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What’s Wrong With the Mainstream Media

July 1st, 2010 No comments

When the Rolling Stone article that brought down General McChrystal came out, many in the establishment press immediately jumped over Michael Hastings, the reporter who wrote that story, for violating some kind of unspoken agreement between journalists and the people in power they’re supposed to cover. Most notably, CBS reporter Lara Logan criticized him for reporting things that he knew could damage McChrystal, and even though nothing was officially off-the-record he should have simply opted not to include it out of deference to the general.

As many have now pointed out, this is exactly the problem with so-called “journalism” today. Reporters don’t do actual journalism–they do stenography. They just write down whatever it is the public figure has to say and leave it at that. This is mostly because these beat-reporters are afraid that if they publish anything unfavorable to these sources, they’ll lose their access. Barack Obama might have said something that would have destroyed his entire campaign if it ever went public, but the reporter won’t publish it because she doesn’t want to burn her bridges.

This is why even if you take the differences between the liberal and conservative media into consideration, you end up with a mostly one-sided view of things. Matt Taibbi lays this out brilliantly in his blog, which is worth quoting at length:

True, the Pentagon does have perhaps the single largest public relations apparatus on earth – spending $4.7 billion on P.R. in 2009 alone and employing 27,000 people, a staff nearly as large as the 30,000-person State Department – but is that really enough to ensure positive coverage in a society with armed with a constitutionally-guaranteed free press?

And true, most of the major TV outlets are completely in the bag for the Pentagon, with two of them (NBC/GE and Logan’s own CBS, until recently owned by Westinghouse, one of the world’s largest nuclear weapons manufacturers) having operated for years as leaders in both the broadcast media and weapons-making businesses.

But is that enough to guarantee a level playing field? Can a general really feel safe that Americans will get the right message when the only tools he has at his disposal are a $5 billion P.R. budget and the near-total acquiescence of all the major media companies, some of whom happen to be the Pentagon’s biggest contractors?

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Apparently not, according to Lara Logan. Apparently in addition to all of this, reporters must also help out these poor public relations underdogs in the Pentagon by adhering to an “unspoken agreement” not to embarrass the brass, should they tilt back a few and jam their feet into their own mouths in front of a reporter holding a microphone in front of their faces.

The media’s job is to challenge the powers-that-be, but in reality all it does is prop them up. When a reporter actually does his job and calls it like he sees it, the rest of the media loses their shit and starts running around like headless chickens squawking about how that’s not how it’s done. Geraldo Rivera’s head nearly exploded in an interview with Bill O’Reilly in which he was trying to argue that Hastings’ reporting, because it damaged the reputation of a top-commander in the U.S. military, was borderline treason!

As Cenk Uygur points out in this clip from The Young Turks, this is from a guy who was kicked out of Iraq for broadcasting details about troop movements for all to see, including the enemy.

The problem with these “journalists” is that they think they actually work for the people they cover–that their job is to help them out as much as possible. Taibbi blasts this notion:

They don’t need your help, and you’re giving it to them anyway, because you just want to be part of the club so so badly. Disgustingly, that’s really what it comes down to. Most of these reporters just want to be inside the ropeline so badly, they want to be able to say they had that beer with Hillary Clinton in a bowling alley in Scranton or whatever, that it colors their whole worldview. God forbid some important person think you’re not playing for the right team!

Meanwhile, the people who don’t have the resources to find out the truth and get it out in front of the public’s eyes, your readers/viewers, you’re supposed to be working for them — and they’re not getting your help. What the hell are we doing in Afghanistan? Is it worth all the bloodshed and the hatred? Who are the people running this thing, what is their agenda, and is that agenda the same thing we voted for? By the severely unlikely virtue of a drunken accident we get a tiny glimpse of an answer to some of these vital questions, but instead of cheering this as a great break for our profession, a waytago moment, one so-called reputable journalist after another lines up to protest the leak and attack the reporter for doing his job. God, do you all suck!

They do indeed. If “journalists” in this country had been doing actual journalism for the last nine years, we would have been out of Afghanistan a long time ago.

Props to Russ Feingold

July 1st, 2010 No comments

Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is the only senator on the Democratic side who is sticking to his guns and refusing to vote for the financial reform package because it doesn’t go far enough. He wrote yesterday on the Huffington Post that he had a simple test for reform–whether or not it would prevent another financial crisis–and that this bill fails the test.

Of course he’s been cajoled by the administration and other democrats to get on board and act like this is real reform, but much to his credit he won’t do it.

It would be a huge mistake to pass a bill that purports to re-regulate the financial industry but is simply too weak to protect people from the recklessness of Wall Street. That would be like building an impressive-looking dam without telling everyone that it has a few leaks in it. False security is no security at all.

Obama and the rest of the democrats are making a huge political miscalculation. They think that the bankers have wised up and learned their lesson, and that they only needed to pass something called “financial reform” for the sake of public perception while Wall Street does its part to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again.

But “Wall Street” has no conscience. It’s not a singular entity that makes decisions and learns from its mistakes. It’s made up of a bunch of individual people who make day-to-day decisions based on their immediate financial incentives. Nothing has been done to change the incentives of these individuals: bankers can still make loads of money by lending to people who can’t afford to pay, and ratings agencies still work for the banks that they are supposed to be overseeing, so they still have an incentive to give bonds Triple-A ratings (meaning virtually risk-free) even when those bonds are loaded with risk.

Another financial crisis will come, and when it does Obama and the democrats will look at best like fools, and at worst like liars. Russ Feingold will look like the only one who understood how serious the reform needed to be.

Luckily for the democrats, the other party will look even more foolish. This week John Boehner said that financial reform was like “killing an ant with a nuclear weapon.” Exactly backwards, John. The bill is more like sending in an ant to defuse a nuclear weapon.

NOTE: Unlike the health care reform bill, which I reluctantly supported in the end because “something is better than nothing”, in this case the minor tweeks to the system are just as good as nothing. Even if Feingold’s no-vote is enough to kill the legislation, he’s still doing the right thing by forcing the democrats to either make the bill stronger or let it die.