Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a country whose people treasured freedom, there were a group of people called journalists. These people provided other people with information that could be used to make decisions about keeping freedom.
Journalists gathered information, even from people and businesses and government offices that didn’t want their information gathered. The journalists had some standard rules about gathering information. One of their main rules was “follow the money.” This rule was based on the concept that businesses did things to make money. So when something that affected freedom was done, it was very likely that looking at the money involved in whatever was done would help people understand what was being done and why.
Businesses didn’t like journalists very much, because they too frequently found out, and reported, that businesses were doing things that limited the freedom that everyone enjoyed, just to make a few investors richer.
So businesses got together to figure out ways to limit the ways journalists did their jobs. One of the first things that businesses did was to consolidate control of newspapers and other media that spread the journalists’ reports. Big national businesses bought up local newspaper and put management under the control of national decision makers. They reduced the number of journalists working for papers and ordered them to write about traffic accidents and sports, instead of investigating secret business deals.
As people started getting more of their information from their local radio and television stations, big national businesses started buying up those stations and controlling what their journalists could investigate and write. When radio first started, the people decided that if a business wanted to use the public airwaves to make a profit, the business should give something back to the people, reflecting the value of the peoples’ airwaves.
One ‘give back’ was that radio and television stations should use a tiny fraction of their profits to pay for journalists to make their reports on the radio and TV stations. Another ‘give back’ was that the stations had to cover political campaigns, including giving candidates air time to broadcast their positions on issues – even candidates who couldn’t afford to advertise on the stations.
Business didn’t like the idea of having to share the profits they were making from using the public airwaves. And they didn’t like the idea of broadcasting journalists’ reports that would disclose pollution, or bribes paid to politicians, or unsafe products sold to consumers with false advertising. Businesses hated the idea of candidates talking about political ideas like using government to help the people, instead of helping businesses.
So they bribed politicians to pass new laws saying that broadcasters did not need to ‘give back’ anything in exchange for using the public airwaves. They hired candidates to run on platforms calling for government to leave businesses alone, except when businesses wanted government to give them more money. One of the most successful business candidates, an aging actor, helped convince voters that broadcasting the opinions of candidates who wanted to serve people instead of corporations was morally wrong.
The same candidate worked on business campaigns to undermine schools. A corporate PR flak wrote one of the lines the actor became best known for “Facts are stupid things.” This line was picked up and used in thousands of campaigns to defund schools, libraries, cultural programs and anything else that threatened to educate children, and make them skeptical about corporate advertising.
Recently, we saw a direct result of the effort to debase public knowledge and discussion about life and death issues. In December, an investment company called Cerberus Capital Management announced that it was ‘divesting itself’ of a company it owned 95% of. That company owns three of the largest gun manufacturers in the U.S. Cerberus bought the company a few years ago, intending to make a big profit from gun sales. Cerberus is in the business of making money, and it is run by people who do long range planning and careful thinking about what synergies are available across its holdings to maximize profits.
Cerberus also invests in media companies, with the intent to use the media to push up the profits of other Cerberus companies. The year before it bought control of the gun manufacturers, Cerberus bought seven television stations, in Red states. When America elected its first black president, Cerberus media companies started a drumbeat of stories about an imaginary threat to our civilization, and the need for people to stockpile guns and ammunition to prepare for the coming war between the good people and those who voted for the black president. Cerberus campaigned for people to live in fear and to expect to be attacked by others, bent on destroying our nation.
Cerberus’ gun sales skyrocketed. And because no radio or TV station is required to broadcast real journalism or facts, there were no news stories about how the growth of gun sales was driven by media stories from the same investors who own the gun manufacturers. Because Cerberus did not have to give air time to any politician or candidate that it disagreed with, no voices questioning the headlong rush to flood society with guns were allowed on the air. But Cerberus continued to fund candidates and organizations that promoted the Cerberus messages that everyone should live in fear, and that the best response to fear was to be heavily armed.
Cerberus is not the only gun manufacturer in the U.S. It is just the largest. It is not the only investment company that aggressively uses its control of public airwaves to promote its other businesses, or to control and limit any voices challenging its pro-gun, pro-fear, pro-violence messages.
On December 14, 2012, one of Cerberus’ gun customers killed 20 kindergarten age children and six of those children’s teachers. Four days after the killing, as sentiment grew for reigning in the uncontrolled and ultraprofitable gun industry, Cerberus announced that it would sell its gun manufacturing business. Cerberus wanted to dissociate itself from its former business plan, and escape blame for the inevitable consequences of that business plan.
Cerberus, a big Wall Street investment manager, engineered a plan to build its profits by buying gun manufacturers, then using its communications businesses to drive sales of guns. Just as big Wall Street banks built their profits by generating substandard mortgages, then selling packages of them to unsuspecting investors. As the banks fraud and lies led to the Bush depression, Cerberus’ business plan has been at the heart of mass slaughters, including the Newtown killing of 20 children under the age of 8.
But that’s okay, we are told. It is all done in the name of “freedom” – the freedom to conduct business, the freedom to be armed to the teeth, with no training or registration and with as much paranoia as the gun sellers can feed us. The freedom to profit from the suffering of others. The name of Cerberus’ gun operation is The Freedom Group.
What about the freedom of children to grow up, wound free? What about the freedom of parents to raise their children instead of burying them? As Antonin Scalia would tell us, those freedoms are not in the Constitution. For those who have forgotten, the 9th Amendment reads: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. Antonin Scalia has been quite clear – he does not believe there are any rights subject to the 9th Amendment to the Constitution. Particularly not rights that might impede the corporations from which he derives the great bulk of his income.
And so that long ago country that believe in freedom and had its freedom protected by journalists has had its freedom for people replaced by freedom for corporate profits and its journalists replaced by corporate PR flaks. And by controlling all of the mass media, those corporations successfully limit any serious inquiry into their business plans and the consequences of those plans.
Is there anything “free” about a ‘free press’ that is controlled so as to eliminate serious discussion about an industry that leads to the death of tens of thousands of people every year? That remains silent as children die, for no cause other than the profits of a few corporations?