How do the mainstream media sources decide what to report and what not to? How do they decide how to cover the stories they do report? How do they deal with undesirable stories that are just so big they can’t be ignored? This past week we were given a glimpse into how the oligopoly of mainstream media outlets function, and it includes print, electronic media, and internet news sources. And it’s not pretty.
Many of us have long been aware of the biases of the mainstream media. The way they cover certain issues, politicians, and events reveals much of the writer’s prejudices. You don’t have to look far for examples. They frequently take a story, and then interweave their biases throughout their recapitulation of the event by using certain sources, certain quotes and excluding other sources, and by inserting subjective assumptions and conclusions into everyday events and stories.
Recently it was revealed that Ezra Klein of the Washington Post and Newsweek, for the past few years has been maintaining an exclusive online group he identified as JournoList, which was comprised of about 400 writers, reporters, bloggers, media representatives, academics, and political activists. Not surprisingly, the participants in his exclusive cadre of media hounds did not represent the full political spectrum, but only the left side of it.
The closed and controlled nature of the group facilitated an open exchange of ideas between these media gurus on how to deal with stories that potentially were damaging to their causes and candidates, and how to shape reporting in their favor. The group was in full swing throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, and was influential in shaping and controlling mainstream media reporting about the Obama campaign.
For example, when the Reverend Jeremiah Wright started to become a problem for the Obama campaign, Chris Hayes of the Nation, told the group to bury the Wright scandal. “What I’m saying is that there is no earthly reason to use our various platforms to discuss what about Wright we find objectionable,” Hayes said. And it was obvious from media coverage on the issue that Hayes’ counsel was heeded, as it was hard to find any serious reporting on the issue from the news networks and primary print media sources.
Dealing with the same issue, Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama’s relationship with Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics, Ackerman wrote, “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.” Ackerman may not be a household name for media prowess, but he should be now. His suggested tactic has been adopted as universal strategy to deflect all critics of the current administration’s policies. By ascribing critics as racists, the issue is deflected, and the debate is no longer about the legitimacy of a policy or a candidate.
I remember when Mark Balzer, a Journal columnist, wrote back during the presidential primary that anyone who was critical of then-candidate Obama would be accused of being a racist. As prescient as he was, little did any of us know that there was collusion at the highest levels of political reporting that assured fulfillment of his prediction.
This certainly explains why all the major media sound the same when reporting political issues. As Fred Barnes quoted in the Wall Street Journal, they’re very much like a flock of birds resting on telephone lines. One decides to fly to a different line, and they all follow.
It’s no wonder then that Fox News is so despised and reviled by the mainstream media. They were one of few media outlets not implicated in the JournoList collusion. One member of the group, a UCLA law professor, went so far as suggesting that Fox News had to be shut down, one way or another. This should not surprise us, since those who are most ideologically driven despise dissent and alternative perspectives, and do all within their power to curtail serious debate.
Once heralded as the Fourth Estate, mainstream journalism has become little more than a propaganda machine for political activists who clandestinely collude and conspire on how to stymie debate and dissent. But this whole affair should pique our inquisitive natures as human beings, and make us much less like sheep thinking the way a select few conspire to make us think, and to actually act like the sentient beings we are and question sources, especially those of the herd mentality. With media consumption, as with retail purchases, the rule of caveat emptor applies even more significant: “buyer beware.”
Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth…” The JournoList scandal illustrates how far journalism has willfully digressed from the objective dissemination of information that it should be engaged in.
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