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Original Political T-Shirts

Why I made the t-shirt "Tom Brokaw is Full of Shit"
[Yeah! an essay! I love to read!]

In these days of limited coverage by the mainstream media of corporate globalization and of the unlimited war that the US Government has unleashed on the world, the mainstream media must be exposed to all for what it is: full of shit, full of lies and omissions, full of State Department and Department of Defense press releases, full of interest in and legitimization of the status quo (i.e. the existing high concentration and centralization of wealth and power within and among "democratic" societies, and ambitious programs to manifest even greater concentration and centralization).

Don't forget that media corporations are corporations (often huge conglomerate for-profit corporations) and they behave as such. They are just as interested in corporate welfare and favors from the government (FCC regulation relaxation, anyone?) as Lockheed Martin! They might want to throw the prez a slow pitch softball instead of a hard question... that is if they want some of the goodies being handed out at Dubya's party.

Don't forget that NBC has bombs to sell. Or maybe you didn't realize that... NBC's daddy GE got the WMD's baby! [General Electric, manufacturer of nuclear weapons, is also the corporate parent of NBC. CBS's corporate parent Westinghouse also makes nuclear weapons. Both also make nuclear power plants.] Don't forget either that high paid media professionals just might share the same class interests as other folks of high socio-economic status. Don't forget there are three inch headlines and exclusive coverage (and ad space for that coverage) to sell during war.

It is time to expose the mainstream media for what it is, and isn't. It is biased, and it isn't in the least bit objective. It is owned by corporations who take great interest in the information and the overall worldview presented to the public. Thus, the mainstream media--including both corporate and "public" (but corporately unwritten) outlets--cast as and received by many as presenter of objective truth, is often little more than a stealth arm of the public relations (or propaganda) industry. Whereas the mainstream media heads like Tom Brokaw are supposedly magically objective and gilded experts, in fact they are not. Everyone is biased and to some degree guided by self interests. These interests help decide which stories get covered in the infinite sea of possible news stories, and further which facts and details are exposed within each story that is reported... even which words and idioms will be used to describe the selected facts and details.

I wasn't born with knowledge of media bias, nor did I realize fully the condition and extent of it until I was about twenty. Everyone hears from an early age the modern maxim that you shouldn't believe everything you see or hear on television and radio. The weight of the maxim seems to lean towards recommending that most of what is on television and radio is not to be believed. But, in reality many of us end up believing quite a bit of what we are told by these sources of information. This is quite natural. After all, we live in a complex society. We could never hope to know everything about everything, nor could we hope to know much about anything going on contemporarily in our world if we didn't rely on sources of information other than our own senses. Without such information we would be unable to make important decisions in our lives.

There is a great diversity among the sources of information available to us, ranging from other people to large mainstream media outlets. Bearing in mind the above mentioned maxim, it seems to me that many people end up trusting what they see and hear on television and radio (as well as what they read in printed mainstream news sources) more than what they gather directly from other people (though this is not across the board). Given the choice between information from other people at street level and information from talking heads on television news, for example, many will choose to believe the latter due to a gap in perceived credibility. This gap results primarily from the self promotion and fancy packaging that mainstream media attach to their broadcasts (and other delivery methods), and the lack of similar promotion and packaging on the part of the average street level person. Additionally, there seems to be an unstated assumption among many within the public that mainstream media outlets would not possess their unique and oligarchical access to the broadcast airwaves if they were not legitimate and credible. Monopoly and oligarchy in actuality have nothing to do with legitimacy, except that "legitimacy" generally sprouts from power -- power being bolstered and expanded by the exclusive ownership and control afforded by monopoly and oligarchy.

Over the course of my life prior to becoming aware of the extent of media bias, I engaged in much talking back to television and radio newscasts in my living room and while driving in my car... calling in to radio shows... emailing complaints to CNN and other outlets... as well as having discussions with others about the content of news media reporting... With the help of these unproductive attempts to participate in and improve the quality of the mainstream media, as well as the assistance of my undergraduate studies in political science at the University of Minnesota, I finally did become aware of the endemic and systematic biases in mainstream media.

