Democratic Underground  

Press Whores and Media Prostitutes
September 7, 2002
By Vermeer

We hear so much whining and rationalizing from media pundits and reporters who would do better work but can't, they say, because the whole system is against them. Radio and TV station owners and network chieftains want only to boost ratings and make money, they say, and care not a twit about journalistic standards or honest and fair reporting. They seem to think it the nature of things that only pretty air-heads who say outrageous things will hold an audience's attention. Would-be journalists blame the station owners and blame the public. Hey, why not blame Clinton? Oh, they're already are doing that.

And what about ratings?

I could take the easy, sassy way and tell such pretend-journalists that TV stations could boost their ratings even more if the pretty air-heads who say outrageous things were to do their shows buck-naked. But I won't write that because I think the argument deserves a better response. (But it is true!)

I understand that, nowadays, in contrast to the era of Edward R. Murrow, the news divisions of TV and radio stations are expected to earn huge profits; they are no longer subsidized by comedy shows and sports programs and expected only to break even monetarily in exchange for the prestige they add to networks and stations. I grasp that, but even within that framework it would be possible for reporters to tell the truth and not lie. Stations can still hire pretty air-heads to read cue cards and recite the nightly news or make their inane chit-chat.

The pretty faces are there to boost ratings; the lying has not so much to do with ratings as something else.

The network and station owners have a darker agenda than just ratings. It is deregulation. That is what we are up against. It is clear to everyone by now that Bush and his henchmen are all for the monopolies and conglomerates, and all for concentrating power and money in the hands of the elite few (preferably the few who contribute to their campaigns).

Democrats are against that principle and favor regulation that protects small radio and TV stations and newspapers from being gobbled up by syndicates who care nothing for the local regions they service and, supposedly, serve -- but care only for the "bottom line." It is this battle that most voters are not even aware of, but it is one of the most important battles going on in America today. If all news and most communication is retained in the hands of a few moguls who owe their power and wealth to the Republican Party, guess whose agenda they will push their editors to favor.

But we have the Internet, and contrary to what some think, it is powerful and its power is growing. Rush Limbaugh may very well have 18 million listeners. Who cares? They would vote right-wing anyway, so we can forget about them.

The battle for minds is a contest to see who can get the facts to the largest number of middle-of-the-roaders -- those folks who have decent intellects, decent hearts and want America to be the country it is touted to be. Most of those people are very busy working at their jobs and, when they come home at night, flip on the TV expecting to hear the news, the facts. They don't. They hear rants, tirades, and self-important hosts interrupting so regularly no one ever gets to explain complicated issues.

One by one, day by day, we are chipping away at the credibility of that kind of mainstream media. Most reasonably intelligent people have come to understand that while all such ranting and interrupting may be good theater (it actually isn't, but I'll deal with that another time), it does not encourage rational thinking.

Many news people underestimate the inroads the Internet has made on the credibility of the mainstream media.

It is a truism of life that simple people prefer simple explanations for events. The Republicans might very well be better at that since they are also so willing to include lying in their bag of tricks. I point to the current effort by Republicans to claim that it was the Democrats who wanted to privatize Social Security, not Republicans.

Explaining complex political issues does take more time than simplistic "explanations," but what is the solution to that?

First, we have to decide what kind of a nation we want to live in. In any dictatorship, no one has to worry about reasoning, thinking, or analyzing complicated political issues -- people just have to obey and follow the charismatic leader. Simple. But I don't really think most people -- if they have it all explained to them -- want to live that way.

So we must find ways to catch their interest and explain issues in "straight talk" ways; it is not (despite what some think) all that difficult. Some think the only alternative to pretty air-heads lying about events is boring, ugly people rambling on for hours using obscure phrases to make us all feel inferior. I say, "Nuts," that is not the only alternative. There have been many progressive politicians and news people over the years who could capture and hold the attention of their audiences with charm, wit, facts, and simple phrases.

It is all do-able; it is just a question of good people doing What Is Right, and not just What Is Easy.

I have heroes and they are not those people who went for the buck by lying, and by lying, hurting innocent people. I have little sympathy for people who know what is right but will not do it. Those of us who will do the right thing must keep putting one foot in front of the other, bringing our best talents, skills, energy, and, yes, charm into the battle. We are in a battle for the soul of America, nothing less. And we will triumph. And those who do not stand and tell the truth about facts will be left behind like so much flotsam.

Printer-friendly version
Tell a friend about this article Tell a friend about this article
Discuss this article
Democratic Underground Homepage