The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Damned control-mad White House!

It says right here that the president
was unhappy about the way CBS edited his thirty-minute interview...and insisted that NBC give him the right to review the editing, which NBC did.

Typical arrogance from Bush, Rove and the boys - not to mention cringing cowardice from our fearless media. Those who read Ken Auletta's New Yorker piece in January shouldn't be surprised, of course. Pissed off as hell, yes; surprised, no.

Except, of course, the president quoted isn't Bush; this is one of the plaster-saints of the Democratic Party, Mr Pay Any Price himself, John F Kennedy, as mentioned on page 105 of Daniel Hallin's excellent book on the media and Vietnam, Uncensored War.

All sorts of reasons to read the book - to which I shall return; but the best is the overwhelming evidence against the existence of a Golden Age of media or of government (at least during the period covered by the book).

For instance, on the Democracy Now site you can stream a speech (transcript) given to some media conference by Bill Moyers, railing against government secrecy and media concentration.

The implied suggestion is things were better before. When, exactly? There are namechecks, for instance, for such luminaries as Upton Sinclair and Ed Murrow; but no reference to, say, the iniquities of the Associated Press, whose relationship with Sinclair I've mentioned before here; and the fact that the kinder, gentler CBS of those Happy Days was pleased to ease Murrow out - not to mention that sterling commitment to news that had it show I Love Lucy instead of the 1966 Fulbright Senate committee hearings on the Vietnam War (thereby forcing out Murrow's producer, Fred Friendly) [1].

In its way, it's almost as pernicious a fantasy as the imperial dream entertained by the neocon-PNAC crowd: not quite, since it doesn't cause immediate casualties! But it's still deliberate falsehoods told with political intent. The audience is played for suckers - though, unlike Iraqi WMD, you don't need UN inspectors to ascertain the truth, or enough of it.

When Moyers complains about USG news manipulation, one cannot but applaud; hard to be wholehearted in doing so when he does something of the same in making his case.

  1. CBS also ran a crooked quiz show, The $64,000 Question - apparently, in 1956, one winner, Charles Jackson, admitted he'd been given the questions. We know about quiz show fakery all over TV back then; and yet we're supposed to believe that the executives were stand-up guys!


Moyers' soundbite is
Free and responsible government by popular consent just can’t exist without an informed public.

But when was the American public informed?

On May 2, I suggested various times in the last century or so that could not be the mythical Golden Age of American Journalism, given what I know about them.

For how long after 1789 did the US not have
Free and responsible government by popular consent
I wonder? Because it didn't have
an informed public
at that point, surely? Most of them would be illiterate, for a start. And not many would reader newspapers. And what newspapers? Owned by whom? Dependent on which advertisers?

(I would not be so anachronistic to insist on the condition of slaves at the time, whose consent was hardly material.)

Technological and educational improvements expanded the newspaper-reading proportion: but my admittedly slight knowledge fails to identify any period in which the information the American public as a whole was getting was not partial - in both senses of the word.

Was the Moyers formula satisfied at the time, say, of Mr Smith Goes To Washington [1], with machine politics and Hearsts and McCormicks still in operation?

My hypothesis would be that the American public never has been informed - and is unlikely to become so in the foreseeable future. (With all the technology we have, there is a large, irreducible requirement of time to read the bloody stuff! Prosperity and the technology it's brought only means there's so much more to read than in 1789. And so much more kept secret by government.)

Which is not a counsel of despair, but a pointer to the need for a more sophisticated formulation of the problem, and approaches towards making improvements.

  1. Often mentioned here - and for good reason.

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