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Compliant news media have failed the American people

Excellent op/ed piece in the Baltimore Sun by Lois Melina on the lap dog media. Pretty scathing stuff.

Journalists have allowed political operatives to successfully control what is discussed and how it is discussed. TV programs that pit an extremist on the left against an extremist on the right have made it clear there is no room for moderate voices. Walter Cronkite used to be the most trusted journalist in America. Now Jon Stewart – a comedian with a “fake news” show – may be.

Cronkite photo: Irving Haberman

President Bush invaded Iraq on false pretenses, and many in the news media not only didn’t question his assertions but served to legitimize them. The Patriot Act, which authorizes serious abridgments of civil liberties, was enacted and allowed to continue with hardly a whimper from the institutions that depend on the First Amendment for their existence. The story of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib all but died with no high-level official held responsible.

Pursuing these kinds of stories takes time, energy and sources. It is fueled by a healthy skepticism from reporters and courage on the part of editors. And it requires that government be sufficiently in awe of the power of the press so that it provide answers and access.

Instead, we have too many reporters who believe it is their job simply to quote what people tell them – who think being “investigative” is getting a conflicting quote.

…One way the mainstream news media have given up their power is by allowing spin doctors to control what becomes a story and how that story is framed. Political operatives understand the news media better than reporters and consequently are able to control what news is covered and how.

It’s fair to blame the Democratic Party’s loss of the election on the Kerry campaign’s failure to address the Swift boat ads. But it’s also fair to ask the news media to be accountable for giving legs to a story that they knew was false. What we have seen is that smear tactics, if repeated often enough, gain legitimacy. And political operatives on all sides have learned how to frame lies in ways that manipulate the news media into covering them as though they have substance.

…[Bush] told the White House press corps that now that he has a mandate, he intends to answer only one question from each reporter. Follow-up questions, if reporters find the president’s first answer to be less than adequate, are a thing of the past.

I don’t think he was joking. I believe the president was saying he intends to do what he wants to do and was daring the news media to challenge him.

Yes, the press doesn’t want to have their access restricted to public officials, especially the White House, because that will mean ratings and revenues will be affected. This is the sorry state of affairs in the mainstream news media.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding