Media Roots Interview with Ralph Nader

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MEDIA ROOTS- Abby Martin of Media Roots talks to political activist and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader about Project Censored, the landscape of media censorship, the establishment co-opting of the tea party, the two party dictatorship in the US, Obama’s exacerbation of Bush era policies and the recent assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. [Transcript Below]

Ralph Nader sits down to speak with Media Roots.

Abby Martin:  “Ralph, thanks so much for taking the time. 
 
Ralph Nader:  “Great.”
 
Abby Martin:  “Why do you support Project Censored?  I know that their, last year’s, book was on your essential reading list.  Why?”
 
Ralph Nader:  “Because Project Censored focuses on the courageous media that publishes articles that the mass media doesn’t cover.  And it does it in a very clear way.  And the selection process, I think, has been pretty effective.  They take really important subjects that are censored out by the networks or the major newspapers and they find it being covered, say, in Mother Jones or Multinational Monitor or Nation magazine and they highlight it.  So, it’s a memorable way to show how much censorship there is, still, in the media because these topics that they select are extremely important ones.  They’re not marginal trivial matters.”
 
Abby Martin:  “Do you think media censorship is more of a problem now than ever before?”
 
Ralph Nader:  “Well, in some ways there’s more disclosure and reporting because of the internet, because of the blogs, and the websites, and the world-wide range, like if you can’t find the story reported in the U.S., you get it from The Guardian or the independent newspapers or, you know, some newspaper abroad.  Or you see it on Al Jazeera.  So, in that sense it’s better than the past.  In the second, though, there’s far more censorship of citizen activity trying to do something about the very revelations that are reported in the newspapers.  So, you get great feature stories that are Pulitzer Prize-winning in The New York Times or The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal; and then when people rally or march or file lawsuits or give testimony about the very abuses that these papers have exposed they don’t cover it, the citizen efforts.  That is worse, by far.  For example, we used to be able to get on the Phil Donohue Show; there’s no more Phil Donahue Show.  He opened the door for the women’s movement, the consumer movement, the environmental movement, the displaced worker movement like no one before with a huge audience of eight million people.  And nothing has replaced him since he closed down in 1996.  We used to get on Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin Shows.  They were largely entertainment shows, but they felt a responsibility to devote maybe ten, fifteen percent of their time to serious activities going on.  They, of course, have been replaced by these sadomasochistic shows that are on afternoon daily TV.  So, things are really going down.  A lot of seasoned reporters have been laid off.  Or that their contract has been bought out.  And, so, that memory and experience is not doing much.  Then you have the embedded journalists.  You know?  Can you imagine being an embedded journalist in Iraq or Afghanistan?  That’s another way of saying, ‘Oh, we’re muzzled journalists.’  So, they’re missing all kinds of major stories and, with the budget cuts for the mass media, there’s less foreign bureaus, less reporters in bureaus in the United States for these big newspapers and television networks.  So, that, all those represent a real decay in the mass media.”
 
Abby Martin:  “Absolutely.  One of the things Project Censored talks about is ‘framing’ and that’s a really crucial aspect of censorship that people don’t really realise is censorship.  And I wanted you to speak, I know that you spoke about this in your talk [here at The Hillside Club in Berkeley], but I wanted you to speak about the framing of how the media portrays elections and that whole false dichotomy of the lesser-of-two-evils, um, basically we’re fear-mongered into voting against our interests.  And I just wanted you to speak about that, even though you did already, just, you know, something that you can say just ‘cos it is, it’s infuriating.  [Chuckles.]  I know that you’re probably…”
 
Ralph Nader:  “Yeah, well, framing is…
 
Abby Martin:  “…used…”
 
 Ralph Nader:  “…is a way of excluding.  Let’s face it.  I mean, if they ‘frame’ the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of pro-Israeli, then they slaughter in Gaza, and its precedence and the fact that it was  Israelis that broke the truce, uh, and, and had a continuing embargo, uh, it would’ve been a completely different reporting…”
 
Abby Martin:  “Right.”
 
