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Snowden Coverage: If U.S. Mass Media Were State-Controlled, Would They Look Any Different?

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The Edward Snowden leaks have revealed a U.S. corporate media system at war with independent journalism. Many of the same outlets -- especially TV news -- that missed the Wall Street meltdown and cheer-led the Iraq invasion have come to resemble state-controlled media outlets in their near-total identification with the government as it pursues the now 30-year-old whistleblower.

While an independent journalism system would be dissecting the impacts of NSA surveillance on privacy rights, and separating fact from fiction, U.S. news networks have obsessed on questions like:  How much damage has Snowden causedHow can he be brought to justice?

Unfazed by polls showing that half of the American rabble -- I mean, public -- believe Snowden did a good thing by leaking documentation of NSA spying, TV news panels have usually excluded anyone who speaks for these millions of Americans. Although TV hosts and most panelists ar e not government officials, some have a penchant for speaking of the government with the pronoun "We."

After Snowden made it out of Hong Kong to Russia, New York Times journalist and CNBC talking head Andrew Ross Sorkin expressed his frustration: "We've screwed this up, to even let him get to Russia."  By "we," he meant the U.S. government.

Last time I checked, Sorkin was working for the Times and CNBC, not the CIA or FBI.  

When a huge swath of the country is on the side of the guy-on-the-run and not the government, it's much easier to see that there's nothing "objective" or "neutral" about journalists who so closely identify with the spy agencies or Justice Department or White House.

The standard exclusion of dissenting views -- panels often span from hawk ("he's a traitor who needs to be jailed") to dove ("he may have been well-intentioned but he needs to be jailed") -- offers yet another reason why young people, more libertarian in their views, have turned away from these outlets. Virtually no one speaks for them. While a TIME poll found 53 percent of respondents saying Snowden did "a good thing," that was the sentiment of 70 percent of those age 18 to 34.

I teach college journalism classes about independent media. New developments like WikiLeaks and independent bloggers like Glenn Greenwald may scare the wits out of establishment media, but they sure don't scare young people or journalism students. 

From http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m59Tzh84Jys
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As media employees at elite outlets have grown cozier with their government and corporate sources (Sorkin is famously close with Wall Street CEOs), they exhibit an almost instinctual antipathy toward those adversarial journalists who challenge powerful elites day after day.

Look at the reactions of some top mainstream journalists to Greenwald, who built up a big readership as a solo blogger before moving his blog to Salon and then the Guardian, where he broke the Snowden/NSA stories. I know several journalism professors who view Greenwald as one of the world's best journalists. He's known as accurate, thorough, well-documented and ethical.   

It was Sorkin, the New York Times guy, who declared on CNBC that maybe Greenwald should be arrested: "I told you this in the green room -- I would arrest him [Snowden] and now I'd almost arrest Glenn Greenwald, who's the journalist who seems to be out there, almost, he wants to help him get to Ecuador."

If it's strange for a journalist to suggest another journalist's arrest, it was almost as strange when Sorkin wrote in a Times column that he went down to check out the Occupy Wall Street encampment "after getting a call from the chief executive of a major bank." Sorkin concluded: "As I wandered around the park, it was clear to me that most bankers probably don't have to worry about being in imminent personal danger. This didn't seem like a brutal group -- at least not yet."

Another mainstream media star is NBC's David Gregory (seen literally dancing with White House source Karl Rove in 2007). Since he interviewed Greenwald on Sunday's "Meet the Press," there's been scrutiny of Gregory's factually-misleading question: "To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn't you be charged with a crime?" And of Greenwald's response: "I think it's pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies."

But I'm  just as bothered by Gregory's retort -- "Well, the question of who's a journalist may be up to a debate with regards to what you're doing " -- and the ensuing discussion in mainstream outlets questioning Greenwald's bona fides as a journalist. 

Washington Post article ("On NSA disclosures, has Glenn Greenwald become something other than a reporter?") questioned the blogger's credentials as a journalist because he's also an advocate: "Greenwald has appeared frequently on TV to plead Snowden's case as a whistleblower -- an advocacy role many mainstream journalists would be uncomfortable with." 

The Post article spoke of "the line between journalism -- traditionally, the dispassionate reporting of facts -- and outright involvement in the news seems blurrier than ever." Libertarian journalist Matt Welch critiqued the article as "historically illiterate."

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www.jeffcohen.org

Jeff Cohen is the founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College. He founded the media watch group FAIR in 1986.

For years he was an on-air pundit on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC-- as well as senior producer of MSNBC's primetime Donahue show, until it was terminated three weeks before the Iraq war. This is adapted from his new book, Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.

Jeff Cohen www.jeffcohen.org is also former board member of Progressive Democrats of America and founder of the media watch group FAIR.


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from corporate interests has a heck of a nerve ref... by intotheabyss on Wednesday, Jun 26, 2013 at 3:58:08 PM
This is a global plan but is implemented locally. ... by Deborah Dills on Wednesday, Jun 26, 2013 at 5:49:08 PM
IF?But more seriously, U.S. mass media are not Sta... by Blaine Kinsey on Wednesday, Jun 26, 2013 at 6:34:12 PM
Exactly... by Ralph Dratman on Thursday, Jun 27, 2013 at 3:57:59 PM
USA's government has a subservient press, with a (... by Richard Pietrasz on Wednesday, Jun 26, 2013 at 6:58:33 PM
Greenwald is in the news-reporting business. The "... by Hooker Jay on Wednesday, Jun 26, 2013 at 10:49:20 PM
The corporate élite control government, through c... by PCM on Thursday, Jun 27, 2013 at 12:00:25 AM
Jeff, this is very insightful! Now that you mentio... by Ralph Dratman on Thursday, Jun 27, 2013 at 3:56:40 PM
Of course the media would be no differen... by Alan MacDonald on Thursday, Jun 27, 2013 at 7:30:47 PM