Media and the State: Ein Reich?

It has been said that if one acts like something, looks like something, and seems like something, then one is usually the thing in question. This maxim, if taken into consideration regarding the Amerikan mainstream media and the United States government, yields eerie results.

Many analyses have come to the conclusion that the media in Amerika act as a lap-dog of the State. News outlets, which have in recent years become little more than quasi-informational entertainment venues, tend to take the position of the State in subtle ways such as language, choice of coverage, and point of view. This is all too apparent in the case of war coverage, as seen in the past six months with the invasion of Iraq, and to a lesser degree with the invasion of Afghanistan (which was not such a highly contested war and thus did not require as much drum-beating).

Several Amerikan television news outlets have recently switched their points of view on Iraq, ever so slightly, in the wake of the non-discovery of weapons of mass destruction and other fallacies used in the justification of the war. This is a curious fact, given the previous willingness of the same outlets to participate in the dehumanization of the enemy, fear-mongering, and one-sided debate that no doubt played a role in convincing the public to support the war. In fact, this type of activity was commonplace until a pivotal moment after the war.

That pivotal moment was not the ex post facto non-discovery of anything justifying war; it was the loud voice of Democratic Party presidential candidates who decided to run on an anti-Bush platform. The first domino to fall in that direction was Howard Dean, and then the rest, who haphazardly fell into line to compete with their outspoken party member. But the anti-war voice existed long before Howard Dean decided to hit the campaign trail. Rallies, demonstrations, marches, and various other forms of protest had been taken to the streets all across the world even months before the war officially started.

These protests received little coverage, especially considering their magnitude, and were often dismissed as the actions of radical left-wingers and die-hard anti-war activists. Only when a mainstream political party took the stance of the disrespected dissenters did the media finally pay heed to that point of view. The stance of grassroots activists has been adopted by Dean as his campaign platform, and now it is being debated as legitimate.

Such is the case with many controversial issues in Amerikan politics. Gun control, for instance, is debated almost solely on a Democrat-Republican basis: some who want guns mostly banned, and others who want only a few guns banned. The position of a constitutionalist or anti-agressionist is rarely debated. The terrorism debate is dominated by the same overall stance-kill or be killed-which is largely held by Republicans and Democrats alike. No time is given to the pacifist viewpoint, nor is any time wasted pointing out the racism and other discrimination (not to mention hatred and death) being spread by the war-mongering of the State. Corporate fraud is paid the same lip-service by the media as it is by the State. The illegal drug discussion wavers between issues of punishment and enforcement, almost the sole discrepancies between the two major parties, but rarely wanders into the forbidden land of ending prohibition altogether.

The usual lineup of cable news channels is testament to this practice of near-exclusive Democrat-Republican debate. CNN's Crossfire features self-proclaimed left- and right-wingers verbally assaulting each other, with opinions that seldom waver from party lines. MSNBC's Buchanan and Press is similar in scope, except that it always has the same hosts. Fox News' Hannity and Colmes completes the trifecta. Even the overall positions taken by the stations create the same kind of left-right competition. CNN is generally liberal, Fox News decidedly conservative, and MSNBC somewhere in the middle, depending, it seems, on the political weather. Almost no station devotes any real time to third-party ideas, compromised and negotiated standpoints, or realistic discussion. The pundits drivel on and on about their views, never try to explain them in any detail, and never come to a practical conclusion.

The case is virtually the same in the government. The organization is more or less the same (mostly Democrats and Republicans, a few independents); the debate, if there is one, is mostly the same; and the players all guest-star for each other. Congressmen, Senators, Executives, and other politicians make visits and speeches to the major news outlets; the military invites some reporters to come watch them work. News personalities are sometimes drawn from the political pool itself, such as Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough.

But it is not just the media that acts like the State. In many respects, the State acts like and is connected to the media. Nearly every major government office has a person hired for the sole purpose of making press releases and creating and maintaining media connections. A small circle of people are allowed to attend White House press conferences and ask questions, and the rest are usually left outside, just as a small circle of politicians are invited to appear on television programs, with the occasional debutante.

Wherever you find one, you will usually find the other. Reporters flock to political speeches and meetings (if they are allowed, of course, because some things are not allowed coverage); events where the press is omnipresent usually have a large police presence as well; the only people allowed on crime scenes, if anyone, are the press and law enforcement people; even the Pentagon, which is forbidden territory for most civilians, allows the press to come play. Amerikans were forbidden from entering Iraq (or rather, from conducting commerce there, which leaves few feasible options) before the war, but that rule was broken for embedded reporters (some embedded reporters even wear full battle dress uniforms while reporting).

A truly free, independent, and informative Amerikan press outlet is hard to come by these days, because reporting power requires access, and access requires collaboration. But is not collaboration another name for alliance, and is not alliance another term for amalgamation? Mergers between media corporations and various conglomerates has made conflicts of interest an everyday occurrence and honest reporting on many subjects impossible. If 'our' mainstream press is in cahoots with the State, can we ever expect to get the truth from them about anything involving the State? Of course not--the State corrupts all that it touches. It would behoove us to be wary of this entity that calls itself the mainstream press, lest it draw us closer to corruption.

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Jim Donahue's picture
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