Friday, June 26, 2009

Why the Main Stream Media is Dying

I recently got into a discussion with a close family member about the media. We were chatting about this and that, catching up on various family matters and he mentioned that he had recently watched Meet the Press. When I asked how he could stand to watch it, he replied that although David Gregory was no Tim Russert, he still enjoyed watching. When I then said, blehh, Russert. We got into a discussion of the merits of Russert, with him saying that Russert was a good reporter and interviewer, and me saying the he was merely a mouthpiece for the Republicans and in particular, for the Bush White House. I went into one of my rants about the mainstream media, particularly Russert, being one of the primary reasons we went to war.

He, like many of my friends and family members, chuckled, and said, "I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree."

During elections, friends say that politics is just a difference of opinion - which until the past 2-3 election cycles, I was willing to admit that it was.

Now? I'm not so sure.

Certainly we are all entitled to our own opinions. We are entitled to voice them. But I find that as I get older I have little tolerance for those whose opinions are just that - opinions - based on nothing.

To me, an opinion is a preference. I like blue over green, cherry pie better than apple. I'd rather go somewhere cold than hot, north than south. I love comedy, drama, theater and film. My secret vice is reality shows, but I'd rather have my teeth pulled than watch sit-coms. Opinions that have a basis in fact, should be grounded in fact.

People used to say that Bush was the man that they'd like to have a beer with, and so voted for him because he seemed the most like them. But why would that make you want to vote for him? There was no evidence linking Osama Bin laden to Sadaam Hussein, yet over 60% of the American people believed that we went to war with Iraq because of 9/11. And still do. Before we went to war, the claims that Bush made in his State of the Union speech and that General Powell made in his speech to the UN supporting war with Iraq, were found to be false. The weapons inspectors in Iraq had found no weapons of mass destruction and in fact, requested more time to search. The "smoking gun" of attempted purchases of yellowcake from Niger and the purchase of aluminum tubes for weapons making facilities were found to be false, before we went to war.

Yet, did the mainstream media report this? Did they emphasize this? No. Whatever the Bush Administration wanted said, they said. They simply reported. They simply served as stenographers for the Administration. Rarely did they question the information they were given. Rarely did they discuss the questions brought up by others and report on the debates that were going on outside the beltway.

When we did go to war, the media wanted to ensure access, so accepted quietly the terms given to them by the military. They bowed down to the dictates of the command structure and allowed themselves to embed--thus permitting the military to screen all images and messages we saw.

When Bush was up for re-election, the media did not question his accomplishments--or lack. They simply reported what he said. Campaign reporting consisted of what each side said. When lies were told, they were repeated in the media. Bush reneged on his National Guard duty, but the media focused only on the problems with the documentation - not the facts contained therein. Swiftboaters manufactured lies out of whole cloth, but the media "reported" them without making any attempt to verify their veracity or provide information on who was providing the money for the ads they made. David Gregory said (to paraphrase) that it wasn't up to the media to question what they were told, but to report it. Excuse me?

The founders included the 1st Amendment in the Constitution for this very reason. So that the journalists would question what they were told by our politicians. So that when politicians lied, they could call them on it. Thomas Jefferson said that "A democracy cannot be both ignorant and free" meaning that the press must be able to work without hindrance from the government in order to allow the people the facts necessary to make up their own minds. Particularly in times of war. It is the role of the media to question what they are told. How are we, the people, supposed to figure out the veracity of what we are told? It is the media that has access to the politicians, to the battlefield, to the documents. It is the media that attends the hearings, the meetings, the briefings. It is the media who observe who meets with whom, who talks with whom, and who benefits from which association.

Instead, it is the media that benefits. It is the media that wants to preserve this status quo and preserve their access. The media that wants to ensure their ticket to the banquets, the dinners, the parties. The media that wants to ensure that it is their phone call that gets returned, their email that gets answered. If they ask the hard questions, question the 'facts' they are told, they put at risk the access they are given and someone else might get their seat on the campaign bus, their seat in the briefing room, and their seat at the party.

Who loses? We do. Whose fault is it? Ours. We don't pay attention. We read our gossip magazines, watch our sit-coms, don't vote, and ignore politics because it's 'boring.' We buy into the Republican mantra that government bad, taxes bad, and believe that we are not our brother's keeper. But if we pick up that phone and call 911, we demand immediate action. We demand paved streets, we demand safe skies, we demand closed borders. We demand that our government protect us, we demand that our food be cheap, safe, and plentiful. We demand that our classrooms be small, and that our children have the best teachers, books, and supplies. We demand that gang members be gotten off the streets, that drugs be gotten out of our schools, and that criminals be locked up forever. We demand a lot. We have been raised to believe that among all the rights that we are entitled to in this country, that the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, includes the right to a job, education, safety, and help when we need it.

We just don't want to pay for it. We want all of this. We demand all of this. And we continue to say, government bad, taxes bad. I would bet that a majority of the people out waving teabags voted Republican in the last election. I would bet that many, many of the people who lost their homes and jobs in the past year have been staunch Republicans for most of their lives and continue to believe that they know best how to spend their own money. I would bet that most of the people who have lost their pensions, their savings, and their homes, continue to believe that the Republican Party and the ideals of small government and low taxes is the answer.

And the media continue to tell this story. The media--owned by just a few global corporations--report the stories that support the ideology of the Republican Party. The pundits continue to talk to each other on the talk shows and 24/7 news shows, and tell us what the critical issues are, even though most of America has an entirely different agenda. They think we care about the issues they discuss, and tell each other that Americans don't want to prosecute torture (we do), that we just want to move forward (we don't), that Americans don't understand the mess on Wall Street (we do), that we can't possibly understand the historical significance of the tribal structure in Afghanistan and Pakistan (we do), and that they can continue to lie to us about what things really mean and that we won't understand--and we do.

They wonder why the newspapers are failing. They blame us pajama-clad bloggers. Their world has narrowed to Washington D.C. and a 24-hour news cycle. They debate each other and party with each other. When a new administration comes to town, they court their attention and tell them the rules to the game and how it's played. Pretty soon, campaign promises are left behind and the insider dance begins again. We lose faith in our politicians, again. It isn't the bloggers at fault. It's the media hanging fast to their status quo who have forgotten what journalism really means. If the media fails, this is why.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

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