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Norman Solomon
3 Oct 2009
Rediscovering the Real Columbus

Columbus Day is a national holiday. But it's also a good time to confront the mythology about the heroic … Read More.

26 Sep 2009
A Farewell Column, But Not Goodbye

Seventeen and a half years ago — at a time when a little-known governor named Bill Clinton was running … Read More.

12 Sep 2009
The Devastating Spin for War

For those who believe in making war, Kabul is a notable work product. After 30 years, the results are in: a … Read More.

The Autumn of the Media Arc: The More Things Change

Comment

A change of seasons is predictable, but a pronounced shift in the nation's media climate is another matter. Continuity seems to be the name of the media game; catastrophes may shake individual lives and tear the social fabric of a city (New Orleans) or a country (Iraq), but a professionalized continuum of corporate journalism is an enduring reality of American life.

The name notwithstanding, "public television" has numerous corporate aspects — and not only because the biggest shows on PBS are often funded ("underwritten") by such politically invested firms as major oil corporations, pharmaceutical giants, insurance companies and military contractors. For programmers and underwriters, the attitudes and assumptions routinely appear to be in sync.

Call it what you will — free enterprise or a military-industrial-media complex — but the dominant news industry is prone to cover the same stories in much the same ways. Some may have a more clear ideological agenda or a more flagrantly commercialized approach. But, for that matter, brands of cigarettes offer a variety of flavors.

In the aftermath of the testimony on Capitol Hill by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, proliferating media profiles lavished enormous attention on the duo. When anchor Jim Lehrer closed a Sept. 12 interview with the pair on the PBS "NewsHour," he kept repeating the two names together — "Petraeus and Crocker," "Crocker and Petraeus" — as if fascinated with the combination.

But perhaps the most notable thing about the joint interview on the "NewsHour" was the fact that it fit into a longstanding pattern that goes back decades: In times of crisis or moments of potentially pivotal high-drama in the country's national politics, top policymakers and functionaries have made a beeline to the "NewsHour" studios for a lengthy sit-down interview with the host.

Media critics too often focus on the personalities and proclivities of individual journalists.

But problems with the particular personages of the media leading lights are only secondary.

Let us stipulate, as the lawyers say, that Lehrer is talented and hardworking. Yet his interview with Petraeus and Crocker on Wednesday was a classic case of the abdication of journalistic responsibility. The toughest questions floated across the airwaves as lazy softballs gently twirling in the breeze. Most of Lehrer's queries were more like beach balls.

The hazy golden days of media summer have gone on way too long. Prevailing expectations are such that the mere mention of basic realities — such as Lehrer's reference to the low standing of the Iraq war in American public-opinion polls — passes for vigorous journalistic inquiry. No wonder top officials at the Pentagon and the State Department have been so eager to appear on the "NewsHour."

It's not an act of nature or a proper journalistic function that causes so many media professionals to be deferential to high-ranking U.S. government officials. No matter how much they preen themselves as bold seekers of the truth, prominent reporters don't make a practice of confronting Washington policymakers and their functionaries with key facts that contradict the official line.

We're now left to ponder what it might take to shake the media establishment out of its conformist and destructive lethargy. The Iraq war — with its horrific consequences — is clearly a result of craven media failures to function independently while the Bush administration and Congress moved toward the March 2003 invasion.

Today, all you need to do is look at the overall coverage of Iran — largely driven by the Bush administration and its boosters — to see how deeply the patterns of media cheerleading for war are embedded in the structures of American journalism and politics. The costs, in human terms, are beyond calculation.

Norman Solomon's latest book, "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death," is now available in paperback. To find out more about Norman Solomon and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2007 DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.



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