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Jeff Cohen and The Corporate Coup d'Etat

Bill Meyer: "The corporate state is the near-total integration of corporate elites into the state, whereby it acts as an instrument of private profit and minority rule, while shrinking public participation."
Corporate Coup

Hot Docs, the largest documentary film festival in North America, opens April 25th and runs to May 5th in downtown Toronto. Jam packed with over 200 enticing titles, the festival provides progressive filmgoers with lots of thought provoking options.

Founder and filmmaker John Grierson, who also founded the National Film Board of Canada some 80 years ago and whose philosophy on documentary as a tool for social change, influences Canadian identity to this day. He was the one who actually coined the term 'documentary' in 1926.

Among the many new titles, we introduce you first to an intriguing new doc that comes from the team that brought us All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone (see previous review) which laid open the role of mainstream media as corporate capitalist propaganda. It was based on a book by journalist Myra MacPherson. The team's newest offering, The Corporate Coup d'Etat is based on a 1995 book by Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul who predicted the overthrow had actually begun back in the 90s but in 'slow-motion.' Some major thinkers share their ideas on the subject, no less than Saul himself, Cornel West, Sarah Jaffe, Maude Barlow and Gar Alperovitz.

I asked Jeff Cohen, Executive Producer of the film, a few questions. As founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) he is no stranger to the role of mainstream media and corporations in creating the economic extremes that perpetuate injustice, and the conditions where classes vote against their own self-interests.

Why did you select Saul's book as the basis?

Back in 1995, Saul made the then-startling observation that “we are now in the midst of a coup d’etat in slow motion” – with “corporatism strengthening” and “democracy weakening.” The movie explores that corporate coup – especially the 25 years since Saul’s remark, in which wealth and political power flowed upward to the top 1 percent as unions and other countervailing institutions have been weakened.

What do you mean by a corporate state? Do you mean it as different from capitalism? Can we fix the corporate state and save capitalism? “Democratic capitalism”?

The corporate state is the near-total integration of corporate elites into the state, whereby it acts as an instrument of private profit and minority rule, while shrinking public participation.

The corporate state is the near-total integration of corporate elites into the state, whereby it acts as an instrument of private profit and minority rule, while shrinking public participation. In its purest form, that’s Mussolini’s fascist state in Italy, as we show in the movie. For genuine democracy to flourish, the corporate state must be politically defeated.

Do we need a 3rd capitalist party since the Rep and Dem's failed?

Speaking as a political advocate who’s been active for 50 years, I see the recent progressive insurgency within the Democratic Party as one of the most exciting developments in my lifetime. Building on such movements as Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and the Sanders campaign, democratic socialists and progressives who challenge corporatism are being elected from city councils to Congress – and working arm-in-arm with social movements AFTER their election.

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Who can we trust in the Western media?

I taught journalism, with a focus on independent US media, for the last decade at Ithaca College. Independent progressive news outlets are booming, thanks in large part to the Internet. My advice: turn off MSNBC, CNN and corporate liberal outlets, and tune into non-corporate outlets like Democracy Now! and and, to name just a few.

There were many exceptional interviews with workers who voted for Trump, offering a better understanding of why this phenomenon occurred. There were many others who voted for Trump. Why did you choose to focus only on workers?

Corporate Coup

That’s one of the most important features of our movie: the discussion with former union workers in Ohio who’d voted for Obama, chose Bernie over Hillary in the primary, and then flipped to Trump. Workers of all races have been victims of the corporate coup, of decades of neoliberal capitalism. The horrible truth is that Trump is in the White House because he won Rust Belt states by convincing enough white workers, disgruntled ex-Democrats, that he was on their side and that Hillary was just more of the status quo.

How did your last film do? Circulation? Viewers? Documentaries don't usually make money. Why do you produce them?

I coproduce docs because they are great educational and organizing tools. I travelled widely in the US doing public events with “All Governments Lie,” which celebrates today’s Izzy Stone-like journalists such as Amy Goodman and Glenn Greenwald. That movie was on public television channels across the globe – Japan, France, Germany, etc. – but NOT on our PBS . . . which proved the point of our movie that you can’t trust our corporate dominated media system, including so-called “public television.”

Will it go straight to online?

“All Governments Lie” is available online on iTunes and elsewhere. The new “Corporate Coup d'État” movie will be at festivals and theaters and community venues – and I hope to travel with it coast-to-cast generating discussion and activism challenging corporatism.

Like so many docs made in the West, especially the ones inadvertently in the ploy of US imperialism, the capitalist system is rarely considered as a possible cause for much of the world's ills. Even the most challenging docs that expose the most extreme conditions developing in America, tend to place blame on one capitalist party or the other, while few address empire building and the constant wars that feed the US corporate economy. For now we need to support all artists that enlighten the political realities and force the shift to the left. In the meantime, we're waiting for the true revolutionary filmmakers.

bill meyer

Bill Meyer