Tuesday, September 21, 2004

National Treasure

Bill Moyers will be sorely missed. He is one of a dying breed of journalists who understand the ethical demands of their profession, while possessing the sense of social responsibility needed to act according to those standards (as I posted here). Although clearly left-leaning in his politics, he is also the type of journalist who is capable of transcending the partisan dialectic to criticize Democrats and expose their own scandals and misdeeds (he did a major expose of the 1996 Democratic fundraising scandal for his PBS program, among many other similarly non-partisan critiques).

It is a question of loyalties, and Moyers is loyal to the facts above partisan concerns, beholden to the people of this democracy above the elites or power brokers that are the perpetrators of the many abuses he has uncovered, no matter their party affiliation. It is important to note that distinction. Even if his area of focus is often geared toward championing the causes of the disempowered, the defiling of the environment or exposing government and corporate abuses (traditionally left-leaning causes), he does not distort the truth in order to achieve his ends. Dedication to truth above propaganda is all you can ask from a journalist really, but it is what has been so sorely missing in this increasingly polarized environment.

No other entity embodies this trend away from fact based reporting and toward reckless propaganda more than Fox News, as I have
noted in detail here, which is at the forefront of:

...a quasi-official partisan press serving as a mighty megaphone for the regime in power. Stretching from Washington think tanks funded by corporations to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch's far-flung empire of tabloid journalism to the nattering no-nothings of talk radio, a ceaseless conveyor belt -- often taking its cues from daily talking points supplied by the Republican National Committee -- moves mountains of the official party line into the public discourse. But that's not their only mission. They wage war on anyone who does not subscribe to the propaganda, heaping scorn on what they call "old-school journalism."
Unfortunately, the problem is becoming increasingly widespread as corporate consolidation and media ownership rules create an interdependence and commonality of interest between the government, big business and the press - the one institution designed to keep the excess of the other two in check. This is a frightening trend and one that does not bode well for the health and viability of our fragile democracy.

In a
recent speech delivered to the Society of Professional Journalists, Moyers shared the wisdom and experience that he has acquired after decades in pursuit of the the objectives of journalism: "trying to tell the truth about people whose job it is to hide the truth." His insight into the evolving landscape of consolidated, corporate dominated journalism is invaluable, and I strongly urge you all to read the transcript of the speech in its entirety. The thrust of this part of the argument, which he supports - predictably - with facts, can be summarized in these quotes:

A profound transformation is happening here. The framers of our nation never envisioned these huge media giants; never imagined what could happen if big government, big publishing and big broadcasters ever saw eye to eye in putting the public's need for news second to their own interests - and to the ideology of free-market economics.

Media owners have businesses to run, and "these media-owning corporations have enormous interests of their own that impinge on an ever-widening swath of public policy" - hugely important things, ranging from campaign finance reform (who ends up with those millions of dollars spent on advertising?) to broadcast deregulation and antitrust policy, to virtually everything related to the Internet, intellectual property, globalization and free trade, even to minimum wage, affirmative action, and environmental policy. "This doesn't mean media shill mindlessly for their owners, any more than their reporters are stealth operatives for pet causes," but it does mean that in this era when its broader and broader economic entanglements make media more dependent on state largesse, "the news business finds itself at war with journalism."
[Special thanks to Science and Politics which tipped me off to the transcript of the Moyers speech]

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