Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

If our regulatory agencies are compromised by those industries that they are bound to regulate, and the press is oblivious (even when it is obvious) to it, then what recourse do we have for getting the facts? It appears that in too many cases it has been lower-ranking civil servants who have blown the whistle, exposing some of the most major misdeeds of the current Administration. How many civil servants are willing to go the distance when their own personal lives are at stake? Would there have been a "Deep Throat" if he had viewed the press as complicit?

I wonder if Lippmann would have the same view of corporate ownership of the press if he had seen the transformation of it into the oligopoly that it has now largely become, its primary focus not on journalism but rather the marketing of products and services?

I'll hold up the example of General Electric, a corporation whose primary focus is to create power systems and products that use those power systems. Can GE really have the "soul" of journalism at its heart? More likely journalism is viewed as an ancillary function.

So what is their agenda of having the ownership of a piece of our press/media? It is to control the "message." So in turn the press is transformed into a corporate lapdog with a memory of a goldfish. The current press should not be viewed as "seeking truth" but rather as "pushing product."

Harley Tooley

Ontario, CA

Dec 31 2007 - 6:21pm

Web Letter

Michael Schudson blames Iraq on the general public's taste for bending facts (what facts, Mike?) to its prejudices. He also blames the Democrats' confusion and frustration on political polarity, rather than on their obvious and worsening political cravenness.

Thanks for this, Nation. You are indeed a beacon of rebellious new thinking. What would we do without you?

Michael Dawson

Portland, OR

Dec 26 2007 - 7:26pm

Web Letter

Michael Schudson, apparently deliberately, misses the point of Sid Blumenthal's critique of what Blumenthal rightly terms "the steady degeneration of the press over the past few decades." Schudson has done a bait-and-switch straw-man conflation of Blumenthal's critique of the press with a critique of the government: "A study of media coverage of forty-two foreign policy crises between 1945 and 1999 (written by political scientists John Zaller and Dennis Chiu) found the media to be consistently, as the article's title puts it, 'government's little helper.' "

But, as Blumenthal knows (and Schudson should know), it's not the government as such that's been putting tentacles out to assimilate our press over the past few decades. It's the institutional (and very well financed) right wing, as part of a decades-long strategy that had its origins in Goldwater's 1964 loss to LBJ and got a big push and a refinement in the aftermath of the Nixon Republicans' humiliation over Watergate in the early 1970s. (To be sure, the right wing's drive to conquer the press is also part and parcel of its drive to conquer the government, and for the shifting rightward of the "Overton Windows," the frames of discussion that make what was once unthinkable fascist crackpottery acceptable, even honored, subjects of discourse, while simultaneously removing from the range of publicly acceptable discussion things such as socialized medicine--which Nixon actually called for in his 1974 State of the Union address.)

The chief refiners of this media-conquering strategy, led by former Nixon Treasury Secretary William Simon, used conservative money troughs like the Olin, Bradley and Scaife foundations to bankroll right-wing think tanks, to roll back legislation that would keep the conservatives from using their funding advantage to buy up or buy off the press, and to set up media institutions that would be ready to act once the legislative roadblocks to hegemony were removed. This is why they fought to repeal the Fairness Doctrine in 1987--a move that allowed the heavily subsidized rise of Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing talkers, which in turn fueled the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, which symbiotically led to Newt Gingrich's acting on Rupert Murdoch's behalf and repealing legislation that kept foreign nationals from owning American TV networks; this last move is what made FOX News possible. As Garance Franke-Ruta put it in her March 5, 2005, article on right-wing bloggers for The American Prospect: "The targets of the liberal blogosphere are conservative activists; the target of the conservative blogosphere is the free and independent press itself, just as it has been for conservative activists since the '60s."

It's not just the press that Simon and his fellow activists wanted to remake in a conservative mold. It was, in fact, any and all institutions that had any influence on what was deemed true or untrue. This is why the same right-wing foundations that worked to take over the media have also worked to take over America's colleges, universities and research institutions, as well as the media and government. Look at the list of patrons of conservative higher education scourge David Horowitz's "Freedom Center" (formerly the "Center for the Study of Popular Culture"): names like Scaife, Bradley and, of course, Olin dominate it.

Only now, with the rise of the progressive portion of the Internet (particularly groups such as Media Matters and sites like Eschaton, DailyKos, Democratic Underground, Digby's Hullabaloo, Robert Parry's The Consortium and Fire Dog Lake), has there been much serious pushback against the right-wing media machine and the groups behind it. (There have also been weakly funded efforts to get more of a progressive radio presence, but these have been spotty and their influence has not as far-reaching as that of the blogs.) To make even a thumbnail discussion of the history of American media of the past half-century without mentioning the right-wing groups that seek to control its discourse is like talking about the origins of life on earth without discussing plants creating the oxygen needed for animals to exist.

Tamara Baker

St. Paul, MN

Dec 20 2007 - 10:35am

Web Letter

"Yes, some individuals said the sky was falling, but most of us had heard that before, and did not see the sky fall, and we had few resources for recognizing it when it did." Some individuals said the sky was falling? Since when do the millions of people around the world who took to the streets in an effort to prevent this war qualify as merely "some?"

My state's entire Congressional delegation voted against the war, including one of the Senate's most senior members, Pat Leahy, and former Republican Jim Jeffords. Perhaps they weren't credible enough? Or perhaps most of the major news outlets weren't interested in talking to members of Congress who opposed the war.

While the press is certainly part of the broader society and can never truly be separate from it, that does not excuse the numerous press failures in the run-up to the Iraq war. Whining that there wasn't credible opposition or that other institutions whose job it is "to speak truth to power" failed to do so doesn't excuse press failures.

It is the job of journalists to fact-check politicians. Whether covering a town selectboard, a governor, a legislator or the President, the rules don't change. The major press organizations in the US failed to do the work necessary to determine if the president, vice president and cabinet officers were telling the truth. It's that simple.

Some journalists did fact check.Knight-Ridder did an excellent job in its pre-war coverage, as Moyers has documented, and that just makes the failures at the NY Times, the Washington Post and other major news outlets all the more glaring.

Journalists covering the Iraq situation for nearly all of the major news outlets failed to do their jobs. In this case I think Lippmann would agree that it is the press which is the devil in need of shaming.

Michelle Monroe

St. Albans , VT

Dec 19 2007 - 4:34pm

Web Letter

It is very difficult to be an honest journalist in today's commercial world. All newspapers are owned by multinational corporations, and the government is under pressure from these corporations. When every thing is salable, there is no honesty in any field. Today money power is superior to that of ethics and morality.

Lippmann's days are over, we must expect the new ethics, new morality of the corporate world. Amen.

Ramesh Raghuvanshi

Pune 411030, Maharastra, India

Dec 15 2007 - 6:45am