountains of evidence supplied by hacks in Soros’ organization as well as thousands of leaked emails by Wikileaks that highlighted great flaws in Mrs. Clinton but the media did not seem to think these were news worthy.
To highlight my point, an Associate Professor at the MIT Media Lab César A. Hidalgo who is a self-professed Clinton supporter came up with an email visualization tool of the leaked Clinton emails.
Despite this tool attracting upon its release 300,000 views in less than a week i.e. about 50,000 views per day, it received no reaction from the news media. The dead silence is telltale of a dependent (vis-à-vis independent) news media establishment possibly under the control/capture of a few.
The tool became the top story of the Internetisbeautiful subreddit, and made it to Reddit’s frontpage. It collected more than 3000 upvotes and 700 comments. Soon “a moderator single-handedly removed it in an authoritarian move”. The interest of the public was unquestionable; however, the Fourth Estate of government deemed it not fit to report. The reputation of the U.S. as a bastion of freedom is brought into question by such occurrences. What’s more, the Assistant Professor in question started being called a Trump supporter by colleagues and received some heat for setting up the tool. He then penned the following:
“[T]his election has muddled the gears of democracy. When we cannot learn from those we oppose, or agree when they have a valid point, our learning stops” — César A. Hidalgo, MIT Assistant Professor
The professor is of course right. Clearly the news media had a challenge with one of the candidates and were intent on one-sided reportage. Is this what the founding fathers envisioned — a society built on bias? I thought it was a government for the people and by the people, in which case, the news media should report what interests the people. It seems like it is now a government over the people and by transnational elites who act as backers of the political establishment. I wonder what Snowden would say about this.
What are the repercussions for the international systems and the nations within it? I honestly do not know but I presume it cannot be good. Why? America’s policies affect other nations within the system. If the American political establishment and electorate cannot learn from each other or from an outsider even when he has valid points, they can definitely not learn from other nations in the international system that may have an opposing view to theirs. This is a frightening thought considering that we are talking of a nation whose capability/power is probably unsurpassed in human history.
It is presupposed that the US is a democracy and the election results reflects the will of the majority electoral college-wise and yet after the elections, the riots, demonstrations and #HeIsNotMyPresident hashtag reveals a deep seated hate for the Trump faction by the losing side and their unwillingness to accept the will of the winning side. This unwillingness to accept other perspectives different from ours is dangerous.
What Should The World Expect?
What would a Trump Presidency hold for the rest of the world? Trump said in his acceptance speech, “I want to tell the world community that while we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone, with everyone — all people and all other nations. We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict”.
Fairness is key. If the President elect’s words are anything to go by, hopefully there will be peaceful relations with other states and the poor shall not have the rich riding roughshod over them. This will be in stark contrast to much of the twisted foreign policy of previous US Government administrations who lived by the “you are with us or against us” code.
This code resulted in democratically elected Prime Minister Mosaddegh’s removal from power in a coup d’état on 19 August 1953, organised and carried out by the CIA at the request of MI6, which chose Iranian General Fazlollah Zahedi to succeed Mosaddegh. It was dubbed Operation Ajax. Since then, elected governments who refused to sacrifice the future of their people to Western commercial and geopolitical interests have suffered a similar fate and the Fourth Estate covered up the atrocities.
Thankfully, declassified documents, leaked emails as well as tapped phone conversations have uncovered the real news. More recently in the Ukraine, the US almost got away with organizing a coup d’état and pinning it on Putin. A leaked phone call laid bare the plot which former Dick Cheney aide Victoria Nuland, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs later confessed to.
The war on Iraq, Libya and now Syria is not any different. The US is a great nation but for some time now it has been hijacked by politicasters and charlatans who promote intolerance and war mongering that benefits the military industrial complex. America lost its way when it started playing bully. It will not finding it by continuing on this path of destruction. A nation can find ways of looking out for its national interests without messing up other parts of the world. One of such ways is called negotiation.
The nation needs to dial down the intolerance and become more tolerant of opposing views within its own borders and its media establishment needs to be de-monopolized and made as free as can be. It is my wish that Trump’s words concerning “common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict” pans out to be true. If it does, America will reclaim her greatness in the table of nations.
Today, Friday 25 November, WikiLeaks releases the Yemen Files : evidence of the United States of America arming, training and funding of Yemeni forces. As per the testimony of Julian Assange, “The war in Yemen has produced 3.15 million internally displaced persons. Although the United States government has provided most of the bombs and is deeply involved in the conduct of the war itself reportage on the war in English is conspicuously rare.”
Why is the reportage in English rare?
The Yemen Files are a collection of more than 500 documents from the United States embassy in Sana’a, Yemen. Comprising more than 200 emails and 300 PDFs, the collection details official documents and correspondence pertaining to the Office for Military Cooperation (OMC) located at the US embassy. The collection spans the period from 2009 until just before the war in Yemen broke out in earnest during March 2015. This time period covers both Hillary Clinton’s term as Secretary of State (20092013) and the first two years of Secretary John Kerry’s tenure.