By Rick Lucke
Journalists in today's mainstream news media are often cited as the
reason for the poor quality of the information disseminated over the
airwaves. On a purely academic level, it is easy to say journalists
could report in the ethical fashion of their predecessors, acting on
their consciences rather than toeing the line established by network
Unfortunately, it is an academic argument that overlooks the reality of
the way news is broadcast. The fact is, all reports ultimately pass
through an editor's filter before making their way to the public sphere.
Helen Thomas regularly embarrasses a large portion of the White House
press corps when she asks some of the tough questions others tip-toe
around. Helen Thomas has been conspicuously shunned by much of the
media during the Bush years, (the reason why most people have ever
heard of her). When Thomas asked about the killing of innocents in
Iraq, she was given this response from White House Press Secretary,
Dana Perino: Helen, I find it really unfortunate that you use your
front row position bestowed upon you by your colleagues to make such
statements. This is. It is an honor and a privilege to be in the
briefing room, and to suggest that we, at the United States, are
killing innocent people is just absurd and very offensive.
According to the new rules, Helen Thomas being allowed to do her
job is "an honor and privilege", highlighting the subservient role the media is expected to play in regards to the state.
Stephen Colbert roasted mainstream media journalists in his appearance at
the annual White House
Correspondents Associationdinner in 2006 saying, "Over the last five years you people were so good, over tax
cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want
to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times,
as far as we knew."
Colbert brazenly stated the truth about
the lack of coverage of corruption within the Bush administration by the
corporate media watchdogs, and was afterward largely greeted with a "cold
shoulder". Interestingly, there was a discrepancy
between mainstream media reaction to Colbert's performance, and that of other
more independent media, like the blogosphere (which was responsible for launching his hero status amongst the left).
The mainstream media's response to Thomas and Colbert's performances delivered a
message to those who sought to dissent. The message was that journalists must play by the rules, or not play at all.
overriding issue is that the rules in mainstream journalism have
changed from the days when reporters were revered as public watchdogs. There was a time when
mainstream news media actually delivered news covering meaningful issues,
performed actual research, and asked the truly tough questions of their interviewees. The current media presents a mere shadow of its past image.
What has changed over
the past few decades to bring about such radical transformation?
Changes in rules often result from
changes in management and/or ownership. Deregulation
of media ownership, facilitated during the Reagan years (and continuing
ever since), has lead to corporate mergers and consolidation. These
corporate conglomerates rely on government not regulating them to
succeed, and in turn, they do not antagonize them with dissent.
As a result, the focus on news has shifted from information to entertainment in
order to boost profits, serving to distract the public from more
important issues. In that seemingly
distant past, news departments in the major network offices were not viewed as
entertainment, and were not held to the same profit motive standards as
other entertainment-based departments. Today's journalism is based
on ratings, so there is a greater focus on
what "sells" than on important information.
As an example, consider the
association between NBC and General Electric:
NBC (National Broadcasting Company)
was created in 1926 by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA),General Electric, and Westinghouse. In 1932, GE and
Westinghouse withdrew and sold their ownership shares of the network to RCA, who
then acquired sole ownership of NBC. The buy out was done to avoid prosecution
by the U.S. Justice Department because of antitrust concerns.
Then in 1985, RCA, including NBC,
was bought by the General Electric Corporation
for $6.3 billion. NBC Cable Services operate the Consumer News & Business Channel (CNBC,
Lee, NJ07024), the Prime SportsChannel Network,
and the NBC Super Channel which broadcasts English speaking programs in
Europe, Asia and
The General Electric Corporation
manufactures military and commercial aircraft jet engines. It also produces
appliances such as refrigerators, electric stoves, microwave ovens, washers and
dryers, air conditioners, and (of course) televisions. Its products are sold
under the GE, Monogram, Profile, RCA and Hotpoint brand names. GE also
manufactures a vast array of electrical equipment, medical technologies such as
x-ray machines and ultrasound equipment, AC and DC electric motors, plastics,
silicones, superabrasives, train engines, and steam turbine equipment for
nuclear power plants.
As we can see, the 1932 anti-trust laws forced GE to withdraw from ownership in NBC, but in
1985 General Electric was able to buy back NBC due to the Reagan
Administration's deregulation of ownership rules. Also, it is
revealed that, "General Electric Corporation manufactures military and
commercial aircraft jet engines", among other products under an array of many
company names. Logically speaking,
it seems a clear conflict of interest for GE to own news outlets that relay
important information about issues such as the
Iraq war when GE stands to make far
higher profits from military manufacturing in the midst of a
The fact is, journalists
are not in total control of what makes it to the public sphere; they are
providing a product of which their employers approve. Blame must be aimed at the person who actually approves, and airs, what
is produced. Blame must also be aimed at the corporations that have lobbied for deregulation of
media ownership, and the politicians that have promoted such deregulation.
We can debate
the ethics of reporting 'non-news', but it seems unfair to totally blame those who
broadcast these reports in the context of maintaining their
livelihoods. Attacking the "hacks" that appear on television posing as journalists will not
accomplish anything, as they are caught in a
corrupt system that finds its existence rooted in the myths of corporatism and
deregulation. In essence , the current state of journalism is merely one aspect of a larger problem.
If the public wants to see
the return of the Fourth Estate to its previous level of integrity, we must
rescue it from the corporate entities that have stolen it from us.