Ralph Nader:  “…situation.  And, and, that’s true in terms of covering the Pentagon, covering the predatory seizure of our natural resources on Federal lands, which belong to us, or a whole host of subjects that simply are not covered.  For example, the stealing of, from the health care expenditures, it’s about $250 billion dollars out of a $2.7 trillion dollars.  That’s $250 billion, with a ‘b.’  And there’s a professor at Harvard, he’s documented this.  His name is Malcolm Sparrow and he’s the world authority on this and he’s been a consultant on this to various states and federal agencies.  He’s almost never interviewed by the public, eh, the newspapers or by the TV.  And he’s a great source.  That amount of money would cover the uninsured.  And every year it’s $250 billion dollars.  So…”
 
Abby Martin:  “It’s called shared sacrifice.  Come on, we all need to cut expenses, except the Defense, of course.”
 
Ralph Nader:  “Yeah.  No, this is an oligarchy and a plutocracy, you know?  Pick your word.  And that infects the media, ‘cos the media, the mass media is a conglomerate of corporations.  And six or seven now control the bulk of TV, radio, uh, magazine, newspaper circulation.  When Ben Bagdikian did his first study over 25 years ago it was about 50 media corporations that had that ratio of control.  It’s down to about six now.  So, you see where it’s going.  And that’s why Fox News has such a influence.  And that’s why the Dow Jones has, because they get a bigger, bigger share by fewer and fewer corporations serving their investments.  I mean, they’re out for profits.  When the Wall Street Journal does all these editorials, always against consumer protection, against civil justice, tort system, against, uh, fear of taxation.  Nobody has, ever says, ‘hey, these Wall Street Journal editorials, they’re not so more than servicing the page after page of corporate advertising in their newspaper!’  Why give them any credibility at all?”
 
Abby Martin:  “Right.  Exactly.  And one of the stories in this year’s book is about the Tea Party and the ‘astro-turfing’ of what happened in this.  And it, kind of, just goes along with the whole thing that you, you know, there was a question in the audience, ‘oh, I just hate these Tea-baggers.’  It’s the fear that, that prevents people from really voting with their heart and from what they really want to make happen.  And you see the Tea Party was just totally co-opted and ‘astro-turfed,’ it’s not even really real.  There’s no substance there.  Um, and, yeah, I really liked what you said about, you know, both parties will get worse if you keep doing that.  And I was wondering if you could, maybe, just elaborate on, on why you said that.”
 
Ralph Nader:  “Well, the Tea Party started out as, sort of, spontaneously, and there were a lot of different parts to it.  There were Libertarians.  There were conservatives.  There were the corporatists.  There were the militarists.  Whatever reason.  Then, it was hijacked.  And, it’s really interesting how it happened because first it was influenced in numbers, hugely exaggerated.  They really couldn’t turn out that many people.  Especially, since they had their own television network every day pushing it, the Fox Network.  So, the Washington Post wrote an article saying there wasn’t more than three hundred thousand people who had any kind of membership in these Tea Party organisations all over the country.  So, it was hijacked because the brand name, corporatist wing of the Republican Party figured, ‘hey,’ you know, ‘this is the trademark, politically, de jour, grab it, it’s valuable!’  And, so, it’s really the wing of the Republican Party that has hijacked the Tea Party brand and appropriated this exaggerated aura, whose balloon has now been punctured by vigorous investigative reporting.  And you know, in Washington, as they say, ‘perception is reality,’ even though it doesn’t reflect any force of numbers out there in the country.  So, the Tea Party now is the conservative, corporatist wing of the Democratic, excuse me, the Tea Party now is the resurgence of the conservative, largely non-Libertarian, wing of the Republican Party.  And it’s ensconced in Congress.” 
 
Abby Martin:  “We interviewed Mike Gravel a couple weeks ago and he was just talking about, you know, during the 2008 Election.  He felt like the game was rigged.  He wasn’t allowed on the MSNBC or NBC debates because of GE.  How do you feel about candidates who, you know, you try so hard to get in there and the game’s rigged all along?  The establishment won’t let you.  They’ll faze you out.  And we saw what happened to you in 2000 and 2004 when people, still, to this day, ‘Ralph Nader cost the Election,’ when, really, there was widespread voter fraud that no one really followed up on, even though it was very blatant.  And Greg Palast did a great report on it.  It’s just, it’s just amazing that those talking points are still perpetuated and, um, that the game is really rigged.  I was wondering if you could talk about that.”
 
