Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Not that I Haven’t Written it Before

Whoever gets the Democratic presidential nomination, we can be sure that the television talking heads will line up behind McCain once the issue is settled. Unfortunately, their obvious prejudice will matter because the vast majority of Americans get their news and from a mass media that is owned by six corporations. There is no monopoly on the dissemination of information and ideas in the United States, but there is a monopoly of the means of propaganda. While our press is not completely unfree, it is just not the case that we have a free press, which is to say, we don’t have a press free enough to maintain a decent country.

The problem is structural. While the television personalities surely bear a moral responsibility for what they have inflicted on the country and the world, our journalism is not mediocre because its personnel are mediocre. The causation runs the other way around. The plum jobs are straight up trades of self-respect for money and airtime. Who else but a contemptible person would be willing to front a gossip hour and call it news? Only dubious characters need apply; and when, as happens once in a while, somebody shows a little integrity and rebels, they end up with a teaching job.

If Jack McCoy were a real person, I expect he’d want to indict several TV anchors on 250,000 counts of second-degree murder for their guilty complicity in electing Bush. It was a clear-cut case of depraved indifference homicide since putting a person like that in charge of a nation had foreseeable consequences. From a policy point of view, however, what’s needed is political action to break up an intolerable concentration of media power in irresponsible hands so that honorable and intelligent people can again find an audience. We need to break up G.E., Time Warner, CBS, Clear Channel, Fox, and the rest and to do what ever else is necessary to ensure that all points of view have access to mass markets.

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