As we stumble toward another presidential election, it’s never been more clear that our political process is being warped by a corporate stranglehold on the free flow of information. Amidst a virtual blackout of coverage of a horrific war, a global ecological crisis and an advancing economic collapse, what passes for the mass media is itself in collapse. What’s left of our democracy teeters on the brink.

The culprit, in the parlance of the day, has been the “Mainstream Media,” or MSM.

But that’s wrong name for it. Today’s mass media is Corporate, not Mainstream, and the distinction is critical.

Calling the Corporate Media (CM) “mainstream” implies that it speaks for mid-road opinion, and it absolutely does not.

There is, in fact, a discernable, tangible mainstream of opinion in this country. As brilliant analysts such as Jeff Cohen, Norman Solomon and the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) organization have shown, the “MSM” is very far to the right of it.

The mainstream of American opinion wants this country out of Iraq. The Corporate Media does not. It refuses to give serious coverage to the devastating human, spiritual and economic costs of the war, and it marginalizes those demanding it end.

The mainstream of American opinion wants national health care. The CM does not.

The mainstream of American opinion is deeply distrustful and in many ways hostile to the power of large corporations. Obviously, the CM is not.

The mainstream of American opinion strongly questions whether our elections are being manipulated and stolen. The CM treats with contempt those who dare report on the issue.

The Corporate Media takes partisan stands (often in favor of the Republican Party, but always in defense of corporate interests) by sabotaging political candidacies, especially those of candidates who challenge corporate power. This year it blacklisted the populist candidacy of John Edwards, suffocating his ability to compete for the Democratic nomination.

Mainstream American opinion is no fan of George W. Bush and does not take him seriously as a credible leader. A very substantial percentage has long wanted him and Dick Cheney impeached and removed from office. The CM does not tolerate such a discussion, and utterly marginalizes Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the veteran Congressman who has dared to seriously raise the possibility.

Mainstream American opinion is committed to protecting what’s left of the natural environment. The Corporate Media makes an occasional show of sharing that concern, but stops where Corporate interests might be impinged. On the other hand, it promotes failed technologies, such as nuke power, where centralized, corporate profits are huge.

Never in our history has the control of the nation’s sources of information been more centralized, or more at odds with what the country as a whole believes.

This divergence is not limited to the attack pack fringe of far-right bloviators who dominate the Corporate opinion print columns and talk shows. Virtually all “personal” opinion expressed on the corporate airwaves and in the syndicated big newspaper columns is significantly to the pro-corporate right of moderate American opinion.

The “news” pushed by the major radio/TV networks and newspapers slants unerringly toward the interests of the five major corporations that own the bulk of them. They bury stories of vital importance while spewing endless hours and column inches at the mind-deadening likes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

Their excuse is that they “give the public what it wants” and are “in business to make a profit.”

But the real profit centers of the corporations that own the CM are not in providing news and information. General Electric, Westinghouse, Disney and the other media-financial-industrial behemoths have too much to lose from an accurate reporting of the true news of the world. To protect their core interests, they are bread-and-circus PR/diversion machines, not real news organizations. They resemble the old Soviet official mouthpieces Izvestia and Pravda far more than the news providers envisioned in the First Amendment, by Founders who saw balanced, aggressive reporting as the lifeblood of democracy.

Nor does the corporate right never hesitate to attack. Since Vice President Spiro Agnew assaulted those who dared report the truth about the Vietnam War, the absurd myth of a “Liberal Media” has been used to intimidate and silence mainstream opinion.

In fact, the term is used to apply to any outlet that harbors even the slightest expression of dissent. Even conservative newspapers or broadcasts that may be overwhelmingly pro-corporate, but which occasionally tolerate a whiff of dissent, are branded as subversive, ungodly and “out of the mainstream.”

There are indeed liberal publications and radio shows in this country. But it’s no accident that they struggle financially, and for access to the airwaves.

Thankfully, just as the CM solidifies its power over our mass media outlets, the internet has burst forth as an open, wildly diverse medium for mainstream opinion and actual truth. Its preservation will require what Thomas Jefferson called “eternal vigilance.”

That includes restoring the Fairness Doctrine, enacted by a Republican Congress in the 1920s to guarantee balanced opinion on the emerging electronic medium of radio. It means a ban on unified corporate ownership of large fleets of radio, TV and print outlets. It means busting up the monopolies that warp public access to information and opinion.

The word “mainstream” has nothing to do with the massively monopolized machine that has a chokehold on our democracy. It’s the “Corporate Media,” and there’s nothing mainstream about it.