If I recall correctly, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads thusly:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [Emphasis added.]
That’s right the press.
Even prior to this past week dealing after dealing with America’s favorite bonehead pastor Rev. Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida who’s now a household name, I had been contemplating this idea about the press vs. the media. Most people are quite clear that if it wasn’t for mainstream media that the name Rev. Terry Jones would have been a buried newspaper item just before the global news section. So when I did a quick Google search of the word press it referred to the literal printing press that Gutenberg produced that was able to begin mass production of printed literature. And then I googled media and realized that although the word was documented in use, it didn’t gain much traction until the 1920s with an understanding of mass media that was only allowed to rapid technological advances.
It is from this tension point from which I’d like to view the difference between the press and the mass media.
What the framers of the Constitution were well aware of was that knowledge was power. Aside from word of mouth, the only other way knowledge was gained was through literacy. Most oligarchic, plutocratic, aristocratic and autocratic power structures are banking on the fact that the general public will remain ignorant of certain facts. That’s why the printing of pamphlets was considered treasonous behavior–just ask Thomas Paine who published Common Sense anonymously. The printing presses were owned by individuals who did printing jobs for other people, but of course when competing individuals or factions get involved over the control of a printing press to disseminate information, it gets sticky. Hence, the First Amendment allows for the freedom of the press–that no law shall be made that prohibits someone from printing material–an allowing for an impartial government.
As technology toward the latter half of the nineteenth century began the exit of Europe and the United States out of the Industrial Age with the advent of the telephone and telegraph, communications between far distances and amongst the masses became more and more common. By the dawn of the 20th century, here in America, we saw the radio and daily newspapers as the primary transportation of news. However, even as early as the formation of the Associated Press in the 1860s, the notion of getting news cheap, meaning that the publication of news was for profit, was probably the early death knell of getting decent news as we knew it.
What’s at issue, for me, is integrity of the press. Persons and factions in power know and understand the power behind the dissemination of news. An editorial here or there, or the burying of a news story back by the obits, or a newspaper simply not running an article, putting it below the fold, how a headline is phrased–all of which shapes the consciousness of the reader. Editors of their departments have their own guts telling them what to do, but editor-in-chiefs have final say, but are often much more influenced by their owners.
It’s no secret that newspapers over the years of major cities have owners with various political leanings or in the old days when newspapers had two dailies that would compete with one another. The Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune being one example. One would show favor of a political candidate over another one. Editorials and op-ed pieces would paint certain events and stories in a favorable light, another not as much. The mayors, governors, city council members, county board members, police and fire chiefs all knew this and would do whatever they could to leverage suction with reporters and editors if they could. Reporters have turned up missing.
By the 1950s television news became important. With the creation of the nightly news programs covering national news on the major networks of ABC, NBC and CBS, and their Sunday morning news programs. CBS broke the mold in the field of TV journalism with its creation of “60 Minutes” which undoubtedly paved the way for current programs with familiar formatssuch as “Nightline” certainly and even others such as “Dateline.” But as most of us know, news as we know it shifted with the creation of the 24-hour cable news network, officially dubbed CNN.
Somewhere in the 20th century, the press became the media.
They became this mass media conglomerate that didn’t seem to have the same integrity that they once had. Each year was an inch toward becoming beholden to personal interests rather than to the people. I’d bet a year’s salary that when the founders understood freedom of the press, they had the idea that the press was created for the liberation of the people, not to keep the people in psychological bondage. I think news titles that we see on the major cable news networks rival that of the yellow journalism of the late 19th century, going for the sensational titles just for ratings.
Now liberals get their news from Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann. The conservatives and others of their ilk get their talking points from Fox News Network. And those left in between suffer through the mediocre, but much more balanced programming of CNN.
Let’s be honest, (discounting the sheer genius of Rachel Maddow), the rest of the media personalities we’ve all become so familiar with, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, Anderson Cooper, