Thursday, March 02, 2006

HOW CORPORATE AMERICA BASTARDIZES THE MEDIA




Warner Brothers Pictures, Morgan Creek, New Regency, Warner Brothers Animation, a partial stake in Savoy Pictures, Little Brown & Co., Bullfinch, Back Bay, Time-Life Books, Oxmoor House, Sunset Books, Warner Books, the Book of the Month Club, Warner/Chappell Music, Atlantic Records, Warner Audio Books, Electra, Warner Brothers Records, Time-Life Music, Columbia House, a 40 percent stake in Seattle's Sub-Pop Records, Time Magazine, In Style, Martha Stewart Living, Sunset, Asia Week, Parenting, Weight Watchers, Cooking Light, DC Comics, 49 percent of Six Flags Theme Parks, Movie World and Warner Brothers parks, HBO, Cinemax, Warner Brothers Television, partial ownership of Comedy Central, E!, Black Entertainment Television, Court TV, the Sega Channel, the Home Shopping Network, Turner Broadcasting, the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks, World Championship Wrestling, Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, New Line Cinema, Fine Line Cinema, Turner Classic Movies, Turner Pictures, Castle Rock Productions, CNN, CNN Headline News, CNN International, CNN/SI, CNN airport Network, CNNfi, CNN radio, TNT, WTBS, and the Cartoon Network:

Those, according to Eric Alterman, in his 2003 book, What Liberal Media, are companies which were acquired by AOL when it acquired Time-Warner.  Between AOL-Time Warner and the likes of Disney, Bertelsmann, the News Corporation, General Electric,  and Viacom the vast majority of everything we see and hear in the supposedly "liberal" mass media comes from only six--that's right, six--mega media corporations.

As we have suggested in previous posts and comments, this is why the media should be independently owned. All too often liberals believe that conservative media owners directly order journalists to cover or not to cover certain stories, when, in fact, the truth is a little more complicated. 
Top tier journalists have little in common with the lower and middles classes.  According to sociologist David Croteau, "95 percent of elite journalists earned more than $50,000 a year, and 31 percent earned more than $150,000." On other words, this often puts journalists in the same economic class as the right wing free market politicians who they are supposed to be covering.    In addition, those same journalists, have a tendency to protect their friends, and when they brush elbows with Corporate America you can understand why it is so difficult to properly investigate allegations of corporate corruption--and governmental corruption. In other words, journalists are reluctant to tattle on their friends-- their friends in this case being the wealthy and powerful individuals who have been eating up our broadcast media since the early 1980s.

And there's more. When a parent corporation like Time-Warner owns as many smaller companies as the one we listed above, the chances are that the journalists will, at one time or another, face a conflict of interest. If a journalist is actually ambitious and discovers wrong-doing on the part of a given company the journalist may well find him or herself in a position where snitching on the activities of another corporation might actually harm the financial situation of the Parent Corporation for which he ultimately works. In a time when corporations are only interested in the bottom line, that means journalists will think twice about causing trouble for their corporate masters.

It isn't so much that journalists receive their marching orders from the top down. Indeed, we would argue that the conservative bias in our incredibly amateurish media is not so much the result of direct control but of indirect constraint.    The American people would never tolerate the idea of corporations openly telling their journalists what they can and cannot cover, or, for that matter, what stand (if any) they should take on a given story or issue.   In the end it's a little more subtle and a lot more Machiavellian than that.

Journalists understand that their jobs depend on not offending the Powers That Be. This means that journalists have become very adept at the art of self-censorship. They know that there very definite lines which they never cross. (A Pew Project in Excellence in Journalism study from 2000 which showed that nearly a third of TV news directors had been pressured to either avoid negative stories about an advertiser or to write a positive story about an advertiser.)  Moreover, journalists will do very little in the way of serious reporting if it means biting the hand that feeds them--or, worse yet, biting the hand of the advertisers and corporate overlords.  (Another 2000 Pew Research Study revealed that 40 percent of journalists openly admit that they feel pressured to self-censor.)

