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Friday, December 27, 2013

Why does American journalism suck?

The post below references the horrible cult massacre/suicide that occurred in Uganda back in 2000. After hitting the "publish" button, I decided to search for more information about cult leaders Joseph Kibwetere and Credonia Mwerinde, who may or may not be still alive. First stop, of course, was Wikipedia. The external links at the bottom of the entry mention a "BBC report" and an "ABC report."

Without hesitation, I went for the BBC report.

It was an automatic reaction. Only afterward did I stop to ask myself: Why did I feel no curiosity to see what ABC has to say...?

The answer has nothing to do with any grand conspiracy theories about news management. I simply didn't think ABC would tell me anything that I didn't already know.

Our journalists have forgotten how to dig. Even in the year 2000, most American reporters did not consider the Uganda massacre to be news.

Consider a more recent example: How many Americans have heard that China has landed a rover on the moon -- at a time when the United States no longer possesses the ability to send a human being into space?

For as long as I can remember -- and my memory is longer than most -- everyone has bitched about the ghastly state of American journalism. Yet the field was never truly bad before. Not like this.

Sure, there were major events which left many Americans suspicious of covert government news manipulation. Obvious examples would be the assassinations of the 1960s, the Tonkin Gulf incident, the overestimation of Soviet military prowess in the 1970s, the anti-Sandinista propaganda of the Reagan years, and NBC's outrageous coverage of the shooting of Pope John-Paul II. On Cold War issues, at least half the news reportage filling our teevee screens was dubious or fraudulent.

But in all of those cases, one could discern political motives behind the "massaged" message. Nowadays, the problem goes way beyond the question of political bias. Our journalists can't muster up basic competence on pretty much any topic.

Near as I can tell, the problem comes down to money.

In this country, news is -- or was -- subsidized by advertising, which was always a potential source of corruption. But now that the advertising dollars are drying up, the corruption has become much worse.

The BBC manages the neat trick of receiving taxpayer funding without functioning as an organ of government propaganda. Sure, the spooks have always inserted themselves into various levels of British journalism -- one of these days, I may tell you folks the story of Colin Wallace -- but MI5 does its trickery with a certain degree of subtlety. BBC World Service doesn't feel like Pravda.

Here in America, we have non-stop "news" on various cable stations, but what these outlets do isn't really journalism. Fox and MSNBC exist to make Americans of certain political persuasions feel good about themselves -- and hatred toward everyone else. Those two networks offer nonstop discussion of the talking points issued by the Republican and Democratic national committees; they do not search out truly new news. When was the last time you heard of a reporter for one of those two venues initiating an FOIA search, or seeking out a little-known witness to an event that made history?

As for CNN -- hell, much of the time, CNN is a joke. CNN often serves up celebrity guff, human interest fluff, and endlessly repetitive coverage of this week's trial of the century. In short: Junk journalism.

And then there's the threat posed by the libertarian billionaires. Think of Jeff Bezos taking the Washington Post, the Koch brothers buying up newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, and Peter Thiel (the guy who said that freedom and democracy are not compatible) buying into Facebook and venues that cover Silicon Valley. Of course, Rupert Murdoch got there ahead of everyone else. Since the news business isn't a great way to make money, the libertarian billionaire boy's club must have some other reason for commandeering American journalism.

Some would count Pierre Omidyar as a member of that club. To be frank, I've heard conflicting reports. This article pictures him as a man obsessed with news gathering (and a potential savior of the profession)...
But Pierre Omidyar has a strange obsession: Newsrooms. He reportedly hangs out in them, reportedly likes journalists (that's farther than I'm willing to go on some days). More importantly, he seems to genuinely care about the state of journalism in the 21st Century. He's very concerned about issues like the government's crackdown on whistleblowers and the people who report on whistleblowers, about unwarranted spying on American citizens, and related topics. A few years back, he started a local journalism website in his adopted home of Hawaii, and rather than getting turned off, he was hooked.
Roughly a week ago, Jay Rosen offered a more detailed look at how Omidyar's First Look Media will operate. In theory, the operation will pay for itself through bifurcation. From a First Look press release:
First Look Media is made up of several entities, including a company established to develop new media technology and a separate nonprofit journalism organization. The journalism operation, which will be incorporated as a 501(c)(3), will enjoy editorial independence, and any profits eventually earned by the technology company are committed to support First Look’s mission of independent journalism. The name of First Look Media’s initial digital publication is yet to be announced.
To which Rosen adds:
Today’s news settles one of the questions I have been asked a lot: “Is NewCo going to be a business or a non-profit?” Answer: both. The news and editorial operation will be a non-profit. The technology company will be a business run for profit. If the tech company is successful it can help fund the journalism mission, along with other possible sources of revenue.
Arguably, television network news used to have a similar financial basis. CBS News didn't make money by itself; it was funded by the CBS television network. Walter Cronkite received a subsidy from the Beverly Hillbillies.

