Democratic Underground

Smashing the Filter

September 16, 2004
By PermanentRevolution

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 spreads unchecked.

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.

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