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The Decline of American Journalism - Robert McChesney

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The Decline of American Journalism -- Robert McChesney
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The media is driven by the enormous profits made during election campaigns. Feeding the fury and the fear of all types is just good for business. Bob McChesney joins Paul Jay on podcast.


Paul Jay

Hi, I'm Paul Jay. Welcome to podcast.

Montage of local news reports

Hi, I'm Fox San Antonio's Jessica Headly. And I'm Ryan Wolfe - our greatest responsibility is to serve our Treasure Valley communities - the El Paso/Las Cruces communities - eastern Iowa communities - mid-Michigan communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that CBS 4 News produces - but we are concerned about problems plaguing our country.

Paul Jay

In many countries, newspapers and television news and media shows make no pretense of being anything other than partisans of political parties. In the United States news still postures as being more objective. But here the partisanship is to the political duopoly. The only politics that's worth covering is the horse race between the Democrats and the Republicans. The urgency of the climate crisis, the threat of nuclear war and militarization, union organizing, protests that aren't violent or enormous, the inequality gap, structural racism - unless there's a video of egregious police violence - are rarely considered newsworthy, if covered at all. The major cable news networks have lost even the pretense of impartiality, with the Fox model of throwing red meat to the base now fully adopted by CNN and MSNBC. The degeneration of political discourse is a great threat to civil rights and what's left of American democracy. To a large extent, when it comes to the media, it is driven by the enormous profits made during election campaigns. So, feeding the fury and the fear of all types? It's just good for business.

And so, what can we do about it? Now joining us is Robert McChesney. He's a professor emeritus in communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He's written several books on media and politics, including People Get Ready, The Fight Against the Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy and Blowing the Roof Off the 21st Century: Media, Politics and the Struggle for Post-Capitalist Democracy. Thanks for joining us, Bob.

Robert McChesney

My pleasure, Paul.

Paul Jay

I was just telling Bob off-camera that when my eight-year-old daughter was four, I said to read the cover of Bob's book. And she said, "People get ready to change your clothes" instead of change the world. And then she said, "People get ready to rule the world," which I thought was pretty good. Maybe she was inspired by the book.

Anyway, let's talk about the state of media. So, this election campaign we've just come through. Obviously, Fox's business model is to support the right wing of the Republican Party, not just the Republican Party, although Karl Rove and his type, some of the more center/center-right Republicans have a pride of place there. But on the whole, it was feeding the Trump fury. CNN used to have some pretense of being an actual news organization. I think they just completely dropped it now. MSNBC, I guess, was more Fox-like. What's your take on what's happened and what significance does it have since so many people get their news from cable news?

Robert McChesney

Well, you framed it well. I think you also framed the fact that even at its best, commercial journalism in the United States has had real problems, even back in the glory days when we actually had journalism with reporters and newsrooms actively covering communities, which we don't have any longer. And the problem that professional, commercial journalism had at its peak in the United States has been the range of legitimate debate on political issues. That's always been pretty much set by people in power.

So, you know, economic issues were looked at from the perspective of the dominant interests of the Republican and Democratic parties, which reflected the dominant commercial interests in society. Foreign policy was looked at pretty much the same way by both parties: the United States was a benevolent empire, had the right to rule the world as it saw fit, and the military was a necessary part of it. It wasn't really up for debate in the US news media in the 20th century. That was just a given, certainly in the second half of the 20th century. And during that period, we had a blossoming, resource-rich journalism for many of those decades. Yet still, its coverage of war and peace matters and of the economy tended to skew to a very narrow range of the sort of people who were leading both political parties and the economy.

And that was in the glory days. Those look like wonderful days today when you look at what passes for journalism. And so, the problem we have today is we still have elite opinion setting the boundaries of what a legitimate story from what an illegitimate story might be. But we also now don't have the resources.

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