Empty Days

Monday, April 26, 2004



Democracy and Media

People are asking what's going on with the role of the media vs pubic trust vs government in USA.

This Friday on NOW, Bill Moyers was interviewing Greg Dyke of the BBC (director who was made to resign in the wake of the Hutton report). A very interesting discussion it was. The two of them tried to figure out the differences between american and british big media - especially the BBC as opposed to american commercial networks. You better read the transcript of that conversation for a full overview. But the basic gist of Greg Dyke's account was that BBC is actually a publically funded organisation (not government funded) and in the British mind BBC represents the public versus the government and not the other way around. Which goes to explain why BBC - as opposed to american networks - did not promote War in Iraq but rather questioned the government's decision and arguments, and thus provided a space for debate of a national issue. He also maintained that in the case of the Hutton report, the British public believed the BBC and not Lord Hutton who whitewashed the government:
DYKE: Well, I think governments inevitably try to put across the best case for their policy. And that's what they were doing in this case. Now, whether you should do that with intelligence documents I think you have the discussion. There is an argument that if you're going to put out that sort of dossier it should have included the case for and the case against.

MOYERS: In a war, what is the role of an independent press?

DYKE: It can't be to just accept the basis for going to war, per se. It has to be to question that.

MOYERS: Is it's obligation to put on those who do question it?

DYKE: Yes, I mean, again I read some statistics. Here of the number of pundits, I don't know if you knew, who were used during the war. The number who were, who argued against the war were five or six out of hundreds and hundreds. Now in Britain, we were putting on people who argued quite consistently against the war.

MOYERS: And you were accused of being unpatriotic for that work? Or does your audience accept that? Does it want it?

DYKE: The audience is no problem. The politicians are the problem, as one saw. I mean, the audience, I think, are used to that. They expect it. The politicians in those circumstances think you're unpatriotic. I was here a bit during the war. And I was quite shocked by a lot of the reporting here during the war. It seemed to me that a lot of your commercial broadcasters had abandoned impartiality.

MOYERS: Yeah, some put on flags and wore them. Had flags behind them on the set.

DYKE: Sure. Now that would have been unthinkable in the UK. Unthinkable.

Remember there was a million people took to the streets of London to protest, you know, the war. This was a society completely split down the middle. And the BBC, in those circumstances had the duty to try to report both views. Now, of course the government of the day doesn't like that.
In fact the BBC criticized the war and thus appeared as effectively opposed to it. I had a contact in England at the time who preferred to watch FOXnews around the clock. He was staunchly pro-war and enjoyed being a dissenting minority, I think (since most Brits watched BBC). Basically the media control minds - what you think is what you watch. US would have never gone to war if the US media did not espoused the gov's pov so entirely - with all the lies and all the half-truths. End of story.

Now all the talk is about how people in USA don't believe the media anymore and how it's not representative. Here's a lengthy article on this problem at the PressThink about why Bush and his WH appear so successfully dismissive of the press. But I found a commenter there summed up the whole situation in a few clear statements:
But perhaps its weakness is in speaking a language Americans recognize as theirs. Bush is challenging the press: you don't speak to the nation, or for it, or with it.

Very interesting. I think many of Bush's critics -of which I am one - underestimate what Bob Woodward calls his "emotional intelligence," or his ability to understand what's on the mind of "Joe Public."

Critics wanted to hear Bush admit in the press conference that the Iraq project is not working and, more importantly, his plan for fixing the problems (I did not understand, however, why reporters persisted in trying to get him to personally admit "mistakes" in an election year - by framing it this way, the press appears as a vicious persecutor, not as a seeker of truth).

But Bush understands intuitively - which polls have since borne out - that most Americans don't want to hear about a plan or about Bush's mistakes; they want to be assured of their leader's resolve. That's because most Americans, according to the new PIPA poll, believe that Iraq is the cornerstone in the "War on Terror" (a term the press has wholeheartedly adopted) and therefore there's really no question about the staying the course.

To me, the fundamental issue is why they believe such things. Is it because they're not sophisticated enough to distinguish between Saddam and Osama? Or is it because the press uncritically passed along the adminisitration's case for invading Iraq, which was conflated with the al Qaeda threat?

I believe it's the latter. The press dug the hole in which it now finds itself. By lending credibility to the invasion, it's in no position to question the premises now. The public is not demanding answers because it doesn't see the questions. Bush is therefore correct in saying that the press is not representing the public, because the public doesn't believe Bush has done anything wrong.

Posted by: Grant D. at April 25, 2004 01:32 PM
That's all you need to know really. I subscribe to every word of it and I am probably not alone. How the fuck are you gonna play the fair referee and how are you gonna question anything and be believed again if you've sold out from the beginning and promoted all manner of official bullshit without so much as a peep? Where was that national debate on a national issue of first importance?

