Smashing the Filter
September 16, 2004
I don't know if it's reassuring to know that the state of the
media is nothing new, or discouraging to realize that 120 years
have gone by with no fundamental changes. This is a quote from Henry
Adams, regarding Grover Cleveland's presidential election of 1884:
We are here plunged in politics funnier than words can express.
Very great issues are involved.... But the amusing thing is
that no one talks about real interests. By common consent they
agree to let these alone. We are afraid to discuss them. Instead
of this the press is engaged in a most amusing dispute whether
Mr. Cleveland had an illegitimate child and did or did not live
with more than one mistress.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or, more
accurately, the more things change, the more they swing back to
the same old crap. Because there was a time, not terribly long ago,
when reporters actually broke stories. A time when two reporters
and an unnamed source could uncover the corruption of a President
and force him into public acceptance of responsibility for his actions.
A time when a news story was pounced on by other media outlets
as a chance to expand the investigation on their own, not as a chance
to pounce on a fellow news outlet in an attempt to rip their credibility
to shreds for that all-important Nielsen share.
The CBS memos should have been an opportunity for CNN, MSNBC,
ABC, and NBC to launch their own investigations into Bush's National
Guard service. A chance for the major media outlets to combine their
efforts and uncover the truth about his missing months. This should
have been a chance to follow in the footsteps of Upton Sinclair
and Nellie Bly, but instead it has devolved into a bloodthirsty
hunt to bring CBS down.
It shouldn't need to be said that CBS does not bear the burden
of proof. It is not their responsibility to prove the documents
are genuine; it is the responsibility of others to prove they are
false. To date, this hasn't been done.
What has been done is far, far worse. The media frenzy over the
authenticity of the memos has all but killed the greater story that
should be making headlines. And in the process, the reputation of
America's oldest and most respected news outlet has been tarnished
by propaganda spread from a right-wing hitman whose only expertise
in forgery is his ability to Google. This is the network of Edward
R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Their credibility has never been
assaulted to the degree we are seeing now.
The problem is clear. The ethics and standards of journalism have
been in a state of freefall for years. There was a time when news
organizations held themselves to a higher calling, the calling of
the truth. No more. The new standard of excellence is the ratings.
A wave of sensationalism and speed-crazed media blitzes has reshaped
the face of journalism, and it is not a pretty sight.
Truth has taken a backseat to rumor and innuendo. Research is outdated.
Facts are inconvenient. What is reported is what attracts the most
people. Blame can be laid at a number of places: the ever-dwindling
attention span of the average citizen, the culture of willful ignorance
that exemplifies this rush to the bottom, the steady stream of new
"journalists" looking for the quick and easy scoop, the ever-spreading
Internet rumor mill.
But there is a larger and more insidious cancer at work: the corporatization
of the global media. As media power consolidates into a handful
of sources, the free flow of information becomes channelled through
a smaller and smaller filter. The news is reshaped in the interests
of the parent company.
Is it any surprise that NBC will not speak critically of General
Electric? Or that FOX News exists to present the viewpoints of its
ultraconservative founder, Rupert Murdoch? Is it any surprise that
Bush's record is given a free pass when almost every major media
conglomerate donates more heavily to the Republican Party than to
the Democratic Party? Is it any surprise that the only exception
to this donor trend is VIACOM, parent company of CBS?
The myth of the liberal media has been repeated and repeated and
repeated to the point where it is no longer questioned, but accepted
as fact - and the consequences have been disastrous. Any attempt
at fair reporting is met with cries of bias. Any attempt to expose
right-wing hypocrisy is derided as partisan journalism. Any suggestion
that the Republican party may be more likely to break the law is
met with the shrill, outraged cries of a hundred thousand self-proclaimed
watchdogs out to ensure that truth is banished and right-wing propaganda
The media has allowed itself to shift more and more to the right,
desperately seeking an end to the accusations of bias. These movements,
though not necessarily dictated by the parent companies, are no
doubt a result of upper-management pressure to keep the right-wing
happy. And the process continues, because those who call the truth
an enemy are never satisfied until they obtain complete control.
Legitimate questions concerning Bush are buried while every scurrilous
attack on John Kerry's record is repeated ad nauseum until it has
been thoroughly immersed in the public consciousness. When Kerry
leads by 5%, it is reported as "tenuous" or "barely ahead." When
Bush leads by 4%, it is called "a commanding lead" or "well ahead,"
and used as a launching pad for a fresh wave of reports that Kerry's
candidacy is doomed.
We let this happen. We let the Reagan Revolution deregulate the
media, allowing for the rise of the conglomerates that control our
access to information. We let them repeal the Fairness Doctrine,
which mandated equal representation of political viewpoints. We
let the flow of information fall into the hands of the power-hungry
and rich, an error which we are paying for every single day.
Those in power and those with money share one unmistakeable trait:
they will not give either up easily. But there is a fatal flaw in
their attempt to dominate our lives. Try as they may, they cannot
abolish free elections.
We have the chance to take back the media. They know this, and
they are doing everything possible to prevent this from happening.
They are shaping the message presented to the nation, bending their
will towards a Bush victory, doing everything in their power to
discredit Kerry before it's too late. But they can't control everything.
On a level playing field, Kerry would be winning in a landslide.
Even despite their best efforts, the race is still neck and neck.
And if they can't stop him soon, he will win. Kerry's campaign knows
how the deck is stacked. They continue to take their message directly
to the people, filter-free. Grassroots activism is going to create
a groundswell the likes of which this country has never seen. Kerry's
support is hidden from the polls and hidden from the national news,
but it is there and it is growing.
His campaign rallies are drawing record-shattering crowds in every
city. People are coming out of the shadows of Republican strongholds
with stories of Kerry signs dominating areas that were once Bush
territory. An unprecedented public referendum is on the verge of
driving Bush from office with his tail between his legs, and the
media is helpless to stop it.
The only tactic left is the one they are pursuing now, at all costs.
End the election before it occurs. Demoralize Kerry's supporters
into thinking that victory is impossible. Keep turnout low, and
keep the masses uneducated and uninformed.
But we can stop it. We can't control the media, and it's too close
to the election to try and fight it. But we can keep the message
alive. Don't believe the spin. Don't listen to the media's lies.
Don't believe their stories of a losing race. Don't give up hope.
Fight like we're ten points down, but NEVER GIVE UP. Get outside.
Walk the streets. Blanket your neighborhood. The truth is on our
side, and the media can't keep it from being spread. We will prevail.
Visit PermanentRevolution's blog: http://revolutiononline.blogspot.com/