WHERE IS THE MEDIA WHEN IT MATTERS?
As someone committed to writing for alternative and feminist media all of my journalistic life (which goes back to 1985), I’ve taken a lot of hits. So I can tell you they sting. In my personal experience, if I wasn’t being chewed up as part of “the [establishment] media,” I was being put down by people – including feminists – who just don’t get what partnering with journalists is all about or what role simpatico writers can play. One of the reasons this stuck in my craw was that often I covered events at my own expense because I felt so deeply it was important to report what key leaders in various movements were thinking. Also, I was often more expert on the topic than anyone gave me credit for, so I could be the “mistress of the dumb question” in order to frame a debate. This didn’t make me dumb.
So it is with some authority (and a lot of painful memories) that I ask: What the heck has happened to the mainstream media? Why aren’t they up in arms at the vicious slurs being hurled at them by McCain-Palin et al.? Why are they being such pussycats in their political reporting? Why aren’t they asking harder questions?
Mark Leibovich, writing in The New York Times (9/7/08) suggests that it is because big name anchors and talk show hosts don’t want to give up their own celebrity status. Tom Brokaw, he writes, said there was “nothing out of the ordinary” about Sarah Palin’s slamming of the press in her coming-out speech. (In the same breath Brokaw added something about the number of people who wanted to be photographed with him!) I think Liebovich is right in part. After all, as he reported, at the last Republican National Convention in New York, John McCain hosted 50 “media A-listers” at his birthday bash. Who wants to give up that kind of proximity to power?
Then there’s the question of who owns the media. The answer, of course, is big business, as in Time-Warner (CNN) and Rupert Murdoch (Fox). Of course, people like Keith Obermann and Rachel Maddow (MSNBC) or John Stewart and Stephen Colbert (HBO) are owned by no one, thankfully. But the mainstream, establishment media is in the pockets of powerful people with an agenda, and that agenda has no place in the fourth estate which is so absolutely critical to democracy and its principles of free speech.
I have argued for years now that there is a kind of censorship in this country that is so subtle and so below the radar that most Americans think I’m a conspiracy theory nut case whenever I dare to express this opinion. But a simple content analysis comparing current news coverage with that of, say for example, the 1970s would reveal stark differences in terms of priorities, positioning and chosen spokespersons for major stories of the day. Back then, before corporate America took over our lives, what reputable producer would have chosen to devote an entire one-hour news-and-analysis TV program to an innocuous one-liner about a pig with lipstick (the entire time saying this is too silly to talk about it)? What respected reporter (think Walter Cronkite) would have spent hours and days declaring a political non-entity a star instead of exploring in depth the record of that new kid on the block? (Thankfully liberal bloggers and the citizenry at large did their homework and shared critical facts on the Internet.)
Take a look at the mastheads of major dailies too. Who are the managing editors now and who were they then? Who are the top reporters and op ed. writers? The drop in liberal voices could be heard with a resounding thud as corporations gobbled up all forms of media during the Reagan years. Alternative outlets like the ones I wrote or reported for met their demise in rapid succession as funds for such voices dried up in a shrinking media world.