Rosen doesn't answer the important questions. Will First Look be yet another libertarian propaganda outlet? Many of my readers will automatically presume the worst. For my part, I'm trying to be hopeful. Whatever Omidyar's up to, it can't possibly be worse than what the Kochs have in mind for the Los Angeles Times...

...can it?
Seems like we're front-loaded for a media rivalry between "First Look" and "Pando", but unlike MSNBC and Fox which come from opposite viewpoints the two start-ups have more in common at first glance.

And I still contend that because MSNBC has "NBC" behind it, it will always be way more reliable than Fox.
...At least 'til Hillary steps into the ring...
Dojo: I didn't want to get into the Pando thing in this post, but...yeah. Basically, the Pando folk are hating on Greenwald for being funded by a Libertarian, but the Pando folk are funded by an even worse libertarian. The Pando folk say that the libertarian cash cannot possibly affect their reportage, but they refuse to apply the same benefit of the doubt to Omidyar's operation.

The whole thing is absurd!
THANK you for this, Joseph, and you can't spank the media often enough for me. I still lament the end of mediawhores.

Forget waiting for anyone to step into the ring for the next presidential race. While home for the holidays this is what passed for "news." Month-old leftovers of fluff polls showing that only Christie beats Hillary. And they were milking that with "teases" over multiple commercial breaks.

I don't care how much I repeat this one, either: if I have anything to do with the revolution the talking heads and media whores will be first in line at the guillotine.

"if I have anything to do with the revolution the talking heads and media whores will be first in line at the guillotine."

This, please! There cannot be enough of THIS. Largely because there hasn't been ANY of this, not for a long, long time. I'd love for all of those fuckers to eat bullets. Wouldn't care to see it myself but god-fucking-damn it does get my seal of approval. The Jay seal of approval. Also the Jay seal of 'FUCK YOU'.

But then, I have no fucking idea sometimes while I still bother frequenting this blog when Joseph is utterly opposed to any revolution, in part because he ageistically is mistrusting of people under 30 (and perhaps even people age 30) and seems to believe that revolutions and the people capable of bringing them to fruition could only exist in the past. Even though history has shown itself to be the endless waltz of war, peace & revolution. But whatever. I fully support revolution, whether by violent means (I am not a pacifist, which is ironic since I hate guns, blood, torture, and gore) or (if possible) by non-violent means.

¡Viva la revolución

Blame Wall Street, not the crappy funding of journalism, it's not a bug it's a feature. Independent journalism hasn't a prayer, markets rule government and media. Morley Safer wrote about this sorry state of affairs back in 1966, "Brass Wants Reporters to Get on the Team." 

Arthur Sylvester, then Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs met in 1966 with reporters for U.S. news outlets at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon:

“I can’t understand how you fellows can write what you do while American boys are dying out here,” he began. Then he went on to the effect that American correspondents had a patriotic duty to disseminate only information that made the United States look good.

A network television correspondent said, “Surely, Arthur, you don’t expect the American press to be the handmaidens of government.”

“That’s exactly what I expect,” came the reply.

“Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that? — stupid.”

“Look, I don’t even have to talk to you people. I know how to deal with you through your editors and publishers back in the States.”

Dear Anonymous (you can pick a nym as an option to post here):

It's because it's not a bug it's a feature I want the talking heads the first to be hoisted on pikes.

In the 60's that journalist had no hesitation to denounce the idea of being a handmaiden. These media whores have no such compunction. It is DUE to their comforting presence in the homes of all fatheaded Americans who think if there were a problem CNN would tell them about it that the banksters et al get away with it.

My mom thinks Obama is MORAL. Because his daily kill list of funerals and weddings is not reported. By either "side" of the talking heads whose accepted role is to keep America frothing about the red team or blue team and/or latest court drama of the nation.

The CBC still produce real investigative work. While the JFK anniversary was going on, switching over to CBC after tuning into the American networks was like encountering alternate universe. The "conspiracy theorists" actually had their say, and were presented as more plausible than officialdom.

I make it a point not to miss an episode of The Fifth Estate or The Passionate Eye. They even have a Doc Zone feature with documentaries you'll never see on tv down south.
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