Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Nothing stinks like success

Our American media gets a lot of criticism for its coverage of the presidential campaign and politics in general. Like most people, I have just about completely tuned it out. I don't watch television at all and rarely read past the headlines in the newspapers. I frankly don't give a fuck about flag pins or Jeremiah Wright and just seeing Hillary Clinton open her mouth, or any of the major media talking heads, is enough to send my poor, tired, remote finger into action.

In the old days people would think that the broadcast media defined success by bringing in the largest possible audience so that they could sell ads. A lot of people still think that their strategy is to get as large as ratings as possible. They rationalize that the media bigwigs are not stupid so they must be giving the people what they want. Those of us who care about the government or quality journalism are simply victims of the free market. The great majority of people, however, reap its beneficence. Fox News is what they want. Chris Matthews and Tim Russert? The Market provides.

That kind of reasoning made sense in the old days when the media were self-owned. As an individual entity, a CBS or an ABC actually had market incentive to get the highest ratings and the best way to do that was to provide the best news coverage. Journalists like Walter Cronkite, Harry Reasoner, Howard K. Smith, and Roger Mudd had a degree of objectivity and respect for the truth that is just not permitted on television today. Back then, just about everybody watched the nightly news. Today, only the most feeble minded nitwits and a few hardy souls can bear it.

That's because all of the news networks are a small division of a major corporation. Their function is much more that of a propaganda arm than a news provider. Large corporations benefit from having an ignorant populace mired in irrelevant scandals. When it comes to a presidential race, the media serves as a judge and jury out of the dark ages. They throw the candidate into the media cesspool. If he or she has enough integrity to float above the slime, then he or she is guilty and must be banished. If the candidate sinks in the slime and becomes one with it, then he or she is found safe and is deemed qualified to carry on the status quo, to ensure ever more windfalls for the corporations that sponsor them.

So when we turn off Fox or MSNBC in disgust, that is not an old fashioned textbook example of the marketplace in action. General Electric profits so much more from its "defense" contracts than from its cable news division. I don't know if that's a new fangled text book example either,depending on which corporation has cornered the textbook market, but it should be.

In what's come to be known as a free market, which is mostly free from oversight or competition, accurate reporting about important issues such as the government or the economy is counter-productive.

Every time you change the channel, it's a victory for the shareholders. It's the defecating smell of success.