New Progress for Progressive Media

Progressives are beginning to flex some media muscle, finding ways to counterbalance the right wing’s powerful spin machine. But there’s still much to be done.
By Don Hazen, AlterNet. Posted April 18, 2006.

When the Washington Post recently announced the hiring of right-wing Republican operative Ben Domenech to blog on the Post website, it was literally a matter of hours before an avalanche of negative information regarding Domenech’s bigotry and plagiarism was uncovered and widely distributed by a team of progressive bloggers. Domenech, ostensibly brought in to provide “balance” to watch-dog columnist Dan Froomkin, quickly resigned. Chalk up another progressive blogger victory in the rough-and-tumble world of media politics.

When Air America Radio launched, skeptics predicted that the progressive talk network would remain isolated in big cities in blue states, and be crushed by the long established right-wing talk. A relatively short time later, Air America is operating in more than 75 cities, covering 60 percent of the country and often scoring ratings victories over the right-wing shows. The experience so far demonstrates that, with sufficient funding, there is clearly a market for progressive talk.

There was little expectation that any progressive media strategy could put a dent in the seemingly invincible image of global behemoth Wal-Mart. Yet the release, effective publicity and innovative distribution of Robert Greenwald’s documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, along with the close cooperation of activist groups, put the corporate giant on the defensive as never before. A series of Wal-Mart PR fiascoes quickly ensued, along with a scramble to try to fix policies and a dropping stock price.

There are many more such examples that showcase the newfound muscle in progressive media in the Bush era. The dynamics have changed. A fresh breed of smart, relentless media operatives, using the internet in creative ways, have put new pop into progressive media.

But alas, that is not the full story. As Rick Gell points out in his accompanying article, while progressives have certainly made progress, it does not yet equal success. There is a giant hole in the TV world, where progressives are virtually invisible and donors seem unable or unwilling to do battle in the commercial world of advertising and investments. Much of progressive media remains “alternative” media, speaking mostly to its secure audience while some of its political clout is hindered by the legal limits of most organizations’ nonprofit status.

So there is much to be encouraged by, and much to contemplate. But no matter how the challenge of progressive media gets weighed or examined, a serious investment of capital and chutzpah is necessary if progressive media is going to provide the counter balance to the right-wing media machine that will be revved up for fall elections in 2008 and beyond.

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