***

This is commercial networks. And this is confusing fear for patriotism. And all that gutless slovenly sucking up to powers and ratings and hype. Everyone wanted so bad to have an embedded reporter. CBC of Canada did not have an embed - the Pentagon punished Canadian media for not being pro-war. Heh. Thank you very much. It sure was entertaining to watch NBC and ABC and CBS embed reports. But consider the price. I still vividly remember Dan Rather patriotically updating the nation on the progress of its valiant military - and I also remember the visible and palpable tension and almost hate that transpired between Dan Rather and Ed Bradley who was invited to comment in studio on some whatever event. Yeah - Bradley was chocked and gagged and Rather was lying his head off and not blinking.

Some price.

***

Actually, the above comment at PressThink attracted some outraged replies which I think are representative of just how thoroughly successful the neocon pro-war propaganda has been in american media. As I said, my contact in England who was subjected to 7/24 of FOXchannel came up with similar convictions and it was never a question of lack of intelligence. What you watch is what you think:
Grant D., the arrogance of this is breathtaking:

"To me, the fundamental issue is why they believe such things. Is it because they're not sophisticated enough to distinguish between Saddam and Osama? Or is it because the press uncritically passed along the adminisitration's case for invading Iraq, which was conflated with the al Qaeda threat?

I believe it's the latter. The press dug the hole in which it now finds itself. By lending credibility to the invasion, it's in no position to question the premises now. The public is not demanding answers because it doesn't see the questions. Bush is therefore correct in saying that the press is not representing the public, because the public doesn't believe Bush has done anything wrong."

No matter how you sift it, you think Americans are either unsophisticated dolts or are empty-headed dolts who can be told what to think.

The third alternative is that most Americans know how to use the resources at their disposal -- the internet -- to discover the truth the press have no interest in. People do see the questions; when they hear the answers, they realize that the ones from the press are biased and politically correct hedges that are dangerous to America's health. Therefore, what's the point in asking the press for the answers? Thus, Bush is right; the press no longer have the muscle of an earlier age, and he doesn't have to answer their questions.

This is the age of bloggers fact checking the press and forcing changes and corrections. If President Bush wishes to talk to Americans, he surely doesn't need the unreliable and untrustworthy press to do that.

Posted by: Helen at April 25, 2004 02:04 PM
_________________________

Well said, Helen.

Grant, your words are an example of the reason that the Democrats are in the process of being turned out of power. You won't admit to the possibility that someone might honestly disagree with you. No, it someone sees things differently than you, then they are either stupid ("not sophisticated enough to distinguish between Saddam and Osama") or mislead ("swallowed the adminisitration's case for invading Iraq, which was conflated with the al Qaeda threat").

Of course, it is neither. But you are, in fact, the stupid one here. Here's the real truth:
The American public sees that al Qaeda and Saddam are/were just two manifestation of the same threat. You are so sophisticated and nuanced that you only see the individual trees that happen to be burning at this moment. The people see that the forest is on fire, and have no interest in the state of whether any particular tree is on fire or not.

Posted by: ray at April 25, 2004 02:29 PM
_________________________

For a virtual caricature of the liberal mindset, scroll up to the comments by Grant D., which evidence a shocking inability to understand the War on Terror and Iraq's role in it, and no appreciation whatever of the public's ability, by contrast, to comprehend these things quite accurately, thank you very much. Then again, I'm assuming it was not intended as satire, but who knows.

Posted by: Byron at April 25, 2004 02:54 PM
____________________________

Great analysis of our President's dead-on perception of the role of "lamestream" media today, glad I read this. And the thread here has been excellent as well, some very good points. I'm not going to pile onto Grant since that's been covered here. But his comments reallly do illustrate the prevailing attitude among those who, for whatever reason, simply do not get it. I'd bet if you asked Grant and his friends if they think the US is actually at war, they'd either hedge about it, or flat-out deny that we are. And that, to me, is the main reason behind why someone like Grant can make statements like that. It's not truly real to them for some reason, almost as if the videos of the planes smashing into the WTC were computer graphics-generated "clips" from some hollywood special effects house!

Posted by: Alan at April 25, 2004 05:24 PM
This is properly fascinating. The sentences I highlighted are not just isolated tid-bits of a rather spectacularly skewed information. No - these are threads of a whole system of beliefs and it is based on countless tid-bits of similarly skewed information that has been distributed and accumulated into a mountain that is not going to budge any time soon.

The outraged tone is actually very interesting: obviously these are dearly held beliefs, sacrosant and deeply urgent ("America's health", "threat", "War on Terror"). Bush and the neo-con clan were tremendously and obviously successful in tapping into the all-american fear and awe after the 9/11 attack - arguments don't really count when you're directly threatened, terrified and enraged. "America is at war" - all you need is point out obvious enemies. Saddam has always been an enemy. It was a piece of cake to insert Iraq in the proposition.

Successful propaganda always taps into pre-existent psychological realities. The neo-cons were right not to wait with their war - they caught the moment and beat the iron while it was hot. What can the born-again liberal-media do about it now? Not much, it seems.





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