Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Great Media Breakdown

Thank you, Todd Gitlin.

From the article:
If ever there were a time for unbridled journalism, this would be it: terrorist mayhem, war, corporate scandal, ecological crisis, economic upheaval. Public passion and curiosity have been stoked. But the potential investigators have been, to a considerable degree, otherwise occupied. Historians will someday burrow among the musty artifacts of America's supercharged 24/7 news organizations—TV with its glammed-up sets, its convention skyboxes and satellite feeds; the well-fed correspondents on a firstname basis with second-rate sources; the newsmagazines with their gloss, gossip, and fluff—and they will rub their eyes and marvel that a nation possessed of such an enormous industry ostensibly specializing in the gathering and distribution of facts could yet remain so befogged.
Yet even now, the news industry remains unwilling or unable to come to grips with the full scope and system of its failures, and the narrowness of the media's self-criticism does not inspire confidence that they will refuse to swallow government propaganda the next time. (Television news bigwigs, for one, have yet to admit any responsibility for having escorted the nation into a calamitous war.) In fact, the malfunctions extend far beyond the question of WMD, beyond even the routine deceptions of George W. Bush. The machinery of truth-telling has broken down.
Journalists have missed many a boat. But the problem of the past few years is that the media have taken to escorting the boat—amplifying disingenuous claims, downplaying doubts, belittling dissent. As it thrashed about in a state of emergency, America needed solid reporting—and solid skepticism—more than ever. Instead, large numbers of people were left believing that some of the September 11 hijackers were Iraqis, that Saddam Hussein was implicated in the terror attacks, and that the United States had actually found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

It is not too much to say that the press has let the public down on every one of the big life-and-death stories of our time.
(emphasis mine) Begin with those unforgettable 35 days in Florida in 2000, when reporters let Republicans get away with their chosen story line: Bush was the presumptive victor and Gore was trying to deprive him of his due. NBC's Tim Russert again and again suggested that Gore be the statesmanlike gent and bow out. Never once did I see a network bigfoot suggest that Bush do the graceful thing and step aside. Bush was cast as president-in-waiting, Gore as the interfering usurper.

I can't stand it. I mean, these people live in America, too. Why don't they think to apply some modicum of analysis to their experiments in stenography? The abysmal polling numbers of the Republicans in the PIPA Poll suggest, at least in part, that our journalists are either terribly biased as a class, which I do not believe (though some yes, of course), or they are not particularly bright, which I am afraid may be closer to the truth. These folks, charged with something as important--vital, even-- as information dissemination, may suffer from the same failures of reasoning and imagination as the self-interested windbags about whom they are ostensibly reporting. As Gitlin states above, these are life-and-death stories. We're not f*cking around here. People are dying -- either quickly under bombs or slowly under policies which suck the life out of entire communities suffering under grievous poverty. If the journalists don't tell us, who will? (And by "us" I mean the folks who do not have access to the eleventy-thousand great blogs out here in the nethersphere.) I'm sick to death of it, and the first revolution I'm calling for is the information revolution. With apologies to Gil Scott-Heron, the revolution may just be broadbandized.