Thursday, August 12, 2004

Confessions of a Test Particle

When people worry about the increasing concentration of ownership in the major media, they are usually afraid that the monopolist will have too much power. To judge from the coverage of the Second Iraq War, however, the more immediate danger is just the reverse. The larger and more profitable these outfits become, the more they have to lose and the more cowardly they behave as when Disney caved about Fahrenheit 911 or the Washington Post decided it just had to play cheerleader to the Bush administration. The giant media combinations depend on government favors for their continued prosperity and aren’t about to speak truth to power even in the cases when they don’t completely agree with the emerging semi-fascist corporatist consensus. These outfits are big as in big targets.

A somewhat similar logic explains the consistent venality of individual media stars. It’s one thing to risk your job when you only make a hundred thousand a year and quite another to forgo millions and millions just for the sake of principle, especially since whistleblowing has become a meaningless gesture—in the absence of a free press, the whistleblowers will be personally destroyed as Scott Ritter knows and Joe Wilson is learning. Anyhow, at least for the present, the public despises people who rock the boat at the risk of oodles of money—it’s un-American.

To be fair, it is all too easy for somebody without responsibility or vulnerability to say what they think without a lot of preliminary calculations of profit and loss. If you live in a barrel in the dump, you can afford to tell Alexander the Great to get out of your light. Appearances to the contrary, however, I’m not playing the cynic here and making a moral criticism of the managers of big media or of the talking heads. The ethical dimension of the problem is secondary. Even in a rational world decent behavior requires courage and integrity, but the point is we don’t have a rational world. At this point, honestly reporting the news would land you in Butler’s Lives of the Saints; and that wouldn’t help anybody since sainthood is itself a media scam.

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