The American news media often fails, even in its self-appointed role as stenographer for powerful people. According to Glenn Greenwald,
“many American media outlets, including the NYT, give veto power to the Obama campaign (and, less so, to the Romney campaign), as well as political offices generally, over the quotes of its officials that are allowed to be published. . . . I genuinely do not understand how any self-respecting journalist could even consider agreeing to this. But they do, so much so that it is now widespread custom. I don’t primarily blame the Obama campaign or other politicians for this: it’s natural that they would want to manipulate the American media as much as possible for their own interests and use every instrument, no matter how journalistically unethical, to achieve that. But its extreme use now is reflective of the general fixation which the Obama administration has on secrecy and controlling the flow of information . . .”
Old-fashioned patriotism involves substantial government financial support for aggressive and even offensive journalism
Robert McChesney and John Nichols have written an excellent book advocating substantial public support (much more than the government currently gives) to support first-rate journalism. The book is titled The Death and Life of American Journalism: the Media Revolution That Will Begin the World Again (2010).
This book begins with a diagnosis of modern journalism. One of the main problems is that modern journalists rely far too much on officials in power to set the news agenda. In fact, when politicians aren’t arguing about an issue, it tends to go completely under the media radar. Another problem is that much of our news is regurgitated press release material issued by powerful government and business officials. “The dirty secret of journalism is that a significant percentage of our new stories, in the 40-50% range, even at the most prestigious newspapers in the glory days of the 1970s, were based on press releases.” In the 1980s, the national workforce of PR specialists was about equivalent to the number of journalists in newspapers, radio and television. As of 2008, there were four times as many PR specialists as journalists. (Page 49).
[More . . . ]
Newspapers are dying all over the United States. The headlines in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch (the only surviving daily paper in St. Louis) make you wonder how this paper has lasted even this long. As I review these cheesy headlines, I keep wondering “But what is the news?” Here are the top ten headlines featured on today’s Home Page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website:
- Streak of 100-degree weather in St. Louis area hits five days
- Allen Craig, hitting machine [Craig is a St. Louis Cardinal baseball player]
- Find your fun for the 4th
- Dog Days Quiz I: TV Dogs
- Andy Griffith, ‘Sheriff Taylor,’ dies at 86.
- Man bitten by copperhead in southeast Missouri dies
- Photo: Webster Groves residents eagerly await parade
- Missouri to get $32 million in GlaxoSmithKline fraud case
At Common Dreams, Cenk Uygur explains how bad the mainstream media is using the example of the individual mandate:
The individual mandate in the health care law was originally proposed by the Heritage Foundation, the most conservative think tank in the country. It was supported by almost every Republican in the country, including the first President Bush, Mitt Romney and conservative stalwarts like Orrin Hatch. Simply put, it was a conservative idea. There is no question about that; it is a fact.
Let me immediately digress to point out how terrible our media is since about 2% of the country knows that fact. If you asked the average American now, I’m sure they would say it was a liberal idea originally proposed by Barack Obama. Another fact — Barack Obama was originally opposed to the mandate during his campaign for president.
Uygur also uses this example to illustrate that Obama’s strategy of trying to work with the Republicans was wrongheaded.
I was sitting in the barber chair this morning, where they had on some national news show that spent the entire time I was there discussing the ongoing trial of (alleged) pedophile Jerry Sandusky. I’ve been hearing about this on news stations for months. They are spending as long on the nightly news discussing this trial as they do on the collapse of the European economies or the coups in various major oil-producing nations.
I am truly puzzled about the coverage. There are likely several pedophiles on trial any given day. Why are they not newsworthy? Is it because he is a coach? Many of them are. Was it because he was a winning coach?
I just don’t understand why this one (alleged) pedophile is as newsworthy as wars deposing dictators to replace them with democratically elected Islamist regimes. Are both events shaping the course of civilization?
You’ll need to look long and hard to find a journalist who, while interviewing a U.S. military leader, takes that leader to task. Glenn Greenwald offers a recent example of a journalist hero-worshiping a military leader instead of practicing real journalism: This incident involves Scott Pelley (of Sixty Minutes) pretending to interview Leon Panetta. Unfortunately, this phenomenon of pretend-journalism is not unusual:
There’s no effort even to pretend they’re doing journalism. They just proudly put it right out there: we’re going to spend the next 15 minutes paying homage to your government leaders and their war-fighting machine.
