I had occasion to be perusing some of my earlier writing when I stumbled across this. I wrote it in October, 2007. It was the end of 43’s maladministration, just as this once-great nation was slipping into yet another conservative economic crash. I would say, today, the problem has only grown worse – making me prescient in ways I wish I wasn’t…
Here’s a prediction: If a democrat wins the White House, the “press” will suddenly re-discover the ability to ask the “tough” questions, with follow-ups. They’ll offer up the mea culpa that they don’t know what’s been wrong with them but they realize, now, that they have an important job to do policing the administration and they’ll promise not to make that mistake again. And they won’t, at least not until a Republican returns to the Oval Office. I base this prediction on my belief that the “press” is, by and large, owned by – and operated for the benefit of – large corporations. It’s no accident today’s mainstream media attacks liberals and sanctifies conservatives. In fact, it’s the plan.
After Watergate (the original scandal-name-gate), Republicans realized the most important impediment to their dream of perfect corporate hegemony was the free and independent press. If multi-national corporations were to seize effective control of the American political process, they would have to minimize interference from meddlesome, puny reporters. Enter Ronald Reagan…
When I was young, it was common for programming to be interrupted with an announcer intoning, “The following is a rebuttal to a KRUD editorial regarding…” whatever. If a broadcaster presented an editorial opinion, he was required, as a condition of his license to use the common airwaves, to provide equal time for responsible, opposing opinions. That’s all. That’s it…the whole thing. It was called the Fairness Doctrine.
“St. Reagan” (reverential fanfare here) eliminated enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine, putting an end to true “fairness” and “balance”. Instead, we were left with a slogan. Then the Telecommunications Act of 1985 began the process of watering down ownership rules for media outlets. The result was more and more corporate control of “news” outlets free from any restriction of being honest or fact-based.
It took time, to be sure. Nobody really paid much attention as one media outlet after another was gobbled up in the name of “competition”, even as the consolidation of those outlets eliminated competition. Reporters will say (honestly, I think) that nobody ever told them to write conservative-friendly stories. But over time, they noticed that if they wrote honest news, they couldn’t get a by-line. Never getting printed (or any air time) means not keeping your job. Over time, the “press” became a conservative echo chamber by simple attrition.
Control was debugged and fine-tuned during the Clinton administration. Mainstream media manufactured “scandal” after “scandal” about the Clintons. “FBI-gate”, “File-gate”, “Travel-gate”, “Vince Foster-gate” the list was endless because it was only limited by the fertile imaginations of the “reporters”. Nothing ever came to fruition from any of it, except, of course, “Monica-gate”.
The test of the new corporate-controlled “news” came in the late 1990’s with the impeachment of Bill Clinton. At the time, polls – not yet in the corporate fold – showed 75% to 80% of Americans opposed impeachment. But conservatives in Congress insisted they had a “moral obligation” to pursue charges even in the face of constituent disapproval. The key balancing factor was the press.
Even though the vast majority of Americans opposed impeachment, the “press” offered up a steady stream of “experts” explaining exactly why Congress had no choice. Suddenly a personal peccadillo became a “high crime and misdemeanor”.
Now, even once-respected polling agencies like Gallup have been welcomed into the corporate fold. The largest polling agencies can – and often do – provide polls that show any desired result. They use tricks; samples that are too small, statistically invalid error rates (+/- 5%), or “push-polling” in which questions are asked in such as way as to elicit a certain “desirable” outcome. Against McCain in 2000, Bush-supporting pollsters phoned “likely Republican voters” and asked, “If you knew John McCain had a black baby, would you be more or less likely to vote for him?” John McCain’s very dark-skinned child is a) not “black”, and b) adopted, not illegitimate but the polling question alone did more damage to his campaign than he was able to counter, in part because the media had already anointed George Bush the GOP nominee and then “President” and so did nothing that might allow McCain to counter the false charges.
People will readily point out how it’s the largest polling agencies that tell us George the Lesser has a favorable rating of twenty-some percent and if they were crooked, wouldn’t his favorable rating be higher? Perhaps, but I don’t think so.
In this country, at least the pretense of honesty must be maintained. If polls show Bush with a high favorable rating, people might figure out the polls are rigged. Since his approval rating is irrelevant, it hurts nothing to tell the truth and it gives the polling agencies “plausible deniability”. That way, when exit polls – once the gold standard of polling – come out exactly the opposite of election results, pollsters can claim errors in the exit polls, not in the election results.
The same corporate-owned mainstream media that picked the “nominees” in the first place by selectively reporting which candidate would be great to have a beer with and which candidate is, say, wearing white after Labor Day (oh, the horror), backs the poll results. In the Ukraine (ironically once a Soviet satellite), when exit polls didn’t match the actual election outcome, people took to the streets in outrage, knowing the election had been fixed. In the U.S., we’re treated to a parade of “experts” telling us how exit polls aren’t really all that accurate.
The successful attack on the free and independent media has severely crippled our Democracy. People – well intentioned or not – simply cannot make sound decisions based upon faulty information. To me, the only potential solution to our current state of affairs is a return to regulations that limit media outlet ownership and the return of the Fairness Doctrine. We don’t hear much about that from the “hallowed” halls of Congress and even less from the self-same, corporate-owned media. But it’s a constant buzz in the blog-o-sphere.
Many people understand that the lack of an independent media is a more critical problem than any other our nation currently faces. Is it more critical that George’s occupation of Iraq? More critical that the lack of health care inflicted upon millions of Americans? Is it more critical than global warming? Yes, yes, and yes, because the shill media provides propaganda and misinformation that allows the “debate” to continue on those other issues. We, the people, cannot be expected even to understand the problems (or the potential solutions) when we’re fed a constant diet of falsehoods.
These days I hear media personalities, like Rush, suggest that a return to the Fairness Doctrine is simply an attempt to shut down his show. That’s just another “Limbaugh Lie”, of course. I live in the greater San Francisco bay area where KGO radio has had a successful all-talk format for as long as I’ve been aware. In the days of the Fairness Doctrine, they had Ronn Owens in the morning with the liberal viewpoint (yes, he was a liberal back then) and Jim Eason in the Afternoon with the conservative viewpoint. During the noon news, they would play Paul Harvey News and Commentary (conservative) followed by Jim Hightower (liberal). See? Simple. Provide balance in the programming, the Fairness Doctrine is served as are the listeners, the owners of the common airwaves. So is Democracy…