Ralph Nader:  “Well, Mike Gravel, he got on the debates early on.”   
 
 
Abby Martin:  “Yeah.”
 
Ralph Nader:  “But he tried to wing it too much.  If he raised enough money just to have an office in Des Moines or an office in New Hampshire, by the rules of the Democratic Primary, they couldn’t have excluded him.  So, he could’ve lasted a little longer and maybe got a foothold, so as to get at least as much attention as Ron Paul did, who spent time trying to raise money.  Mike Gravel has a very good proposal, but he thinks, has legs on no money.”
 
Abby Martin:  “Right.  Well, do you think the game is rigged?”
 
Ralph Nader:  “Well, of course.”
 
Abby Martin:  (laughs)
 
Ralph Nader:  “Two-party dictatorship, completely rigged, right down to the Presidential Debate Commission, which is a fancy phrase for a private corporation created in 1987 by the Republican and Democratic parties to get rid of the League of Women Voters, which supervised Presidential Debates up to then, and to exclude anyone who they think should not reach tens of millions of Americans.”
 
Abby Martin:  “How do we get people out of this paradigm that they’re living in where they need to do one or the other when both mirror each other?
 
Ralph Nader:  “Well, they have to do what no one can stop them from doing.  That is vote their belief and conscience.  Don’t go tactical and vote for least worst.  And every four years both parties get worse.  And get out and march and demonstrate.  That’s the first rampart, uh, that get’s attention and gets more and more people on board.  And last I learned about our system, they can’t stop you from marching and demonstrating in front of the right buildings and the right places at the right time all over the country in ever greater numbers.”
 
Abby Martin:  “Civil disobedience at the, I love Cornel West, kind of turnaround on that.  And I know I  said that was my last question, but I wanted you, really quickly, I just remembered, I mean as it’s still relevant that al-Awlaki assassination, you were talking about Obama’s exacerbation of a lot of Bush’s foreign policy.  And this is, I mean, is this, you’ve been in politics for a long time, is this open kind of accepted assassination now of American citizens, is this kind of par for the course, is this just playing the game of politics, or is this kind of an unprecedented thing that we should be standing up and saying…”
 
Ralph Nader:  “Well…”
 
Abby Martin:  “…‘what’s going on?’”
 
Ralph Nader:  “…President Obama, who is a Constitutional lecturer, has just torn up another part of the Constitution.  He now believes in summary execution of suspects, even American citizens, which violates the due process of law guaranteed by our Constitution.  That is an impeachable offence.  And that should be a issue in the Campaign.  He has made Bush look modest in terms of his aggressiveness abroad.  And he’s, Obama is doing exactly what he said he was gonna do.  That he thinks he can send the armed forces anywhere in the world irrespective of international law, U.N. Charter, national sovereignties, kill, injure, and crush anything that he, as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner, thinks needs to be destroyed.  That is about as radical and anti-American [a] position, given the founders of our Constitution and our Constitutional heritage, as can be imagined.  It was done by an expert in Constitutional Law, the former President of the Harvard Law Review, and a Black American.  We better get worried.”
 
Abby Martin:  “Absolutely. Thank you so much, Ralph.”

***

MR: Ralph, thanks so much for taking the time.  

Ralph Nader: Great.

MR: Why do you support Project Censored?  I know that their, last year’s, book was on your essential reading list.  Why?

Ralph Nader:  Because Project Censored focuses on the courageous media that publishes articles that the mass media doesn’t cover.  And it does it in a very clear way.  And the selection process, I think, has been pretty effective.  They take really important subjects that are censored out by the networks or the major newspapers and they find it being covered, say, in Mother Jones or Multinational Monitor or Nation magazine and they highlight it.  So, it’s a memorable way to show how much censorship there is, still, in the media because these topics that they select are extremely important ones.  They’re not marginal trivial matters.

MR: Do you think media censorship is more of a problem now than ever before?

