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W. David Jenkins: Tools and Fools and Scapegoats

The American News Media – Tools and Fools and Scapegoats

By W. David Jenkins III

The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same. ~Marie Beyle

The media must have been flipping out recently. Terri Schiavo was gone, Scott Peterson was in jail, Martha Stewart was out of jail and Michael Jackson could only make news when he showed up for court in his jammies. My gawd! What are we gonna report on?

“Well, the President’s numbers are way down.”

“Uh-huh…what else ya got?”

“Um, the insurgency in Iraq is getting much worse.”

“Old news. What else?”

“What about that memo from the Times of London ?”

“What memo?”

“The one that proves that Bush was skewing intelligence to invade Iraq back in ’02 that just popped up in British…..”

“No! No! No! What are you nuts? Geezuz, isn’t there anything happening out there?”

“Ah, Paula Abdul is being accused of sleeping with a contestant from that show. And there’s also something about a Georgia woman who disappeared before her wedding and turned up in……”

“NOW you’re talking!”

So the media was able to find some more fodder for the masses to consume and all was well with the corporate media in LaLa Land . With a smoking gun memo proving the administration was fixing intelligence to fit policy, a raving lunatic soon to be confirmed as the US ambassador to the UN, insurgent attacks in Iraq almost tripling in a month, continued lies being told about Social Security by a little man whose popularity is the worst ever for a second term president at this point and a Senate that is on the verge of implosion over a handful of unqualified judicial nominees, the media chooses instead to keep us up to date on a finger found in a bowl of Wendy’s chili.

We live in a country where incompetence is ignored or even worse, rewarded. That same incompetence now passes for news.

For instance, there was much bally-hoo made over the capture of a “top al Qaeda kingpin” a short while back. There were claims by administration members and the media that this was one of bin Laden’s “top generals.” Condi Rice referred to the arrest as a “major breakthrough” and so the masses could all know that George the Dubya was still on the hunt and “smokin’ ‘em outta their holes” and so on and so on. Turn on the television and we can all celebrate! Film at eleven!

Of course, a few days later it turned out that this Abu Faraj al-Libbi character wasn’t who George and Condi said he was. Turns out he wasn’t even important enough to get his name on the State Department’s or the FBI’s most wanted list. But did anyone limited to conventional American media sources even hear about this little “oopsy”?

You’re kidding, right?

One would think by now that the media (let alone the Bushies) would think first before jumping the gun on such matters. But the media, like the administration they seem to worship, can’t seem to keep from making this same mistake over and over. For crying out loud, the media even had the runaway bride’s fiancé being portrayed as the next Scott Peterson there for a short while before his cold-footed not so soon to be wife showed up a few states away with some bogus kidnapping story. Then the media felt we all wanted an in depth analysis of the situation for a week while the death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan continued to “ka-ching” out of earshot.

Tell me, how many of you have found yourself looking at your television while screaming, “Who flipping cares?”

So in light of all this MSM (mainstream media) incompetence, the recent piece in the alleged liberal NY Times by Adam Cohen about ethics and Bloggers really had me scratching my head wondering if he was really serious. One of the major focuses of his piece was that it was only a matter of time before Bloggers would be held accountable for what they wrote or what they wrought. According to Cohen, the MSM has its own set of rules that constitute ethical journalism. Cohen writes that all MSM members agree that;

“Information should be verified before it is printed, and people who are involved in a story should be given a chance to air their viewpoints, especially if they are under attack. Reporters should avoid conflicts of interest, even significant appearances of conflicts, and disclose any significant ones. Often, a conflict means being disqualified to cover a story or a subject. When errors are discovered or pointed out by internal or external sources, they must be corrected. And there should be a clear wall between editorial content and advertising.”

I would guess that Fox News Channel has managed to slip beneath Cohen’s little radar.

But Cohen’s piece is not the first time that the MSM has raised the question concerning Bloggers and their effect on news. It was Bloggers who exposed and subsequently forced the corporate media to cover Trent Lott, CBS (however, CBS should have countered the accusations with witnesses attesting to the accuracy of the content in those alleged “forged” documents) and the Gannon/Guckert -Sex in the White House – Fake Journalist story. This forced the MSM to start asking the question of the role Bloggers and the part they played in the delivery of information. Each time the Bloggers beat the MSM to the punch, the lazy mainstream “news” people would not so subtlety ask the public who should be believed – the Bloggers or them?

What it boils down to is that the Bloggers are doing the media’s job. But if Cohen truly believes that the above mentioned code of ethics is actually adhered to by the corporate media or, at least, should be adhered to by the corporate media then he is lecturing the wrong people. Especially when it comes to questions of accountability or credibility.

Boiling Things Down

Some of you may remember way back when cocoa was made by boiling milk on the stove instead of zapping a mug of Swiss Miss and water in the microwave. Remember how you had to skim that “skin” off the top of the cocoa and get rid of it before you drank?

Well, the media is “skimming the skin” off the real news and splatting it in the bottom of the sink. Then they point to it and tell you to drink up. That’s your “news.” Meanwhile, the Bloggers are looking at the mug and saying, “Hmmm….that looks a lot better.” And they’re right.

