Monday, August 3, 2009

GE, MSNBC, And a General Summary Of The Ways In Which Our Media Is Broken

The recent revelation that GE and News Corp. privately agreed to stifle reporting is just the latest example of how the national press is failing the country. This episode highlights how increasingly difficult it is to find any news outlet that even deserves one's time, let alone one's trust.

For whatever reason, the country operates under the general assumption that although giant parent corporations own every major TV news outlet, they somehow don't interfere in their reporting or shape their editorial content. After the publication of this story from the New York Times on Friday, that fallacy has been laid as bare as possible.

The Times' report describes how the bitter feud between Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann was ratings gold for both shows, but also that both parent companies, News Corp. and GE, respectively, were getting worried about the fighting. "But wait," you might be thinking, "the feud increases the viewership of both shows, so what's the problem?" Well, in the process of attempting to beat each other bloody, Olbermann, and probably despite himself, O'Reilly, were doing some real reporting. In an attempt to discredit the other, both were going after their competitor's parent company, which was making the corporate overlords very uneasy.

So, as the Times reports,

"At an off-the-record summit meeting for chief executives sponsored by Microsoft in mid-May, the PBS interviewer Charlie Rose asked Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of G.E., and his counterpart at the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, about the feud.

Both moguls expressed regret over the venomous culture between the networks and the increasingly personal nature of the barbs. Days later, even though the feud had increased the audience of both programs, their lieutenants arranged a cease-fire, according to four people who work at the companies and have direct knowledge of the deal.
The reconciliation — not acknowledged by the parties until now — showcased how a personal and commercial battle between two men could create real consequences for their parent corporations."[emphasis added.]

This story came to my attention via Glenn Greenwald, who has written two fantastic posts about the subject. The first can be read here, and his latest from today can be read here. I highly recommend reading both in their entirety. The first piece also has the added benefit of highlighting MSNBC's disgraceful use of Richard Wolffe, a PR man they bill as an independent "political analyst." Greenwald discusses Wolffe's many appearances on "Countdown," and the fact that he guest-hosted while Olbermann was away, while never disclosing his eggregious conflict of interest. To quote Greenwald:

"When Olbermann is there, Wolffe is a very frequent guest on Countdown, where he is called an "MSNBC political analyst" and comments on political news. All of this, despite the fact that Wolffe left Newsweek last March in order to join "Public Strategies, Inc.," the corporate communications firm run by former Bush White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett, its President and CEO.
Having Richard Wolffe host an MSNBC program -- or serving as an almost daily "political analyst" -- is exactly tantamount to MSNBC's just turning over an hour every night to a corporate lobbyist. Wolffe's role in life is to advance the P.R. interests of the corporations that pay him, including corporations with substantial interests in virtually every political issue that MSNBC and Countdown cover."

For further reading on the issue, I recommend this post by David Sirota. He provides an excellent history of instances in which parent companies dictate to their media outlets what stories are or are not appropriate on which to report.

If you take this example of GE and News Corp. silencing figures that, for better or worse, are labeled "journalists," mix it in with MSNBC's lack of disclosure of Richard Wolffe's conflict of interests, throw in the Washington Post's recent attempt to whore out its reporters and editors at $25,000 a pop, add to that that Politico (who broke the WaPo story) is in bed with lobbyists as much as anyone, sprinkle on a little program where NBC News (and others) presented retired military generals who were getting paid by companies that stood to earn a shit-ton of money from the war as "independent military analysts" (which the networks still have not disclosed to their viewers), and top it all off with the idiotic stance from NPR that they won't call torture torture, you get a pretty grim image of our media landscape.

Or you draw that same conclusion just by watching Manufacturing Consent.

Really, just think about this list above. It makes you want to just punch a wall or something. That list shows us that a reasonable citizen who spends a few minutes a day trying to keep him or herself informed, is probably being either mislead or lied to from any number of different organizations, regardless of where they are getting their news.

Whether or not these outlets report some accurate stories is beside the point. Once an institution shows that it will sell out for money, or mislead its reading/viewing/listening public out of either cowardice, malice, or incompetence, the whole institution becomes suspect. I'm not arguing that journalists can't be allowed to make errors. That's an insane and unreasonable position. My criticisms, and much of the blogosphere's criticisms, are not about honest mistakes. Rather, the problem arises when these outlets deliberately deceive their audiences for months on end by refusing to disclose conflicts of interest, or by committing any of the other infractions listed above.

I'll leave you with two funny videos concerning this topic. The first is from SNL, and the second is the great David Letterman (thanks to Mike Drucker for the heads up for both).

conspiracy theory rock

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