While he sees the same structural pathologies afflicting our commercial news media systems today, he also points out meaningful progress in news coverage, especially in confronting historical atrocities.
VP: Speaking of alternatives to capitalism—we on the left are quick to critique corporate media, but less likely to discuss systemic alternatives. As you noted, there’s less actual journalism today and what’s left is increasingly degraded. Do you have any ideas for what a non-capitalist media system might look like?
NC: I got some ideas from reading your book, so I’m “bringing coals to Newcastle” by telling you what you wrote. But you discussed how the founders of the US Republic believed that the government ought to publicly subsidize the dissemination of diverse news media. In this light, the First Amendment should be understood as providing what’s called a “positive freedom”—not just “negative freedom.” It should create opportunities for free and independent media. Subsidizing news media was a primary function of the post office. The vast majority of post office traffic was composed of newspapers.
At 92, Chomsky is still leveling sharp critique and astute analysis. In our Zoom conversation, he seamlessly drew from that day’s New York Times to exemplify various points we were discussing. I was especially struck by his nuanced optimism—while he saw the same structural pathologies afflicting our commercial news media systems today, he also discerned meaningful progress in news coverage, especially in confronting historical atrocities that mainstream media accounts had ignored or misrepresented in the past. —Victor Pickard