Ralph Nader:  Well, in some ways there’s more disclosure and reporting because of the internet, because of the blogs, and the websites, and the world-wide range, like if you can’t find the story reported in the U.S., you get it from The Guardian or the independent newspapers or, you know, some newspaper abroad.  Or you see it on Al Jazeera.  So, in that sense it’s better than the past.  In the second, though, there’s far more censorship of citizen activity trying to do something about the very revelations that are reported in the newspapers.  So, you get great feature stories that are Pulitzer Prize-winning in The New York Times or The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal; and then when people rally or march or file lawsuits or give testimony about the very abuses that these papers have exposed they don’t cover it, the citizen efforts.  That is worse, by far.  

For example, we used to be able to get on the Phil Donahue Show; there’s no more Phil Donahue Show.  He opened the door for the women’s movement, the consumer movement, the environmental movement, the displaced worker movement like no one before with a huge audience of eight million people.  And nothing has replaced him since he closed down in 1996.  We used to get on Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin Shows.  They were largely entertainment shows, but they felt a responsibility to devote maybe ten, fifteen percent of their time to serious activities going on.  They, of course, have been replaced by these sadomasochistic shows that are on afternoon daily TV.  So, things are really going down.  A lot of seasoned reporters have been laid off.  Or that their contract has been bought out.  And, so, that memory and experience is not doing much.  

Then you have the embedded journalists.  You know?  Can you imagine being an embedded journalist in Iraq or Afghanistan?  That’s another way of saying, ‘Oh, we’re muzzled journalists.’  So, they’re missing all kinds of major stories and, with the budget cuts for the mass media, there’s less foreign bureaus, less reporters in bureaus in the United States for these big newspapers and television networks.  So, that, all those represent a real decay in the mass media.

MR: Absolutely.  One of the things Project Censored talks about is ‘framing’ and that’s a really crucial aspect of censorship that people don’t really realise is censorship.  And I wanted you to speak, I know that you spoke about this in your talk [here at The Hillside Club in Berkeley], but I wanted you to speak about the framing of how the media portrays elections and that whole false dichotomy of the lesser-of-two-evils, um, basically we’re fear-mongered into voting against our interests.  And I just wanted you to speak about that, even though you did already, just, you know, something that you can say just ‘cos it is, it’s infuriating. 

Ralph Nader:  Yeah, well, framing is a way of excluding.  Let’s face it.  I mean, if they ‘frame’ the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of pro-Israeli, then they slaughter in Gaza, and its precedence and the fact that it was  Israelis that broke the truce, uh, and, and had a continuing embargo, uh, it would’ve been a completely different reporting situation.  

And, and, that’s true in terms of covering the Pentagon, covering the predatory seizure of our natural resources on Federal lands, which belong to us, or a whole host of subjects that simply are not covered.  For example, the stealing of, from the health care expenditures, it’s about $250 billion dollars out of a $2.7 trillion dollars.  That’s $250 billion, with a ‘b.’  

And there’s a professor at Harvard, he’s documented this.  His name is Malcolm Sparrow and he’s the world authority on this and he’s been a consultant on this to various states and federal agencies.  He’s almost never interviewed by the public, eh, the newspapers or by the TV.  And he’s a great source.  That amount of money would cover the uninsured.  And every year it’s $250 billion dollars.  

MR: It’s called shared sacrifice.  Come on Ralph, we all need to cut expenses, except the Defense, of course.

Ralph Nader:  Yeah.  No, this is an oligarchy and a plutocracy, you know?  Pick your word.  And that infects the media, ‘cos the media, the mass media is a conglomerate of corporations.  And six or seven now control the bulk of TV, radio, uh, magazine, newspaper circulation.  When Ben Bagdikian did his first study over 25 years ago it was about 50 media corporations that had that ratio of control.  It’s down to about six now.  So, you see where it’s going.  And that’s why Fox News has such a influence.  And that’s why the Dow Jones has, because they get a bigger, bigger share by fewer and fewer corporations serving their investments.  I mean, they’re out for profits.  When the Wall Street Journal does all these editorials, always against consumer protection, against civil justice, tort system, against, uh, fear of taxation.  Nobody has, ever says, ‘hey, these Wall Street Journal editorials, they’re not so more than servicing the page after page of corporate advertising in their newspaper!’  Why give them any credibility at all?

