Kept in the dark

“The media are broken,” is a frequent theme advanced on this page. This has been one of those summers when those of us who swim in these contaminated media waters struggle to keep our heads above the waves in hopes that our once-respectable profession can get through a choppy patch.

Politicians have become very adept at manipulating the national media through misdirection. It’s not usually as easy to see the manipulation as it has been this year, but maybe the national media can serve as a good “bad” example to illustrate the point and raise media consumers’ level of sophistication.

First, let’s set out some assumptions. Some news media have the job of reporting on the goings-on of government. If government officials do something, it’s considered “goings on;” it’s a new action (hence, “news"). “Objective” reports lay out the facts, as expressed by one side and probably one other. In this context, the “facts” are those things said and done by government officials.

Many people, even some intelligent ones, will tell you this is the proper way to do “news” in this country. People in power will tell media consumers that this is the way “news” should be done. “Just the facts, ma’am.”

But what this doesn’t take into account is that the easiest way for government officials to manipulate what appears in the news is to take action or talk about items officials want to see on the front page and ignore those they don’t. (One corollary to this is the refusal to comment on issues the official doesn’t want discussed. Then the official can undermine the article after it’s printed by calling it one-sided or biased.)

This is the basis of the “Republican American Values Agenda,” that we’re currently reading about and seeing on the evening news. These tilting-at-windmills issues that have occupied Congress with votes about such things as a constitutional amendment to protect marriage, anti-flag burning legislation, removing the Pledge of Allegiance from the courts, new abortion limits, fake immigration reform, anti-stem-cell research and others are designed to generate passionate debate without actually moving our country ahead in any way. They’re brought before Congress by the majority party because the majority party controls what goes before the House of Representatives and the Senate. And, since it’s news, it’s the domestic news we Americans hear about.

Here’s another example of how the traditional, mainstream media give comfort to the dastardly. While the American news media is wholly occupied with Israel’s police action against Hezbollah in Lebanon, nothing in Iraq has improved. More people died in Iraq than in Lebanon last week, and more importantly, there are 130,000 American soldiers in Iraq. But since Israel/Hezbollah is new action, it has displaced reports on the greater violence in Iraq.

There’s no doubt that Israel’s actions are important, as is the suffering of innocent Lebanese and Israelis, but the truth is, media consumers in America should be more informed about what’s happening to our family members in Iraq. And ignoring the problem will not make it go away.