Friday, November 17, 2017

Kochs Move To Acquire Ownership In Time/Life, Which On The Political Spectrum Was Previously. . . (Let Me Tell You) - Our Media, Never In a Good Place, Shifts Toward. . ??

Before we get to the "Time Goes Bye" part of this article (Koch Brothers stalking ownership of the once mighty Time Magazine), let's speak of "times gone by." 

I want to tell you a story that involves looking way back.

At the time of which I am speaking I was quite certainly in college, although when I think back remembering it feels almost as if I was still in high school, that I was so recently out of.  Since I was listening to WBAI on the radio, I had to have been in college and that means the year was probably 1970 or 1971.

On WBAI I heard a truly startling and appalling story about recent events in the Vietnam War.  I was sure it was going to be big news and probably would have a big influence on a lot of people when they too learned about it.  I wanted to see how else it would be reported, and I waited with eagerness for my weekly Time Magazine to come out and see how the story was featured.  When Time came out I scoured the week’s Vietnam War coverage and the event wasn’t there at all, not even a hint.  I was fit to be tied.

Once upon a time I had supported the Vietnam War, in high school seeing it in the basic good guy/bad guy terms in which my father had explained it to me: We were helping good guys against bad guys.  By the time of the story I am telling, I had shifted over in my thinking to oppose the war, having been chagrined to learn that by that time I did shift I was only just catching up with father’s own changed thinking to oppose the war.  Somehow, father and son, we had neglected to have that updating conversation before I told my father how increasingly troubled I was by the way I could not reconcile and sort through to believe that there were any truly good reasons for fighting a bad war.

My father, who voted for Lyndon Johnson instead of Barry Goldwater, was a Republican.  He was firmly against the war before he died at the end of 1968.  In addition, although I knew there were reasons my father had disliked Robert Kennedy based on my father's own early personal, youthful encounters with Kennedy (my father was from a similar Irish Catholic family that had contacts with the Kennedys), my father supported Robert Kennedy and his campaign for the White House that terminated with his assassination.  My father liked Kennedy’s stance on race relations (about which my father was growing increasingly passionate) and on the war.

Unfortunately, my memory is dim so I cannot tell you exactly what incident happened in Vietnam that went unreported by Time, but I was outraged and I was going to do something about it.  I called the Editor In Chief of Time Magazine to complain.

You might think this was absurdly presumptuous of me to do, and how could I possibly get through to someone of his stature.  I did get through, and I was encouraged to make the phone call by my mother.  My uncle, Ralph Delahaye Paine, Jr., had been an important man at Time/Life.  Among other things he had been Managing Editor and Publisher of Fortune Magazine, part of that Time/Life/Fortune triumvirate.  Part of our family lore (and there were many stories about my uncle) was how my uncle had been in charge of the Time/Life staff as they retreated back as the Nazis advanced through Europe and France and my uncle remembered vividly how vital it was for him to get everyone successfully out ahead of time.  Many of that Time/Life staff he sought to get out safely were Jewish.

The editor of Time Magazine took my call.  I am named after my uncle.  (And to be 100% complete, my daughter, born days after my uncle died in 1991, is now also.)  I played the relationship card, mentioning names, when I made my call as my mother encouraged me to do.  The editor’s secretary took my information and the editor picked up.  I am not going back at this time to check on that editor's name.  As I am telling a story after a long intervening time where my memory has some fogginess, it is probably better to leave names out.

What I remember was that the editor graciously took my call.  He probably enjoyed talking with me as an unusual break in his day.  I remember that he was more than polite, but I think I detected some bemusement on his part respecting my naive passion as he explained that there is lots of news to print and editorial decisions to be made and that not everything can always be printed.  It just doesn’t happen that way.  I was too young to have heard many of these kinds of explanations in my life and, no doubt I was out of my league knowing little about how best to express things in this kind of situation.  Some young people are savants and have natural instincts about these things at a very young age: Not me.

