Granting power to the powerless

Chris Hedges: a vital journalist and strong ally of progressive thought today

Chris Hedges is a rare dissident of the American Left – a journalist who takes seriously the need for alternative media and politics in an era of the unprecedented corporatization of both.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, former New York Times foreign correspondent and author of more than 10 books including last year’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt with Joe Sacco, Hedges bravely challenges the dominating presence of mainstream media and shifts the way one thinks about the world.

“There’s been a physical as well as moral collapse of the traditional press, especially on the airwaves,” Hedges explains. “And so the alternative voice of the alternative media has become more powerful when juxtaposed against this sort of craven obsequiousness to power, as well as the trivial celebrity gossip that dominates commercial networks. They’re seen as complicit as pushing the agenda of the power elite.”

For years as a reporter, Hedges covered guerrilla fighting in El Salvador, repression in Gaza and the brutal Kosovo War, but became gradually alienated from the corporate press. Its passive neutrality and aversion to truth, he felt, had placed it at odds with independent thought and the propensity to challenge the status quo and speak for the people.

In Hedges’ critically-acclaimed 2010 account of the decline of populist and radical movements within the United States, Death of the Liberal Class, he outlines the corporate annexation of labour unions, universities and the press.

He identifies, as George Orwell does in the book’s dust jacket, how “Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.

A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

Although much of Hedges’ recent work – and, in particular, his longstanding Monday column on Truthdig.com – examines the corporate media, it has also given a voice to dynamic such social movements as Occupy, which have emphatically proven that change is indeed necessary.

Amidst unforgiving economic conditions, high unemployment and youth unrest, the time for a combative press and resolute journalists who dare write in the language of class struggle is now.

“The failure on the part of the state to respond rationally to the demands that pushed people into the Occupy encampments has made things much worse,” Hedges says.

“Slashing school budgets, cutting Head Start, a refusal to extend unemployment benefits means something will happen, eventually. Will it be called Occupy? Will it look like Occupy? Probably not.

“I think we have to look at the Occupy movement as a tactic, in the same way that Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus was a tactic... and then the Freedom Riders came a few years later. But that something is coming I have absolutely no doubt, because unregulated and unfettered capitalism, as Karl Marx understood it, is a revolutionary force.”

Read the full transcript of this interview here.

Published in Volume 68, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 18, 2013)

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