Eager to oust Slobodan Milosevic from power, the U.S. government has funneled millions of dollars to media projects in Yugoslavia. What if other nations tried to help level the playing field for candidates here in the U.S.? Ralph Nader could use a ten million dollar cash infusion...
At the National Association of Broadcasters convention in late September, I look forward to being among those who will speak at nearby independent forums -- and will protest in the streets of San Francisco to confront the dire centralization of media ownership.
After many months of controversy over her anti-gay statements to millions of radio listeners, Dr. Laura ascended the airwaves to an even higher and mightier pulpit. Much to the chagrin of gay-rights supporters, her crusade has reached televisionland.
The lobbying goals of media corporations extend into areas that might surprise you. According to the Center for Public Integrity, "Federal Communications Commission employees were taken on 1,460 all-expenses-paid trips sponsored by media corporations and associations since 1995, costing a total of $1.5 million."
It's always dangerous when politicians claim to be doing God's will. So, as the novelty fades from Al Gore's selection of Joseph Lieberman, journalists should ask some probing questions about the ticket's conspicuous piety.
Once again, it's the season of the Republican and Democratic national conventions. Both events have been underwritten by generous corporate patrons; both cities are notorious for police misconduct. Hospitality and brutality -- the contrasts could hardly be more extreme.
Big-name journalists are fond of rosy windows on the world. Overall, the powerful politicians they cover have similar vantage points. And when large numbers of them get together, the upbeat -- and facile -- rhetoric is thick.
George Orwell has been dead for half a century, but Orwellian language lives on. Instead of scrutinizing the facile rhetoric of U.S. politics, reporters are inclined to solemnly relay it, while adding some of their own.
"In recent years, several dozen companies have bought major-league naming rights. Teams now play in Bank One Ballpark (Phoenix), Network Associates Coliseum (Oakland) and Continental Airlines Arena (New Jersey). But a public-interest group is urging sportswriters to resist a free-enterprise wave of the future."
"There's a slick new term surfing its way into the mass media. 'E-government.' Many citizens would be glad to see the Internet streamline their dealings with federal agencies. But we're now hearing claims that go way beyond matters of efficiency -- to conflate convenience and democracy."
"George W. Bush and Al Gore are among the most boring political leaders in the country. And that's saying something. But every four years, when summer begins, the national media curtain rises on an overheated stage of presidential politics. The political show must go on -- no matter how phony it may be."
The virtual Ten Commandments of Dot-Comity are now widespread: You shall not take the name of the Lord your Market in vain ... You shall not fail to make a killing ... Remember the stock exchange and keep it holy ...
After the Love Bug virus struck millions of computers, many news outlets attributed the magnitude of the damage to "software monoculture" -- too many people relying on the same exact programs. But what about media monoculture?
No matter how nice it may be, ritual coverage of Labor Day doesn't begin to make up for routine media themes the rest of the year. News accounts may portray workers as admirable -- but when they struggle in an organized way, in solidarity with each other, it's often a different story.
Solomon writes: "On network television, some pundits are always ready for prime time. After the president's State of the Union speech, they were all over the airwaves -- smooth and glib -- mostly lauding Bill Clinton's boffo performance. But many commentators are never eligible for prime time."
Some people claim that large news outlets in the United States are refusing to acknowledge the dangers of centralized media ownership. But that's not quite true. In mid-March, a prominent "New York Times" article warned that "the lines between information and business are becoming increasingly blurred." The newspaper reported that "critics say some media barons are out to protect their business interests and unfairly influence people." Could it be that the "New York Times" is allowing its reporters to cover -- without fear or favor -- the massive consolidation of media control in this country? Well, not exactly. The article quoted above was about news media in Russia.
The news should have caused a national uproar: A global trade authority ordered the United States to allow higher levels of air pollution or pay huge fines. But, if you blinked, you may have missed the story entirely. In a decision with momentous implications, the new World Trade Organization ruled that the U.S. law known as the Clean Air Act is unacceptable because of restrictions it places on pollutants in imported gasoline. The decree could result in higher levels of toxic auto emissions.
Going on a joy ride down a slippery slope, the Democratic Party has just moved through a national convention that fulfilled the dreams of many media pundits. For a long time, a chorus of political reporters and commentators urged the party to turn away from its traditional base. High on the expendable list were poor people with dark skin. At last, in the summer of 1996, the Democratic Party has measured up to mass-media standards.
"You know what, boys and girls? Thanks to Trent Lott and others in the Senate club, the big people at the Walt Disney Co. don't have to worry about Mickey and his pals getting lost in a scary place called 'public domain.'"
Solomon writes: "Let's face it: Sensational news coverage of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal is going to continue for a long time. Despite all the media criticism of Kenneth Starr, the co-dependent counsel is locked in a passionate embrace with the Washington press corps."
Solomon writes: "People magazine now has a clone. The first issue of Teen People -- a slick monthly 'from the editors of People' -- just hit newsstands across the country. It's colorful. Stylish. And disturbing."
Solomon writes, "Filled with speeches and photo ops, President Clinton's recent visit to Mexico produced a lot of good press back home. Most journalists sang the official tunes about immigration, drugs and corruption. The few off-key notes didn't last long, as when ABC's Peter Jennings reported: 'This is where the U.S. gets cheap labor and makes enormous manufacturing profits.'"
A nationwide media war has broken out this fall, several weeks after a California newspaper reported a chilling story: CIA operatives helped cocaine traffickers introduce large quantities of low-cost crack into poor urban neighborhoods during the 1980s. The mainstream press was late in reporting the story and completly lacking in self-criticism. Also includes Normon Solomon's "The Power of Babble" column.
Rarely do we turn on a television or pick up a newspaper and learn what prisoners have to say. Without direct communication, they don't seem very real to us as human beings. As a result, it's much easier for us to demand ever-harsher prison terms.
Some disturbing patterns seem to dominate American journalism: Candor loses out to caution, integrity drowns in expediency and independence falls as income rises. At the peak of the news profession, the most lauded reporters often rely on official sources and defer to powerful institutions.
Solomon writes: "The day after McGwire set a record with his 62nd home run, three dozen file boxes -- filled with Kenneth Starr's case against the president -- reached Capitol Hill. Their arrival dramatized how Clinton's fortunes have changed."
Solomon writes: "Seven years ago, the Pentagon imposed strict curbs on media coverage of the Gulf War ... In recent weeks, as the Pentagon finalized its rules of media engagement for another assault on Iraq, news outlets again seemed ready to knuckle under. Tidy euphemisms for killing returned. And, as if to stiffen American resolve, news reports warned that Saddam Hussein will use civilian casualties for propaganda purposes."