June 10, 2008

Toward the Restoration of a Vigorous Free Press

If there is a silver lining in the cloud of disgrace embodied by the symbiotic relationship between our modern corporate news media and the Bush Administration, it is that as political shilling and corporate collusion have reached previously unclimbed heights, they have become nearly impossible to ignore. Because while Americans' regard for traditional reporting has charted a steady, downward trend for the past decade - and deservedly so - citizen activism, often rooted in the blogosphere - is on the rise in this arena.

Recent confirmation from former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan that traditional news outlets, by and large, enabled President Bush's agenda for the invasion of Iraq on spurious grounds is an obvious example of the reasons underlying increased activism related to press freedom, but what is perhaps even stronger justification is the media's complete failure to follow-up on this story, which ought to be dominating public discourse. (As The Daily Show's Jon Stewart points out in the video below, courtesy of Crooks and Liars.) Likewise, the shocking New York Times report that the Pentagon orchestrated - literally - a domestic propaganda strategy in the run-up to the Iraq War using retired generals to promote the president's policies has been willfully ignored by every single major broadcast news organization except for PBS.

Lest anyone believe that the Times is consistently on the side of truth and justice, however, as Glenn Greenwald details, the Grey Lady remains guilty - even after the very public failure of its newsroom in the person of Judith Miller - of uncritically repeating a litany of patently false White House talking points, this time on the need to allow the government to spy on Americans without a warrant. Just one day earlier, Mr. Greenwald pointed out separately that cable giant Comcast appears to be making every effort to deny airtime to advertising critical of its actions in support of illegal government spying. Clearly then, media misconduct is (sadly) a target-rich environment.

This is not a minor problem. Knowledge has always been power, but in the information age, that has never been more true. The people who directly control what the American public sees and hears cannot be allowed to act without oversight or meaningful competition, and that is why last week's National Conference on Media Reform, a gathering or people dedicated to the ideal that a free and vigorous press is critical to the survival of democracy, was so heartening. It served as an emotional and intellectual outlet, a rallying point, and a source of mutual support for those who truly care about what happens to this country, not just their section of it or the parts where they've invested their money.

Bill Moyers, who started his career in politics with Lyndon Johnson, gave the keynote speech. Mr. Moyers, it is fair to recall, is responsible for what is rightly considered one of the most egregious pieces of political propaganda ever created - the infamous Daisy Girl commercial (which only aired once) - but it is unquestionable that he has dedicated the forty-plus years since he approved it for broadcast to working dilligently and consistently to improve the quality of both politics and journalism in this country by his own example. It's an excellent speech, and something to provide encouragement as we reach the midpoint of the final year in the worst presidency in the history of the United States.


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