MR: Right.  Exactly.  And one of the stories in this year’s book is about the Tea Party and the ‘astro-turfing’ of what happened in this. And it, kind of, just goes along with the whole thing that you, you know, there was a question in the audience, ‘oh, I just hate these Tea-baggers.’  It’s the fear that, that prevents people from really voting with their heart and from what they really want to make happen.  And you see the Tea Party was just totally co-opted and ‘astro-turfed,’ it’s not even really real.  There’s no substance there. I really liked what you said about, you know, both parties will get worse if you keep doing that.  And I was wondering if you could, maybe, just elaborate on, on why you said that.

Ralph Nader: Well, the Tea Party started out as, sort of, spontaneously, and there were a lot of different parts to it.  There were Libertarians.  There were conservatives.  There were the corporatists.  There were the militarists.  Whatever reason.  Then, it was hijacked.  And, it’s really interesting how it happened because first it was influenced in numbers, hugely exaggerated.  They really couldn’t turn out that many people.  Especially, since they had their own television network every day pushing it, the Fox Network.  So, the Washington Post wrote an article saying there wasn’t more than three hundred thousand people who had any kind of membership in these Tea Party organisations all over the country.  

So, it was hijacked because the brand name, corporatist wing of the Republican Party figured, ‘hey,’ you know, ‘this is the trademark, politically, de jour, grab it, it’s valuable!’  And, so, it’s really the wing of the Republican Party that has hijacked the Tea Party brand and appropriated this exaggerated aura, whose balloon has now been punctured by vigorous investigative reporting.  And you know, in Washington, as they say, ‘perception is reality,’ even though it doesn’t reflect any force of numbers out there in the country.  So, the Tea Party now is the conservative, corporatist wing of the Democratic, excuse me, the Tea Party now is the resurgence of the conservative, largely non-Libertarian, wing of the Republican Party.  And it’s ensconced in Congress.

MR: We interviewed Mike Gravel a couple weeks ago and he was just talking about, you know, during the 2008 Election.  He felt like the game was rigged.  He wasn’t allowed on the MSNBC or NBC debates because of GE.  How do you feel about candidates who try so hard to get in there and the game’s rigged all along?  The establishment won’t let you.  They’ll phase you out.  And we saw what happened to you in 2000 and 2004 when people, still, to this day, ‘Ralph Nader cost the Election,’ when, really, there was widespread voter fraud that no one really followed up on, even though it was very blatant.  And Greg Palast did a great report on it.  It’s just, it’s just amazing that those talking points are still perpetuated and that the game is really rigged.  I was wondering if you could talk about that.

Ralph Nader:  Well, Mike Gravel, he got on the debates early on. But he tried to wing it too much.  If he raised enough money just to have an office in Des Moines or an office in New Hampshire, by the rules of the Democratic Primary, they couldn’t have excluded him. So, he could’ve lasted a little longer and maybe got a foothold, so as to get at least as much attention as Ron Paul did, who spent time trying to raise money.  Mike Gravel has a very good proposal, but he thinks, has legs on no money.

MR: Right.  Well, do you think the game is rigged?

Ralph Nader:  Well, of course. Two-party dictatorship, completely rigged, right down to the Presidential Debate Commission, which is a fancy phrase for a private corporation created in 1987 by the Republican and Democratic parties to get rid of the League of Women Voters, which supervised Presidential Debates up to then, and to exclude anyone who they think should not reach tens of millions of Americans.

MR: How do we get people out of this paradigm that they’re living in where they need to do one or the other when both mirror each other?

Ralph Nader:  Well, they have to do what no one can stop them from doing.  That is vote their belief and conscience.  Don’t go tactical and vote for least worst.  And every four years both parties get worse.  And get out and march and demonstrate.  That’s the first rampart, uh, that get’s attention and gets more and more people on board.  And last I learned about our system, they can’t stop you from marching and demonstrating in front of the right buildings and the right places at the right time all over the country in ever greater numbers.

