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When News Isn't
January 30, 2002
by SoCalDem

Those of us of a "certain age" remember the days of Huntley & Brinkley, and Walter Cronkite. In those days, our news was delivered to us in a straightforward manner, with little, if any, commentary. As Walter used to say at the end of every newscast, "That's the way it was on ...(fill in any date)."

Most cities of any size, had at least two newspapers, a morning and an afternoon paper. People read the morning paper with breakfast, the afternoon paper after work, and settled down for the evening news on television. Back in those days, some broadcasts were only 15 minutes long. The amazing thing was that in that short amount of a time the newsmen actually conveyed a sense of what was going on around the world.

When did the news stop being the news? Why does a slice of our demographic pie actually think what we get today is NEWS?

The format of a news broadcast has a lot to do with it. A look back at those archived, grainy old black and white images tells the story. A man, a desk, a microphone, a clock, and a serious demeanor... That's about what it took in those days to convince most people that they had better pay attention, because what they were about to see was important, and worthy of their attention.

The format has changed little over the decades. There are women now, but most of them are window dressing. The men of broadcasting age, but the women are replaced as their on-camera persona becomes less Barbie-like. Advertisers have burned the image of a desk, a man, a microphone, and a clock, into the collective psyche of America. That image conjures up NEWS.

It's no wonder that over time, the forces out there who would try to control the American Mind would adopt the very same format to get their message across. It comes to us wrapped up like a news broadcast, but like the Bizarro World of Superman, it isn't what it pretends to be. People out there in viewerland see the desk, and the trappings of a newscast, and they think that is what they are getting..

As the Fairness Doctrine faded away into the sunset, we were besieged by endless "faux" news programs. Corporate moguls hungrily devoured smaller broadcast venues as they built their vast communication holdings. Most of these moguls have very different worldviews than the average citizen does. It became easier and easier to insinuate their own political and ideological leanings into every aspect of their burgeoning empires.

In past times, when a news anchor wanted to change jobs, he would mail tapes of representative reportage to various media outlets across the country and wait to see if he got any offers. If they were a bigger outlet or offered a higher salary, there was little impediment to the newsman's acceptance of that offer.

This was the way it was then, but now with all the consolidation, that movement is dictated by the men at the top. When they control media all over the country, the individual broadcasters are not free to look around. They are more like indentured servants to their master. If they get on the wrong side of the message they are supposed to convey, their trip up the ladder is over. That they are well paid cannot be of much consolation, because their mobility and their very jobs are always in jeopardy, if they say the wrong thing.

The "Screaming Head" shows of today are an offshoot of the media consolidation too. When cable hurled itself into the "News Game," they gave birth to a beast that needed constant feeding. The OJ phenomenon showed that masses of people would velcro themselves to a couch and watch one single story over and over for months on end. Advertisers had to be wearing drool bibs when they realized that. But all "good" things must end, and eventually, we had no more OJ to kick around.

Enter... Politics.

Granted, the niche market for politics may be a narrow one, but political junkies are loyal, and they are interactive. The fact that most of the owners of the media are corporations who feast at the teat of the government, is not incidental. The message gets very important when it comes to the rules and regulations that the ones at the top need to go their way.

They know which party will acquiesce, and they know the drill. In order to get favorable legislation, the media must constantly sell the message that will urge the public to the polls and keep the "right" people in office.

If a non-compliant congress acts in the best interest of the public, the corporations will take a hit in the bank account. This must be avoided at all costs. It's a kabuki dance of dangerous proportions. Access is divvied up like the spoils of war between fewer and fewer rich men, and the spillover is that they control cable, satellite, mainstream broadcast and even the old fallback, newspapers.

The old maxim "If you can't beat them, join them" no longer applies. The modern version is, "If you can't beat them... EAT them."

More and more news outlets are being controlled by fewer and fewer ideologues. Strangely enough, there are still many people who see the desk, the man and the clock and their mind says... NEWS...

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