Monday, May 02, 2005

Conservative Cancer, Liberal Laryngitis and Media Bias

On Sunday I read a Washington Post piece on the rise of conservatism in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the middleman agency charged with keeping the peace between the government and PBS/NPR. Remember a decade ago when a Gingrich-lead Congress tried to reduce/eliminate CPB funding to PBS because of its supposed liberal bent. That effort failed because CPB prevailed in maintaining its neutrality and allowed PBS/NPR to provide programming the public supported. Nowadays, with a CPB board loaded with Republicans and lead by a former Michael Powell FCC crony, Buster the Bunny wasn't allowed to visit with lesbian families because of the message it represents, despite huge PBS-watching public support for the program. Slowly but surely the government will decide what is shown on public TV, rather than the people who watch it.

As Atrios said yesterday, "Journamalisming is Hard." Media Matters has been busy trying to get the word out about these changes at the CPB, and at the same time they have been highly critical of the NYTimes, citing the very poor job it did of relating the extent of these changes to the public. Journalism, as it is practiced in the MSM, is a rapidly changing, increasingly thankless job. The pressure to publish or perish is intense, hence the rise in reckless fact-checking and crediting, regurgitated pieces and patently made-up stories. Now that corporate America owns most MSM outlets, the squeeze at the bottom line has caused the rash of sensationalized, media-driven stories and reliance on 10 second sound-bytes. Charges of media bias from and towards both right and left has lead to the existence of blatantly one-sided information sources like Fox News and talk radio. While most print and TV news pay at least lip service to the notion of objectivity, talk radio has no compunction to do so and Fox News simply chooses to omit certain stories and totally gloss over others.

The government uses this situation to its advantage. While repeatedly calling for balanced reporting from the MSM, it favors Fox in making people and news leaks available. Now it has set its sights on public broadcasting. By loading the board of the CPB with conservatives, it is slowly changing programming to the point where most PBS/NPR's current audience (predominantly liberal, progressive or moderate) will no longer support public broadcasting financially. Two results are possible: PBS will cease to exist, pleasing fiscal conservatives who dislike using public money where they think private enterprise should reign; or neocons and the religious right will take over programming, claiming a powerful pulpit from which to preach their agendas. Thanks to the government and corporate America, we can all whistle so long Fourth Estate.

The real loser in all this is the American public, especially those in the middle and to the left, as they become marginalized by their own silence. Since 9-11 all protests against governmental intrusion have been met with calls of unAmericanism, lack of support for our troops, etc. A few brave souls on Air America, in the government and in the blogosphere have tried to continue making noise, but until a majority of Americans are willing to speak up with their voices and their votes, we are all in danger of losing one of our most important freedoms, the right to know both sides of the issues before us, and then truly "what will we tell our children".