Life and Death of the Free Press - Wolf-PAC

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Life and Death of the Free Press

By Tresa Bennett

The Washington Post was founded in 1877, eighty-six years after the US constitution enshrined the freedom of the press in the First Amendment. In 1971 it printed the Pentagon Papers which exposed the horrible decision-making in the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. In 1974 two of its top reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, led an investigation into the Watergate scandal that brought down a U.S. president, Richard Nixon. In 2013 the Post was sold to billionaire Jeff Bezos for $250 million dollars. Now the Washington Post defines corporate media. A complete shift and 180 degree turn from being an independent news outlet.

Concentration of Media Ownership

Corporate media is defined as a conglomerate owning many media outlets. Jeff Bezos, founder of, Inc., certainly fits this description. At this writing, only five companies own the major US news outlets: Disney owns ABC News; NewsCorp owns Fox News; Warner Bros. owns CNN; Comcast owns MSNBC; and Viacom owns CBS News. These companies plus National Amusements control 90% of what we read, watch or listen to in the media.  In 1983 this media reach was spread across 50 companies.

Lobbying and Campaign Donations

Given these facts, it’s difficult not to conclude that keeping these conglomerates profitable takes precedence over serving the audience. Are we getting news that has a meaningful and significant impact on our lives and our government? Corporate media has a big footprint in lobbying the government to keep their monopolies. In 2023 they spent $52.17 million dollars in such efforts. Lobbying in the last 25 years has averaged between $29 and $74 million dollars per year.

It should be noted that legacy news media have seen double-digit decreases in viewership despite their monopolies. This decline is predominantly due to cord-cutting and other changes in viewership habits.  Despite the downward trend in news viewership, profitable monopolies remain. These corporate media giants exceedingly donate to their preferred political recipients. This surely helps profits by keeping antitrust laws at bay and allowing monopolies to thrive. To Democrats: George Soros, $3.6M, Laurene Powell Jobs, $2M, James Murdoch, $2.5M, Robert Iger, $1M. To Republicans: Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, $2.5M, Marc Rowan, $1.75M, Paul Singer, $1.7M, Henry Kravis and George Roberts, $1.2M.

Independent Media

Let’s look back at the Washington Post before its acquisition by Bezos. It fit the definition of independent media. “Independent media is defined as media, such as television, newspapers, or Internet-based publications, that is free of influence by government or corporate interests.” It’s compelling to note how the Washington Post took on the government in such a substantial way before Bezos purchased it. Does independent media still meet the same standard today?

The majority of independent media these days are mostly state and local media. Nowadays, many non-profit news outlets fill the gap left by legacy media by covering their local government and statehouses. They are quite effective in their work when they are present in their communities. These non-profit news outlets primarily have a narrow focus on state government issues like education, healthcare, the environment and even immigration. They are key watchdogs in state and local government reporting. Many of these non-profit organizations allow others to use their original reporting at no charge. They perhaps believe, correctly, that informed citizens stay civically engaged.

Civic Engagement

A 2016 Pew Research Center study found that voters who are civically engaged are more likely to value local news. They are also more likely to vote in local elections at higher rates than those who do not regularly engage with local news. A 2021 Gallup poll shows that over a variety of metrics, Americans hold a higher regard for local news as opposed to national news. Meanwhile, findings also show that trust in local news grew for Democrats while they lost trust in national news. For Republicans and Independents their trust dropped for local and national news. It should be noted that most Americans get their local news from mainstream broadcast affiliated stations such as ABC, NBC and CBS.

Print Media

The news is not good for print newspapers. Since 2004 the US has seen a loss of 1,779 daily and non-daily newspapers. In 2004, US newspaper totals were 8,891. That number shrank to 7,112 daily and non-daily papers in 2018.  This loss leaves news isolation deserts in small towns, city neighborhoods and suburbia. Communities without newspapers result in not having a watchdog to report on county commissions, local school boards, tax increases or zoning decisions. In that same timeline, 2004-2018, news print readers declined from 122 million to 73 million. This decrease affects economic growth leaving communities without reporting or discussions on development in their cities and towns.

Printing and publishing does have a lobbying arm but it is made up primarily of corporate publishers of books, newspapers and magazines. This group contains corporate publishers such as News Corp, RELX Group, News Media Alliance and Association of American Publishers. The list does have smaller, independent publishers including The Seattle Times. Their lobbying effort in 2023 was $12.78 million dollars. Their aim is to maintain their monopolies as print moves to the internet and mobile online viewing.

A Free Press, or Domination by Money in Politics?

In order to achieve our goal, Wolf-PAC volunteers must understand the information landscape on which we operate, and monopolies dominate the environment. Could analytical reporting like that on Watergate happen under a Bezos-owned Washington Post? Possibly, but is it likely? All of today’s media giants have a common corporate agenda, and maintaining their monopolistic power tops that agenda. Maintaining democracy? Making our votes matter as much as their campaign donations? Not so much.

This is where Wolf-PAC comes in. We don’t advocate for media reform – not directly. Instead, we strike at the heart of the matter. Media reform will never succeed without real campaign-finance controls amended into our Constitution. Only then can our media grow back into their essential role as watchdogs on the government. They’re now part of the problem.

Wolf-PAC is an organization of committed, knowledgeable people, who know the root cause of our problems, and you can become part of the solution. Please consider making a donation. Or better yet, join us, won’t you?


The Wolf-PAC all-volunteer Comms Team helped produced this work, including editing by Khadija Fouad, and just a little by Brian Martel.


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