Thursday, July 17, 2003
If You Give a Lie a 24-Hour Head Start...
"They are not mobile germ warfare laboratories. You could not use them for making biological weapons. They do not even look like them. They are exactly what the Iraqis said they were - facilities for the production of hydrogen gas to fill balloons." --British scientist
"A third of the American public believes U.S. forces have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, according to a recent poll. Twenty-two percent said Iraq actually used chemical or biological weapons." --Philadelphia Inquirer
"The hour-long special was Stossel's attempt to make the case that, in the words of one of his hand-picked experts, 'greed is good.' To this dubious end, the ABC correspondent mustered faulty logic, one-sided sourcing, twisted history and deceptive statistics." --FAIR Article
I once triumphantly refered to John Stossel as "the media critic's barreled fish." His reporting is so transparently propagandistic, so glaringly shoddy, so sickeningly predatory as to make him justly a laughingstock, a has-been, and a pariah. Anybody viewing his work with an ounce of skepticism and the time to check up on his claims can quickly surmise that everything he has to say is palaver. (Less delicately: horseshit.)
(A sidenote: Some may wonder-- why "horseshit?" After all, there is a perfectly serviceable excretory metaphor in "bullshit." The difference is that somebody talking bullshit is quite apparently full of it, and indeed has little expectation of being taken seriously by any but the terminally credulous. Horseshit is more refined, more neatly packaged... but is of course still shit. The purveyor of horseshit may even, unlike his bullshitting compatriot, believe it-- may in fact believe that stretching or obscuring certain facts is justified by some ultimate, deeper Truth. So remember the term "horseshit" in the weeks and months to come, for you may find yourself with occasion to shout it at your television screen.)
But how many people watch middlebrow network news/entertainment magazines with any skepticism? How many people read FAIR's dissections of Stossel's words as a percentage of the people who see his reports and go about their lives with his distortions festering in the backs of their minds? Most Americans don't give a second thought to the balance or veracity of what they see on the news. No matter how easy it is to savage Stossel's work post facto, it's already done its work. The Myth of the Liberal Media is probably a good deal less destructive to the public's perception of reality than the Myth of the Neutral Media, or the Myth of the Investigative Media.
My friend M. works at the Washington Post as a columnist, freelance writer and part-time copy editor. She got her degree in Agronomy. Once over dinner she explained the problem with journalism today. It's pretty simple. For every working journalist, she said, there are five people employed in Public Relations. At most journalism schools the two professions are taught side-by-side, despite the apparent conflict-- the job of a Journalist is to uncover the truth, while the job of a PR flack is to spin or obscure it.
And yet we still have faith in the ability of newspapers and television stations to suss out the unvarnished truth. Arguments against the very existence of such a thing aside, how can we expect the media to succeed against the array of forces placed in its way, to pick out the right voice in the pandemonium of self-interested shrieking? This is especially problematic when the need to find the truth comes in second place, as it must in (scare-caps!) Capitalist Society, to the imperative of profit. Even supposedly publicly owned sources need to make enough money to stay afloat, which has become increasingly difficult following the cutbacks of the 80s.
(As another side note: for the past two weeks or so whenever I look at a problem in our world today and stop to take a look at its roots, I've been noticing that EVERYTHING is Reagan's fault one way or another... it's downright eerie)
It used to be the case in America that newspapers were openly partisan. There was no false pretense of objectivity. News sources that acknowledge their slant seem at least to my mind more trustworthy than those denying any slant. The more loudly a source insists on its neutrality, the more suspect it seems ("We Report, You Decide"!?).
In fact in England, where the papers for a large part remain up-front about their allegiances, where the goddess Neutrality does not hold such sway, they do a much better job of keeping their public officials honest. Just look at how much Tony Blair has to put up with, then compare it to how the American Press walks on eggshells, going out of its way to avoid criticizing George II. Not having to worry about paying lip service to balance or objectivity, the British Press can go in and get their hands dirty-- a necessary prerequisite for serious muckraking. American Journalists, too worried about maintaining their lily-white neutrality, avoid such muck at all costs.
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