Water Man Spouts

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Attacking the Press & Pressing the Attack

Attacking the Press & Pressing the Attack

{1} "According to Advertising Age, about 75 percent of commercial network television time is paid for by the 100 largest corporations in the country. Many people do not react to this statistic as being important. But consider that there are presently 450,000 corporations in the United States, and some 250 million people, representing extremely diverse viewpoints about lifestyle, politics, and personal and national priorities. Only 100 corporations get to decide what will appear on television and what will not. These corporations do not overtly announce their refusal to finance programs that contain views disconsanant with their own; their control is far more subtle. It works in the minds of television producers who, when thinking about what programs to produce, have to mitigate their desires by their need to sell the programs to corporate backers. An effective censorship results."
--Jerry Mander; In the Absence of the Sacred; Sierra Club Books; 1991; page 78.

In yesterday's essay on the role of the media in the Plame scandal, I noted that individual journalists were playing significant roles in a case about national security. Today, I would like to further examine how corporations which often represent the interests of the government, tend to exercise an "effective censorship" over the corporate media.

In many ways, this is part of an on-going conflict in the corporate media. Reporters have tended to be liberal, while editors tend to be conservative. More, the owners of the media sources, whether a television station or a newspaper, are interested in the capital made on their investment. That means they are interested in selling ads by producing "news" that corporations will invest in, and which the public will consume.

Thus, while there have been some significant changes in the 15 years since Mander published his book, in most ways, the corporate media remains the same. The 24-hour, 7-days a week cable news channels, such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, make minor adjustments in programming. Tucker Carlson goes from CNN at 5 pm/est to MSNBC at 11 pm/est, and Bob Novak goes to Fox. But, in general, these shows serve the same basic corporate news menu, with no more variety than the menu of McDonalds and Burger King.

{2} "I told Mr. Fitzgerald that Mr. Libby might have thought I still had security clearance, given my special embedded status in Iraq. At the same time, I told the grand jury I thought that at our July 8 meeting I might have expressed frustration to Mr. Libby that I was not permitted to discuss with editors some of the more sensitive information about Iraq."
-- Judith Miller; My Four Hours Testifying in the Federal Grand Jury Room; NY Times; 10-16-05.

Judith Miller is the best example of the prostitution of journalism that I can think of. Her feelings of pride at having a security clearance, and her frustration at not being able to share information with her editors, makes it quite clear that Judith was not working primarily as a journalist in Iraq -- nor in the build-up to the war, or in her part in the Plame scandal. Yet the confusion in loyalties, between the art of journalism and intelligence, is nothing new.

People would do well to read books by author David Wise from the 1970s. He was the White House correspondent for the Herald Tribune during the Kennedy administration, and a Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He wrote “The Politics of Lying,” and co-wrote “The Invisible Government”; these books about the intelligence agencies role in the corporate media, which were best-sellers, were widely credited with “bringing about a reappraisal of the role of the CIA in a democratic society.” (Random House)

On page 200 of his 1976 book “The American Police State,” Wise tells of how William F. Buckley Jr. “did not reveal to his readers that he was a former CIA agent, and that the column was based on a memorandum he had received from his former boss in the CIA, then still working for the Agency, but later to become famous – E. Howard Hunt, Jr. …. Hunt and Buckley became close friends and Buckley was the godfather of Hunt’s children.”

Older readers will likely remember how intelligence agencies in the 1960s used an art known as “perception management” to mold the public’s view of issues such as the civil rights struggle, and the anti-war movement. Likewise, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover attempted to manipulate media sources to discredit progressive leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

{3} “ ‘Sixty-one percent, Ed,’ Buchanan responded. ‘Sixty-one percent. Just the biggest landslide in recent history, and if it hadn’t been for Watergate, it would have been more.’

“ ‘You did it dirty.’