I don’t think my energy on the subject carried me over to write an official “letter to the editor” in hopes that it might get published.  I couldn’t have whipped one out at that point in my life and I certainly didn’t yet know the formula for quickly commanding attention, or tricks to succinctly synthesize the politically complicated.  My unwritten letter with respect to something that Time had not deigned to mention in the first place would not have been published, I’m sure.

I tell this story mostly to emphasize that, back in the day, Time Magazine and the Time/Life publishing empire were not exactly found on the left of the political spectrum in terms of the way they saw the world or what they chose to report.  I also tell the story to bring up and emphasize that where you get your news can powerfully affect your point of view because of what is and is not included.

After a few more years of reading both Time and Newsweek cover to cover every week (they were both weeklies for those who have forgotten or were not around), I finally terminated my subscription to Time because I found it so much more conservative than Newsweek when reporting on the same items.  Part of me felt a bit like a traitor.

And it also seemed as if I was acting against my own self interest: I owned a tiny amount of Time Incorporated stock that had been given to me as a baby present.  Escalating in value in those past decades, it was, in fact, my sole success with stock ownership.  My father had coached me in learning the benefits of investing in the stock market by encouraging me to buy Studebaker stock with some of my saved allowance combined with his contributed subsidy.  The purchase was not a good idea: Studebaker was an American automobile manufacturing company and in 1963 they closed the plant in South Bend, Indiana where they were based.  I learned then that what happens to stock when companies fail to thrive is not pretty.

Nowadays, what is happening to the stock of ever less profitable legacy news organizations like Time is not pretty, except that the stock of Time Magazine after a period of decline has reportedly just jumped up 25% percent because the Koch bothers, Charles and David, are circling around to engineer a takeover of the ownership.

This is yet more frightening news about the ownership of our news sources.  We are seeing that as income and wealth inequality become ever more pronounced, as the finances of news organizations grow increasingly anemic (reducing their relative price to that of play things), and as the government fails to enforce anti-monopoly laws and regulations, the sources of much of our news is increasingly supplied by just a few disproportionately wealthy men (or their corporate extensions) that hold some very peculiar ideas.  Those ideas include bizarre thoughts about how everyone else should sacrifice so that they can become wealthier, how we should continue to destroy the planet with exhumation and burning of fossil furls, and the glories of spending on weapons and waging wars.

But, to go back a bit, this is just the half of it, because however much worse it can be to have “news” provided by the likes of the Koch brothers, what I indicated at the outset with my story about Time Magazine and its previous conservative non-reporting about the Vietnam War, doesn’t do justice in giving you a true flavor for how biased-by-omission so much news media reporting has been in this country over the years.

Last week, Edward S. Herman died on November 11, 2017 at the age of 92.  Among other things, Mr. Herman was coauthor with Noam Chomsky of “Manufacturing Consent.” Some say he was the principal author.  That important and influential book was about how media cooperates with the powerful so that the electorate capitulates to what those in power want.  That consent manufacture includes a lot of non-reporting (and skewed reporting) of events that happen in our world.  In this vein, The New York Times virtually didn’t report Mr. Herman’s death.

The disregard was mutual. . .

. . . We understand that Mr. Herman’s last published work was about the New York Times.  It was about the Times' omissions and some very unreliable reporting on the part of the Times over multiple decades, a complete disaster if for those endeavoring to formulate their world view. His article ran in the July/August 2017 edition of Monthly Review: Fake News on Russia and Other Official Enemies- The New York Times, 1917-2017.  The article covers a lot of ground.  And, (to get around, in a sense, to where we began) it includes a section about misleading reporting about the Vietnam War by the Times, with criticisms you might not have thought of until you hear Mr. Herman express them eloquently with many others.

I suggest you read it next.  Consider your read of Mr. Herman's last solemn article as a commemorative mediation on things missing: the lost, the departing, and things lost when they were never included in the first place.

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