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How McCain Became President, I Mean Bush

The deeper danger of the concentration of media ownership comes in matters that much more deeply concern us than whether Murdoch gets on the local cable systems in New York: The matters of great national policy, matters of local policy. When they control all the sources of media within a community, this is a very dangerous situation. They can declare their own blackout of news they don't want the public to share. Or they can twist the news any way they please. And there's no monitor. There's nobody to say "don't". Nobody to say, "Hey, wait a minute, folks, you're not getting the truth."
--Walter Cronkite


My experience in Spain has been far easier than I expected (that's an understatement, it has actually been far easier than I probably deserved, I found the love of my life, friendship, music, and a great diet, all on the Mediterranean.) I expected to find myself being forced to speak for US imperialism, but mostly all I've gotten is sympathy and, increasingly, the question, "how is it possible?" Once they can understand, after all, they had Aznar, but they don't understand how Bush was re-elected. After very little thought I usually say the media, depending on how cynical I feel about the American public at the time. While it is ultimately the responsibility of individuals in a democracy to inform themselves, the reality is that the typical 40+ hour work week leaves little time for researching the root causes behind one's economic insecurities or finding the the full story behind the news. If a person is working more than one job or has children, finding the time becomes exponentially more difficult, which is not to say it can't be done; but that research does require a computer and internet connection. The vast majority of Americans are dependent on the mainstream news media, local and national television news, local papers, the New York Times if they're lucky. A strong, independent, probing, adversarial press is an important part of a healthy democracy. The degree to which the press overall does not serve that role is at least as significant a sign as the continuing quagmire in Iraq, that the US democracy is extremely ill. Perhaps more significantly it is largely because the mainstream news media abdicated its traditional role that we find ourselves in Iraq. The easily refuted claims upon which the war's premise was built, which generated the public's support, went essentially unchallenged. If Americans knew then, what they know now, which was essentially known, but not widely disseminated, the Iraq war would never have happened, and Bush and company would be a sad footnote in history. Instead the crew continues to bring us a disastrous present that I can't believe is still going on.

After finding a growing number of alternative news sources, beginning years ago with Alternet before moving on to Huffington Post and blogs like Think Progress, White House Watch and Crooks and Liars, I find the mainstream news both inadequate and
suspect. The shallowness of the coverage has been discussed by others, especially Glenn Greenwald and Digby. Based on their observations and my own the sorry state of the media is not just because of a desire to maximize profits in the news room, it has more to do with the desire to maximize profit in the parent corporation. This is something I suspected for years which was confirmed after seeing the documentary "Fear and Favor in the Newsroom". It details the struggles of several award-winning journalists attempting to tell the kinds of stories that win awards. The resistance they experienced from editors was not always explicit but if they didn't get the message, they lost their jobs or were transferred to a beat where they couldn't cause trouble. Even when the message was perfectly clear most pursued their stories despite the threats to their employment, they felt their responsibility to the role journalism plays in the larger community superseded their responsibilities to their media companies.

While re-watching the doc recently I experienced a striking moment of deja vu when they started talking about the lack of press examination of Bush's assertions leading up to the Iraq War. For a moment I thought perhaps I had gotten it mixed up with another news documentary, I remembered watching it almost 10 years ago. A few minutes into it I realized they were talking about Papa Bush's war. What was striking were the parallels in the coverage leading up to each war. When talking about their lack of skepticism towards administration assertions members of the media excuse themselves with the sense of shock they felt post-9/11. Even if one is able to excuse them for essentially empowering the administration to wage war, what was their excuse for the poor coverage of the first Gulf War and its aftermath? As with this administration, I can't help but wonder where journalistic incompetence ends and malfeasance begins.

As defined by the Webster online dictionary

mal·fea·sance
Pronunciation:
\ˌmal-ˈfē-zən(t)s\
: wrongdoing or misconduct especially by a public official

When you consider that journalism is protected by the constitution, the argument can be made that journalist serve a public function and are de facto public servants. If they only serve the interest of the rich and powerful are they truly journalists? There are several recent examples that bring the question of malfeasance into sharper focus. It's taken me weeks to figure out how to write this, partially because I'm very unfocused, but mostly because the examples are so numerable that I coulbn't figure out how to place them in context. So I'll just list them:
As usual with Gordon's articles, nothing is done here other than uncritically repeating Bush administration claims under the cover of anonymity. Virtually every paragraph in this article is nothing more a mindless recitation of uncorroborated assertions which he copies from Bush officials and then weaves into a news narrative, with the phrase "American officials say" tacked on at the end or the phrase "according to officials" unobtrusively interspersed in the middle

Ken Herman blogs for Cox News Service: "John McCain's senior campaign staff and President Bush's senior White House staff are so close that the McCain folks let the Bush folks know in advance whenever McCain is about to distance himself from the unpopular president, says a top McCain aide. . . .

