Saturday, June 23, 2007

Broadcast Journalism is Dead

Listen closely....Can you hear it?....That faint rumbling in the distance is the sound of Edward R. Murrow and Eric Sevareid doing somersaults in their graves.

In 1981, when the Reagan administration gutted the FCC, one of the first casualties was TV news. Back in the day, when the people owned the airwaves, one of the prerequisites for owning a television or radio station was that an owner, by law, had to provide the community with news and information as a public service. If the news department operated at a loss (and most of them did) that was the price they had to pay. Keeping the public informed about breaking events and matters of public policy was the news division's reason for being. The most important thing for a functioning democracy is an informed and educated electorate. It was a good system and - with very few minor exceptions - it worked beautifully for almost forty years.

All of that is gone. Broadcast News today is a crucial profit center on most independently owned stations and national networks. The legendary producer Fred Friendly once made the observation that the job of a good journalist was not to give you the news you want to know, but to give you the news you need to know. Friendly never lived to see FOX News and it's probably just as well. One can only imagine how horrified he would have been by the 'round the clock coverage of the Paris Hilton affair that has been going on for at least a month. It is a certainty that he would have been embarrassed for the industry that he and Murrow literally invented - watching News organizations blowing their budgets on helicopters trailing the motorcade of a woman going to jail for less than a month on a DWI violation - a woman void of substance who is famous for doing absolutely nothing!

Forty-five years ago this month, Marilyn Monroe's life was unravelling (Marilyn, unlike Paris Hilton, was a woman who could boast more than a few major accomplishments during her short life). In the summer of 1962 her dependence on drugs was starting to take a noticeable toll on her health and sanity. In addition to that she had just been fired by the director of the movie she had been filming with Dean Martin (She would be dead in a little over a month). But almost half a century ago, if you knew any of this information about the troubled actress, you learned of it by reading gossipy fan magazines - not by watching NBC News. In 1962, that organization had more important things to relate to the public. At about the same time the Monroe saga was playing itself out, President Kennedy's FCC chairman, Newton Minnow, referred to television as "a vast wasteland". Like Fred Friendly, it's probably just as well that Mr. Minnow never lived to witness the spectacle called FOX News.

No question about it: the American people are a people distracted. The main-stream media (electronic and print), the so-called "fourth estate", has utterly failed in its obligation to keep the public informed. In the good old days, a vibrant and healthy press might very well have been able to expose this administration's lies regarding Iraq's mythical Weapons of Mass Destruction Program and at least a half a million human beings would still be walking this earth. In the good old days there was something that was known as the Fairness Doctrine which guaranteed by law that both sides of any issue would be given a fair hearing over the people's air. When Ronald Reagan did away with that rule, the rise of right wing dominated Hate Radio was the inevitable result. In the good old days there was a limit as to how many broadcast stations an individual or organization could legally own. Today we are bombarded by a Corporate Media which is trying to keep the American people stupid. They are succeeding.

It is worth noting that, in the run-up to the worst foreign policy blunder in American history - while the corporate media was banging the drums of war - the only news organizations that essentially got the story right (Knight-Ridder, for instance) were those which operated outside of the Washington Beltway mentality. Independent journalists like Bob Herbert, Greg Palast and the late, great Molly Ivins, who desperately tried to light tiny candles of reason in the dark night of mindless nationalism, were dismissed by the main stream media as "unpatriotic". Instead of paying attention to the criminal machinations of their government, the foolish American people were happily being spoon-fed near lethal doses of info-taining pornography by the likes of FOX News. Just look at the result....

Where have you gone, Walter Cronkite?

For democracy's sake, we should all be demanding re-regulation of the broadcast industry. De-regulation, the hallmark of the so-called "Reagan Revolution" - whether it be of the airwaves or of Corporate America - has been a catastrophic failure. It's time to take our country back.

On October 28, 1958, at a convention of broadcasters in Chicago, Illinois, Edward R. Murrow gave a speech which, in hindsight, seems prophetic. Speaking of television he said:

"This instrument can teach, it can entertain, yes it can even inspire. But it can do those things only to the extant that men and women are determined to use it towards those ends. Otherwise it's nothing more than wires and lights in a box".

Edward R. Murrow didn't live to see FOX News either.

Wow! Did you see what I just did? I used the words "Edward R. Murrow" and "FOX News" in the same sentence. I didn't even think that was possible!

Fortunately for all of us, Bill Moyers survives on PBS....

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY.

Murrow: His Life and Times
by A.M. Sperber

Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism
by Don Edwards

Edward R. Murrow: An American Original
by Joseph E. Persico

Selling The War
Bill Moyers' Journal
Available from PBS Video


At 8:23 AM, Blogger Black Bear Hollow said...

Amen brother... amen.

At 10:29 AM, Blogger JRD said...


Another great post. Agreed with every word. Wish I had a remedy, but what do you do with people who are actually interested in what happens to Paris Hilton?

The fault, dear Brutus... etc.


At 2:58 PM, Blogger Bambic said...

