The media are immoral, biased, unreliable and unpatriotic. But, The Nation correspondent Nichols and media scholar McChesney argue, it’s the right’s fault, not the left’s.
It’s true, they write, that the American press corps is heavily staffed with liberals. But, as A.J. Liebling once observed, freedom of the press belongs to the person who owns the press, and the megacorporations that control the media have used their freedom to convert the news into a source not of information but of entertainment, thereby abdicating the responsibilities of a “democracy-sustaining journalism”—namely, to keep an eye out on those in power, expose them when they’re committing crimes and serve the truth. “Each medium need not do all of the above,” the authors write, “but the media system as a whole must assure that the whole package is delivered to the whole population.” It doesn’t, of course, thanks to that entertainment agenda; the old if-it-bleeds-it-leads doctrine gives way to class-war cheerleading, as the press chases after what the ABC brass instructed its reporters to do: “focus on personalities, pop culture, and ‘big gets,’ ” which means heavy coverage of things like Michael Jackson’s trial and Winona Ryder’s shoplifting bust. With a wealth of fads and celebrities to cover, who has time to explore voter fraud or the war in Iraq in any depth? Self-censorship rules, and it serves the interest of the powerful; after all, the administration didn’t require the media to concentrate on Martha Stewart and Scott Peterson, but it surely benefited from those distractions. And which advertising-funded newsroom wants to battle an army of well-organized right-wing bloggers, eager for the slightest hint of liberal bias, the gang that hounded Dan Rather off the air?
The authors’ argument gets a little soft when they trumpet their media-reform platform—but, to gauge by this book, no one else but the right is going to do the job. Good fuel for progressive responses to the Fox cabal.