Saturday, April 19, 2008

Can the US Mainstream News Media be Reformed Through Legislation? Or Revitalized from Within? I Don't Know. But It May Rapidly Become Irrelevant.

Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph des Willens (1935)

According to the Associated Press, nearly 17,000 comments were posted on ABC News’s website by Thursday evening, the tone overwhelmingly negative. Tom Shales of the Washington Post said Gibson and Stephanopoulos “turned in shoddy, despicable performances.” The media critic Greg Mitchell said it was “perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years.” said, “I’m not sure if we’ve seen anything quite as train-wreck, cover-your-eyes bad as the spectacle on ABC last night.” Will Bunch, a Philadelphia Daily News writer, posted an open letter to Gibson and Stephanopoulos on his blog telling them, “you disgraced the American voters, and in fact even disgraced democracy itself.” And the group MoveOn said it would air an ad protesting ABC if 100,000 people signed their petition. Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, 4-18-08

Can the US Mainstream News Media be Reformed Through Legislation? Or Revitalized from Within? I Don't Know. But It May Rapidly Become Irrelevant.

By Richard Power

Years ago, many of us took to the blogosphere to establish bastions of the information rebellion.

Digital enclaves like Buzzflash, Crooks and Liars, firedoglake, the Daily Kos, Democratic Underground, etc., have established an informal alliance with progressive talk radio (e.g., Thom Hartmann and Ring of Fire), a handful of institutions like Center for American Progress and Media Matters and grassroots organizations like, to become hubs of citizen journalism and clearing houses of inconvenient truths.

Over the last eight years, this loose confederation of new media, new politics and new wonkery has provided context and continuity on vital issues such as the theft of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, the false pretenses on which the invasion of Iraq was launched, the official campaign of denial and disinformation about global warming, the pre-9/11 indifference to numerous warnings of an impending attack, the post-9/11 failure to bring us the head of Osama bin Laden, the assault on the Bill of Rights, the institutionalization of torture, and yes, the complicity of the US mainstream news media in these and other tragic wrongs, etc.

The abasement of journalism that stirred this personal dedication has never been more apparent than during a recent presidential debate sponsored by ABC News and moderated by George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson.

Unfortunately, however, even though the uproar in the aftermath of the ABC News debacle indicates that there is a growing unrest in the body politic, the US mainstream news media’s complicity will likely get worse (particularly in this election year) before it gets better.

Consider the latest developments in the boardroom of Associated Press:

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer of News Corp., is joining its board of directors. Three other media moguls are also joining the board, including Sam Zell, who recently “took control of Tribune Co. after leading a buyout that resulted in the publicly traded company becoming private.” Think Progress, 4-14-08

(Incredibly, Zell recently blamed the US's economic woes on Democratic presidential candidates Clinton and Obama: "Obviously what we have going on is an attempt to create a self-fulfilling prophecy," Zell declared. "We have two Democratic candidates who are vying with each other to describe the economic situation worse." , Raw Story, 2-27-08.)

There is so much that cries out for attention.

That’s what is so offensive about the craven choices that Stephanopoulos and Gibson made in the Philadelphia debate.

It is not just that they either ignored or gave short shrift to the military crisis, the health care crisis, the debt crisis and the global warming crisis. It is also that the world view they share is so feeble and short-sighted.

Here is just a little slice of what was going on in world during the same news cycle.

In Japan, Zenkoji temple announced that it would not participate in the Olympic torch relay, citing both security issues and concern for the Tibetan monks: "As a place of Buddhism and religion, we took into account [China's] human rights violations against Tibet," he said. "We're concerned about the oppression directed toward religious figures in Tibet." Daily Yomiuri, 4-19-08

In Burma, the brutal crackdown continues: Burmese authorities have arrested popular rap and hip-hop performer Yan Yan Chan in a continuing round-up of celebrities who support the pro-democracy movement. ... Musician Win Maw, leader of the Shwe Thansin group, was arrested last November 27 in a Rangoon teashop. He had already been sentenced to seven years imprisonment in 1997 for writing songs in support of Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
In January this year, the authorities arrested one of Burma’s best known bloggers, Nay Phone Latt, whose Internet sites were a major source of information about the protests and the regime’s brutal crackdown.
Irrawaddy, 4-18-08

