Tuesday, October 28, 2003

All The News That's Fit For Spit

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Buy Them

When I look at the situation that working people find themselves in today -- plant closings and unemployment, lack of health care insurance, weak health and safety protections, attacks on pensions and overtime -- as well as the general state of the economy, the balooning deficit, the war in Iraq, corporate/oil industry influence at the EPA and Department of Interior that is doing irreversable damage to the environment (OK, take a breath), I wonder why that joker in the White House has even a 5% approval rating, much less a 50% approval.

Then I ask myself, "Jordan, where do think most Americans get their news about government the economy? And what kind of news do they get?" The answer is that too many get it from the right-wingernuts (Limbaugh, O'Reilly, etc) on cable T.V. and radio.

The problem is that even those who actually still read the newspapers and watch "objective" T.V. news are getting a skewed view.

There are two excellent -- but disturbing -- MUST READ articles this week covering this issue. (Must Read means that you must click on the links below, print out these articles (the trees will forgive you), sit down in a quiet room with a highlighter, and study them. Then send them to friends.)

First, read the interview with national treasure Bill Moyers on Buzzflash. (I had been considering starting a Moyers For President campaign, but now I'm thinking that a Moyers for God campaign may be more appropriate.)

Moyers notes that the news (T.V. and print) is covering many fewer stories dealing with government and many more "entertainment" pieces:
Does it matter? Well, governments can send us to war, pick our pockets, slap us in jail, run a highway through our back yard, look the other way as polluters do their dirty work, slip tax breaks and subsidies to the privileged at the expense of those who can't afford lawyers, lobbyists, or time to be vigilant. Right now, as we speak, House Republicans are trying to sneak into the energy bill a plan that would prohibit water pollution lawsuits against oil and chemical companies. Millions of consumers and their water utilities in 25 states will be forced to pay billions of dollars to remove the toxic gasoline additive MTBE from drinking water if the House gives the polluters what they want. I can't find this story in the mainstream press, only on niche websites. You see, it matters who's pulling the strings, and I don't know how we hold governments accountable if journalism doesn't tell us who that is.

You get what James Squires, the long-time editor of the Chicago Tribune, calls "the death of journalism." We're getting so little coverage of the stories that matter to our lives and our democracy: government secrecy, the environment, health care, the state of working America, the hollowing out of the middle class, what it means to be poor in America. It's not that the censorship is overt. It's more that the national agenda is being hijacked. They're deciding what we know and talk about, and it's not often the truth behind the news.

I'm quoting here rather extensively, because it's important for people to understand what's going on this country, and why we need to dig deep than just calling voters "idiots" when they vote against their own interests:
Look, the founders of our government, the fellows who gave us the First Amendment, didn't count on the rise of these megamedia conglomerates. They didn't count on huge private corporations that would own not only the means of journalism but vast swaths of the territory that journalism is supposed to cover. When you get a handful of conglomerates owning more and more of our news outlets, you're not going to find them covering the intersection where their power meets political power.

The fact is that big money and big business, corporations and commerce, are the undisputed overlords of politics and government today. Barry Diller came on my PBS program and talked about what can happen when the media and political elites gang up on the public. Diller says we have a media oligopoly. Kevin Phillips says we have a political oligarchy. Talk about a marriage made in hell! Listen, these guys are reshaping our news environment. They're down in Washington wining and dining the powers-that-be insisting that any restriction on their ability to own media properties is a violation of their corporate First Amendment rights. They want to be the gatekeepers not only over what we see on television and hear on the radio but how we travel online.

Journalists feel squeezed -- those who simply believe we are here to practice our craft as if society needs what we do and expects us to do it as honorably as possible. There's another study around here somewhere done by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and The Columbia Journalism Review. More than a quarter of journalists polled said they had avoided pursuing some important stories that might conflict with the financial interests of their news organizations or advertisers
And when you're done with the Moyers, check out Frank Rich in the "Arts" section of the Sunday New York Times. (He was moved off of the Editorial Page recently. The good news is, he is able to write longer articles in the "Arts" section.)

Rich's argues that the Bush Administration's effort to cover up the bad news by "going over the heads" of national journalists is doomed to failure. After describing a rare, but especially agressive interview with an Administration official by Nightline's Ted Koppel, Rich observes that
There will be others, because this administration doesn't realize that trying to control the news is always a loser. Most of the press was as slow to challenge Joe McCarthy, the Robert McNamara Pentagon and the Nixon administration as it has been to challenge the wartime Bush White House. But in America, at least, history always catches up with those who try to falsify it in real time. That's what L.B.J. and Nixon both learned the hard way.
Let's just hope history catches up the current round of bad guys before next November.