More Heat than Light
A Former Insider of TV World in the US worries about the US Media since 9/11
By Craig Morris
[This article first published in the cyber journal Telepolis, October 14, 2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.heise.de/tp/deutsch/special/med/13392/1.]
Danny Schechter, editor of Media Channel and former producer at ABC and CNN, has made independent documentary films for years and uses his website to "smuggle" newspaper reports from abroad into the US. Since September 11, he analyzes the media landscape "like a maniac".
Print media from the US is easily available in Germany. However not one US broadcast station operates nationwide in Germany although this would be technically simple. CNN International is designed for foreign countries and doesn't even run in the US. One sees a very different "CNN" in the US. Since Rupert Murdoch wants to take over the Kirch empire, we may soon see Murdoch's "FOX News" by satellite. Whoever had the joy of looking at this channel knows why Tony Blair warned Schroder against allowing Murdoch in Germany.
On February 17, 2002, FOX News wondered how the death of Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein would positively affect the "new economy". Both had to die so the NASDAQ could climb again to 2000. In his book "Media Wars: News at a Time of Terror", Danny Schechter gave an insight in the American TV- and print world by asking whether September 11 changed the media in the US. His answer was a qualified No.
Before September 11, 2001, the sex scandal around the4 politician Gary Condit (Democrat) dominated the headlines. News about foreign countries only amounted to 10% of news and mostly treated natural disasters or superficially belligerent conflicts (for example in the Middle East). The term "infotainment" stood for a reporting devoted to themes like "in what city are people the fattest" and "shark attacks off Florida's coast". Media critic Larry Gelbart described US television as a weapon of mass distraction. Schechter said: "The more you watch, the less you know." "Who do we bomb, where do we invade, who do we go after, how do we do it, where do we start? Where do we start? Was the opening question that Aaron Brown of CNN raised to US General Wesley Clark.
The picture changed for a short time. After 9/11, foreign countries stood in the limelight. However the perspective remained the same. Foreign countries were mainly negatively charged. The war against terror provided the necessary reference to the US in foreign reports. According to Schechter's analysis, only 7% of commentators on television are rated as critics of the Bush administration. While FOX News (under the leadership of the former Republican advisor Roger Ailes) criticized the CNN competitor for treating the Taliban "too fairly", Schechter found no different between the broadcast stations. Up to 77% of the commentators didn't voice any criticism of the Bush administration. Unrelated foreign themes like the economic crisis in Argentina are nearly drowned out.
Important domestic themes are also lost. When the Enron scandal finally came on US television, it only amounted to 6% of the broadcast time of western newscasts - less than the reports about a woman in Houston who drowned her children. Journalists wondered about the changes in their reporting but in a rather banal way: whether a TV moderator should have the US flag as a prop. Fundamental criticism was seldom expressed. When it was expressed, it was completely ignored as CBS moderator Dan Rather said:
"There was a time in South Africa when people would put flaming tires around people's necks if they dissented. And in some ways the fear is that you will be necklaced here, you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck... Now it is this fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions."
Rather said this in an interview with the BBC. According to Schechter, the interview was neither broadcast on US television nor discussed on television or in a large newspaper. Schechter concluded a year after 9/11/2001: "The [TV] networks, in effect, were staffed for a pre-September 11th world and basically remain so."...
"Americans do not know that they do not know"
... Schechter's book consists of excerpts from his webglog The News Dissector. The book includes statistical analysis and personal experience on the conscious deception of the US media. One conclusion found in every media criticism that the US media sees its public as consumers instead of citizens is hardly convincing without solid examples.
There is enough disinformation to unmask. For example, US commentators often admit that the US supported the Taliban but that this only served the goal of expelling the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. Samuel Huntington, author of the book "War of the Cultures" argued this way. The Taliban was active militarily 5 years after the withdrawal of the USSR and many had no war experiences. The US supported the Mudschaheddin in the war against the USSR. The Clinton administration supported the Taliban from 1994 to stabilize West Afghanistan so a pipeline could be built there.
Another lie circulating in the US media is the new argument of the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein expelled the UN inspectors from the country in 1998. Hussein did not expel them. Clinton called them home so they would survive the imminent bombing ( http://www.fair.org/activism/unscom-history.html). This false information also circulates in Germany...
The disinformation campaign continues. The large US newspapers either didn't report about the 350,000 demonstrators who protested at the end of September in London against the single-handed effort of the US against Iraq or spoke vaguely about "thousands of demonstrators". Thus the US press protects Americans from protests in foreign countries.
Stenography instead of Journalism
Schechter's new conclusion seems important to me. US journalists have made themselves the megaphone of the US government so intensely (Schechter speaks of stenography instead of journalism) that they are no longer regarded as neutral observers abroad and therefore are often killed... Whoever wants to learn more can visit http://www.fair.org and Media Tenor along with Schechter's Weblog...