The Problem of the Media by Robert W. McChesney

The Problem of the Media

U.S. Communications Politics in the 21st Century

The book from media scholar Robert W. McChesney

The Problem of The Media book cover
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The symptoms of the crisis of the U.S. media are well-known: a decline in hard news, the growth of info-tainment and advertorials, staff cuts and concentration of ownership, increasing conformity of viewpoint and suppression of genuine debate. McChesney's new book, The Problem of the Media, gets to the roots of this crisis, explains it, and points a way forward for the growing media reform movement. McChesney argues that the problems are due to more than the effective concentrated corporate control over the media system with its obsession with maximizing profits regardless of the consequences. The core problem is that the public policies that have created this media system were made corruptly, behind closed doors, with minimal or nonexistent public awareness or participation.

The Problem of the Media combines a rigorous reinterpretation of U.S. media history with a detailed analysis of contemporary media policies and practices. The book provides a comprehensive critique of journalism and a chilling review of the commercialization of the culture. Moving consistently from critique to action, the book outlines the many ways citizens can intervene to make this a vastly superior media system. The book concludes with a riveting account of the public campaign to oppose the relaxation of media ownership rules in 2003.

McChesney's Rich Media, Poor Democracy was hailed as a pioneering analysis of the way in which media had come to serve the interests of corporate profit rather than public enlightenment and debate. Bill Moyers commented, "If Thomas Paine were around, he would have written this book." The Problem of the Media is McChesney's finest work; it extends and enriches the arguments made in Rich Media, Poor Democracy. The Problem of the Media is certain to be a landmark in media studies, a vital resource for media activism, and the defining text for concerned scholars and citizens everywhere.


The purpose of this book is to shed light on how the media system works in the United States and to provide a basis for citizens to play a more active role in shaping the policies upon which that system is built. The corporate domination of both the media system and the policy-making process that establishes and sustains it causes serious problems for a functioning democracy and a healthy culture. Media are not the only factor in explaining the woeful state of our democracy, but they are a key factor. It is difficult to imagine much headway being made on the crucial social issues that face our nation given how poorly they are covered by the current U.S. media system. The democratic solution to this problem is to increase informed public participation in media policy making. The corporate media powers-that-be and their political surrogates oppose this prospect because they know that when the public understands that the media system is the result of explicit public policies and not natural law, the public will probably demand reforms..

The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communications Politics in the 21st Century

published March, 2004; 367 pp.

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Political Problem, Political Solutions

  • Media, Markets and Policies
  • U.S. Media System Not "Naturally" Profit Driven
  • Subsidizing the Press
  • The Rise of Broadcasting
  • The Neoliberal Period

Chapter Two

Understanding U.S. Journalism I: Corporate Control and Professionalism

  • Journalism's Great Crisis
  • Rise of Professional Journalism
  • Limitations of Professional Journalism
  • The Commercialization of Journalism
  • Covering the Corporate Scandal

Chapter Three

Understanding U.S. Journalism II: Right-Wing Criticism and Political Coverage

  • Conservative Critique of the "Liberal Media"
  • Right-Wing Political Campaign against the Media
  • Partisan Coverage in Peace and War
  • Journalism's Litmus Test: Election Coverage
  • Missing the Story--From DC to Florida

Chapter Four

The Age of Hyper-Commercialism

  • Rise of Advertising
  • Hyper-Commercialism and Media
  • The Crumbling Wall
  • Hyper-Commercialism's New Frontiers
  • Advertising and Policy

Chapter Five

The Market Uber Alles

  • Is the Media System a Competitive Market?
  • Conglomeration and Synergy
  • Is the Market Appropriate to Regulate Media?
  • Creativity versus Commerce in the Conglomerate Era
  • So Do Commercial Media Give People What They Want?
  • The Case for the Status Quo

Chapter Six

Media Policies and Media Reform

  • Technology and the Internet
  • Policy Making in the Internet Era
  • Media Ownership Policies
  • Media and Antitrust Law
  • Public Broadcasting, Yesterday and Today
  • Invigorating Public Media

Chapter Seven

The Uprising of 2003

  • Media Reform Movement Comes to Life
  • Powell and Copps Take the Stage
  • Beltway Opposition Stiffens
  • Powell's Three Arguments
  • Opposition Grows Beyond the Beltway
  • Left and Right Unite
  • From FCC to Congress
  • Trench Warfare
  • Epilogue: The Hardest Battle Has Been Won

Excerpts from the critics:

"The Problem of the Media is a must read for anyone seeking to understand the current battle for control of the media and the consequences of allowing the media to become the mouthpiece of big business."

—Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI)

"Anyone who doubts that media reform is essential for American democracy needs to read this compelling book.".

—The Honorable Michael J. Copp

"Robert McChesney, in The Problem of the Media, follows in the great tradition of Upton Sinclair, George Seldes, I.F. Stone, and Ben Bagdikian."

—Howard Zinn

"Robert McChesney has written an inspirational and enlightening manifesto for the growing media reform movement.""

—Katrina vanden Heuval

"The Problem of the Media is an exceptional blend of history, economics, policy and politics."

—Michael X. Delli Carpini

"This masterful not only highly enlightening, but a real stimulus to constructive action as well."

—Noam Chomsky

"In this beautifully written and meticulously researched work, McChesney uses our history to show us what's wrong with the present."

—Lawrence Lessig

"McChesney's crystal clear analysis directs our attention to exactly what's wrong and why it happened... Every citizen concerned about democracy in America should get a copy of this book."

—Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

"A work of peerless learning, bracing wit, and rare political sagacity, The Problem of the Media is that extraordinary thing: a study that not only teaches us, but gives us hope. At analyzing how the media system works, and at explaining how it got to be that way, McChesney has no peer."

—Mark Crispin Miller

"As Chomsky is to linguistics, Ben & Jerry's to ice cream, and Elvis to shaking one's hips, McChesney is to media analysis. He is the King: there is no one more definitive."

—Danny Schechter

"Robert McChesney is the conscience of the media in America...His latest book is just the latest evidence of his profound importance to this nation."

—Charles Lewis

"In The Problem of the Media, McChesney explodes the myths that media monopolies are inevitable, that media policy isn't our business, and that the main purpose of the media should be to maximize profits."

—Susan J. Douglas

"Crisp writing, sparkling insights, deep knowledge, and practical proposals for real reform this is public scholarship at its best, on a topic that couldn't be more vital to our troubled democracy."

—Mark Hertsgaard

"Bob McChesney continues to smoke the media barons out of their holes with his latest bombshell, The Problem of the Media."

—Amy Goodman

Robert W. McChesney is a Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author or editor of several books, including the award-winning Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for the Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935, Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy, and, with Edward S. Herman, The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism. McChesney's most recent books are multiple award-winning Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times and, with John Nichols, Our Media, Not Theirs: The Democratic Struggle Against Corporate Media. His work concentrates on the history and political economy of communication, emphasizing the role media play in democratic and capitalist societies. McChesney also cofounded Free Press, on the web at

Robert W. McChesney