Thursday, October 3, 2013

Journalism in the U.S. Fails Us Again

Sometimes the U.S. media complicity in the national madness seems to border on treason.

"News" coverage of the run-up to government shutdown, and possible default on the national debt has been abominable, in the disastrous tradition of the three I's (Iraq, Iran, Israel), recent poitical campaigns and Congress (in all of its actions, inactions and assininity).

The remaining contemporary giants of journalism have been pointing out these failures for a long time now, and largely been ignored. Bill Moyers comes to mind. A former newspaper publisher who turned Newsday from a conservative little rag into one of the country's most respected newspapers, Moyer then spent three decades showing us how good television could be in the right hands.  Many of his finest TV hours exposed the deficiencies of the media that give us most of our "information," too much of which is stenography, "he said, she said" claptrap, or unvarnished propaganda. A recent review of pre-shutdown coverage on the website magnified these criticisms.

Chris Hedges, a great New York Times reporter who left the Old Gray Lady when its journalistic standards began to plummet, only to become one of the most important writers on contemporary affairs in the nation today, is another frequent critic of today's pathetic journalism. "The degradation of education into vocational training for the corporate state," he writes, "the ending of state subsidies for the arts and journalism, the hijacking of these disciplines by corporate sponsors, severs the population from understanding, self-actualization and transcendence. In aesthetic terms the corporate state seeks to crush beauty, truth and imagination. This is a war waged by all totalitarian systems."

Such corporate state journalism accounts for what Paul Krugman calls "wildly distorted ideas" about Obamacare, the nickname for the Affordable Care Act that Republicans have contrived to drag into the national economic debate. Extremist GOP congressmen have brought communism, slavery and pederasty into the ignorant fooferaw that set up the present shutdown. The best reporting on all of this has come from peudo-journalists like Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart.  Kimmel took to the streets with camera and microphone to ask common citizens whether they preferred Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act.  Every respondent went Bonkers demeaning Obamacare; all of them preferred the Affordable Care Act.  Never mind that they are one and the same; right wing propaganists, with full support of the popular media, have succeeded in demonizing Obamacare (a repeat of their success in making "liberal" a nasty word). Stewart summarized the hollowness of the GOP position by telling Rep. Peter King of the GOP: "It's a f*c*ing LAW!!"

Indeed it is -- debated, compromised and passed by both houses of the previous Congress; signed by the President and upheld by the uber-conservative Supreme Court.  Our laws and Constitution provide a process: those who dislike all or parts of the Act can move in the appropriate committees of either house of Congress to amend or repeal it. If it gets out of committee, it goes to a vote. Of course, the members of the House the ultra-Republican New York Daily News calls "Turds" have tried that legitimate tactic 40-some times and failed.  So now they're using an illegal tactic, shutting down government and threatening to force it into default. And our media still play "he said, she said," giving equal weight to what, say, Michelle Bachman says, and what, say, Elizabeth Warren says.

Another great contemporary journalist, the inimitable Seymour Hersh, says: "Get rid of 90% of the editors that now exist. Close down the news bureaus of the networks and let's start all over, tabula rasa. The majors, NBCs, ABCs, they won't like this – just do something different, do something that gets people mad at you.  That's what we're supposed to be doing, Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say, 'here's a debate.' Our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who's right and who's wrong about issues.

Mort Persky, who spent five distinguished decades making American journalism better, decries the New York Times's nerdy-wordy or plain right-biased coverage yesterday and today of the start up of Obamacare. This sentence -- "A trouble-plagued start, accompanied by the complaints of frustrated consumers, may undermine political support for the law and discourage people from signing up."
(Then again, it just as likely may not, but The Times didn't speculate on that.) -- could have been written at the NRC.

As could these headlines:

"Details of Available Plans Offer Vast, Varied Picture,"

"A Committed Group of Conservatives Outflanks the House Leadership."

"Opening Rush to Insurance Markets Hits Snags -- Millions of Online Visits, Many to No Avail"

(Why not: MIllions of Would-Be Insurance Buyers Overwhelm New Exchanges)?

But that would be too much like, well, old-fashioned journalism. The kind Bill Moyers, Chris Hedges, Sy Hersh and Mort Persky practiced.  I know because I was there, too.