Here here.
The only good that could come of the Paris Hilton fiasco is if she can do something about the horrendous conditions of the jails in this country, or if she sets up some sort of legal defense fund to help poor women (and men) who do not belong in jail.
I was held in Little Rock's jail for 99 days for a first probation violation for possession of a weed pipe because my bail was set at $50,000.
I only wish I were kidding.
I went in with my various meds for depression, anxiety and pain (I'm on disability for chronic back pain)and it was two weeks before they would give them to me. I cannot tell you how I suffered, and the kind of suffering I saw happening to others. It's criminal, yet no one cares.
Even after I got out, the ACLU ignored me, as did countless other organizations, including the local media, TV and newspaper.
They cannot report the truth about what is going on in Pulaski County Jail.
It is beyond belief.

At 7:48 PM, Blogger Wisewebwoman said...

There is a light Tom and his name is Keith Olbermann who calls it like it is and deflates the Bill O'Reillys and the hollow, shallow coma-inducing bilge MSM has become. MSNBC. He is truly courageous and amazing and gives me hope. He even signs off like Morrow.
Thanks for the post, Tom.

At 8:25 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

They don't call you wisewebwoman for nothing, sister! Olbermann is, indeed, a lit candle in the cursed darkness. I just wish they would let him have a free reign and not make him to do pieces that "my producers are forcing me to do".

Tom Degan

At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One can only hope that things are not as bad as they seem.

Perhaps underneath the seeming apathy and willful stupidity of the American public there is a growing movement of people who are starting to feel some moral outrage over the real news that is being denied them. This may already be evidenced by the increasing number of us who rely on alternative news sources and blogs to try to make sense out of all that is happening in our world.

Once the sick love affair with sensational news media is over there is no going back!

If we really want to hurt the offenders (ESPECIALLY Fox News) we can boycott all the things their advertisers are pushing on us...and let Fox and their advertisers know it. So you don't have to give up TV, just watch it to know what to boycott. One great thing about America is the variety of consumable products available. It's got to be easy to find substitutes.

I actually went one step further and disconnected our cable service some years ago (which really didn't hurt as bad as you might think) but I'll take a guess as what kinds of things Fox advertizes: drugs, dating services, (very appropriate for a company claiming to be family-oriented) other ABC shows (this could be a problem to boycott if you gotta see any of these) investment planning, vacation deals and more drugs. I bet there isn't one thing they advertise that we couldn't live without. If even 10% of viewers do this it could cause Fox to wither and die, after an unpleasant flurry of corporate head-choppings.

Tom, I believe we will live to see the death of Fox News, hopefully never to be replaced with anything similar.

Bambic, your story sent chills up my spine, but I don't doubt every word is true. I learned quite by accident what to say or let slip if the police are treating you badly. Once years ago I was hauled off to a police station for some very innocent activity. At one point during my questioning I mentioned my dad was an attorney. It didn't matter he was retired, 1,000 miles away and probably would have been delighted to find out I was in trouble with the police. That remark got me a polite escort back to where I was picked up and I was told, "Don't pay any attention to any little piece of paper you might get in the mail about any court date." They never even checked out my story. I don't know, it might be something to try if there ever is a next time, which I hope not.

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At 6:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Broadcast News.....More like broadcast infotainment. When news has everything in the world to SELL but nothing to tell you get your Faux News Channels and their ilk. Till the day that we have a true publically funded media that is beholden to We the people and not their corporate masters the quagmire that is broacast infotainment will remain in place.

At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for this insightful article. We live in dangerous times.

Renaldo, Waverly Patron

At 6:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A free press is dead and likely to remain so as long as Rupert Murdoch and his ilk disseminate the news.
Our news has the tenor of Julius Streicher, the Nazi Jew baiting editor of Der Stuermer; the notorius Nuremberg poison spewing newspaper.
The Jews didn't start leaving Germany in time because like Americans before 2000 didn't believe such atrocities could happen in a country that could produce a Goethe, Albrecht Durer, Beethoven to name only a few could also produce a Hitler, Himmler, and especially Joseph Goebbels whose lies our own press spews daily. Ironically Nuremberg was the birthplace of Durer of the praying hands.
Keep in mind what happened to Dan Rather when he tried to expose George Bush for the phoney he is, he is relegated to 60 Minutes for not checking the facts when we know Dan Rather would not broadcast a story without solid evidence.
I had already read the story elsewhere.
Bambic, you are right about the jail and prison conditions in this country. It is an open secret that rape is common for both men and women while the guards look the other way.
Our drug laws are a farce. JAIL TIME FOR POT???!!!! Ridiculous!!
Would you believe just last week a woman in California was denied medical Marijuana for intractable pain from end-stage cancer? while the First Druggie made a career of the hard stuff and from his behavior seems to still be indulging.You can't blame ALL of that on good old alkie.
Times in this country are indeed parlous

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Free Blogger said...

Amen brother! The MSM does need to start reporting the more important. Issues such as the fact that the Progressive Left through long running plans are implementing failed Marxist ideologies here in America which are directly against our Judeo/Christian based constitution which are wreaking havoc on this nation on all levels. The embrace of known communists like Harry Bridges by the far Left politicians like Nancy Pelosi as in Pelosi's Favorite Stalinist.


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