Friday, February 12, 2010

Media News That Fails Us

Collaborators in the news room

In 1967, I informed my draft board that I considered both the draft, in general, and student deferments from the draft, in particular, to be immoral and that I wished to be reclassified from 2S to 1A. Ignoring my larger moral argument, the board sent me a new card with a new classification making me immediately eligible to be drafted. I then notified them that I intended to burn my card in public at an appointed time and place. Though they did not show up for the event, they did draft me shortly thereafter, whereupon I departed for Canada, the location of further adventures only tangentially related to the focus of this post.

Since those halcyon days of antiwar protest, I have fervently believed that reducing military spending and ending militarism ought to be critically important to activists regardless of their issue focus. Since the news media, historically, has been the handmaiden of American military interventions, it follows that journalism, journalistic practice and media ought to be another point of strategic concern for all issues activists. A case in point is the major media's abject failure to investigate the full story of the Bush administration's duplicity in making the case for the invasion of Iraq and to tell that story early and often, with the result that the Iraq War has gone on for a tortuously long time at a cost of nearly $1 trillion.

Writer Sebastian Jones has produced a well-researched piece, "The Lobbying-Media Complex" that adds to the indictment of cable and network news media. The story, running in The Nation, gets right to the point in its first three paragraphs, detailing how ex-Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge and retired general Barry McCaffrey appeared recently on news shows as experts on energy and the Afghanistan war, respectively, without the relevant disclosures that the two men have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from energy companies and military contractors.

To end his piece, Jones quotes Arizona State University journalism professor Aaron Brown's observations following 2008 election coverage, which featured endless line-ups and roundtables of analysts sharing little of real value: "We live in a time when there are no shortages of opinions and an incredible deficit of facts."

The point needs augmenting, I think. Having and sharing opinions, after all, seems part of human DNA, but the constitutionally protected function of news media is to uncover and share relevant information that good citizenship requires. Otherwise media is nothing but a toady for the rich and powerful, collaborating with their policy goals.

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