Useless Mainstream Media

Chuck ToddCharlie Pierce made an interesting comparison over at his place at Esquire, Life And Cheerios Imitate The Newsroom. He started by noting the ridiculousness of Chuck Todd claiming that he has to allow Republicans (“politicians”) to lie on Meet the Press, because if he didn’t, they wouldn’t come on the show. It was a remarkable moment of honesty, although Todd does seem to think it is about “balance.”

I think it is typical of what I call “fake power” — the kind of power you only have as long as you don’t use it. The best recent example of this has been Speaker of the House John Boehner who has enormous power, but if he ever used that power to do what was right rather than just to do what his caucus wanted, he would find that he was out of a job. Similarly, Chuck Todd has the power to ask the “hard questions” only so long as he absolutely never asks the hard questions.

It reminds me of something else. You could watch the nightly news on ABC, NBC, and CBS. And you would never see anything different. It is a remarkable example of self-censorship. Either that or it just so happens that the major news outlets manage to get right to the heart of what is going on in the world. Of course, we know that isn’t the case. You can go back over the decades and see what the news sources were reporting in their amazing unanimity and see what was really going on. It’s just follow the leader.

Meanwhile, all the time I was growing up, I was told that the Soviet Union didn’t have a free press. Well, true enough. But that didn’t speak poorly of them so much as it speaks poorly of us for thinking that we do have a free press. It’s like what Noam Chomsky said in The Common Good, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

So good old Chuck Todd is there to play the part of a free journalist. And indeed, he isn’t being told what to say and not to say by the government. Oh no! He’s being told what to say and not to say by the “free” market! And that is better because… I’m not sure. No one has ever answered it because no one seems to even be aware that it is a question to be answered.

Pierce focused primarily on Reince Priebus’ recent hissyfit about not allowing any Republicans to come on MSNBC, after someone at the network had tweeted out, “Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new #Cheerios ad w/ biracial family.” MSNBC folded like a cheap ironing board, of course. And Pierce notes that if a Democrat had made a similar demand, he would have laughed out of polite company. But there is a difference I’m afraid: Democrats aren’t bigots. If half the electorate that votes Republican weren’t compelled to do so by their bigotry, Priebus wouldn’t have felt the need to demand an apology.

I don’t think there is an other side to this situation. Democrats — despite their many failings — actually believe in what they claim to believe in. It isn’t the case that half of the Democratic vote comes from closet communists. And even that would be more acceptable than the racist base of the Republican Party. So of course if the Democrats started acting like the Republicans, people would scoff. It’s pretty much impossible to imagine a comment that would cut the party so deeply while also being true.

What’s wrong with our media system is that people like Chuck Todd don’t start interviews with Reince Priebus with questions like, “What is the Republican Party going to do when all its racist voters die off? Does the party have a plan to create new racist voters?” But that won’t happen. If it did, the Republicans wouldn’t come on Meet the Press, and people like Chuck Todd would have to do actual journalism. And I don’t think there are many people in the mainstream press that still know how that’s done.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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