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

By       Message Jeff Cohen     Permalink
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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."


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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.  

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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. 

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www.jeffcohen.org
Jeff Cohen is director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he is an associate professor of journalism. He founded the progressive media watch group FAIR in 1986.

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