U.S. Politics Coverage & The Corporate Agenda
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Sept. 7, 2004
Big Media's Coverage of U.S. Politics Influenced by their Corporate Agenda
- Interview with journalist and filmmaker Danny Schechter, conducted by Scott Harris
Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/shechter091004.ram
Much as the Democratic Party did in Boston during their convention, Republicans are doing their best to transform and moderate their image for TV cameras focused on the party's first-ever convention in New York City. While President Bush ran for office in 2000 as a "compassionate conservative" and as a "uniter not a divider," his administration has staked out radical right positions on national security, tax policy, civil liberties and cultural issues like abortion and gay marriage.
But during the convention, many of the most influential and powerful controversial figures in the White House and Republican congressional leadership remained out of sight. In their place were Republican moderates such as New York Gov. George Pataki, Arizona Sen. John McCain and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who attempted to convince swing voters in battleground states to support President Bush. As a sign of how politicians will play on the emotions of fearful voters this year, former New York Mayor Rudolf Giuliani opened the convention by exploiting the memory of the Sept. 11 attacks and the thousands who died to promote Bush's re-election.
It will be largely left to the media to interpret and expose the GOP's extreme makeover seen by millions of Americans viewing the convention through the lens of abbreviated network and cable TV coverage. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with author and filmmaker Danny Schechter of MediaChannel.org, who examines the media's coverage of the Republican convention and the hundreds of thousands of protesters who confronted them in New York City.
Danny Schechter: Four hundred thousand or five hundred thousand people can march in the streets but could not have a rally, could not have a place to really exchange views and hear ideas they can resonate with. What was important was, yes, we had the right to speak, in the sense that we had a right to have a walk, but we didn't have a right to assemble -- and that is one of the protected First Amendment rights -- freedom of assembly. That right was undermined in the city of New York without much protest or complaint by the newspapers.
The New York Times agreed that there should have been a rally in Central Park, but when the city delayed and played games with the protesters and tried to stick them on the West Side Highway, so that more people in New Jersey would see them than in New York, and finally the protesters rejected it, the New York Times you know basically went "tsk, tsk…you should live up to your agreements," as if there was something holy about it when it was the city that was denying the freedom of assembly. Many people actually went to Central Park after the march, and apparently were able for the most part to hang out peacefully and be with each other.
Now the larger point was that the march, usually these things happen and two people throw a stink bomb and the headline is, "Violence mars march." That didn't happen this time. The march was treated pretty respectfully and got front page coverage in a lot of the newspapers I saw. The content of what they were saying about the Bush agenda, the actual issues that brought people into the streets, the war and all of that was sort of lost in terms of the politics of the march. I think those issues were kind of muted in the coverage in my opinion.
Between The Lines: Danny Schechter, the Republicans are doing everything they can to moderate the image of their party, featuring moderate speakers -- N.Y. Gov. George Pataki, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, etc. -- and really pushing to the rear of the room all those neo-cons and others who draw criticism for their extremist views on abortion, women's rights and so on. Tell us a little bit about how the media treats this kind of spin control.
Danny Schechter: I think they sort of buy it for the most part. The most critical pieces that I saw really about all of this was about the party circuit. You know the big lavish parties with corporate largesse paying a lot of money. So there was that kind of expression of sort of media power in the middle of all this.
Between The Lines: What are your concerns when you see big media who have an interest in consolidation and the deregulation issues before Congress? What kind of inherent problems do we have in media covering politics in this country when it comes to those essential issues?
Danny Schechter: We're talking about the people who run the media institutions in America, which used to be 50 major companies, now it's 5 to 7. So you have basically more of a uniformity of views. Many of these companies, rather than compete with each other, are in bed with each other. They use each other's satellites, they have program deals, they have in various ways strategic alliances in this country or overseas. So, they tend to have a view that's really more along the lines of, "Shut up and shop, we want to sell you things, we don't want you talking back, we don't want you too active as a citizen, we don't believe in citizenship as much as we do consumership" -- if that's a word.
You know the challenge that our media -- which is there constitutionally-protected as an institution, to challenge and be a watchdog on abuses of power -- has become this kind of lapdog where it often devalues democracy. Less coverage of politics, less debate, less discussion, less air time for candidates, less coverage of local politics for the most part, fewer in-depth documentaries that explain anything to the public. So no wonder the voting turnouts keep going down, why fewer people are involved, why more people are cynical and don't care -- that's the attitude of much of our media, a kind of contempt for what's going on.
I ran into Dan Rather up in Boston and this was at a time when the networks had decided they weren't going to cover half the conventions. He said, "Well, we've done our coverage for the day, now I'm just going to listen to the windmill," and that's how he referred to all the speechifying, including some major speeches from people that were treated as if nobody even went to the rostrum. They were more interested in putting themselves on TV and commenting on it.
What can I say other than I wish it wasn't this way, but media concentration is responsible for it in large part, as well as the culture of news, the culture of the people running our news rooms. That has to be challenged and confronted, not just with slogans but with alternative independent media like the kind that you're making, maybe with films of the type I'm trying to make, with radio shows that offer other points of view. When people hear that they think they're interested in it.
Danny Schechter's latest film, "Weapons of Mass Deception," examines the media's coverage of the Iraq War. See a trailer of the documentary at www.wmdTheFilm.com
* Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting www.fair.org
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org)for the week ending Sept. 10, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.
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