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Thursday, June 16, 2005 

What's wrong with the media: a microcosm

Today I was interviewed by our local CBS affiliate (KPIX, SF Bay Area) for a story about what are now collectively being called the "Downing Street Memos." Watching the report on the 11 o'clock news, I realized I was seeing the two greatest failings of the mainstream media being played out before my eyes.

The first is as old as the press itself: sensationalism. The report focused only on the splashiest quotes from the series of UK documents and failed to explain them in any detail. While I was inwardly pleased to see things like, "it seems like a grudge between Bush and Saddam" in big letters on my TV screen, I realized that this wasn't going to tell people what they needed to know. Phrases like that might sell ad space, but they don't necessarily inform people.

The larger problem, however, was how the report allowed inaccurate statements to go unchallenged in the interest of "balance". In my interview, I noted that no one in either the Bush or Blair administrations has denied the various documents' authenticity. This is a fact. But the "other perspective", provided on the broadcast by a local GOP operative, suggested that the provenance of the memos was dubious, saying that they should be regarded as in the same vein as Dan Rather's memos.

To anyone who follows the news this statement is, at best, hyperbolic. At worst, it's misleading, but don't count on your local evening news to tell you that. My comments didn't make the final cut, but Mr. Memogate's did--unchallenged.

This he said/she said type of journalism is, unfortunately, the only variety the major news outlets are willing to practice anymore. They don't seek truth--they just put up two opposing views and leave the viewer to decide whose story fits their preconceptions better. The reporter could easily have asked my foil to explain why, if the memos were faked, no one at the meetings they documented has said so. Would it reveal a "liberal bias" to ask for clarification in light of established facts?

If calling people on their bullshit makes me a liberal, then color me blue.

 posted by ukiyo1  # 1:25 AM  
Just call bullshit on ALL people of ALL political viewpoints and you and I would not be all that far apart! Even though I am a "red" conservative from one of the reddest states in the Union (Idaho).
Ya see, I think the press drops the ball in BOTH directions.
So, that said, I have always felt very uneasy about the Iraq portion of the war. (Are you surprised?)And, I agree with this specific example of media mishandling of the issue. Let's get the facts out in detail!
But, let's also get them out on the agenda that folks like Carl Levin and Dick Durbin bring to the table. I believe they have gone beyond being the "loyal opposition" and into weakening our ability to get our boys and girls home in one piece. In other words "We are there. Let's get the job done and get out. ASAP!!!"
Lastly, your comments are well written and well thought out.
The media doesn't do a very good job of reporting on itself. So I'll hide behind anonymity and tell it like it is, from my chair in the newsroom.

Budgets are nonexistant. The media is a very profitable industry but only because management has forced newsrooms to make do with resources that would have been considered laughable 20 years ago.

In plain English -- 5 reporters to cover 10 cities. Two each. Think I'm exaggerating? And that's rather lavish spending on salaries; I've seen papers assign a reporter to cover 4 cities before.

Even at the top echelons -- international and Washington bureau reporting -- cuts are making it impossible for news coverage to go beyond the simplistic goal of presenting more than one perspective on an issue. You want to know why a reporter doesn't research statements made by a source? Because he or she probably has, for example, seven other stories due within the next 2 or 3 days. Again, you think this is hyperbole?

Look at today's edition of your hometown newspaper. Count the bylines in it; make a separate list of reporters from other papers or services. Then count the number of news items in the paper, being sure to include news briefs or calendar items. Divide items by bylines and you'll likely be stunned -- and have a bit more understanding of why stories are shallow, unresearched and sometimes meaningless.
Dearest Anon-
Your "telling like it is" is so very important, and I thank you for doing so.

Yes, folks, the "media" is a corporate America conglomerate mess. So- take the reporter's perspective and understand that part of it.

Now- what do we do? The airwaves that these entities utilize to make obscene profits as they slash budgets and leave the business toothless on the editorial side (the ad side never rests)- are OUR airwaves!

What to do? When we get done hammering media about this story [Downing Street Minutes], then you get on the PHONE and contact the FCC.

Oh yeah- and start with your city's phone book. Look up the media outlets. Call them and ask them when their license review process is happening. DEMAND that the station start doing their job or you will lead a public outcry to PULL THEIR LICENSE.

Oh yeah- are you in a community with a large University? Do they have a journalism and communications program? Speak with the journalism professors, see if you can make a presentation (or just put flyers up on a damn bulletin board) to the classes and ASK THEM TO HELP you. Start up a "coalition" in your community; look for groups that would have an affinity with your cause. Think outside the box here. The media matters, and it touches so very many aspects of our lives. More folks have televisions than computers (and Internet access).

You get the idea...thanks everyone too for all the heart and passion you bring to this online forum and the serious, serious times we face.

