Give Up on the Media
By Ernest Partridge, The
We must not give up on the media - we must not assume that
the media's shameless promotion of George Bush is immutable
- for if the corporate media continues its present course
and repeats its performance of 2000, Bush has a lock on the
In case you haven't noticed, even now the mighty pro-Bush-GOP
Wurlitzer is well into its overture. Remember the Gore caricature
- self-promoter, reinventor, and liar ("inventing the internet"
and all that)? Now consider the emerging media portrait of
Howard Dean: radical-liberal, erratic, negative, angry, and
a fore-ordained loser. (John Kerry has now been disqualified
for the highest office by the media. Why? He "looks French,"
puts Swiss cheese in his Philly sandwiches, and pays too much
for his haircuts. Serious stuff).
And now the latest meme: Democrats are "deranged." The theme
was introduced, almost simultaneously, by Charles Krauthammer,
Tucker Carlson, William Safire and David Brooks, and now resounds
in cable (so-called) "news" channels and AM radio. (See Maureen
Unhinged"). Were one of a paranoid bent (i.e. "deranged")
one even might suspect some sort of coordination in this attack,
say by the RNC and the White House Rovians.
Meanwhile, regarding The Shrubster, the media has uttered
scarcely a peep about Harkin Oil, AWOL, the deficits and national
debt, the coming demise of government services, the Medicare
scam, the sellout of the environment, the 9/11 coverup, the
missing WMDs, and the absent Saddam-Bin Laden connection,
Stalin could ask no more of Pravda.
And yet, despite all that, we must not give up on the media.
The corporate media presents a formidable obstacle, but with
persistent, dedicated, and above all intelligent action by
progressives, that obstacle can be compromised and overcome.
We have this much going for us. First of all, our message
need not replace or overwhelm the Bushite propaganda, it need
only find a modest place in the media pages and airwaves.
The few progressive media such as The Nation, Democracy
Now!, and the like, however honorable and dedicated, are
not enough. Their voices are rarely heard beyond "the
choir." But if the opposition views were afforded a fair
access to the mass media, even while facing a two-to-one disadvantage
in print space and air time, the opposition would still prevail.
The truth, morality and validity of the progressive message
is that powerful, as the right-wing media machine well knows.
Second, the right-wing is attacking our most cherished institutions
and civic values - public education, our constitutional rights,
economic justice, religious tolerance, political civility
- and yet dares
to call itself "conservative." Surely, among the
corps of working journalists, there must be a significant
remnant of individuals who remain aware of their responsibilities
as citizens of a once-free country, and who must be alarmed
by the erosion of civil liberties and economic opportunities
in a country to which they claim loyalty.
Third, unlike the press in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union,
which was both financed and controlled by the government,
the American media, as commercial enterprises, depend upon
the support of the public. If the prevailing policies and
messages of that media are rejected by even a significant
minority of the public, the media must either change or suffer
Finally, the plain fact is that the policies of the Republican
administration and party are leading the United States directly
toward economic collapse, civil rebellion, and international
ostracism. In terms of stark self-interest (morality and loyalty
aside), the behavior
of the media publishers and owners is simply irrational. When
the ship of state and its domestic economy sinks, all hands
on board will sink with it. The owners and managers of the
mass media either fail to understand this, or, if vaguely
aware, care only for the immediate future or feel unable to
reverse this tragic course as events take control. If even
a few media executives come to their senses, recognize the
precipice ahead, and use their voices to avoid it, then perhaps
a significant portion will follow.
Breaching "The Great Wall"
The corporate media have, at great expense and with consummate
skill, thrown up a vast levee of falsehood, slander, spin
and distraction, beyond which lies a sea of authenticated
fact (e.g. about global warming), political tradition (our
Constitution and Bill of Rights), morality (fairness and compassion)
and public interest (education and social services). So far,
the levee has held, and the mighty GOP media machine is determined
to hold it through November 2. But surely some keepers of
the levee, if they have a scrap of reality principle in their
heads, must endure sleepless nights contemplating the precariousness
of their situation. A slight breach in the dyke can quickly
grow to a flood. Or, to change the image, a snowflake can
set off an avalanche. The progressive opposition must pound
relentlessly against the barrier until it cracks. Repeat,
over and over: "Bush lied, and our soldiers died."
