Monday, 26 September 2005

Political Economy of Symbolic Violence

The coverage of the anti-war movement by the Associated Press wire story was not the headline on major news websites today (MSNBC.COM or ABCNEWS.COM).

In looking at this particular news story, you can get a sense of where the "mainstream" press stand as collective representatives of the viewpoint of the power elite's classwide rationality.

The very first sentence of the story:

WASHINGTON - Cindy Sheehan, the California woman who has used her son`s death in Iraq to spur the anti-war movement, was arrested Monday while protesting outside the White House.

suggests that Cindy Sheehan is a political opportunist. She opportunistically used her son's death to "spur the anti-war movement". Foucault writes in his 1974-75 Paris lectures that the goal of professional juridical power is to make the subject resemble an offense before they commit it. Here the news media via the AP are engaging in the same practice.

The above sentence also implies that there is not much of a social movement against the war. It follows that since the individual is a political opportunist, the state can act with due neutrality and arrest this subject (though this is a tactic many movements engage in on purpose). Too, any notions of a grieving mother are morbidly absent from the associated press transmission.

The structure of the Associated Press also imitates neutrality in officially stating that it is owned by a "cooperative":

Who owns The Associated Press? The Associated Press is a not-for-profit cooperative, which means it is owned by its 1,500 U.S. daily newspaper members. They elect a board of directors that directs the cooperative," (Associated
Press, FAQ).
But the "cooperative" is not the seemingly large number of independent newspapers implied because of media ownership concentration patterns (see, e.g., Bagdikian 2003). The "cooperative" is actually a reference to the dominant capitalist class who cooperate with each other. The AP wires then allow for homogeneous reporting of stories to a seeming diversity of newspapers.

To leave readers with the dominant perspective, the story ends, not talking about or quoting any of the 100,000+ demonstrators in Washington, but by quoting the 500 people there for the "Pro War Rally":

“I would like to say to Cindy Sheehan and her supporters, ‘Don’t be a group of unthinking lemmings.’ It’s not pretty,” said Mitzy Kenny of Ridgeley, W.Va., whose husband died in Iraq last year. The anti-war demonstrations “can affect the war in a really negative way. It gives the enemy hope.”
Here, those in power, the power elite, are able to use citizens to articulate the viewpoint of the dominant elite via the "man on the street". Looking at the numbers, even the AP estimates the anti-war protesters to be at 100,000 while the pro-war "movement" drew roughly 500 participants. But the important point is that the viewpoint of the power elite is the last thing the reader reads and no individuals from the numerically superior anti-war movement are quoted directly.

The impression that the anti-war movement is equivalent to "the enemy" whoever that may be at a given point in time and the attribution of power to the anti-war movement (how exactly can they give power to the enemy?) is never asked. Thus a member of the non-elite is able to articulate the viewpoint of dominant elite.

*Note also that NBC is owned by General Electric a major producer of aircraft engines for domestic airlines and military aircraft as well as the owners of a company that produces oil refining equipment.