MR: Civil disobedience at the, I love Cornel West, kind of turnaround on that.  And I know I  said that was my last question, but I wanted you, really quickly, I just remembered, I mean as it’s still relevant that al-Awlaki assassination, you were talking about Obama’s exacerbation of a lot of Bush’s foreign policy.  And this is, I mean, is this, you’ve been in politics for a long time, is this open kind of accepted assassination now of American citizens, is this kind of par for the course, is this just playing the game of politics, or is this kind of an unprecedented thing that we should be standing up and saying what’s going on?

Ralph Nader:  President Obama, who is a Constitutional lecturer, has just torn up another part of the Constitution.  He now believes in summary execution of suspects, even American citizens, which violates the due process of law guaranteed by our Constitution.  That is an impeachable offence.  And that should be a issue in the Campaign.  He has made Bush look modest in terms of his aggressiveness abroad.  And he’s, Obama is doing exactly what he said he was gonna do.  That he thinks he can send the armed forces anywhere in the world irrespective of international law, U.N. Charter, national sovereignties, kill, injure, and crush anything that he, as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner, thinks needs to be destroyed.  That is about as radical and anti-American [a] position, given the founders of our Constitution and our Constitutional heritage, as can be imagined.  It was done by an expert in Constitutional Law, the former President of the Harvard Law Review, and a Black American.  We better get worried.

MR: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Ralph.

***

3 thoughts on “Media Roots Interview with Ralph Nader

  1. Excellent interview with Ralph Nader, Abby. Ralph Nader continues to be one of the most honest and candid political analysts.

    And, thank you, especially, for discussing the two-party dictatorship and delving into the false left/right paradigm. This is one of the least discussed topics in media, mainstream or alternative, which is befuddling, given the fundamental importance of critical electoral analysis. Despite the ebb and flow of low voter tides, million of U.S. people will still take to the polls in 2012, so we may as well speak plainly about our electoral system. And, as in the past two Presidential Elections, millions of liberals and progressives will admit to holding their noses as they cast a ballot for the lesser-of-two-evils instead of voting their consciences.

    Yet, at this particular moment in history when scores of Occupy Wall Street protesters across the country are increasingly expressing disaffection with both major, corporate-driven, political parties, it’s remarkable how difficult it is, even today, to penetrate and lay bare this false left/right paradigm. This seems as much a cognitive question of our collective mass psychology as it is one of mass media complicity and its influence upon our decision-making. But we know the younger generations see through the falseness of the two-party system.

    As Ralph Nader admits, thanks to Abby’s intrepid questions, the electoral “game is rigged.”

    Abby Martin: “Well, do you think the game is rigged?”

    Ralph Nader: “Well, of course: two-party dictatorship, completely rigged, right down to the Presidential Debate Commission, which is a fancy phrase for a private corporation created in 1987 by the Republican and Democratic parties to get rid of the League of Women Voters, which supervised Presidential Debates up to then, and to exclude anyone who they think should not reach tens of millions of Americans.”

    This may seem an obvious question. But it’s very empowering to hear it asked plainly and answered so candidly by one of America’s great public citizens.

    And, again, with increasing national and international attention upon the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street sit-ins across the nation, the Wisconsin mass-protests, the Keystone XL mass-protests, and the most recent October 2011 anti-war demonstrations in Washington, D.C., it’s remarkable this issue doesn’t come up to the forefront more prominently. Perhaps, it’s important to consider who funds our mass-protests and the agendas of those funders as well as considering the hopes and aspirations of the actual protesters on the ground.

    Within our current media discourse, anti-war and anti-corporatocracy critical analysis is fine, it seems, but not critical electoral analysis, apparently, because that may threaten the Democratic Party. And without meaningful discussions about the regressive nature of perpetuating a restrictive two-party system, liberals and progressives are held captive by a Democratic Party increasingly beholden to corporate interests. And radical voices to the left of them are completely excluded from the national discourse.

    This is not a partisan issue. This is a question of the U.S. people having an electoral system, which truly reflects the popular will of its people.

    So, it’s up to honest journalists and writers, it’s up to citizen and independent journalists, to cut through the false left/right paradigm, to expose inconvenient truths, and to help raise the consciousness of the masses to break out of our restricted two-party dictatorship.

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