Take the events of 5/11 for example. An unidentified plane flies into restricted airspace and the White House and Capitol are evacuated. Laura Bush and Nancy Reagan are hustled down to the bunker, Cheney flees to his undisclosed area, Rumsfeld is given the authority to blow the thing out of the sky, everybody’s on red alert, folks like you and I are informed about all this shortly after noon but……the leader of the free world doesn’t get filled in until forty minutes later? After it was all over? The Secret Service didn’t think it was necessary? Bush was too busy riding his bike? Does any of this make you wonder who is really running the country?

Too bad, because nobody is asking and nobody is going to tell you anyway. You need to know what kind of therapy the runaway bride is going to receive and, after that, we’ll tell you whose finger was really in the chili. That’s all you need to know. Now stop being so damn nosey or you’ll be branded “un-patriotic.”

But within days, the Bloggers had pieced together some interesting facts about that day that the MSM have once again ignored.

One of the best Blogs out there, The Daily Kos, not only managed to reconstruct the plane’s flight path (directly over the area where Bush was biking) but also the fact that this area is less than five minutes away, even by bicycle mind you, from NSA headquarters – the nerve center in a national crisis. So again, why wasn’t the president notified?

Scott McClellan stated that the protocols enacted after 9/11 “did not require presidential authority for this situation." Excuse me? He also stated that they knew the president wasn’t in any danger. Oh really? How did they know? In the forty minutes between the time America was clued in and Bush was finally notified, all hell was breaking loose. The motorcade in which Cheney was whisked away in contained an SUV with the barrel of a large gun sticking out of the roof (compliments of a Blogger/witness) so somebody wasn’t taking any chances!

Oh well. At least there are other things to worry about.

Under Attack - Newsweek

Now we have the Newsweek nonsense with the magazine’s editors all willy-nilly and apologetic because the Pentagon denies any abuse of the Quran at Guantánamo and is blaming Newsweek for the riots in Afghanistan . So Newsweek issues an apology for maybe getting some specific facts wrong.

Now we have McClellan spouting about how “…people have lost their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged.” Hey, Scott. What about fixing intelligence to fit policy or torturing prisoners? Hasn’t that had the same result?

Then we have Rumsfeld stating that “people need to watch what they do and watch what they say.” Does any of this sound familiar? Calling Ari Fleischer.

Never mind that this isn’t the first time something like this has been reported. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a similar story on January 20 of this year. Not to mention, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers doesn’t think that it’s Newsweek’s fault either. On May 12, Myers stated that the Newsweek story wasn't a chief cause of the riots but “rather the rioting was related more to the ongoing political reconciliation process in Afghanistan than anything else.” Never mind that the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a similar story earlier this year concerning abuses of the Quran by prison guards.

But did we hear this in the MSM? Don’t be ridiculous! But the information was there on The Daily Kos blog on Monday morning. But the media will do their best to have us all believing that the mayhem and bloodshed in the Middle East is all the fault of a magazine article. And there are people in this country stupid enough to believe it.

Oh well, at least we know that the finger in the chili belonged to the friend of the husband of the lady who started it all.

Failing Grades

A recent survey by The Pew Research Center showed that the American public doesn’t believe what they see and hear on their news channel of choice. Everyone from Fox to CSPAN is experiencing credibility problems with the public. Print media is fairing just as poorly as the results show that news source credibility ratings are at an all time low.

However, Internet sources for information have shown a steady upswing since 1996. Only two percent of Americans got their information from the Internet at the beginning of this study but, eight years later, close to thirty percent had traded their TVs for their computers when looking for news. It’s no wonder that the conventional sources are taking aim at the Bloggers because they pose a real threat to their stability not to mention their income.

The network, cable and print media are little more than sources of income for the few, large corporations which own them. Slashed budgets, increased advertising and corporate interest have reduced the ability of journalists to actually investigate a story let alone get it on the air. Conventional sources are left to pander to a market of viewers who put ten spoonfuls of sugar in their coffee. That’s the way they like their news too.

Most Americans don’t like to feel stupid but the American media hasn’t caught on to that yet. One would think that they are slowly waking up but it’ll probably take getting blind sided by the Bloggers a few more times. But for the time being, until they are forced to change, they will continue to cater to the lowest common denominator while keeping one eye on their profits.

That way, most of their audience won’t ever learn about the atrocities in Uzbekistan (a coalition member) or the Downing Street Memo, Sibel Edmonds, the right wing takeover of PBS or American soldier Erik Saar’s first hand account of abuse and sexual torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. And that’s just what happened in the last week and a half.

Credibility and accountability are not an issue for most of the Internet community. Many Americans can filter out the minefields they encounter with some Internet sources. Those same attributes are what have led them away from their TV sets and newspapers over the years. They’ve grown tired of headlines that are hyped and many times misleading. They’ve learned that the cocoa scum in the bottom of the sink is not the news.

They’ve also started to realize that if they want to know what’s really going on, then they need to turn off the television.


Writer/Activist, W. David Jenkins III resides in upstate New York with his wife and two children. His article "The Death of America" was featured in the book, "The Girl with Yellow Flowers in Her Hair" by Lisa Walsh Thomas (Pitchfork Publishing ). He also contributed to the book, "Big Bush Lies" by Jerry Barrett due to be published in April 2004. Jenkins' writing is published on many political web sites and his website can be viewed here.

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