"Iraq reconstruction" is nothing more than a massive
money laundering scheme whereby tax revenues flow into personal
fortunes. Bush's "tax relief" is "reverse Robin-Hoodism"
- stealing from the poor to give to the rich. The bill for
Bush's deficits will be taken out of your pensions and will
be presented to your children and grandchildren. Once Bush's
adoring masses begin to grasp just one or two of these stubborn
truths, the others become plausible, and once it becomes "fashionable"
to doubt the media hype, the flood will follow.
By relentlessly proclaiming that Bush is unbeatable in the
2004 election, the media is attempting to foist a self-fulfilling
prophecy upon the public. This must be forcefully resisted.
Bush can, in fact, be beaten, and if such a belief and resolution
is widely accepted, the overthrow of the House of Bush evolves
from possibility, to probability, to near inevitability. In
politics, perception is reality.
Poisoning the Well
Attention of the progressive opposition must be directed
to the media itself. Thoughtful criticism can be effective,
but ridicule even more so. No doubt about it, the US media
appears ridiculous to journalists abroad, and the American
media must constantly be reminded of this. Pratfalls by the
"establishment" media should be exposed and publicized:
noteworthy among these are the eight-year failure to find
a scrap of corruption in the Clinton's "Whitewater"
investment, the groundless charges against nuclear scientist
Wen Ho Lee, and Judith Miller's promotion of the Iraqi WMD
myth. Significantly, all the above were initiated and promulgated
by that beacon of journalistic rectitude, the New York
The media must be constantly and publicly reminded of its
shameless bias during the 2000 presidential election. On the
one hand the media failed to report Bush's personal misbehavior,
his manifest incompetence, and his maladministration as Texas
Governor. On the other hand the media concocted slanders against
Al Gore, including the infamous smears that Gore had claimed
to have "invented the internet" and to have "discovered"
Love Canal. A significant and influential segment of the public
must put the media on notice that such behavior will not be
Editors and publishers like to tell the public that their
credibility is the most cherished resource. Well, they have
squandered that credibility, and we should let them know this.
The Russian people have shown us the way. After decades of
lies from Pravda and Izvestia, the Russian public simply ceased
to believe the servile state media, and looked to the BBC
and the Voice of America for reliable information. The same
message should be delivered to the American whore media, as
more and more of our fellow citizens turn to the Internet
and to our Canadian and British cousins for the kind of responsible
journalism that we once expected from our own media.
Define the Contest as "Above Partisanship"
Bush's assault against our Constitution and our civil liberties,
his dogmatic disregard of scientific facts and basic economic
realities, his besmirching of our international reputation,
and his stream of shameless lies to the American people, should
put this upcoming contest beyond the realm of party politics.
This election should no longer be perceived as just another
bout of Democrats vs. Republicans. Moderate Republicans must
finally face the fact that they no longer have a party. The
advocacy of constrained government, personal privacy and accountability,
international cooperation, and fiscal responsibility, once
championed by the Republican Party, has now been taken over
by the Democrats. Many Republicans and Libertarians have come
to realize this - John Dean, Kevin Phillips and Senator Jim
Jeffords come immediately to mind - and they are beginning
to suspect that their best hope of recapturing their party
is to promote the defeat and repudiation of the dogmatists
and radicals that now control the GOP.
If a general public perception emerges that Election 2004
is no longer about Democrats vs. Republicans, but instead
is recognized to be about the very survival of the American
political system, then a coalition of authentic patriots will
evolve that even the mighty media and Bush's campaign millions
can not overcome. Indeed, that coalition might well break
the wall of media solidarity, as principled journalists defect
and join it.
The Ed Murrow Moment
Journalism is a volatile profession, singularly susceptible
to dramatic initiatives by individual journalists. From history,
John Peter Zenger, Thomas Paine and Lincoln Steffens immediately
come to mind.
The just-completed century contained a multitude of journalists
who, on their initiative and with the support of their editors
and publishers, dramatically and favorably altered history.
Among them: Edward R. Murrow who facilitated the well-deserved
fall of Senator Joe McCarthy; Walter Cronkite, whose public
statement of the futility of the Viet Nam War led LBJ to say
"if I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the public"; Woodward
and Bernstein, whose persistent investigation exposed the
Watergate scandal and led to the resignation of Richard Nixon.
If ever there were a time for another "Murrow Moment,"
this is the time. There is an abundance of potential Murrows
in the commercial TV networks, well-placed to perform a public
service of comparable significance. All that they lack is
initiative, allegiance to principle, and courage.
