From the editor of Socialist Worker
September 28, 2001 | Page 13Socialist Worker editor ALAN MAASS looks ahead to our weekly paper.
A UNIVERSITY of Massachusetts study conducted during the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq found that people who regularly watched the television news knew fewer basic facts about the conflict than those who didn't watch.
The mainstream media had misinformed viewers, rather than informed them.
This finding was easy to believe during the wall-to-wall coverage of the air attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
People were naturally glued to their TV sets, trying to understand the scale of the disaster and how it could have happened. All they got in the way of an explanation was patriotic bluster from politicians and half-baked theories spun by ex-spies and retired military officials.
"It was possible to watch the cream of the nation's political analysts and commentating classes, hour after hour, without ever hearing the word 'Israel,' unless in the context of a salutary teacher in how to deal with Muslims," wrote columnist Alexander Cockburn.
Neither did the word "Iraq" pass the lips of the Rathers and Brokaws--unless it was to speculate on whether Saddam Hussein was to blame.
Yet economic sanctions on Iraq claim the lives of more than 5,000 Iraqi children every month, according to the United Nations--a "terrible and senseless loss of life" that doesn't seem to rate when it comes to the mainstream media.
It was impossible to walk away from the TV with any understanding of why millions of people around the world hate the U.S. government.
Of course, in times of war, the mainstream media love to unite behind U.S. leaders and cheer on their war drive. But even on less charged issues, the media obscure more than they explain.
Many of the atrocities of the free-market system--for example, famine in Africa--are reported on regularly. But the explanations and the connections to other events and issues are missing.
So you could watch a TV news segment about famine and then see a report on the surplus of grain or dairy products in advanced countries as a result of government agribusiness support policies--without anyone pointing out that there might be a connection.
All of this is in the nature of the capitalist media. The mainstream media is big business in the U.S. and around the world--and for the wealthy elite that owns and controls the media, it doesn't pay to explain too much.
Add to this the fact that the journalism professionals who set the agenda in the media--news anchors, editors and high-powered reporters--share much more in common with the rich than with ordinary people.
No wonder the media seems organized to prevent people from understanding the events around them It is.
A revolutionary newspaper like Socialist Worker has, of course, entirely different priorities. Our goal is not only to describe the events that affect working people's lives, but to show the connections between them and fit them into a picture of the world that can explain why they happen.
But analysis, though important, isn't the only job of a revolutionary paper. Our hope is not only to show what's wrong with the world--but also how it can be changed.
That's why newspapers and other publications have long been central features of the different struggles for a better society. The 19th-century abolitionists who fought slavery in the U.S. South used newspapers to put forward their ideas and help to build the struggle.
So did socialists and communists, who organized throughout the 20th century around newspapers that spread their message--from the Socialist Party's Appeal to Reason to the Communists' Daily Worker and many others.
Likewise, the most radical sections of the Black Power movement--for example, the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement in Detroit--turned to the tradition of publishing newspapers as well.
For all of these revolutionaries, newspapers were not only a way of putting forward their ideas about the world. They were also organizers that helped build the struggle.
The whole process of producing and distributing a revolutionary paper is different from the capitalist press. To produce a paper like Socialist Worker, we rely on volunteer correspondents sending us reports and articles from across the country.
And, of course, Socialist Worker isn't sold off supermarket shelves or out of street-corner boxes. SW is sold by people involved in the fight for a better world--which means the paper has a much more direct connection to the discussions taking place in those fights.
Because of this, SW is well placed to cover the news that our side needs to hear and to be a forum where activists can exchange views and discuss the way forward.
Our move to a weekly paper is an exciting step for us. But to take it, we'll need the help of all our readers--help in telling the news that needs to be told, help in distributing the paper to more readers, and help in handling the financial obligations that producing a weekly paper will bring.
This is the last biweekly issue of SW, and we're very proud of what we've accomplished in the past. But even more, we look forward to the future--in which Socialist Worker can take new steps toward becoming a voice for our side.