By Robert McChesney
The New Press, 232 pages, 2013
The making of books is endless — particularly the making of bad books.
Such a bad book is this by Robert McChesney. It is particularly disappointing because McChesney has been a leading press critic, writing such important works as “Rich Media, Poor Democracy” and “Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy.”
He writes about the Internet: “We are entering terra incognita as machines change our basic understanding of what it means to be a human.” He adds these other absurdities: the Internet will “transform the world” and will “change the world beyond all recognition.”
Still more McChesney claptrap: we’re “building a better world” through social media. As proof he cites the social media that helped produce the Arab Spring in 2011. He does not mention the authoritarian reactions that quickly undermined those revolutions.
He fires off this tired and false cliché: “We are all journalists now.” And this: “The Internet can provide the greatest journalism and public sphere ever imagined.”
The Internet does not change human nature. It does not change what it means to be human. It does not “transform the world.” It does not “change the world beyond all recognition.”
And it certainly does not change the U.S. economic system of gross inequality, riches for the 1 percent while so many people struggle with low wages and underemployment. America will still be the same capitalist nation it was yesterday, is today and will be tomorrow.
This country will continue to elect mediocre Democratic presidents like President Obama or reactionary Republicans like Bush II. Congress will continue to elect cretins who favor the status quo. And the Supreme Court will continue to hand down retrograde decisions.
McChesney talks about “living happily ever after, going to the beach with laptops, iPods, Kindles and smartphones” — all products of capitalism, all with the rapid obsolescence that capitalism demands. Nevertheless, the incorrigible McChesney hails “the glorious future of capitalism.”
The book has many other problems. It is much too long. It spends vast amounts of space recounting ancient media history.
It refers to hoary authorities like Walter Lippmann and his essays written nearly 100 years ago. He dredges up Saul Alinsky, the community organizer, who insisted wrongly that “organized people can beat organized money.”
The often-cited “wisdom of the founders” is illogical and wrongheaded in two key areas: the antediluvian Electoral College and the horribly malapportioned and hence terribly undemocratic Senate.
The Electoral College has given us four presidents who lost the popular vote. The most recent was Bush II, the worst president of all.
Essayist George Scialabba notes: “Half the U.S. population sends 18 senators to Washington while the other half sends 82. California, with a population of 38 million, has two senators, the least populous states combined have 40 senators for roughly the same population as California. Senators elected by 11 percent of the population can kill proposed legislation with a filibuster.”
No wonder America is a frightfully conservative nation with scant chance for progressive legislation such as gun controls and “dream” reform of immigration.
The Internet has nothing to do with the vast ignorance of “the dumbest generation” with its appalling lack of elementary knowledge of politics, history, science and literature.
As journalism Professor Robert Jensen of the University of Texas, Austin, rightly says: “Information isn’t knowledge and knowledge isn’t wisdom.”
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.