"'We have an excellent relationship with the White House,' Black told reporters at a Friday lunch. 'The senior staffs talk literally every day, sometimes more than once a day.'"

it isn't as though we really have anything else to talk about besides Jeremiah Wright. There are some countries in the world -- probably most -- which have so many big problems that they could ill-afford to devote much time and energy to a matter of this sort. Thankfully, the United States isn't one of them. I believe it's critical that we keep that in mind as we discuss him for the next seven months.

My favorite (unintentionally revealing) media commentary about the debate is from The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut and Dan Balz, who devoted paragraph after paragraph to describing the substance-free "issues" that consumed most of the debate -- Obama's "remarks about small-town values, questions about his patriotism and the incendiary sermons of his former pastor . . . gaffes, missteps and past statements" -- and, at the end of the article, they added:

The debate also touched on Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, taxes, the economy, guns and affirmative action.

Here are the number of times, according to NEXIS, that various topics have been mentioned in the media over the past thirty days:

"Yoo and torture" - 102
"Mukasey and 9/11" -- 73
"Yoo and Fourth Amendment" -- 16
"Obama and bowling" -- 1,043
"Obama and Wright" -- More than 3,000 (too many to be counted)
"Obama and patriotism" - 1,607
"Clinton and Lewinsky" -- 1,079

Each example could be a long blog post alone, taken together they make me a little pessimistic about our democracy. Of course there are even worse offenses. Considering the media's complicity with both Bush administrations' attacks on Iran, one would hope for some skepticism towards their assertions against Syria, and by extension Iran. Of course that hope would be misplaced.
This Associated Press article, for instance, is 32 paragraphs long, yet it contains little other than unchallenged assertions by the Bush administration, using the now-familiar media conventions for disseminating government claims -- i.e., quoting administration accusations without challenge and then granting completely unwarranted anonymity to "intelligence officials" to echo those accusations.
Finally, there's the recent article in the New York Times detailing the Pentagon's hand in spreading propaganda through retired military men acting as media analysts. There was never any disclosure of the connections between the analysts and the Pentagon, and what makes it worse is the media's continued silence on the story.

As I see it the media needs to be opened up to alternative voices. The ironic thing is that those alternative voices actually reflect the views of most Americans, especially on the Iraq War. There's a reason why nightly news viewership is down. It doesn't offer people what they truly want or need: information on how their lives have become so precarious so quickly. There's a reason why Olbermann's ratings are increasing. If they were truly putting on the air what the people wanted, truly going for coverage that would draw interest, there would be more from the perspective of workers, worker channels would outnumber business channels. One of my favorite sources of information on the root causes of the problems plaguing the US is Frontline, their docs from the last few years are all on-line. If you're wondering where I think the next big crises will come from watch Living Old, Can You Afford to Retire, Secret History of the Credit Industry, and Wal-mart: Good For America? The image I'm left with is of a country of people in debt, selling Chinese goods to each other at Wal-mart, and retiring to become greeters. The size and magnitude of most of these issues are completely unknown by a large percentage of the population, the percentage reliant on mainstream news for all their information. The people who were right about the Iraq War, the current economic crisis, the housing bubble, were hardly ever on the talking head news shows, and now that that they've been proven right, they still aren't. Would Bush still be president if there was widely available alternative media? Would McCain stand a chance in the current political climate if people knew the maverick was dead?

One possible solution is the separation of cable from content:
Media moguls normally resist antitrust policing on the ground that costly cable-laying makes them ''natural monopolies.'' Yet when faced with the regulation that is appropriate for monopolies -- regulation bearing on prices and program requirements -- they claim the free-speech protections of the First Amendment. The absurdity of that paradox is never argued. It is simply buried beneath tons of political campaign contributions and mountains of costly legal argument.

The best way to resolve the paradox is to separate cable from content, track from freight, to make all media companies (the phones included) choose between owning wire or traveling on it. Those owning a cable can then be regulated, as a monopoly, granted a fair profit on their sizable investments and required to deal fairly with the transmitters of content. Those choosing to be transmitters of information and services can be liberated, to let 500 channels bloom.

However, to do that, corporations would probably have to first lose some rights, specifically those of living human beings.

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