Sunday, August 19, 2012

Media corruption and sycophancy

A couple of recent stories highlight the current ethical state of the corporate media.

Yapping head David Gergen, a senior analyst at CNN, came under fire for not being sufficiently transparent about his ties to Bain Capital, the private equity firm once lead by GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney. In addition to yapping about the current presidential race, Gergen has been a spinmeister in the administrations of presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.

The Huffington Post reported: Gergen, while acknowledging his "bias" on Monday [July 16], wrote how he's "come to admire and like the leaders of Bain Capital" because the firm "stands out for the respect in which it is generally held and for the generous philanthropy of some of its partners."

Commentator Andrew Sullivan said this embodied "what's wrong with the press corps."

And he's right. This is hardly the first time the corporate media has offered openly biased observers, under the guise of objective analysts, with financial ties to topics they were discussing. 

There are many other examples but the most infamous recent one was during the aggression against and occupation of Iraq. The War Department hired a number of retired senior military officials to spout the party line. They were presented on cable news [sic] shows as objective, credible analysts, not paid flacks of a Pentagon propaganda campaign.

I suppose this isn't surprising since, while liberals like to single out Fox, there is precious little journalism on any of the so-called cable news channels. It's all speculation and analysis... apparently corrupted analysis.

But there is a different form of corruption, which shows the degree to which the 'watchdog' media is in bed with, or perhaps afraid of, those it's supposed to be watching.  

The Guardian, much derided by one regular reader of this blog but a much more vigorous watchdog than any daily in this country, reported that several major US media outlets have been submitting quotes to the campaigns of President Obama and Mitt Romney for approval before publication. The UK daily cited The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times as papers who were reviewing this policy.

The Guardian reported: Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at New York University agreed that "this is not a new problem", but said it had got worse.
"There have always been sources that tried to win these terms, and lately more and more have succeeded. What was new and significant in the Times story was that quote approval is now the norm for a whole layer of campaign sources; most of the reporters working the beat had already come to terms with that, the Times suggested."
Rosen said that reporters told him that the process has been building for years under George Bush and now Barack Obama.

It is not clear why this was done. But the corporate media has shown that it prizes one thing above all else: access. It doesn't seem to care if it actually uses that access for any sort of public service, as long as the reporters (not all of them act as journalists) get invited to fancy parties and White House comedy jam sessions. I suspect the quote approval abdication of duty was done to preserve this meaningless access.

In an industry that pats itself on the back as the national guardian of transparency and questioning - the party line is the democracy would collapse if such sycophantic reporting disappeared -  the degree to which the big corporate media outlets themselves are compromised would shock a lot of people.

Then again, given the decreasing respect in which the media is held, maybe it wouldn't.  

Update: James Fallows has a good column on how the media will have to start understanding the difference between 'objectivity' and 'neutrality.' It's telling how truly substantive investigative reporting - Fallows for The Atlantic, Seymour Hersch for The New Yorker, Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone and independent author Prof. Chalmers Johnson - is all found outside the context of daily newspapers and television.

Also, for those interested, Prof. Rosen is on Twitter.


Stephen said...

I deride the Guardian's foolish financial course, NEVER its work. It is, behind the Grey Lady, the best newspaper in the world. Watching something as beautiful as the Guardian destroy itself, sacking hundreds of journalists, makes me furious.

Stephen said...

Speaking of shills, I highly recommend the SHAME project put out by Yasha Levine and Mark Ames. Ames and crew are famous for being crass and disgusting, but are one of the few outfits that has put together great independently-collected journalism, and not just commentary.