They need not fear financial ruin. The leading media TV
celebs - the Brokaws, Jenningses, Rathers, Koppels, Wallaces,
et al - are all millionaires many times over, well beyond
normal retirement age, and surely more than ready to enjoy
an opportunity to write a few books. In the movie The Insider,
I recall Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer) telling Jules
Bergman (Al Pacino), something like "I'm past the age
of thinking about career goals - now I think about legacy."
Well, its time for these anchoring worthies to think about
their legacies - and about their obligation to the country
and the profession that has served them so well. Now, its
American journalism today is, with very few noteworthy exceptions,
a disgrace. As a recent study
from the University of Maryland has demonstrated, the more
an individual watches cable news stations, the more misinformed
he or she is about the justifications of the Iraq war. That
study and others like it should be a wake-up call to the news
industry. Yet somehow it isn't. Instead, these studies validate
the success of the media as instruments of state propaganda.
And yet, American journalism has a noble history. Only the
journalists can restore the profession to the honor it once
held. Are there none that are prepared to do so? Is the entire
journalistic profession in America totally devoid of discerning
patriotic individuals, prepared to take chances? In the past,
many American journalists have risked their liberties, as
still others have given their lives in defense of freedom.
Is it asking too much for a few well-healed and well-placed
individuals to risk their jobs?
Today, our laws, our rights, our national wealth, and our
national reputation are eroding before our very eyes. Within
the television networks, Bill Moyers stands virtually alone
as a voice of protest. When individuals of lesser stature
speak out, such as Bill Maher, Phil Donahue and MSNBC's Ashleigh
Banfield, they are reprimanded and silenced. But just imagine
Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings or Ted Koppel on
camera, pulling out a privately prepared statement from his
coat and ignoring the teleprompter, and then telling it like
it really is - warning the public of the disasters ahead to
which the Bush policies are surely leading us.
Impossible? Inconceivable? For the vast majority of media
celebrities, this is no doubt the case. But all it takes is
one brave soul, or two, or three, and the others will follow.
Morrow and Cronkite had the moral courage to obey the demands
of conscience, and damned the consequences. Is there no one
of comparable moral stature in the mass media today? We shall
Such an individual would be fired on the spot, of course.
But what a profound statement that firing would make! Imagine
next the significance of that celebrity joining public television
or, still better, the progressive cable network that Al Gore
is reportedly launching next month.
The most astonishing feature of the Bush administration
lies, corruption, profligacy, illegality and subversion of
our cherished political institutions, is that none of these
things are secret - these outrages are all "out there"
to be readily recognized and contemplated. Amazingly, the
Busheviks and their media toadies appear to be not in the
least embarrassed or threatened by the disclosure of these
conditions. Why should they if, as these outrages keep on
coming, the public "takes it" while the media distracts
us with tales of Kobe, Jacko and Laci Peterson.
How much is too much? Is there a breaking point at which
the public says "enough!" and "throw the bums
out!" Or do we all, instead, just meekly stay in line
as we march down this road to national ruin?
Once again, history tells us of moments of dramatic change,
as the bended stick breaks, the snowball sets off the avalanche,
the trickle at the dyke leads to collapse and the flood.
Think again of the hopeless odds facing Gandhi, Mandella,
M. L. King, Andrei Sakharov. Recall that as the new year began
in 1992, Poppy Bush's approval ratings were in the high 80s,
and few Democrats wanted the nomination and with it the certainty
of a humiliating defeat in November.
If Bush is to win in November, his campaign and his media
allies must maintain the levee of lies, spin, smear and distraction
that holds back the sea of facts, morality, economic justice,
national reputation, and yes, of authentic patriotism. When
you pause and think of it, that's a rather tall order.
The whole rotten structure of Bushevism, however impressive
on the surface, is vulnerable to assault by facts, by appeals
to simple decency, compassion, justice and patriotism, and
in no small part by well-aimed barbs of ridicule. Goliath
is fearsome, but he could fall in an instant.
If this is to happen, the media must play a decisive role.
However dismal its performance today, the journalistic profession
has a history of coming to the rescue of democracy, albeit
belatedly, in its time of peril. And just a few well-placed
individuals might be all that it takes.
And we progressive citizens have a crucial role to play.
We must plead, demand, protest, and boycott the media lackeys
and their sponsors, and conversely we must support the emerging
media voices of progressive dissent and their sponsors. As
we boycott the scoundrels, we must tell them so. And as we
support the dissenters, we must also tell them so.
We must not give up on the media, for if we do we might,
in effect, be conceding the election to George Bush.
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer
in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He
publishes the website, The
Online Gadfly and co-edits the progressive website, The