“ ‘A little spying, Ed. That’s politics. I’ll bet you guys had the binoculars on Shula (the Miami Dolphin football coach) at the Super Bowl. You had the glasses out on the other side of the stadium and you didn’t even win.’ “
--Patrick Buchanan to Edward Bennett Williams; All the President’s Men; Pocket Books; 1974; page 286.

It should come as no surprise that a discussion of the media, dirty politics, and the Plame scandal should include a mention of Watergate and Bob Woodward. The above quote is particularly interesting, in light of the fact that Patrick Buchanan led many of the efforts to manipulate the national media in the Nixon administration. He had a small group of well disciplined people who would respond to any article that was considered offensive to Nixon, by either writing letters to the editor, signing and sending letters Buchanan wrote for them, or calling editors to complain about journalists considered to be administration enemies.

While Buchanan’s group was not considered to be tied directly to other White House intelligence operations, it is easy to see how it helped to coordinate the administration’s media goals. It has also served as the model used by the republican administrations that followed in the 1980s to the present time. What is interesting is that democrats have rarely put similar operations into play – a small group of disciplined citizens can have an impact on how the corporate media sells its product. That may be an interesting topic for a later essay.

{4} “How do you publicly counter a guy like that? As ‘senior advisor,’ Rove would be involved in finding out. Technically, Rove was in charge of politics, not ‘communications.’ But, as he saw it, the two were one and the same – and he used his heavyweight status to push the message machine run by his Texas protégé and friend, Dan Bartlett. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was sent out to trash the Wilson op-ed. ‘Zero, nada, nothing new here,’ he said. Then, on a long Bush trip to Africa, Fleischer and Bartlett prompted clusters of reporters to look into the bureaucratic orgins of the Wilson trip. How did the spin doctors know to cast that lure? ….”
-- Howard Fineman; Rove At War; Newsweek; 7-25-05; page 30.

The Plame scandal has given the American public good reason to examine the relationship between the Bush2 administration, the intelligence agencies, and the corporate media. A brief look at the names of the journalists involved supports that claim: Bob Novak, Judith Miller, Matt Cooper, Chris Matthews, Andrea Mitchell, Walter Pincus, Clifford May, and Bob Woodward. Not to mention CNN, MSNBC, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.

Just as David Wise questioned famous journalist William Buckley’s failure to inform his readers of his status in the intelligence community, we have good reason to question – for but two examples – why Bob Woodward failed to tell the public, or his bosses, about his role in the Plame scandal, or why Judith Miller failed to be frank with her readers or her editors. Who are these “journalists” really representing?

I do not think that it follows that ALL the corporate media is without value. On MSNBC, both Hardball and Countdown have had valuable information on the Plame case. David Schuster’s reporting has been of high quality in recent months in particular. But we need to find a balance between ignoring it totally, or accepting it without question.

{5} “Two top Bush administration officials who played an active role in the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, have been removed from their jobs, career State Department weapons experts who have spoken to investigators during the past two years about the officials role in the leak, according to a half-dozen State Department officials.”
-- Jason Leopold; Plame Whistleblowers Targeted by Administration; TruthOut; 2-24-06

There are a couple of questions that I believe we need to consider. The first is, in light of the fact that progressive media sources – such as TruthOut and Raw Story – cover stories that document the administration’s targeting it’s opponents, is it realistic to think there may be efforts to compromise or damage the reputation of these progressive news sources? And, second, how might concerned citizens best access and balance the news they receive, from both corporate and progressive media sources?

On some of the progressive/democratic internet sites I participate on, there are calls to boycott or ignore the corporate media. There are also conflicts between some representatives of progressive media sources, which range from petty to serious. I am convinced that the corporate media is of value. And I am concerned that as we approach the 2006 election season, there will be increasingly sophisticated attempts to damage progressive media sources.

In upcoming essays, I will go into greater detail about my opinions and concerns. At this time, I am hoping that readers will share their thoughts. I would remind people that this is a topic where there are not black and white, right or wrong answers. A variety of opinions is a good thing.

Thank you.


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