April 06, 2003

The State of the Disunion



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This is something I'll be writing on from time to time--not just the current sorry state of the press but of many areas of American life and culture that I find important, as do a lot of people obviously. But there just are not enough people talking about these things, or making the points that need to be made. One thesis that covers most of these topics is that the United States of America is no longer the country I was always told it was supposed to be, is no longer the country we have always wanted it to be. There have always been times where things have slipped or where imperfections had not yet been rectified, but we have been backsliding big-time recently.

One of the ways we are doing so is with the press. At one time, the label of "Liberal Media" was appropriate to a certain degree, in that many reporters have personal liberal leanings, and those leanings would sometimes color their reporting. But what effect this had on the news media collectively was mild enough that one had to run statistical analyses for it to show up in any objective way whatsoever--it was never something that made much of a difference.

Conservatives made it an issue, however, not because it was really a problem for them or that they hated to see inequality (har), but because it profited them politically. If, after all, everyone considered the media to be left-leaning, then the general impression would be that the truth lay to the right of what reports and opinions were read by Americans, and that would profit conservatives. Many conservatives felt it was true in any case because anything to their left seemed liberal, no matter how right of center it might be.

But the idea of a liberal media today is laughable. Most editors and media owners are right-wing, and since the conservative revolution in the early 90's showed that right-wing shows got good ratings, the media has taken a conservative turn which far exceeds the extent of what liberal biases used to exist. And since 9-11, conservatives have turned patriotism into a base political weapon: we are fighting a war (against Afghanistan, Iraq, terrorism, you name it), the war is constantly on, the President is our leader in this time of crisis, what he says goes--and anyone who disagrees or criticizes him is unpatriotic and unAmerican.

Most people accept this through tradition and fear. Tradition because we have in the past supported presidents in time of war. Fear because we are worried about 9-11 and terrorism and we know that people around the world hate us, and we have to do something about it. And we depend on the president for that.

But the man we have in office today doesn't even deserve to be there. His character (Republicans no longer talk about that, do they) is shoddy--drunk driver, corrupt businessman, drug abuser, hid in the National Guard in Vietnam and then went AWOL when they started drug testing, and much more... how could we accept a man with such a history? In part because too many Americans vote the party line no matter who is there, and partly because we don't want to believe that such a man could be in high office, so we are in denial. There was clearly fraud in Florida--non-felon Democrats, mostly African-Americans, forbidden to vote because of a rigged "felon" blacklist created by the Republican Attorney General of Florida, absentee ballot tampering by Republicans of thousands of ballots in two counties (solidly proven to have ocurred, confessed to by the election officials who let it happen), these just being a few examples. All illegal, each one by themselves turning enough votes to Bush to win him the election, and then the tsunami wave of political and illicit judicial action to deny a recount. Gore won by more than a half million votes. Blatantly illegal vote tampering in Florida turned thousands of votes to Bush in that state, who won the vital electoral votes for the state by just over 500 votes. But we tolerated it because too many believed the faked outrage in Florida, but more because we value stability higher than out-and-out justice.

And now this leader is thought of as a hero--not because he did anything heroic, but because in our time of crisis we needed a great leader, so we fabricated one out of whole cloth.

And the press? Not just conservative-leaning, but now blinded, and blinded by themselves. Shilling for the government is so blatant that the news agencies hardly cover it up any more. Of course, they do not focus attention on it, and so many do not hear of it and do not think of it. But it's clearly there if you look.

Take the president's last "news conference," for example. That was a news conference? No, it wasn't--it was a sham. A scripted mockery of a press conference. Here are a few things that were wrong:

1. The first two questions were pre-approved and the answers carefully scripted (considered commonplace now)

2. Reporters who were known to ask tough questions were not allowed to participate, or were seated in back and not called upon

3. Helen Thomas, Dean (or "doyenne") of the press corps, for the first time in several decades, was relegated to the third row and was not allowed to ask Bush a question (she's known to ask tough questions and would not play ball in the charade)

4. Bush had a list of 17 reporters whom he knew would toss softballs, and asked only them questions, sticking tightly to the list

5. No follow-ups were permitted; when one reported tried to, Bush shut him up, blurting out, "This is a scripted--" and then stopped short, after which the press corps, mostly in the back of the room, laughed (search this page for the word "scripted"; and here is a link to a site with an audio recording of it)

6. No reporters were allowed to stray off the White House's approved topics, even though a story about U.S. spying on U.N. Security Council Members had just broken, not to mention a lot of other important stories; questions were not allowed to be overly critical

7. White House Communication director Dan Bartlett announced publicly that he knew what the questions were going to be and that only those reporters would be called upon

8. Many other small details, including items such as how reporters were closely escorted into the press room in pairs, added to the controlled atmosphere of the news conference.

Just as disturbing, the president's slip about the conference being "scripted" was audible and clear. There is no mistaking what he said if you listen to it. And yet, The New York Times, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Fox News, and Wall Street Journal all printed transcripts with the word "scripted" altered to "unscripted"--some transcripts rewriting more than just that one word, editing and adding at different points.

And this is just one example. How about Fox News? I know some people whom I otherwise consider intelligent who believe that Fox is not conservative. Um, yeah. A week ago, there was a legal protest against the war, and Fox News, supposedly an "unbiased" news source, in their streaming banner, displayed the following "news items":

"War protester auditions here today ... thanks for coming!"

"Who won your right to show up here today? Protesters or soldiers?"

"How do you keep a war protester in suspense? Ignore them."

"Attention protesters: the Michael Moore Fan Club meets Thursday at a phone booth at Sixth Avenue and 50th Street"

And to wrap up what could be a lot more ranting if I didn't stop myself, was something that I swear to God I heard on CNN a few days ago. CNN was showing a press conference being held by the Iraqi government, their usual propaganda line, and in mid-conference, CNN cuts away. Says the CNN reporter: "We're cutting away because we don't think that the government wants to see that."

I swear to God, that's what she said.

We don't have a press anymore, we really don't. Read the Canadian news for slightly more balanced coverage.

Posted by Luis at April 6, 2003 05:52 PM
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