The results have not been beneficial: not for journalists, not for our government, and certainly not for the American people. When news becomes another business the only thing that matters is the bottom line. Money becomes the ultimate goal, not detailed, accurate reporting. Liberals are frequently blamed for the lousy programming and superficial reporting that we see in our media today but that is a direct result of the ultimate conservative value--the free market run amok.

We experienced this at a personal level in 2001, when a media company in Northern Illinois purchased our weekly small town paper.   In this particular case, the term "media" may be a tad misleading, since the company in question specialized in the publication and distribution of classified ads, the proverbial "shopper advertiser," that your underpaid delivery boy keeps aiming at your favorite rose bush.


The end result was predictable, but still revolting.   The subscription rates were increased while long term employees were downsized and replaced with cheaper, inexperienced workers.  As for the actual coverage….The number and size of photographs increased while the number of column inches dedicated to hardcore news took a dramatic nose dive.  The page count  dropped from twelve, to ten, to a paltry eight, while the advertising and recreation sections grew until they were more expansive and better produced than the paper proper.  The op-ed page read as if it were the personal property of the Christian Right, the Republican Party, and the local chamber of commerce, and yet the paper limped along, sustaining itself on advertising while readership descended to an all time low.  Indeed, in this town a vast majority of the so-called news is quite literally created by and spread through the all too ubiquitous grape vine.  
 
So much for small town journalism.
 
On a larger scale, we have the unfortunate turn of events at Knight Ridder, where the share holders are apparently apoplectic because their papers are earning a mere twenty percent in profits.  To remedy the situation, the Powers That Be have opted to enhance share values by slashing news room resources, a practice which continues because Knight Ridder has been put up for sale and the share holders believe that additional slashing will only increase Knight Ridder's appeal to potential buys. Considering the fact that fact that a corporation's prime directive (some might say idee fix) is fiduciary, is there any reason to to believe that the new owners will place quality reporting above the bottom line of profit?  Probably not.   In the case of Knight Ridder, this is exceptionally unfortunate because its papers are consistent Pulitzer Prize winners, and perhaps more important, it was the one chain of publications which refused to roll over and play dead during the run up to our invasion of Iraq.
 
In both of the above examples, the Powers that be were so blinded by their own greed that they forgot a basic truth about journalism.  This is a high intensity profession which requires a large pool of skilled workers, time, and resources.  But for some reason the owners and share holders have deluded themselves.   They really do believe  that bigger companies and smaller staffs will produce a superior product.

Prior to media conglomeration, news outlets were actually allowed to report on serious issues. Better yet, journalists were actually allowed to engage in investigative reporting. But now, with money as the only real motive, even our news broadcasts must pander to the lowest common denominator. Again, the final outcome is less than desirable: Sloppy situation comedies, over the top dramas, reality based hogwash, and, more to the point-- news coverage which marries entertainment and legitimate journalism.

As angry as we were about the Michael Jackson verdict, we were even more angered by the disproportionate amount of airtime that it consumed. Just who did this story concern? That's easy: the victims, Jackson, the immediate legal system, and the communities in which the abuse and trial took place.   That's it.  That's where it should have ended. It did not merit all the coverage that we saw. But we're living in an age of celebrity journalism. Would anyone like to talk about the runaway bride? Friends would tell us about this "fascinating" story that they were following, and (surprise, surprise), it was about this bubble-headed ditz who left her groom at the altar. Each time someone wasted our time with this drivel we found ourselves thinking:   "And this is important because?..."

Of course it wasn't important.  It wasn't then and it isn't now.   The only reason it became an  issue was because it consumed valuable air and page column inches which could have been filled with more important articles. This brings us to the tragic, but irrelevant story of Natalie Holloway, the teen who disappeared in Aruba.  This story actually was important--but only because it raises more important issues about our celebrity-obsessed media. Do we really think a disappearance such as this would have received so much national coverage if the victim hadn't been an attractive, blond Christian?   Ask yourself this:  Do we really think that the story would have had been so alluring if the victim had been a 45-year-old man named Sol Greenberg? Probably not. The fact that the girl vanished was genuinely tragic, but it never should have been an issue to anyone except the family, the perpetrators, and the local law enforcement agencies.  It should not have been a national obsession and it did not deserve the national attention that it mustered.

