The best question asked in the aftermath of the 2004 US election came from a British newspaper, The Daily Mirror, which inquired over a picture of George W. Bush, “How can 59,054,087 be so dumb?
Now, another British newspaper has answered the question. A new marketing campaign for The Weekly Guardian, one of the most respected publications in the world, features images of a dancing Bush and notes that, “Many US citizens think the world backed the war in Iraq. Maybe it’s the papers they’re reading.”
The weekly compendium of articles and analyses of global affairs from Britain’s liberal Guardian newspaper has long been regarded as an antidote to government controlled, spun and inept local media. Nelson Mandela, when he was held in South Africa’s Pollsmor Prison, referred to the Weekly Guardian as a “window on the wider world.”
But is it really appropriate to compare the United States in 2004 with a warped media market like South Africa during apartheid days?
Actually, the comparison may be a bit unfair to South African media in the apartheid era–when many courageous journalists struggled to speak truth to power.
No serious observer of the current circumstance in the United States would suggest that our major media serves the cause of democracy. Years of consolidation and bottom-line pressures have forced even once responsible media to allow entertainment and commercial values to supersede civic and democratic values when making news decisions. And the determination to color within the lines of official spin is such that even the supposed pinnacles of the profession–the New York Times, the Washington Post and CBS News’ 60 Minutes–have been forced to acknowledge that they got the story of the rush to war with Iraq wrong.
There can be apologies. But there cannot be excuses because, of course, media in the rest of the world got that story right.
And there are consequences when major media blows big stories. As the Weekly Guardian‘s new marketing campaign suggests, a lot of Americans voted for George W. Bush on November 2 on the basis of wrong assumptions.
According to a survey conducted during the fall campaign season by the Program on International Policy Attitudes–a joint initiative of the Center on Policy Attitudes and the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs–a lot of what Americans know is wrong.