As described in my initial "Why I Make T-Shirts" essay, in 2001 I decided to communicate political ideas and attempt to help foment social change by making, wearing and distributing t-shirts to be worn by others. I had three specific objectives in mind when I designed this particular t-shirt, "Tom Brokaw is Full of Shit." First, the design is intended to call into question the credibility of the mainstream media. Second, the design is intended to point to alternatives to the mainstream media. Third, the design is intended to exhort people to become more involved with the media: both directly, by actually becoming the media by reporting news, and by being more media literate, or skeptical of what media outlets report.

The first objective is achieved by employing a highly provocative phrase, "...is full of shit." This phrase is understood by almost every American as a semi-comedic phrase that calls into question the credibility of those it is directed against. It is not uncommon to hear someone say, "Uncle Bill is full of shit," for example, to challenge the veracity of what Uncle Bill has said. The accusation usually has an air of poke-you-in-the-eye humorousness to it. This element of humor adds to the effect of the shirt because it often causes those who see it to laugh, whether they agree with the statement or not. People often remember what they laugh at. Thus, making them laugh at my message aids in people remembering my message (again whether they agree with it or not). This is a major benefit, since there is nothing to lose in having those who do not agree with the statement remember it. The worst that can happen is that they may continue to disagree. But, perhaps upon further consideration (made possible by their remembering it) they may change their mind.

While initially I was going to have the shirts say that "the corporate media is full of shit," I decided against this because such a statement is impersonal and abstracted. I instead pointed to a prominent personality within the media, Tom Brokaw, feeling that doing so would make the statement more concrete and meaningful. Choosing Tom Brokaw from among the many other prominent personalities in the media may be a bit of a subjective decision on my part. [Then again, more than a year and half after I made this shirt, Brokaw did a lot toward demonstrating his bias with his statement at the beginning of the second US war against Iraq: "One of the things we don't want to do is destroy the infrastructure in Iraq because in a few days we're going to own that country."] I certainly could have made my point using Dan Rather [who stated that he would "line up" wherever President Bush wanted him to during a spot on the David Letterman show shortly after 9/11] instead, for instance. The particular personality that I chose is relatively unimportant. What is important is that rather than making a statement about a generic entity, I gave the statement a face, which again makes the accusation more concrete, meaningful and memorable.

The second objective of this t-shirt is achieved by the inclusion on its backside of the URL for the Independent Media Center (indymedia.org), an open internet news source that allows anyone to participate in the reporting of news. Independent media sources, such as the IMC, are crucial alternatives to the mainstream media. I do not argue that such independent media sources are inherently less biased than the mainstream media. They are merely biased in a different way, including facts and opinions omitted by mainstream media, and often omitting facts and opinions found in the mainstream media. What I do argue is that, in truly democratic societies, people need to get their news from a variety of sources, then evaluate it themselves and finally draw their own conclusions. In this way, society will more resemble the proverbial "marketplace of ideas," in which all ideas are freely available to people who must decide to which ideas they will subscribe.

The second objective of this t-shirt is particularly important because people cannot benefit from alternative media--and society cannot benefit from a marketplace of ideas--if they do not know that alternative media exist or how to access them. Including the URL for the IMC both announces the existence of alternative media and tells people where to find it.

The third objective of this t-shirt is achieved by the additional inclusion on its backside of the statement "Become the media." The placement of this statement under the URL for the IMC is appropriate for two reasons. First, the IMC has used the slogan "Become the Media" extensively. Secondly, the IMC is built upon the deconstruction of the myth that media elites are somehow more qualified to report the news than ordinary street-level people are. The IMC actively encourages people to report the news using the simple instant publishing interfaces found on the nearly two hundred different websites that makeup the global IMC network, as well as by participating in affiliated and non-affiliated print, radio, and video projects ("If you can read, you can report," according to the IMC).

In conclusion , this t-shirt design is a progression. First, it grabs attention by calling into question the credibility of the mainstream media by saying, "Tom Brokaw is Full of Shit." Second, it points to an alternative media source. Finally, it tells people to become involved with the media rather than merely consuming it at face value.

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