BUT, the bottom line must be served. Profit must triumph over serious reporting.

The American people can no longer tell the difference between real news and fluff. Indeed, they actually become irritated when faced with real news that challenges or disproves their belief systems. (We were quite literally amused by a mutual friend  friend who flipped out because the live coverage in the Jackson coverage interrupted his afternoon viewing of Doctor Phil. How low can you go?) The question then becomes: Just how is this good for Representative government? The answer, again, is obvious. It is not. You cannot elect intelligent leaders when the people are fed a steady diet of fluff and drivel.

With the American people mollified by bread and circuses, and with reporters bowing on bended knee before their corporate masters, our news coverage has effectively been transformed into Right Wing Propaganda.   The most obvious examples are anything with the word FOX associated with it, and what some of our compatriots here refer to as AM hate radio, both of which have devolved into propaganda organs for the Republican Party.   But if the people at FOX describe themselves as fair and balanced (a claim which is laughable by almost any standard)  the main stream media are anything but.  

*All too often the mass media conveniently ignore or under report when a given story might prove detrimental to their own class or to their conservative corporate masters.   Whether it's the under reporting of the Downing Street Memo, Curve Ball, or Bill Frist's financial misdealings, the mass media exert conservative influence through the sin of omission as they do through outright cheer leading.  

A recent case in point being the February 15 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight.

According to investigative reporter Brian Ross, ABC had obtained tape recorded conversations from mid 1995.   These taped conversations purportedly contained dialogue between Saddam Hussein and his son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, which "proves" that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.  But what the story failed to mention was that on more than one occasion, Kemel had said  those weapons had been destroyed.   (See the FAIR [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting] Article "Star Defector Hussein Kamel Said Weapons Were Destroyed" at the above link.)  As a result of Ross's propaganda (it included little reporting and even less in the way of investigation) anyone viewing the segment would have incorrectly concluded that there had been weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when the Bush Administration launched it's ill-fated invasion.
 
Nor have the media been fully honest in their coverage of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist."
 
"Out of hundreds of newspaper stories on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) stock sale, currently under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Justice Department, only a handful have noted that in December 2002, HCA Inc (the company whose stock Frist sold off before share prices dropped sharply) agreed to pay the government $1.7 billion in fines and penalties related to 14 counts of defrauding Medicare and Medicaid.  HCA Inc is the for profit hospital chain founded by Frist's father.   The total penalties in the largest settlement ever recovered by the federal government in a health care fraud case, although many observers (including a prominent Republican Senator) criticized the Bush Administration's withholding of information in the case and aired concerns that the government may not have been adequately compensate."  (See Conservative Media Bias, from which this quote was extracted, for additional examples.)
 
By the same token, PBS a swirling hornet's nest of socialism as the the far right would have us believe.  Aside from the occasional documentary (which  really does produce a breath of fresh air in an otherwise conservative climate), Public Television is not the left wing oasis that its critics claim.   Most of Public Television's daytime schedule is dedicated to innocuous children's programming.   Documentaries, however, comprise only a small share of the evening schedule where comedies, dramas, mysteries, concerts, ballets, pops concerts, orchestra concerts, travelogues, and how to architectural programs comprise a lion's share of the lineup.   In other words, the right is so viscerally opposed to any expression of liberal thought, they deliberately misrepresent PBS as a liberal medium.
 
But when you look at PBS news broadcasts, you can't help but notice that they differ little from their commercial counterparts.  Granted, the coverage is more extensive, and they claim (falsely as it turns out) to be commercial-free, but the people who appear on both, their talk and news programs represent a very narrow spectrum of corporate and governmental opinion.  Seldom will you find citizen activists:  racial and ethnic spokespersons, labor spokespersons, environmentalists, spokespersons from the gay and lesbian community.  PBS may be  marginally better than its commercial counterparts, but the opportune word here is "marginal." 
 
