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The Last Days of Democracy

Elliot D. Cohen, Bruce W. Fraser

How Big Media and Power-hungry Government Are Turning America into a Dictatorship

(Prometheus)

For those who follow the media closely, like working journalists and communications students, The Last Days of Democracy might not reveal much you aren’t already painfully aware of. But for those who don’t recognize or fully understand the connection between the corporate take-over of the media and the decline in democratic affairs of the 21st century, this book will be an eye-opener.


The subtitle says it all. How Big Media and Power-Hungry Government are turning America into a Dictatorship. The authors have put together a comprehensive analysis of how the continuing consolidation of the mass media into a smaller and smaller number of profit-hungry hands is threatening democracy, as we know it. With chapter subtitles like “The Socio-Pathology of Corporate Media Giants”, “The High-Priced Hookers of Mediaville”, “The Quiet Plot to Steal America”, “Who Terrorized Whom on 9/11?” and “The Timely Lesson of Nazi Germany”, the authors pull no punches in exploring the many ways that America is being slowly but surely corrupted toward totalitarianism. As the authors point out throughout the book, those who control the flow of information ultimately control the country. With each chapter, the authors target the unholy alliance between the political far right and the corporate ownership of the media to paint a dire picture.


In “The Fox is Guarding the Henhouse”, the incestuous relationship between Big Media, the military industrial complex, and the Bush administration is all but spelled out. Many examples are cited, such as this. “In 2000, Microsoft, which co-owns the cable news channel MSNBC with General Electric, created its government division, which has as its main purpose the procurement of government contracts ... So it is easy to see how GE/NBC lacked independence of judgment in reporting the case for going to war with Iraq. Under these politico-corporate pressures, journalists like Tim Russert and Chris Matthews became model GE employees.”


Further, in “The Media Matrix”, the subtle forms of mind control are explored that politicians and advertisers use to convince the masses that we are indeed “free.” This includes references to classic social critiques such as Plato’s Republic, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s 1984, and the Wachowski Brothers’ film, The Matrix. The chapter also explores the impact of George W. Bush dropping the words “free” and “freedom” 27 times in his 2005 State of the Union address.


It continues, with the authors barely coming up for breath as they dig beneath the media’s glossy surface. “Wasting Away in Mediaville” explores the ways mass media is used to manufacture prejudice, dumb down America, and actually market war. “If your aim in life is to sell products—and selling products depends on dumbing down the population’s capacity to think—and if, in addition, you own the news, then the newsroom inevitably becomes an extension of the marketing division. It is here that the conflict of interest inherent in corporate ownership of a public resource comes into plain view.” As the book continues, the myth of the “liberal media” is debunked, the battle over Internet neutrality is explored, and troubling questions are raised over the mass media’s reporting of 9/11.


By the time the reader gets to the final chapter, the authors have presented a depressingly compelling case that the American concept of liberty and justice for all has become an endangered species. But the authors devote chapter 11, “What Now, Compatriots?”, to ways the American people can fight back against this tyranny. This includes recognizing the parallels between 21st century America and Nazi Germany. “Like the present American regime, the Third Reich ruled by fear and hate mongering. For Nazi Germany, the common enemy was not liberals or Arabs (equated to terrorists); instead it was Jews. But the strategy was exactly the same: invent a common foe that threatens the very survival of the state, declare war on that foe, and then use all imaginable powers of government – whatever it takes – to eradicate it.”


The similar use of the mainstream media as a propaganda tool is also cited. “In Nazi Germany, there was a systematic program of indoctrination and brainwashing in place. Radio, newspapers, movies, and all other forms of media were carefully monitored by the government to make sure that the German people read, saw, and listened to only what the Nazis wanted the people to read, see, and hear. There was also an officer of disinformation (a ‘minister of propaganda)—not unlike our own Karl Rove—whose job it was to make sure journalists toed the Nazi line.”


But the authors also suggest that the mainstream media is inherently apolitical in that its insatiable appetite for profits ultimately outweighs any political agenda. “Giant corporations are fair-weather friends and will take the path that offers the least resistance to making a profit ... the media will do its job of keeping us adequately informed only if we hold its feet to the fire, but we can do so only if the media does its job in the first place. So we appear to be stuck in a vicious cycle. What is needed to break this cycle is an independent source of news.”


Several pages of such independent news sources are cited at the end of the book. The authors suggest that citizens turn off television news and “the corporate media matrix”, and emphasize the importance of saving net neutrality, practicing peaceful assembly and civil disobedience, and, most importantly, critical thinking.


In summary, much of the book reads like the thesis or Master’s project of a graduate journalism student. But like a quality project, it’s written in an engaging style with many citations and clear supportive examples for every assertion. Mark Karlin, editor and publisher of independent news site Buzzflash.com, is not using hyperbole in his review of the book when he says, “this book is a wake-up call to save us from the final descent into an Orwellian world from which we will not be able to return”. That irrevocable turning point is growing closer every day. But the way that The Last Days of Democracy cuts through the propaganda of the mainstream media and political establishment provides an antidote for those who wish to open their eyes. The Last Days of Democracy should be required reading in every journalism school in America.

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Greg M. Schwartz has covered music and pop culture for PopMatters since 2006. He focuses on events coverage with a preference for guitar-driven rock 'n' roll, but has eclectic tastes for the golden age of sound that is the 21st century music scene. He has a soft spot for music with a socially conscious flavor and is also an award-winning investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @gms111, where he's always looking for tips on new bands or under the radar news items.


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