March 11th, 2010 16:56 EST
Journalism - Not a Turn Key Business
(Following is the transcript of Hot Copy, No. 18, Del Marbrook`s weekly podcast).
You could say that as far as the White House is concerned the war in Iraq has already been won, because the moneybags who supported Dick Cheney and George W. Bush have been stuffing the spoils of war into their carpetbags since Day One. You could say it "and some journalists like Greg Palast are already saying it "but you would be accused of terminal cynicism.
That`s not the reason the Washington press corps is not saying it. Among the many issues the press is now infamous for not raising, one of the most important may be why the Washington press corps thinks the occasional story on corporate profiteering and corruption in Iraq is enough to shield it from cover-up charges.
Big Media "the networks, the cable companies, the newspaper and radio chains, the book publishers "belong to the people who hobnob with the military-industrial complex that brought us this war. In fact, the military-industrial complex is too dated a term to describe the corporate oligarchy calling the shots.
The interests they serve, the interests served by the White House, are not the interests of American families struggling to pay their bills and worrying about their sons and daughters in Iraq and Afghanistan. If they were, more of these corporations would be paying their fair share of taxes instead of moving their corporate headquarters to places where they don`t have to pay them.
The people who have bought and paid for our government expect to get a great deal for it, and they`re getting it in Iraq and Afghanistan. They expect war contracts, but by dodging their fair share of taxes they undermine our defenses and transfer this responsibility to the middle class, which is already paying in blood for their profiteering.
Why isn`t this one of the big running stories? Is it because it`s hard to cover? No, it`s not that hard. The money trail is easier to follow than most murder investigations. Is the story neglected because it`s boring? What could be more boring than an endless march of retired generals and large-mouthed politicians defending the mistakes they`ve already made?
And now I have a question for you students. Are you talking in your classes about why this story goes under-covered? If you ask the Washington reporters they will cite you chapter and verse to prove the story has been covered. And you will find archival evidence to support them. But we all know that the journalist`s job is never done until the public is thoroughly familiar with it.
The press has done a better job covering Donald Trump`s feud with Rosie O`Donnell than it has covering the waste and corruption in Iraq. Is this because the press is giving us the kind of coverage we want? That is the argument book publishers use when asked why they publish so much shoddy trash aimed at the mass markets. But if this is what the press lords believe, they dare not say it because they enjoy special First Amendment privileges that obligate them to go far beyond giving the public what it wants.
Furthermore, it`s as difficult to prove the public is getting what it wants as it is to prove that violent movies and video games breed violence.
Does this mean we can`t trust the press? Yes and no. The press we have today is nowhere near as ethically challenged as the press familiar to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. It can be argued "I believe it should be argued "that we would live in a sewer of government and corporate corruption without the press. But that doesn`t mean the press has once and for all earned our trust.
As our country grew, practically every town, even frontier towns, had independent newspapers. The owners were often in debt up to their ears to local bankers, but they expressed a vast array of opinions and were often like Don Quixote in their eagerness to tilt at whatever windmill was handy. They contributed to our individualism and at the same time our sense of community. They stood for underdogs. They were often a court of last resort.
And now they`re gone, swallowed up by huge media corporations whose most strongly held opinion is that they have a right to maximize their profits at anybody`s expense. This can`t be good for the country. It can`t be good for our small towns or our big cities or our states. It is the reason that across the land developers are corrupting local government. It is the reason our politicians are increasingly bought and paid for.
Under the circumstances it is difficult to tell the real government from the government that claims to represent us. Whose government, for example, is it that keeps on arguing for free-trade agreements when the evidence is that they are destroying our working people and making the immigration problem worse?
And why has it taken the devastating effects of these trade agreements so many years to enter the public consciousness? One reason, of course,
is that the globalists who championed these trade pacts were often dead wrong in their predictions. But another reason is that it is not in big business`s interest to bring these matters to the public`s attention.
Fourteen years ago when the North American Free Trade Agreement was being ballyhooed as the be-all and end-all of economic vision, it was argued that since it would bring prosperity to Mexico it would reduce Mexican immigration into the United States. Mexican immigration has increased. By and large it is Mexico`s fat-cats who have benefited from NAFTA, not Mexican workers. And certainly not our workers.
Was the press asleep at the switch? No, not exactly. The Wall Street Journal expertly reported the free trade issue. So did the major newspapers. Television habitually struggles with such stories, because their complexities are not easily rendered into sound bites. But covering a story is not the same as explaining it clearly, as fitting it into the larger context of our lives, and when it comes to the interests of Big Business the press has no interest in doing this because it belongs to big business.
What is to do be done? Well, in the 19th Century you would get an opposition newspaper or maybe two or three of them. Today we must look to the Internet for information and context that big media fail to give us. It requires enterprise on our part, but the Internet is capable of rewarding our enterprise with immense treasures of information and opinion.
Much of that information is not vetted by editors or editorial committees, the way, say, encyclopedias are published or the way The New York Times or The Washington Post has editors whose knowledge often borders on the scholarly. But I`m not as alarmed by this situation as some of my colleagues are.
In the desire to wring greater profits from their properties, Big Media are breaking down the traditional wall between newsrooms and marketers. More and more the newsroom serves the business side, and the independence of the newsroom is regarded as an artifact of a bygone era. Nobody wants to fess up to this reality. News people are so sad about it that in general they fear talking about it will only make matters worse. The business side wants to perpetuate the myth of newsroom independence.
Don`t get me wrong. I`m talking about trends. There are exceptions. In some news operations the business side is calling all the shots, but in others, such as The New York Times, the great myth is still a reality. Nonetheless, the handwriting is on the wall.
Internet news operations will create their own business and ethical models. That is already happening. The more successful ones will vet their information. They will edit it properly. They will exercise editorial discretion. But for now it`s a bit like the Wild West. The big-money news media that can afford to mount sophisticated Internet operations often consider them to be add-ons. But in time there will be plenty of big-money Internet news operations that owe nothing to the old media except tradition. Much as I love print newspapers, the smell of printer`s ink, and the roar of the presses, I took forward to this new day because I believe big business has been corrupting the Fourth Estate with its refusal to weigh profit against moral responsibility.
There is something you can do right now about this situation. You can start talking about it. You can say, you know, that guy Del Marbrook is full of it. The press is as responsible as it always was. He doesn`t know what he`s talking about. Or you can say, let`s look into what he`s saying and see if there is any truth to it. If you do that, then you`ll be doing what good journalists should do. You can ask your professors and instructors what they think. Do they think I`m full of it? Do their opinions resonate with you? If they`re not encouraging you to challenge them, they`re not helping you become good journalists. That`s why teaching journalism is so demanding.
You have been listening to Hot Copy, and I`m Del Marbrook. If you`d like to know more about what I think, go to www.djelloulmarbrook.com.