Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Uses and Abuses of a Corrupt Press

For the past four years or more (mostly a lot more) people of the Liberal persuasion have been complaining about the press, mainly the traditional 20th century media--the newspapers, television, and talk/news-radio. The allegation is that the press is so in bed with the power structure that a completely truthful account of most news is a rarity and most "news" is vetted against corporate interests and standards of journalism that would best be described as, well, politically and economically conservative, yet amazingly belligerent and incredibly self-serving. We call that "corporate news."

But, I think that the mainstream news enterprise ceased to be interested in real, complete, truthful news much longer ago than when Bush (43) entered office. In Los Angeles, where I used to live, the news leaders between shows were inevitably about crimes and other forms of personal misbehaviors. One such leader had us poking around down by the port in a garbage dump looking for fetuses. That was about the last thing I remember from network news. I switched over to McNeil-Lehrer for a while, but soon got tired of listening to the same experts, particularly Mr. Perle, and quit that show, too.

The corporate press, (and nearly all of it is "corporate" these days), is beholding to capital and all the rules regarding capital formation and retention. It gives lip-service to Liberal ideas from time to time, but increasingly has reserved its big guns for conservative points of view. This means editorial censorship, omission of facts, multiple airings/printings of conservative-tending major issues while giving short, back-of-the newscast or third section, shrift to vital information. The tradition in the American press has been to cozy up to power and let the alcoholism, philandering, donation plundering, and out-and-out mental incompetence go by unnoticed.

Last year I wrote about the direct harassment that the corporate media (nevertheless) receives from the Bush Administration. The Rove White House has intimidated more than one young MSNBC producer and many more reporters and correspondents. The reason for this is that the corporate board rooms really do not have direct control over the daily "news" operations and are, in any case, set on a policy of deception and policy bias that serves their immediate interests. In other words, they permit the hoi polloi down in the studio and pressroom to take a few left-leaning stances ... but not many ... and none on serious matters.

The advantage of a weak and corrupt press may soon become apparent as the Democrats gear up under Reid, Pelosi, and Dean to find the timber with which to build a platform for the mid-term elections and the next really big one in 2008. This is the poetic way of saying that the Democrats must weld their coalition together and establish the priority of election success over a clear enunciation of all but the three or four most urgent of issues. Democrats have to win to play the game, not the other way around. At the same time, the Liberal and Progressive issues must be prioritized; and believe me, this will cause some angst!

I believe the current state of the press—corporate and corrupt—will backfire on the conservatives and serve the Democrats for a change as they go through the awful process of public coalition building.

The biggest problem is the war in Iraq. The Democrats are terribly divided on this issue. Dean is ready to lead toward the peaceful side, as is Kennedy, but Kerry and many in the Congress are still committed to the idea that now that we are there, we should try to accomplish something besides the utter destruction of Fallujah (and soon Ramadi). And, organized labor has yet to be heard on much of anything. Labor is the second problem the Democrats are going to have to metabolize.

All of this will be done in public, by tradition. The Republicons invented the smoke-filled room for their own machinations, so we do not get to see much of the in-fighting, but Democrats are, well, democratic about it. And a normal, uncorrupted press would have played a serious, perhaps damaging role.

We suspect that the current corporate press will become even more conservative during the next three years. This will be something of an advantage, because the nuances being fought for inside the Democratic Party will go right over the heads of corporate decision makers in the newsrooms. We will still see and hear negative and embarrassing sound bytes, but very little in terms of the real open wounds that must be given time to heal ahead of a concerted effort to win the election.

And, meanwhile, of course, there is the blogosphere, that haze of news, rant, and rumor that surrounds the traditional media like cloud of hungry mosquitoes at dusk. Bloggers and the internet may be the salvation of truth in the long run, but that blogosphere is (as we have seen in South Dakota in 2004 in the anti-Daschle campaign) open to both sides, so expect lots of baloney and deception, too, and a few bites!