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—— Forwarded Message From: Ian Andrew Bell Date: Wed, 20 Mar 2002 11:08:14 -0800 To: Luis Villa , Subject: Re: Al Qaeda

On 3/20/02 5:30 AM, “Luis Villa” wrote:

> On Wed, 2002-03-20 at 02:56, Adam L. Beberg wrote:
>> An ex-CIA guy is on Nightline talking about how al Qauda trains their agents
>> better then the CIA, has better manuals and training then the CIA, holds
>> their agents to higher standards then the CIA, uses better technology then
>> the CIA, hides people better then the CIA, and can actually locate their own
>> ass unlike the CIA…
> What? The media criticized the government? I didn’t think that was
> allowed in the US… maybe I’ve just been reading too much FoRK.
> Luis

Not very funny. And a very over-simplified view of the statements made in earlier discussions.

This is not exactly investigative journalism, Luis. Why should we believe that this guy is really an ex-CIA? Why should we even believe he’s an insider? How do we know he’s not just a disgruntled ex-employee and someone with an axe to grind? How is this ultimately critical of the government, when the prevailing message of the interview is that we need to spend more money on intelligence gathering and insurgent operations in foreign countries?

You might remember when newspapers investigated allegations of corruption, crime, and hypocrisy, breaking stories like Watergate. While Woodward & Bernstein were tipped by an insider, the story didn’t break until they had conducted their own investigation. They eventually toppled a President.

I don’t think anyone in this or any forum I’ve seen (except maybe first year Sociology students) has represented that the US Government censors and manipulates the media directly — the point is that they don’t need to, because the popular media handle that all by themselves thanks to the need to optimize shareholder return.

The news is no longer a loss-leader operated by outlets in order to sustain audiences for other content, it’s a business. Five of the factors that have significantly impacted the quality of the news that we consume in America are:

– Speed: The obsession with breaking a story first has resulted in most of the standard journalistic checkpointing practises being eliminated. As a result, tips and press releases are passed through the media with almost complete transparency – Budget: There is no budget at the local or even the national level for long, sustained investigations by news organizations. While the salaries for anchors have soared to the $10 million mark because of their screen appeal, the budget for reporters and editors is substantially smaller. – Marketing: Thanks to Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner, and Conrad Black the business of news is more about glitz and gloss than it is about the quality of reporting. On television, screen appeal is often a deciding factor for stories moreso than its social importance. – Research: In an effort to retain viewership, media agencies have become sensitive to the views of their audience and have conducted substantial primary research on their consumers. They have subseq- uently made a clear effort to reflect the prevailing world views of the audience and to be sensitive to the emotions of the reader and viewer. The notion of the Fourth Estate’s role in democracy is therefore muddied, as audiences pick the media that reflect their own world view rather than reading centrist, objective journalism. – Advertisers: Advertisers call the shots in popular media. The market for advertising dollars by major companies is more compet- itive than ever before. If CNN feels that Kmart will pull their spots as a result of a special investigation on Kmart’s employment practises they’ll pull the story — better yet, they won’t invest- igate the story in the first place (see “Budget”). That¹s plain and simple common sense.

Now no system is perfect, of course. I differ from the classic Marxist/Chomskyite viewpoint that the media necessarily reflects a bourgeois rightist view of the world. I think that there are plenty of leftist media outlets and there is an emerging trend (thanks to the work of Michael Moore, Chomsky, and others) toward more of them. But the notion of news consumers choosing the prevailing viewpoint news they want to consume, be they Leftists or Rightists, is an alarming one.

While the current state of the US (and to some extent the Canadian and British) media toward polarity seems to be irreversible, the best way to deal with it is to educate the public. Educate them that what they’re watching represents a subjective world view. Implore them their responsibility as voters to seek out information which challenges their world view, and helps them to reflect upon the world around them objectively. Simply presenting an equal number of media reflecting either side of the spectrum isn’t enough.

That’s the point of criticism. You’re being manipulated, not by a government that wants to remain in power, but by a broadcaster that wants to keep you around so that they can sell you more cereal, cars, and kitchen widgets. The fact that what they believe will keep you coming back reflects upon the Bush White House favourably is simply a convenient business decision that Bush is happy to be able to take advantage of.

If this mailing list evidences anything, it’s that we’re more closed-minded in how we approach current events than ever before.


—— End of Forwarded Message

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