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The Last Days of Democracy
Posted on Aug 2, 2007
Truthdig speaks with Elliot Cohen, author of “The Last Days of Democracy,” who argues that the United States is in political and cultural decline, with media and telecommunications giants engaged in “a well-organized effort to hijack America.”
Click here to listen to this interview.
James Harris: Welcome to another edition of Truthdig. This is James Harris sitting down with Josh Scheer. On the phone we are talking to Elliot Cohen, the author of “The Last Days of Democracy.” Elliot, let’s start with your theory. For the most part, you’re saying that our government in the United States is coming to an end. And that we are headed toward a dictatorship, toward authoritarian rule. The idea that we will one day be like Nazi Germany was ... is hard for a lot of Americans to swallow. Why do you believe it to be true?
Scheer: That’s what I’m talking about. When I say wimpy, I don’t mean obviously the person in Iraq trying to cover for Indymedia. I’m talking about those people in power who are editors, who are publishers, who are the owners, shouldn’t they have some kind of standard, because they are the Fourth Estate, speaking truth to power ... ?
Cohen: The way things are going is they’re thinking as corporate executives and not journalists. They’re thinking about their obligations to their shareholders; they’re thinking about their bottom line. And that kind of thinking is incompatible with the Fourth Estate that’s independent of government—not when you’re in business with the government. One of the major problems as far as the media is concerned is media consolidation and these large corporations that control the media being not these good journalists of the Fourth Estate, but rather simply businessmen trying to make a profit.
Harris: I was reading something you said about the Internet and of course it’s at least in one respect the ability of alternative press to be heard and seen by others who wouldn’t normally see it. You say the regulations we’re seeing right now are just one example of the way we are being stripped of our democracy, our, at least an access to continuing democracy. Explain that.
Cohen: The Internet is really a great bastion of democracy. If we didn’t have the Internet we wouldn’t even know about the Downing Street Memos, for example. Because the mainstream didn’t cover it. And so what we’re up against is, if we can hold on to the Internet, then we still have a source of a democratic press. But the problem is, it’s being encroached upon just like mainstream media and it’s in danger of becoming really an arm of these large corporations who are now dominating the Internet. And this started in 2000, well, well before. But in 2005 there was the landmark decision by the Supreme Court, which was the Brand X decision, where the court essentially turned over the pipes that send the information down the Internet to these large corporations. It basically said that they own the conduit for the Internet. The Supreme Court ruled that the Internet is like a cable TV station and can be owned and can be operated like such. For instance, Fox broadcasts its program and you have no control—we have no control over what it broadcasts. Well, essentially, this is the way the Internet is now conceived, legally. They can send and control, you know, send things down and control the content. And if they can control the conduit, they can control the content of the Internet pipes. And even wireless there are these fights to try to hold on to control of the Internet, and that’s the first stage to do away with what’s common carriage, which means that just like on a phone conversation, anybody can enter a phone conversation and use the phones. Well, the Supreme Court said that that is no longer the case with the Internet. The Internet is now—. The Net’s not going to be seen as a telecommunications system but rather it’s going to be conceived as an information system just like CNN or Fox cable. And what that does is open up the door effectively for various modes of control, and one of the ways in which these large corporations like Comcast are trying to control the Internet right now is through setting up these tollbooths where they are instituting, or want to institute—and there’s a lot of powerful lobbies in Congress to try to do this—they are trying to set up these tollbooths which will regulate how much, what kind of bandwidth different Internet sites can have, depending upon how much they are wiling to pay. So we have a pay-for-play system where the bandwidth will determine how quickly you connect then, and whether or not you end up spinning out in cyberspace versus reaching lots of people. And obviously those corporations with the deepest pockets are going to be able to have the best connectivity. What that means is money is going to control truth.
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