This is what we are doing:
the work your site and you fine folks have been doing is remarkable and utterly necessary. the spirit of true democracy and liberty survives in your dedication.

regarding your disdain for media outlets in the US, I can only weigh in that as a Canadian I do not read american news. the few times i'll forray into that web of misinformation is for comparative purposes; stylistic or informational. not to say canadas media is perfect or unbiased, but throughout the buildup to the iraq war it never seemed to me (except in the ultra-right leaning papers)that the news sources were selling anything, just offering a multitude of perspectives in the editorial pages. this isn't more of that canadian superiority, its just an appreciation to see the efforts of some americans despite the greater challenges they face. in america, you have to deal with a dangerously slanted media and the public that loves them. you have to deal with an administration that lies to its citizens, and the citizens that easily forgive for being lied to.

i dont know when people became comfortable with war again, with being lied to by governments that are supposed to represent them, or media agencies that are not doing their jobs informing a public enough to let the public decide its own collective fate.

kudos again, what you're doing is historically more important than most of us could even know right now.
Thanks for the comments.

To my conservative friend in Idaho, I certainly agree that the press should challenge misleading or false statements no matter who makes them. The problem with the US media is that, contrary to what the Right would have us believe, it is already right-leaning. Yelling shows and extremist pundits on talk radio make the mainstream media appear "liberal" when in fact it is controlled by corporations that are in bed with the administration it is supposed to cover. How else do you explain media ownership rules being loosened in the face of nearly unanimous public opposition?

And for the newsroom worker, I hear you. Journalists are at the bottom of the totem pole, and their aforementioned corporate overlords are far more interested in quarterly earnings than they are in providing a public service. But you'll have to excuse me if my sympathy has limits. At some point, journalists do bear part of the responsibility for the sorry state of their profession, and the sooner they realize that they do have a choice, the better. You might have to give up your fast track to TV anchor, but you can still practice your craft without selling your soul.
I watched CBS local news in Phoenix last eve. I had watched c-span coverage of the Conyers meet-up & was anxious to see how it was being covered on late night news. I was very dissapointed in the fact the Downing Street Memos was not mentioned. They implied the meeting was about a time table to get our troops home. That is distorting the facts. Needless to say, I will not waste my time on T. V. news in the future.
It was a remarkable feat, especially in the face of all efforts by the enemies of the constitution to stifle free speech, enemies of truth and decency to sweep revealing information on how the neocon neo-fascist thugs concocted a devastating illegal war under the rug, and the despicable role of the collaborationists media (see, for example the demeaning reporting of the hearing in today’s Washington Post).

Two things stood out to me: One is the question rep. Jim Moran raised and the answer given by Mr. McGovern. We as Americans must expose the real reason for this war, and the drumbeat of more war that the same cabal is sounding, why Americans are dying in the desserts of the Middle East, why we are killing and enabling killing of innocent human beings in the region. Related to this issue is why the need for expansion of the US military (who do we expect will attack us and why?); whether to support draft or the on-going buying of our young people by the military, especially the disadvantaged ones, to become fodder for the monstrous policies of the fascist elements that have taken over the Republican Party; and, and what “patriotism” mean in the context of politics of lies, corruption murder and mayhem.

The other question follows from the testimony of every one in the panel: this is an illegal war! And if so, should not Bush, Chaney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, Wolfowitz, Perl, Fith and all the others involved in the conspiracy to kill thousands of human beings and actually carrying out a war to kill and injure thousands of innocent human beings be bought to justice by trying them for war crimes? Even if the International Court at the Hague is unable to act at this time, at least a “Court of the People of the World” should be set up composed of jurists from the world community and charges should be brought against these criminals.
I watched an exchange last night on MSNBC that was absolutely enfuriating!

Keith Olberman's fill-in was questioning Jim Vandehei of the Washington Post about The Memo. When she asked him about the content of the memo and its implications, he said that there was really "nothing new" in the memo... further stating that the memo only provides a paper trail to what most of us know already... that the president was "planning for war"....

Question: Have these people READ the memo? Did they actually watch the hearing?

The revelation in the memo wasn't that there was war planning going on... the revelation was that the DECISION WAS ALREADY MADE to go to war... and that the intelligence was to be FIXED around the policy of going to war. At the same time, the president and his administration were running around the country giving speeches about compliance with UN resolutions and claiming that we wanted peace. Every time they spoke of a way to avoid going to war, they were LYING! Am I wrong??

The mainstream media is so weak and gutless. It is extremely troubling to me.
Wow. I didn't realize anyone covered any facet of the Downing Street memo. Up here in the heart of New World Order land in New England the local stations made up a falsified story about how "we need a timetable to get out of Iraq"! Ok I can sell you this bridge. It's really neat and it's in Brooklyn NY. The time devoted to national political news is wasted with statist propaganda.
Blue state my ass!
You Think.

Good for you, I wish everyone did.

Odd so many post annonomous isn't it?
Here's how I believe they will weasel out of this: The memo says "Washington" not specifically "Bush". Can't impeach an unspecified source. Also, Bush and Blair will say that this was the opinion of the author of the memo. Maybe if an investigation is launched they could go to the memo's source and try to find specifically who said what when, but I doubt it will go that far, unless we keep HAMMERING our congressmen to do so. Hint, Hint.
American mainstream media is no longer journalism, it's show biz. (Watch for DSM on an American-made-for-TV-movie a year from now.)

Thank God for the Brits!
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