What happened to journalism that actually challenged – or even questioned – authority? You know, looked into things – and (as the slogan of a big-time paper styles it) exposed wrongdoing to the world without fear or favor? When did journalists become the leashed Shih Tzus of the powers that be, barking ferociously at times but never or very rarely at anything that really matters?
I can speak to this – as a guy who did work within the system as a writer/editor (and who personally knows people who still do).
There is no written code one must follow to get hired – and to avoid getting fired – as a journalist in America. However, there is a very clear sub rosa understanding as regards the opinions one must possess (or not express) which results in a startling – almost Stalinist – degree of political orthodoxy at major papers, TV networks, magazines and so on.
The media is also extremely insular and controlled. There are very few independent newspapers, for instance. Most of the medium-sized (and small) city/local papers are just shells. They are either owned by a national media conglomerate (e.g., Gannett) or they obtain most of their “copy” from “the wire” – the AP – and produce very little of their own, independent copy. The editors at these smaller papers simply pluck the stories – invariably the same stories, written by a handful of writers – and place them on the page. Hence the startling uniformity of the stories (and the opinions expressed). It is just like McDonad’s. A Quarter Pounder With Cheese in Seattle tastes pretty much exactly like a Quarter Pounder With Cheese in Pittsburgh.
Keep in mind, also, that most young journalists are the product of government schools – and of a society dominated by government/corporate conditioning, most of all in non-thinking. To react by rote. To be “one of the boys.” To laugh breezily at the right jokes and banter. To evince disapproval of that which you are expected to disapprove of.
In other words, to be a vapid, inoffensive chucklehead.
I personally saw what happens to people who are heterodox in their opinions – and dared to not care. I saw them – the wire pullers – destroy the careers of two exceptional writers and thinkers: Joe Sobran and Sam Francis. Joe for his questioning of slavish, Israel uber alles politics; Sam for his politically incorrect writings on race. Both had syndication deals, regular columns in major papers and magazines (Joe at National Review). Then, like someone turned off a light in a room, virtually no major publication carried their columns any longer. In short order they were reduced to poverty – and professional obscurity. Both died not long thereafter.
A lesson to others.
They – the wire pullers – can make – or destroy – a career just like that. It is not unlike the celebrity machine, which manufactures products for public consumption. Literally anyone can be made famous – the object of adulation and wealth – by this machine. Completely ordinary people elevated to godhead. The Kardashians, et al. And just as quickly, the rug can be pulled from under. When you know that your success is not the result of talent or hard work – and that, accordingly, it can be taken away at any time – you tend to toe the line. Without needing to be told, you know what to do . . . and what not to do.
Journalism works exactly this way. Individuals of modest talent made famous – put on TV, given book deals, promoted and preened. Provided they abide by the script. It is not necessary to explain this to them. Everyone grasp it – most of them in the same way that a Labrador Retriever knows it must not jump on the sofa.
I also saw at firsthand (at the time, I was an editor/writer for a major paper) something very interesting: The hand-feeding of a new buzzword – 911 – literally hours after the events themselves. Like trained parrots – and that’s what they are – virtually everyone in the media (print and TV and radio) was using that keyword. Over and over and over and over. Not “today’s terrorists attacks,” not “the events in New York City.” Just – 911! The lessons of 911! All over the AP wire, almost instantaneously. Every big wig editor suddenly mouthing the words… all the write-ups (news and commentary) coming over the transom suffused with this now-totemic term.
It was bizarre. But, for me, revelatory. I saw, for the first time, concretely how it really works. It was a living, real-life example of Orwell’s deftly crafted scene in 1984 – when the crowd, by a process of political osmosis, flips over to reviling Eurasia – the new enemy! – without anyone having to actually tell them so.
What is demanded (to borrow again from Orwell) is not merely orthodoxy but unconsciousness. To bleat like a goat – the tone of the bleating and its duration to be determined by the powers that be. The goat who does not bleat in tune will soon find himself on the spit.
In summary, journalism in America has been almost entirely co-opted by corporate/government interests (they amount to the same thing), with a few loose ends yet to be cleaned up – most of them online.
Attempts have already been made toward that end. For example, the proposal of wire-puller Cass Sunstein (he is one of them) to revive the “Fairness Doctrine” – to require that contrarian web sites publish “opposing views” in order to “balance” things out. That went nowhere. But what has gone somewhere – and is well on its way to doing real damage – is the international treaty to (ostensibly) reduce copyright infringement but the real goal of which is to cripple contrarian expression. Equally sinister is the characterization of contrarian viewpoints as “extremist” – soon to be elevated to “terrorist.”
And then, the machinery is already in place to deal with such people.
Just remind the cattle to remember the lessons of 911.
I have no doubt most will moo their approval.
Throw it in the Woods?
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