I think it’s safe to say the mainstream media (MSM) are having a very hard time with the Downing Street Memos (DSM). I know the corporate media are not our friends, but I’m still stunned by the hostility the DSM seem to arouse in (for want of a better word) journalists. It ranges from Frank Rich, one of the good guys, who nevertheless needed to be told by Al Franken that “conventional wisdom” aside, it still matters whether or not Bush lied about taking the country to war. By the time Rich wrote his latest New York Times column last Sunday, he had clearly returned to consciousness, but his attitude is indicative of the air reporters have to breathe, their unreal, hot-house reality.
No one is immune to the mind-altering effects of our experiment in neural media saturation, least of all the practitioners of the art of mass thought control.
Take Dana Milbank, a formerly sensible columnist who has frequently criticized George Bush, but who has recently written a truly nasty piece of trash ridiculing John Conyers’ DSM hearings as Democrats “playing house.” Milbank’s column drips with malice, and every single slighting comment is a reference to Democrats’ powerlessness, with words like “make-believe,” “pretend”, and “mock”. Conyers was painted as a little toy chairman pounding a plastic gavel, while a kangaroo court of witnesses and lots of legislative wannabes cram themselves into a broom closet.
Gee, I wonder is somebody’s feeling just an itsy bit powerless? Power. That’s what matters to -- have to use the word again -- journalists.
Milbank’s history makes one hesitate to suggest payola or blackmail, but then one never really knows what people’s personal circumstances really are. Blackmail is a great favorite of “this gang,” as former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill referred to the Bush government. O’Neill famously described himself as too old and too rich to be intimidated, but he privately estimated that not many people had the resources to really cross these people.
Then too, nobody likes to hear “I told you so,” especially high-powered corporate shills who are paid millions of dollars to tell us what to think. They give the lectures, they don’t get lectured. Except. The Bush administration has been exceptionally rough on big egos in the Fourth Estate -- and on big careers. Over the last four years, the media has changed, and I’m not talking about reporters or anchors or correspondents. Those people are the sales reps of media corporations, which are run by billionaire businessmen.
First, kindly corporate parents pressed a patriotic press corps into active government service following their emotional, 24/7, ratings-busting coverage of September 11. High-priced management consultants (the smartest guys in the room) declared that leftwing shows like Phil Donahue’s would be an embarrassment in a time of war. Everyone holding a microphone wore a lapel flag, delivering lots of coverage of nifty new weapons, and graphics like bombs and fireworks. Over the months and years to come, the print reporters got a rich diet of top-secret intelligence from high-level administration sources that would speak only on background. This information, generally presented in simple images -- from the aluminum tubes mentioned in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, to the tube of white powder Colin Powell held up so dramatically at the UN, to Condi Rice and Dick Cheney’s smoking gun/mushroom cloud -- formed the basis for the American people’s consent to war.
But here’s the beauty part: the MSM’s reverent acceptance of absolute hogwash as the Gospel from on High became blackmail material for Bush and his thugs. That’s art. Karl Rove is an artist. He has succeeded so magnificently not because he understands the American people, but because he knows media professionals better than they know themselves.
What Americans don’t see are the little games that are being played off-camera. At the same time that Donald Rumsfeld, Scott McClellan, and George Bush are rebuking Newsweek for gross irresponsibility in the most Biblical terms, raining down hellfire and damnation, for example, reporters aren’t able to forget that no one in that hyper-secretive, hyper-vindictive administration will speak except on condition of anonymity. Furthermore, when the administration has purposely leaked material in the past -- and it leaks like a sieve -- they have punished not the recipient of the leak (Bob Novak), but those who wouldn’t take the bait (Judith Miller and the guy from Time, who might go to jail). Poetry! Or at least poetic justice. Up is down, right is wrong, black is white: to the extent that it deals with this administration, our media are disoriented, dependent, poisoned.
And let’s not forget Dan Rather hanging like a scarecrow on the information highway to warn all the embedded, indebted careerists. The interesting thing is that the commission appointed to look into his crimes, composed of his most bitter rightwing detractors, ultimately couldn’t say for sure whether the questionable documents were forged. But it doesn’t matter, just like it won’t matter for Newsweek if material about US personnel desecrating the Koran ultimately ends up in that government report. The damage is done, move on -- that’s the Bush mantra, endlessly repeated by his minions in the press. They can’t very well complain when it’s applied to them.
Rather’s disgrace was so complete that sometime in October 2004, Sumner Redstone, chairman of CBS’s parent company, Viacom, had to come out with an announcement. The lifelong Massachusetts liberal had decided to vote for George Bush. “Liberals are not bad people,” the charming Redstone averred, “but Viacom needs Republicans values, like deregulation and so forth.”
Robert Redford appeared on the Al Franken Show this past week to talk about the Deep Throat story. Yeah, it’s interesting, Redford said, but people are missing the big picture. Nobody’s putting it together. It’s all happening again, what happened during the McCarthy era and Watergate, the stonewalling, the lying, the arrogance, all of it under George Bush here and now.
Redford described a shift in his feelings about All the President’s Men. On a political level, he’d always thought it was kind of a bonus that he had helped inspire so many idealistic young people to become journalists. The irony is that they had absorbed another lesson entirely. Turns out, they wanted the fame and celebrity, not the hard work.
Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who recently left Newsday because its corporate culture is stifling true journalism, recently said something similar on Democracy Now! She said when she asks her students what they’re majoring in, they all say public relations, because it’s the same as journalism, only more money.
The truth of the matter is that our current MSM is roughly the third generation of a progressively deregulated corporate culture, and they are only intermittently able to tell the difference between ratings and the truth. On the other hand, leftwing internet bloggers have been right again and again. It’s not hard to understand the reason why, which is the exact inverse of the MSM’s corruption. We’re not working for money. We don’t have to answer to corporate bosses.
By hunkering down and hardening their stance, the MSM are, at the very least, placing their bets on the side of ever-increasing government repression. And it is true that as democratic expression is forced through smaller and smaller apertures, something’s got to give. Either expensively maintained mass delusions will degrade, perhaps rapidly. Or there will be a crackdown.
Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She is also a frequent contributor to MandateTHIS.org. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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