PBS talk shows feature many of the same pundits and analysts who we find in the commercial mainstream media.   Moreover, Republican pundits almost invariably outnumber Democratic pundits.   Contrary to right wing belief, PBS talk shows clearly tilt to the right.   indeed, their idea of balance is to pit hardcore reactionaries such as Pat Buchanan against someone from the mushy middle or the timid left. Ditto to the The News Hour with Jim Lehrer where the  range of expert opinions almost invariably extends from the far right, to the tepid left, but seldom includes a genuine, dyed in the wool liberal.   (Please be so kind as to read the 1993 FAIR article "News Study Reveals Public TV Bias and Debunks Conservative Myths." for more details.   This was one of the first attempts to counter the right wing propaganda machine and it still speaks loudly more than 13 years after the fact.)
 
 
Whether we like it or not, our media are in a shambles, our government is in a shambles, our society is in a shambles, and yet we find ourselves in a self-feeding cycle of journalistic irrelevancy. The American people want their fluff and entertainment; the media want to make money so they program fluff and entertainment.   The corporations want to turn a profit and they don't mind if they dumb down or bastardize the commercial and public media in the process.  The people are deprived of their informational vitamins and minerals, the corporate masters become increasingly richer, and the American people are the ones who are getting short end of the stick.  

After 911 we all heard the new saying:  "everything has changed." And for awhile, it did.   We actually started to get overseas reporting, but as time dragged on, things changed back to where they had been, with the TV networks retreating from foreign reporting.     For example.   Why were the 2005 race riots in Sydney Australia covered by the commercial networks from a bureau out of London, England?   Are we the only people out here who think that it might actually be a good idea to invest both, financial and human resources in over seas coverage?   Would that we could go back to the days when the commercial media had bureaus in London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow etc.   But that might place quality ahead of the bottom line and, as we have already stated, Corporate America isn't about to do anything that will enlighten and inform the American people if they have to spend more than two cents in the process.
 
The end result has been tragic.    The American people (who, incidentally are now considered "consumers" instead of readers, viewers,  or citizens)  get shafted while corporate overlords reap huge profits at the expense of legitimate journalism. But this doesn't mean that there aren't winners. There are. The winners  are the gargantuan corporations and their paid, Republican lap dogs to whom the corporations donate campaign contributions. It's a nice arrangement--for the Republican politicians and fiscally conservative corporations who benefit when the former are kept in power.

Why if you didn't know better you'd thing that the so-called liberal media weren't as liberal as some people mistakenly believe they are.
 
 
NOTE:   The source material for this post comes from:
 
* Eric Alterman's 2003 book, What Liberal Media, published by Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Book Group.   Copyright by Eric Alterman
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 

3 comments:

Ron Nasty said...

I have always felt that it is not a liberal media, or a mainstream media, but a corporate media. There's a doc available now, called the Corporation that features a segment on a Fox news show called the Investigators, and how a story about the harmful effects of rBGH was essentially killed, after attempts to water it down by the legal dept.failed because the reporters refused to yield to Monsanto, who produced the hormone, and advertises heavily on Fox, threatened legal action. the reporters were fired for refusing to report a lie, blew the whistle, but lost on appeal when the judge stated that it "is not against the law to report a lie."

brian said...

Wisconsin Public Radio has a program, Media Talk, which discusses media affairs. If I recall correctlty they did an hour about the very topic you (Ron) talked about.

Bluesaway said...

I agree the MJ Trial got too much attention but not everyone was upset with the verdict. Justice was served, and in his case I am glad that it got all the attention that it did so that people with a functioning brain could hear what was brought out in the courts, what was proven true and what was proven false and determine if Michael is this monster he has been unjustly titled.

The proof is in the verdict, and the verdict is a done deal.

Now the problem with the media comes with bias and political loyalty. There was too much of that in His trial, thus giving birth to the muck known as Court TV and the media whores Diane Diamond and Nacy Grace.