What do you do if 10,000 of your own people have been killed in your brutal crackdown, which is broadcast worldwide? According to this article by the NYT, you hire a sophisticated PR firm and get your pretty wife out front:
In March 2011, just as Mr. Assad and his security forces initiated a brutal crackdown on political opponents that has led to the death of an estimated 10,000 Syrians, Vogue magazine ran a flattering profile of the first lady, describing her as walking “a determined swath cut through space with a flash of red soles,” a reference to her Christian Louboutin heels. Fawning treatment of world leaders — particularly attractive Western-educated ones — is nothing new. But the Assads have been especially determined to burnish their image, and hired experts to do so. The family paid the Washington public relations firm Brown Lloyd James $5,000 a month to act as a liaison between Vogue and the first lady, according to the firm.
With their bottomless reserve of lobbyists and money, broadcasters are betting they can muscle their way into Congress and reverse a victory that tens of thousands of us fought hard to win. And their bet has just paid off. A House Appropriations Subcommittee slipped a provision into the draft budget that strips the FCC of the ability to disclose political ad spending on TV stations. Moments ago that subcommittee voted to pass it!
We need your help right now to stop Congress from selling out our democracy:
In April, the FCC adopted new rules that require broadcasters to make their political advertising files available online. The decision was an enormous victory for anyone hoping to shed light on the shadowy groups and Super PACs that are inundating local airwaves with misleading political ads.1
Yet as with any hard-won reform in the age of big-money politics, this change is being attacked by unscrupulous members of Congress who answer to fat-cat media lobbyists.
The National Association of Broadcasters paid lobbyists nearly $14 million in 2011. And it’s spending millions more this year on campaign contributions to Congress. But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to over $3 billion in political ad revenues that television stations stand to rake in this election cycle.
It’s clear that the broadcast industry is pulling out all the stops to bury information about political ad spending on the public airwaves. What’s more appalling is that some elected officials are willing to help them do it.
Please sign this letter to your members of Congress to demand that they serve the public and not media lobbyists. In the post-Citizens United era, we can’t let broadcasters hide their political profits.
With the help of you and your friends we can kill this before it reaches the Senate.
Thanks for taking action,
Tim, Candace and the rest of the Free Press Action Fund team
P.S. Last month’s victory against commercial broadcasters was a milestone in the fight for accountable media. We defied every ounce of conventional wisdom in Washington by proving that activists, bloggers, consumer advocates and everyday people can join forces with Free Press to defeat a corporate agenda. Help us protect that victory. Contribute to the Free Press Action Fund now. Thank you!
1. Timothy Karr, “Reform in the Age of Corporate Lawyers,” Huffington Post, June 6, 2012.
As Glenn Greenwald explains, an attack on Wikileaks is an attack on traditional investigative journalism.
A coalition of leading journalists and media outlets in Australia have explained: WikiLeaks “is doing what the media have always done: bringing to light material that governments would prefer to keep secret” and prosecuting them “would be unprecedented in the US, breaching the First Amendment protecting a free press“; they added: “To aggressively attempt to shut WikiLeaks down, to threaten to prosecute those who publish official leaks . . . is a serious threat to democracy.” The Committee to Protect Journalists sent a letter to Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder expressing “deep concern” over “reports about a potential WikiLeaks prosecution,” which “would threaten grave damage to the First Amendment’s protections of free speech and the press.” Although American journalists were reluctant at first to speak out, even they have come around to recognizing what a profound threat an Assange indictment would be to press freedoms, with The Washington Post Editorial Page denouncing any indictment on the ground that it “would criminalize the exchange of information and put at risk responsible media organizations,” and even editors of the Guardian and Keller himself — with whom Assange has feuded — are now vowing to defend Assange if he were to be prosecuted.
To take it a step further, an attack on investigative journalism is an invitation for the government to act unaccountably, in secret, which is absolutely in conflict with the notion that the U.S. government is being run by the citizens. To connect the dots, a federal criminal prosecution of Wikileaks is an attack on democracy. For more see this post, and see this article demonstrating that Wikileaks is doing nothing different than the New York Times when the Times is doing its job well.