Monday, May 02, 2005

Why the media isn't working

Two great media pieces over the weekend. The first is a terrific interview with Helen Thomas, doyenne of the White House press corps, in which she castigates the media for having rolled over and played dead on the war, “just like Congress,” she adds. In her view, reporters fell prey to the politics of fear, self-censorship, and groupthink. She sees signs of life returning – thanks to public pressure – and calls on us to keep pushing. Meet with local editorial boards and ask for an accounting; complain to TV talk and news shows about their one-sided lineups. Shame Congress for that blank check they gave Bush and for defaulting on their responsibility to ask tough questions. Best of all, here she is on holding the president’s feet to the fire:

Reporters should put presidents on the line as well, and the public should demand that presidents have regular press conferences. During the campaign we should make them say that they will hold regular news conferences every two weeks. Bush hated talking to the press and only did when forced to. He had a seating chart and would pick the journalists he wanted. He was told to not call on me because I would ask a very tough question. He didn't allow any follow-up questions and would get mad if a reporter asked a two-part question. I mean, c'mon. The president of the United States should be able to answer any question, or at least dance around it. Presidents should be obligated – early and often – to submit to questioning and be held accountable. The presidential news conference is the only forum in our society, the only institution, where a president can be questioned. If a leader is not questioned, he can rule by edict or executive order. He can be a king or a dictator. Who's to challenge him?

This is the woman Ann Coulter called an “old Arab” and a security risk to Bush, and the Wall Street Journal and Fox refer to as the “crazy Aunt in the attic.” Read her piece, if only for the great description of Condi going nuclear after being challenged.

Meanwhile, Robert Parry at Consortium News looks at systemic issues. Following Watergate, he notes, the left and right had access to similar sums of money from foundations and wealthy individuals but made fateful, very different choices on how to invest it. The right built infrastructure for their “war of ideas”; the left chose to “think globally, act locally.” We concentrated on grassroots organizing and programs, trusting the media to stand up to conservative pressure. And while we bought up wetlands, fought AIDS, and fed the poor...

[T]hrough the 1990s, the conservatives poured billions of dollars into their media apparatus, which rose like a vertically integrated machine incorporating newspapers, magazines, book publishing, radio stations, TV networks and Internet sites. Young conservative writers – such as David Brock and Ann Coulter – soon found they could make fortunes working within this structure. Magazine articles by star conservatives earned top dollar. Their books – promoted on conservative talk radio and favorably reviewed in right-wing publications – jumped to the top of the best-seller lists.

While progressives starved freelancers who wrote for left-of-center publications like The Nation or In These Times, conservatives made sure that writers for the American Spectator or the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page had plenty of money to dine at Washington’s finest restaurants.

Well, we know who won that round. They've been dining out on Democrats for more than a decade. So far, no real news.

What’s truly worrisome about Parry’s story is that he still can’t get a hearing with the left. He’s been making the rounds of liberal foundations since the early 1990s looking to counter media imbalance. First he was told it wasn’t a problem or that they “didn’t do media.” Then the problem became too big. Then all resources had to go into defeating Bush. Then everyone was tapped out from the campaign. And now we’re focused on all these urgent legislative and judicial fights….

Parry says the time to invest in progressive media is now. He doesn’t think the pendulum of imbalance will swing back on its own accord.

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