...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Monday, May 24, 2004
      ( 1:47 PM )
Moyers on Freedom of the Press

Bill Moyers, "elder statesman of journalism" spoke at a Newspaper Guild/Communication Workers of America dinner on May 19, 2004. This is some of what he had to say.

At times, journalism has risen to great occasions and even made other freedoms possible. From editors who went defiantly to prison after being charged under the sedition act for circulating opinions that questioned the motives of Congress, or 'criminating' (whatever that meant) the president, to the willingness of Arthur Sulzberger and Katherine Graham to risk criminal prosecution under espionage laws if they printed the Pentagon Papers; from Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair taking on the shame of the cities, the crimes of the trusts, and the treason of the senate, to Walter Cronkite devoting an entire broadcast to Watergate; from Seymour Hersh reporting on torture to 60 Minutes II broadcasting the horror of Abu Ghraib, the greatest moments in journalism have come not when journalists made common cause with power, but when they stood fearlessly independent of it.


So, why, when we pause to celebrate it, as we are tonight, why despite plenty of lip service on every ritual occasion to freedom of the press—why are we so uneasy, so uncertain, so anxious for our craft?

Partly it's because of the secrecy. The secrecy today is so thick as to be all but impenetrable. In earlier times there were padlocks for the presses and jail cells for outspoken editors and writers as our governing bodies tried to squelch journalistic freedom with blunt instruments of the law. Now, the classifier's 'top secret' stamp, used indiscriminately, is as potent a silencer as a writ of arrest. It's so bad the president and CEO of the Associated Press, Tom Curley, last week called publicly for a media advocacy center to lobby in Washington for an open government. "You don't need to have your notebook snatched by a policeman," he said, "to know that keeping an eye on government has lately gotten a lot harder."


It's not just government that's squeezing out this news. Some of the media giants are doing it themselves. As they consolidate ownership they are shrinking their news holes, isolating public affairs far from prime-time. A study by Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America reports that nearly two-thirds of today's newspaper markets are monopolies. Take a look at a recent book called Leaving Readers Behind: The Age of Corporate Newspapering, published as part of the project on the state of the American newspaper under the auspices of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the leadership of Gene Roberts, the former managing editor of The New York Times . The report describes "a furious unprecedented blitz of buying, selling, and consolidating of newspapers from the mightiest daily to the humblest weeklies."

A world where "small hometown dailies are being bought and sold like hog futures, where chains now devour other chains whole, where they are effectively ceding whole regions of the country to one another, further minimizing competition. Where money is pouring into the business from interests with little knowledge and even less concern about the special obligations newspapers have to democracy."


Meanwhile, as secrecy grows, and media conglomerates put more and more power in fewer and fewer hands, we have witnessed the rise of a new phenomenon—a quasi-official partisan press ideologically linked to an authoritarian administration that is in turn the ally and agent of powerful financial and economic interests that consider transparencies a threat to their hegemony over public opinion. This convergence dominates the marketplace of political ideas in a phenomenon unique in our history. Stretching from the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch's empire to the nattering nabobs of know-nothing radio to a legion of think tanks bought and paid for by corporations circling the honey pots of government, a vast echo chamber resounds with a conformity of opinions, serving a partisan worldview cannot be proven wrong because it admits no evidence to the contrary. When you challenge them with evidence to the contrary—when you try to hold their propaganda to scrutiny—you're likely to wind up in the modern equivalent of a medieval iron maiden, between the covers, that is, of an Ann Coulter tirade, or wake up in an underground cell at FOX News, force fed leftovers from a Roger Ailes snack, and required for 24 hours a day to stare at photographs of Rupert Murdoch on the walls of the cell while listening to a piped-in Bill O'Reilly singing the Hallelujah Chorus in praise of himself.


And one last thing. The character in Tom Stoppard's play Night And Day summed it up when he said: "people do terrible things to each other, but it's worse in places where everything is kept in the dark."

We keep saying it, but the media bias isn't necessarily "right" or "left" but corporate. And when this kind of administration is in power, the corporate interests always get their say over everyone else. It so happens that most of the time corporate=the right wing and so it seems more often than not that the media has more coddled the right wing rather than challenged it. Ultimately, it once again is up to us, the citizens to make this right. If we allow the continued consolidation of corporate media holdings and we don't protest the decisions the FCC (among others) makes, then we have only ourselves to blame. If we don't hold our own local news accountable to reporting our local politics and issues instead of the 10 minutes of drivel that is sent out to all the stations, along with a 20-minute weather report, then we have only ourselves to blame.

See, the danger of the corporate media bias, as in corporate bias in other areas (such as tax benefits, etc) is that human beings just don't matter as much. And like this mama keeps saying, once we let the human beings not really matter, that's the end of us. (what the shortsighted corporations don't see is that's the end of them too - but that wouldn't be so bad)

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