Double Vision: Reflections on my Heritage, Life
with Ben Bagdikian, journalist, editor, media critic, and author
In Double Vision, Ben Bagdikian recounts a number of key events that informed his life as a journalist, scholar, and media critic: his dramatic escape from Turkey as a young Armenian child, his acquisition of the leaked Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg, to the transformation of American journalism over the past 50 years.
The fifth edition of the Media Monopoly is completely updated, revised, and reconsidered in a twentieth-anniversary edition with seven entirely new chapters.
When the first edition of The Media Monopoly was published in 1983, critics called Ben Bagdikian's warnings about the chilling effects of corporate ownership and mass advertising on the nation's news "alarmist." Since then, the number of corporations controlling most of America's daily newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, book publishers, and movie companies has dwindled from fifty to ten to five.
Ben Bagdikian was an editor at The Washington Post in 1971 when he met Daniel Ellsberg, who passed him portions of the Pentagon Papers, the top-secret history of the Vietnam War. Bagdikian later became a significant media critic, and wrote about the consolidation of media ownership in fewer and fewer hands in his 1983 book The Media Monopoly. "What we're seeing in the media now is a decrease in hard reporting as a proportion of the whole," he said, "and an increase of soft entertainment features - which are the least expensive to produce and the most revenue producing."
The Media Monopoly was revised seven times since 1983, and each edition chronicled an accelerating wave of media mergers that eventually resulted in five companies owning most of the major U.S. media including newspapers, magazines, books, radio and TV stations, and movie studios. "What is at stake is American democracy itself," he writes. "A country without all the significant news, points of view, and information its citizens need to be informed voters is risking the loss of democratic rights."
This interview from 1997 is the second of three Ben Bagdikian interviews in the Focus archives.