The Millennial Media Revolution: The Response Tells You If It Is Working, Part 4


The political and economic elite have responded with propaganda and violence to the revelations of the millennial media revolution. (Read parts I, II, and III of the series here.) Millennials and their allies in the media revolution should view the elite response in a positive light because it demonstrates that the revolution is effectively challenging the status quo. If the media revolution was ineffective, it would require no response from those it threatens. Ultimately, however, the media revolution’s success must be measured by its ability to change the American public’s conception of news media and the public’s role in the political process. The great lengths to which those in power have gone to subdue the movement, coupled with changes in media consumption patterns, voter philosophy, and governing policy, demonstrate that the media revolution is succeeding.

The government’s use of the legal system to partly subdue the media revolution demonstrates it is a viable threat. Despite whistleblowers being legally protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, the Obama Administration has indicted more of them under the Espionage Act than all previous Presidents combined. Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking military information, Aaron Swartz of Dead Drop faced a federal grand jury indictment for fraud and using a protected computer, Frederic Bourke faces 15 years in prison for exposing how oil execs pay bribes to seize oil reserves abroad, Thomas Drake received a year probation and community service for exposing the NSA’s spying on US citizens, former-CIA Agent John Kiriakou exposed Bush-era torture and received a 30 month prison sentence while the torturers he exposed remain free, Shamai Leibowitz received 20 months in prison for releasing FBI documents relating to US and Israel relations, and Internet activist Barratt Brown was arrested for posting a link to hacked documents posted by WikiLeaks. Edward Snowden was locked in a Moscow airport for almost six weeks after the US government revoked his passport.

The government has responded with violence to threats posed by social movements inspired by the media revolution. In 2011, the Occupy Movement became the iconic symbol of the media revolution, as technology allowed millennials to connect and organize resistance to those in power. Their visibility on the web made it difficult for the corporate media to misrepresent or otherwise censor the group. In response, the government violently subdued peaceful protesters. In Oakland, California, police struck Iraq veteran Scott Olsen in the head with an OPD projectile; in Seattle, police pepper sprayed an 84-year-old woman in Seattle; peaceful protesters in New York City and at the University of California, Davis faced similar assaults by law enforcement officers, and the courts have even recently awarded settlements to the victims verifying the guilt of authorities.

Corporations have responded to the media revolution by defunding and criminalizing it. Credit card companies including Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal have refused to process donations made to WikLeaks. Corporate politicians created laws to silence whistleblowers in the so-called “Ag-gag” bills in Iowa and Utah that make it illegal to film the abuse of animals in factory farm facilities. This blatant censorship criminalizes the use of handheld recording devices to expose “animal abuse, unsafe working conditions, and environmental problems” in factory farming.

The corporate press reproduces the interpretive framework of political elites who distort and misrepresent the media revolution’s protagonists. President Obama claimed, “I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot.” A Defense Department strategy memo for defaming whistleblowers explained, “Hammer this fact home…Leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States.” The corporate media relentlessly reiterate the government’s message. On NBC’s popular Sunday morning program “Meet the Press,” host David Gregory framed Greenwald’s journalism as criminal by asking Greenwald, “Why shouldn’t you be charged with a crime?” Similarly, Michael Grunwald of Time tweeted that he “can’t wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out” Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. The editorial board of the Washington Post published an Op-Ed suggesting Snowden surrender himself. Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan facetiously stated, “Take note, potential leakers and whistleblowers inside the U.S. government: the official stance of the Washington Post’s editorial board is that you should shut up and go to jail.” Former CIA director James Woolsey advocated that Snowden be hanged if found guilty. Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton took a similar position arguing that Snowden “Ought To Swing From A Tall Oak Tree.” 60 Minutes ran a segment lauding NSA Surveillance, hosted by CBS’ John Miller who formerly worked for the NSA.

In the post-Fairness Doctrine world, the corporate press set up unbalanced panels to smear Snowden and promote the government’s message. Bob Schieffer has worked with CBS since 1969 and now hosts their Sunday morning talk show Face The Nation. In June 2013, Schieffer said Snowden “Is No Hero.” On his August 11, 2013 broadcast, Schieffer welcomed former NSA Director Michael Hayden, Republican congressman Peter King, and Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger as guests to discuss Snowden. All three opposed Snowden’s leak. Thus, viewers sat through a smear campaign that appeared to be balanced, since both a Republican and Democrat participated, a tactic known as false balancing. Worse, no one on the panel admitted that Hayden is a partner in the Chertoff Group, a private entity that profits from government surveillance contracts such as the full body airport scanners that United States Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff mandated to be used at airports.

Despite the attempts to subdue the movement, generational changes in media consumption demonstrate it is succeeding. Youth are turning the nation away from corporate newspaper outlets. A Harvard study from several years ago found that just one in twenty teens and one in twelve young adults read newspapers. Millennials are increasingly not reading corporate news online either. There has been a drop of readership from adults 18-24 from 64% in 2008 to 54% in 2009. By 2013, the generational divide was showing as three in four 18-29 year olds gathered their news strictly from the Internet, while 64% of those aged 30-49 got it from a combination of television and Internet. Also telling is how millennials do not wait for a corporate interpretation or schedule of news. In the same poll those over 50 years of age said they receive their news at a scheduled time every day, while the millennials “graze” for news throughout the day. In 2013, Variety magazine found that all news networks “showed primetime declines.” This is a sign of the media revolution’s success as these numbers show the future majority of news consumers turning away from corporate news.

Similarly, changes in the philosophy of the media revolution’s leadership document the revolution’s achievements. The leaks of Snowden are rumored to have caused the director of the NSA and his deputy, Keith Alexander and John C. Inglis, to step down. The leaks also led President Obama to express public support for reforms and to call for a panel to review the process for approving wiretaps. In late 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA surveillance program violated the Fourth Amendment, protection from “unreasonable” searches and seizures.

The strongest evidence that the revolution is working is a change in philosophy amongst the voting public. A July 2013 PEW poll found that “a majority of Americans – 56% – say that federal courts fail to provide adequate limits on the telephone and Internet data the government is collecting as part of its anti-terrorism efforts.” And “an even larger percentage (70%) believes that the government uses this data for purposes other than investigating terrorism.” Moreover, “63% think the government is also gathering information about the content of communications.” In October 2013, a poll documented the divide over the media revolution, as 51% to 49% claimed Snowden was more of a hero than a traitor.

The behavior of politicians and the corporate press against members of the millennial media revolution demonstrate that it threatens those in power and thus has the potential to create a healthy democratic structure. The previous generations may have removed the safeguards that worked to ensure a fact-based news media with integrity and diverse views, but the millennials are working outside of traditional frameworks to redefine news to redraw the boundaries regarding who is qualified to educate the public on abuses by those in power.