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America's Battle for Media Democracy
The Triumph of Corporate Libertarianism and the Future of Media Reform

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Part of Communication, Society and Politics

  • Date Published: October 2014
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107694750

$ 27.99 (G)

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About the Authors
  • How did the American media system become what it is today? Why do American media have so few public interest regulations compared with other democratic nations? How did the system become dominated by a few corporations, and why are structural problems like market failures routinely avoided in media policy discourse? By tracing the answers to many of these questions back to media policy battles in the 1940s, this book explains how this happened and why it matters today. Drawing from extensive archival research, the book uncovers the American media system’s historical roots and normative foundations. It charts the rise and fall of a forgotten media reform movement to recover alternatives and paths not taken. As much about the present and future as it is about the past, the book proposes policies for remaking media based on democratic values for the digital age.

    • Provides a political, intellectual and social history of postwar American news media
    • Sketches the rise and fall of a social democratic vision of the American press
    • Uncovers the historical context of the deregulatory drift in American media policy
    • Traces the policy roots of the American media paradigm
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    • Winner of the 2015 Frank Luther Mott/Kappa Tau Alpha Research Award

    Reviews & endorsements

    "Today’s media didn't have to be so bad. Pickard tells a riveting and heretofore largely unknown story of how corporate media had its way with the public interest and trivialized our country’s civic dialogue, despite the efforts of reformers and a once-heroic FCC. Bringing the story right up to today’s high-stakes battle for an Open Internet, this is 'must-must' reading for anyone interested in putting our democracy back on track."
    Hon. Michael J. Copps, FCC Commissioner, 2001–12

    "America's Battle for Media Democracy is a well-researched, thoughtful, and lucid critique of media policy in the contemporary United States. To make his case, Pickard turns to history. During the 1940s, media activists joined together with government officials, academics, and even some corporate leaders to articulate an expansive, social democratic vision for newspapers and radio. The defeat of this movement hastened the triumph of corporate libertarianism - a tradition whose origin Pickard provocatively traces not to the free market fundamentalism of the recent past, but, rather, to the political settlement that followed the Second World War."
    Richard R. John, Columbia University, New York

    "In America's Battle for Media Democracy, Victor Pickard has produced a landmark work in communication history and media studies. Based on painstaking research, [he] sheds crucial new light on the political debates that created the contemporary commercial media system in the United States, and by doing so he allows us to envision a different and better future. This is mandatory reading for everyone concerned with media and politics."
    Robert W. McChesney, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

    "Victor Pickard is a scholar on the rise. His writing is fine and to the point. There is always need for solid media history based on primary research and good analysis - and this book fulfills both."
    Christopher Sterling, George Washington University, Washington DC

    "America's Battle for Media Democracy is a wonderful contribution. Very illuminating - and poignant, but with rays of hope. A really fine piece of work."
    Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    "Victor Pickard has written a definitive book that shows how corporations took over the media, and how the public lost control of the airwaves to commercialism in the '30s and '40s. America's Battle for Media Democracy goes deeply into the history when liberals had a pulse and there was, at least, a controversy. I must admire the luck that students have to learn from Professor Pickard to open their eyes and generate independent thinking about these important issues."
    Ralph Nader

    "In this fascinating history, Pickard gets to the deep roots of the modern media consolidation mess we're in - not a state of nature, but the result of choices. It's a vital, powerful book."
    Zephyr Teachout, Fordham University, New York

    "My frustration with contemporary news media - especially as it covers fundamental questions of war and peace, inequality and the survival of the planet - is rooted in an understanding that it could be so much better. No one has done a finer job of exploring the moments at which wrong turns were taken than Victor Pickard. He identifies the critical junctures, explores the forces that were in play and describes the consequences of wrong choices and wrong policies. As we read Pickard, we recognize what has been lost. But, far more importantly, we recognize what is still possible. America's Battle for Media Democracy provides a foundation of history and insight. With it, we can begin to build new and better media - and the genuine democracy that flourishes when people have the information they need to be their own governors."
    John Nichols, The Nation

    "The roots of today's conglomerized media system can be traced back to battles for media democracy fought, and lost, decades ago. Victor Pickard has done the tracing through pioneering research, which helps point us to where we need to wage battles for media reform in the present and future."
    Jeff Cohen, Park Center for Independent Media, Ithaca College, New York

    "Victor Pickard knows that the history of American media is a war story that pits the interests of large conglomerates against those of a diverse and democratic public who seek a more open and accountable system. It's a story that too often goes ignored in a nation where public discourse is filtered through outlets controlled by these same companies. But that's changing. And Pickard’s dissection of the media’s past is critically relevant to its present and future. This book is essential reading for anyone fighting for better media in the US."
    Timothy Karr, Senior Director of Strategy, Free Press (

    "With this important new book, Victor Pickard reminds us that contemporary policy battles like the fight for net neutrality have a long history, and one that we ignore at our peril. Anyone who cares about the future of the Internet should read this book now."
    Marvin Ammori, Stanford University Law School, Center for Internet and Society

    "I have Victor Pickard's new book on my desk … and it is worthy work."
    Tim Wu, Columbia University, New York

    "Thank you for this book. I wish [this] book had been published before I went to the FCC in 1961. It would have been a big help!"
    Newton N. Minow, FCC Chairman, 1961–3

    "America's Battle for Media Democracy is a marvelous work. With the effort that obviously went into this book, Victor Pickard has made a major contribution to both the history and future of media reform."
    Nicholas Johnson, FCC Commissioner, 1966–73

    "America's Battle for Media Democracy should be required reading for any student of American history, journalism, media studies, and democracy itself."
    Reed Hundt, FCC Chairman, 1993–7

    "For far too long the heroic work of Clifford Durr and James Lawrence Fly has been ignored. Victor Pickard brings them back to life for us. Every American concerned about the nature of our public conversation today should read this book. We have much to learn from our forebears, from those who struggled and ultimately conquered the red-baiters, from those who brought the New Deal to media. Pickard makes clear not only this history but that America's Battle for Media Democracy goes on."
    Mark Lloyd, USC Annenberg, FCC Chief Diversity Officer, 2009–12

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2014
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107694750
    • length: 262 pages
    • dimensions: 226 x 152 x 25 mm
    • weight: 0.36kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: the policy origins and normative foundations of American media
    1. The revolt against radio
    2. A progressive turn at the FCC
    3. The battle of the Blue Book
    4. The origins of the Fairness Doctrine
    5. The 1940s newspaper crisis and the birth of the Hutchins Commission
    6. Should the giants be slain or persuaded to be good?
    7. The postwar settlement for American media
    Conclusion: confronting market failure.

  • Author

    Victor Pickard, University of Pennsylvania
    Victor Pickard is an assistant professor in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. His research explores the history and political economy of media institutions, media activism, and the politics and normative foundations of media policy. Previously he taught media studies at New York University and the University of Virginia and worked on media policy in Washington, DC. He served as a policy fellow for Congresswoman Diane Watson and as a senior research fellow at the media reform organization Free Press and at the public policy think tank the New America Foundation. His work has been published in numerous scholarly journals and anthologies, and, with Robert McChesney, he coedited the book Will the Last Reporter Please Turn Out the Lights. He frequently speaks to the press about media-related issues and his op-eds have appeared in venues like the Guardian, the Seattle Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Huffington Post.


    • Winner of the 2015 Frank Luther Mott/Kappa Tau Alpha Research Award

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