HOW TO CONFRONT THE MEDIA By Danny Schechter
The idea of confronting the media is a popular one. Dissatisfaction with the devolution of TV News is widespread. Disgust with big media is everywhere even if it sometimes expresses itself with a mistaken belief that the problem is a non-existent ’liberal media,’ or just the fault of an obnoxious personality like Bill O’Reilly that the left at least loves to hate.
Even a politically sophisticated group like MoveOn.org gets it wrong by asking its members if they are interested in challenging the media because they think it is pro-Republican. In a survey to set priorities, the 9th issue Move ON raises reads ’ Stop Republican Efforts to Take Over the Media.’
This is odd because if memory serves, challenging the media overall was supposedly their priority number 2 in an earlier survey.
The media fight is not simply about too much partisanship. Yes, Republicans are more prominent in many media outlets and the Administration has made a move on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. But there are as many conservative Democrats on the air as Republicans. When it came to the war, there were few meaningful differences.
How much meaningful political differentiation do you really see between Fox and CNN and the rest of TV news pack?
CORPORATE MEDIA IS THE PROBLEM
Media concentration and market-driven corporate media is the real problem because their bottom line comes before good journalism. The role Big media plays in trivializing important issues, covering-up for people in power and slanting news to support a war is far more serious because we know there is more bi-partisan consensus than competition. The Judith Miller saga just confirms how journalists have not just become embedded in the military but in our political structures as well.
Mediachannel.org has launched a ’Tell the Truth About the War’ campaign aimed at the news media. Thousands of our readers have signed on. (There are also efforts afoot by a broader coalition to mount a well-funded ’Show Us the War’ initiative that we hope to become part of.)
What is to be done? We have enunciated a critique and a set of demands on how to improve war coverage but getting the media to respond is an uphill battle. One reader writes: ’It would be wonderful if the media would change their tune, even by a few notes. I would think it would take a tremendous effort to get them to budge; they’re so barricaded, defensive and otherwise in league with the administration’.
’They’re not amenable to change even with all the embarrassments over the lies and quisling behavior that have been blatantly exposed in the past year. If change isn’t forthcoming now, when will it ever be’.
’I’m frustrated because I just don’t see any sea change in MSM coverage of the war. They would have to question the entire premise of the “War on Terror” and US foreign policy. For pragmatic, ideological and financial reasons there is no chance this will happen. In fact, MSNBC and CNN are worse than ever.’
CHANGE TAKES TIME AND PRESSURE
Change takes pressure, active campaigning, protests and calls and letters. It takes an organized effort with a clear message, and that requires support from groups like Move On and others. At this stage, we are seeding the clouds on the issue with the expectation the rains will come. We are building a critical mass for action. It takes time bit it can work. Look how public opinion on the war has turned around. Withdrawal was an unthinkable option in 2004. It isn’t today.
We are getting tons of responses. I have had letters from ex CNN correspondents and regular reporters. Journalists are rarely joiners but many are speaking out. To wit: ’’Even though I only worked for weekly newspapers covering local news, I know what’s it’s like to see my best attempts at coverage given short shift by internal corporate politics and the economic bottom line. I worked for Gannett papers in southern New Jersey in the mid-1990s. I firmly believe the media must allow its journalists to cover the war in Iraq, as well as other wars throughout our world with no censorship: no editorial censorship, no censorship caused by economics. Please add my voice to your cause.’
ON TO AMSTERDAM
On November 9th, the TV News broadcasters of the world will be in Amsterdam for the annual ’News Exchange conference. And so will Mediachannel. We are going to confront the industry without expectations but a sense of mission. We will be distributing a call to action. Let’s see what happens. It reads:
IS COVERING WAR ‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’
TELL THE TRUTH
Many of us live in our own bubble, unconscious of how government pressure and our own media corporations muzzle news, spin stories, and sanitize coverage. Are we proud of the coverage of the Iraq war after so many distorted reports’ now exposed— beat the drums for war’ Has the ’embedding’ experiment led to more truth or more self-censorship? Has the media become a weapon of war, a WMD’s weapon of mass deception’ Let’s tell the truth.
It is time for accountability, not just mea-culpas and rationalizations. The Independent’s Robert Fisk speaks today of ’mice journalism’ in Iraq. Are we mice?
Let’s not laugh, snicker or be dismissive. This is a serious problem.
Mediachannel.org, the world’s largest online media issues network, is waging a citizens campaign urging the media world: TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT THE WAR!
We are also independent journalists’ reporters, writers, authors, commentators and filmmakers. And we are outraged.
Where is the outcry? Where is the shame? Silence confers assent.
Stop covering incidents and start offering analysis: Self-criticism enhances viewer respect. The media role in the war is an issue. Cover it!’
That’s out demand. We know we will speak for many. Will the industry’s earmuffs come out, or will they listen? Will we hear about all the awards they’ve received for their coverage? Will we encounter arrogance or contrition, indifference or candor?
It’s worth some frequent flyer miles to find out! Wish me Good Night and Good Luck.
News Dissector Danny Schechter is ‘blogger-in-chief’ of Mediachannel.org. His new books are ’When News Lies: Media Complicity and the Iraq War’ and ‘The Death of the Media.’ Responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. See www.wmdthefilm.com