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David Swanson: The Cablization of Network News

The Cablization of Network News

By David Swanson

On Tuesday, September 5th, at least three things will change. Congress will finish vacationing and return to its long and difficult task of destroying the world; many of us will welcome our Congress Members back to Washington with a giant protest camp called Camp Democracy; and Network News will officially go Cable with Katie Couric playing the role of Edward R. Murrow.

That's right, Katie will be "anchor" and "managing editor" of CBS Evening "News". And she's already hard at work. "It's very exciting," she says, "because you're benefiting from all the terrific people and systems already in place, yet hopefully creating something different and fresh. Whether you're talking about the music and saying 'Can the trumpets be a little brighter?' or figuring out the sets and the graphics, it's a lot of fun."

No, that last paragraph was not a string of typos. That's what she's working on. Katie's not hard at work trying to correct a situation in which millions of Americans believe falsehoods fed them by their televisions (Iraq was behind 9-11 and had WMD; U.S. elections are verifiable and credible; global warming and evolution are "just theories"; Arabs and immigrants are the causes of our troubles; the "president" isn't fed words through a wire in his ear; the economy is doing well; etc.). No, Katie is hard at work brightening trumpets.

Good night and good luck and you're gonna need it.

Katie's crossover from entermation to infotainment is remarkable only because she's not on cable "news," in which looks and lungs have long outweighed journalistic abilities. The story of cable news from "inside the sausage factory" is best told, as far as I know, in Jeff Cohen's forthcoming book "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media."

Here we follow Jeff on a hilarious voyage into the belly of the beast as he moves from hosting "Crossfire" on CNN to balancing unfairness on Fox News to providing punditry on MSNBC while producing the "Phil Donahue Show," a show that was MSNBC's most popular when that cable network killed it because it was insufficiently supportive of the coming war, the one the President said he was working so hard to avoid and certainly hadn't decided upon.

Jeff is a friend of mine and a teacher and mentor of mine. When I read this book I hear his voice speaking it. And I've heard some of these stories more than once. But to have them all down here in this honed and perfected form is a treasure, and a terrifying tale. Through the course of the book we see exactly how awful our public communications system is, and we realize that it grew worse during the years covered by this book and continued to grow worse right up to this Katie Couric moment.

Jeff preceded me as the head of communications for Dennis Kucinich's presidential campaign. When I took over, the media had no interest in Dennis. When I finished, the media had no interest in Dennis. Time after time we saw Dennis receive the most applause at a candidates' event but go unmentioned in the next day's stories. Thousands of people told me "I'd vote for Dennis if he had a chance," because the media had told them he had no chance, and they'd mistaken their televisions for their democracy, and obeyed. Reading this book heightens my respect for Jeff immensely, because I see that he has faced this level of frustration for years, and faced it up close and personal, and stayed cheerful through it, and not compromised.

Was there a media conspiracy to shut a peace candidate like Kucinich out of the news? If you read this book, you'll understand that for the most part the simplistic smoke-filled-room notion of such a conspiracy is superfluous, but you'll also understand that all sorts of hard evidence documents the media outlets' decisions to give peace no chance.

Jeff also documents here the closeness of media executives to the Bush Administration and the extent to which they knew the war had been decided upon even while pretending to cover a debate over whether there should be a war, all the time basing their rating strategies on the coming bombing missions.

Read this book:

Hear Jeff talk about it, together with Ray McGovern and Scott Ritter, and lead a march to the Washington Post. And get a copy and have Jeff sign it. And watch the film "Rush to War," all on September 19 at


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