Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Death Of Television News

The late Edward R. Murrow understood the great potential of television. He also understood that it could merely propagate ignorance. In 1958, he told the Radio and Television News Directors Association:

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference.” 

He would not have been happy with the job done by television journalists in the run up to the Iraq War. Television news died, Chris Hedges writes, as the United Stated prepared to invade Iraq:

I am not sure exactly when the death of television news took place. The descent was gradual—a slide into the tawdry, the trivial and the inane, into the charade on cable news channels such as Fox and MSNBC in which hosts hold up corporate political puppets to laud or ridicule, and treat celebrity foibles as legitimate news. But if I had to pick a date when commercial television decided amassing corporate money and providing entertainment were its central mission, when it consciously chose to become a carnival act, it would probably be Feb. 25, 2003, when MSNBC took Phil Donahue off the air because of his opposition to the calls for war in Iraq. 

Now television news has become part of the corporate juggernaut:

The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script. They spin the same court gossip. They ignore what the corporate state wants ignored. They champion what the corporate state wants championed. They do not challenge or acknowledge the structures of corporate power. Their role is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system—to make us believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns.

And it's not what TV news reports that's the real problem. It's what it doesn't report:

The lie of omission is still a lie. It is what these news celebrities do not mention that exposes their complicity with corporate power. They do not speak about Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, a provision that allows the government to use the military to hold U.S. citizens and strip them of due process. They do not decry the trashing of our most basic civil liberties, allowing acts such as warrantless wiretapping and executive orders for the assassination of U.S. citizens. They do not devote significant time to climate scientists to explain the crisis that is enveloping our planet. They do not confront the reckless assault of the fossil fuel industry on the ecosystem. They very rarely produce long-form documentaries or news reports on our urban and rural poor, who have been rendered invisible, or on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or on corporate corruption on Wall Street.

And so viewers sit in self satisfied somnolence, content in their bondage. The man who challenged Senator Joseph McCarthy understood what mischief could be managed while the people slept. "A nation of sheep," he said, "will beget a government of wolves."

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.


Lorne said...

And so viewers sit in self satisfied somnolence, content in their bondage.

A succinct and excellent way to describe the apathy that makes it so easy, Owen, for the degradation of news that your post describes.

If people want to see what real news looks like, look no further than Al Jazeera which, happily, is available online: http://www.aljazeera.com/watch_now/

thwap said...

People will say "t'was ever thus." (Especially if they're pompous incompetents like me who use archaic expressions!)

But the fact of the matter is that it wasn't always thus. Corporate news has become more dominating, more biased, less professional, etc., etc., etc.

Edward R. Murrow was a great man. The more I read about him the more impressed I am. And the interesting thing is that he was very much a cheerleader for US entry into the war with Hitler, but the difference was that Hitler wasn't a Saddam Hussein, as in: A tin-pot dictator of an LDC with no indigenous capacity for making its own state-of-the-art weapons.

Murrow was a defender of minorities, from Jews to Blacks to the people suffering under colonial empires, long before it was mainstream.

Murrow wouldn't be allowed on the Sunday morning bullshit sessions on the US televisions these days. Those cretins have sealed up their bubble and only occasionally notice the sane people yelling inaudibly at them from the outside.

Owen Gray said...

You're right, thwap. Murrow was a great man. What made him a superb journalist was that he paid attention to what was happening on the ground.

Back in 1960, he produced a documentary called "Harvest of Shame," about migrant farm workers. His argument was that nothing had changed since Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath in the 1930's.

He insisted that there was to be no sugarcoating of the story. He did not work for the sponsors.

Owen Gray said...

For my money, Lorne, Al Jazeera and the BBC are the best news organizations on television. They actually cover the world.