Modern media in America: Purveyors of politician's utterances

In the Fall, 2004 issue of the World Policy Journal, Jonathan Mermin has an interesting article entitled, "The Media's Independence Problem". Mermin's thesis is that the modern media is not doing its job. They have become mouth pieces for government officials. They no longer do investigative journalism, dig up the facts,  present evidence, describe context, analyze, describe a fact pattern, and offer possible conclusions.

The contemporary citizen must do this on his/her own. You can't believe what you read, hear, and see. You must view the media critically. Most of the stories would fall into the category of entertainment, and/or public relations, rather than objective news.

This idea that media outlets are the public relations agencies for the power elites is not something that the corporate media want you to know. They rarely cover stories about media policy which relates to their own industry and profession. So today, I am starting a new category on my blog entitled, "Things they don't want you to know." My first entry in the "Things they don't want you to know" category is that most media is not "fair and balanced", or come close to anything objectively accurate. Even the idea of Fox News that its stories are "fair and balanced" is ridiculous, because facts are facts, evidence is evidence, truth is truth. There isn't two sides to the truth. There may be two sides to an interpretation in which case people are entiled to their opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

Here is part of what Jonathan Mermin says:

The word occupation...was never mentioned in the run-up to the war. It was liberation. This was [talked about in Washington as] a war of liberation, not a war of occupation. So as a consequence, those of us in journalism never even looked at the issue of occupation. —Jim Lehrer

In other words, if the government isn’t talking about it, we don’t report it. This somewhat jarring declaration, one of many recent admissions by journalists that their reporting failed to prepare the public for the calamitous occupation that has followed the “liberation” of Iraq, reveals just how far the actual practice of American journalism has deviated from the First Amendment ideal of a press that is independent of the government.

A fundamental tenet of our First Amendment tradition is that journalists do not simply recount what government officials say, but function instead as the people’s “watchdog” over their government, subjecting its words and deeds to independent critical scrutiny. As Washington Post columnist David Ignatius explains, however, these expectations are often frustrated, because journalists have “rules of our game” that “make it hard for us to tee up an issue...without a news peg.” This means that “if Senator so and so hasn’t criticized post-war planning for Iraq, then it’s hard for a reporter to write a story about that.” Instead, reporters say to themselves, “I have to wait for somebody [in Washington] to make a statement, and then I’ll report on the statement.” Ignatius describes the inability of the major media to focus on an issue unless “Senator so and so” has “teed it up” for them as “a professional rule that we really ought to examine.”1

Link: WPJ Fall 2004 - The Media's Independence Problem by Jonathan Mermin.