In Darfur, the chaos and despair deepen: The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today that it will have to cut rations to the strife-torn Darfur region of Sudan by half because attacks on its trucks are preventing vital relief supplies from getting through. So far this year 60 WFP-contracted trucks have been hijacked in Darfur – where the agency is feeding over two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees – with 39 trucks still missing and 26 drivers unaccounted for. One driver was killed in Darfur last month. UN New Center, 4-17-08
The United Nations has moved 5,400 Darfuris who fled a government offensive in February to refugee camps in eastern Chad, but 8,000 others remain scattered in the area, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) ... About 90 percent of the new refugees were women and children. Reuters, 4-19-08

In the USA, the Government Accountability Office revealed the absence of any US plans to attack Al Qaeda's safe havens in Pakistan: The Government Accountability Office released a report today concluding that the United States has no plan to combat al Qaeda and other terrorist threats in Pakistan. The GAO found that “[t]errorists are still operating freely in Pakistan along the country’s Afghanistan border, despite the U.S. giving Pakistan more than $10.5 billion in military and economic aid.” In a glaring rebuke of President Bush’s terrorism policy, the report says that there is “no comprehensive plan” to “destroy the terrorist threat and close the safe haven in Pakistan,” and “al Qaeda had regenerated its ability to attack” the United States. Think Progress, 4-17-08

And the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a statement calling for reform of US nuclear weapons policy, it was signed by ninety-five scientists with twenty-three Nobel Prizes and ten National Science Medals among them: The statement includes several unilateral policy initiatives that would strengthen U.S. security by lowering the risk of nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism, or a Russian nuclear attack. These include declaring a no first-use policy; rejecting and replacing current "hair-trigger" rapid-launch options; ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal to 1,000 warheads, including deployed and reserve warheads; committing the United States to reducing its number of nuclear weapons below 1,000 on a negotiated and verified bilateral or multilateral basis; and reaffirming the U.S. commitment to pursue nuclear disarmament as required under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Union of Concerned Scientists, 4-17-08

The analysis of Glenn Greenwald and the reporting of Amy Goodman personify the strengths of the alternative media.

In this excerpt from a recent interview with Goodman, Greenwald offers insightful remarks on the significance of Stephanopoulos and Gibson.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been blogging a great deal about this debate. Can you talk about what happened on Wednesday night in Pennsylvania?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, in one sense, it was an extreme and rather transparent act of journalistic malfeasance. I mean, that’s just obvious. Take a look at just some of the stories that you reported on in the prior segment, virtually all of which were completely absent from the debate. Instead, the first half of the debate focused almost exclusively on the type of petty, insipid personality-based attacks that dominate our political discourse and determine our national elections.
But in another sense, I think it’s important to note that this debate is not in any way aberrational. I mean, in heaping all this scorn on what George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson have done, I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that really all they’re doing is what is done continuously throughout our election cycles for decades now. This was sort of a more transparent act, because all of these vapid questions were bunched together at the beginning.
But it’s worth recalling that over the past couple of weeks, the news cycle was dominated by the scandal that Barack Obama wants to be president of the United States even though he doesn’t bowl very well, which was followed by the comments that he made in San Francisco, what Maureen Dowd in the New York Times called the capital of elitism. And prior to that, there was the lapel pin controversy, the never-ending fixation on Jeremiah Wright’s video, the comments made by Barack Obama’s wife Michelle, all of this culminating in this theme that Barack Obama is this exotic, bizarre elitist, out of touch with mainstream American values, subversive, anti-American.
And these are the themes which over and over and over and over again are used to demolish and destroy the character and personality of Democrats and progressives, going all the way back to Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and on and on, to the point where none of the substantive issues and the weighty crises that our country faces in every realm are really a part of our national elections. And I think Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, though a bit more extreme and really more transparent, I would say, in just how vapid they are, were really doing what the establishment media does pretty much without exception, in terms of how it covers our political culture.
Democracy Now! Interviews Glenn Greenwald, 4-18-08

See also Hard Rain Journal 12-3-07: David Gregory Meet I.F. Stone and Tom Paine x 10,000

For Words of Power's archive of posts on Corporate News Media Complicity, Power of Alternative Media, Propaganda & Freedom, click here.

Richard Power's Left-Handed Security: Overcoming Fear, Greed & Ignorance in This Era of Global Crisis is available now! Click here for more information.

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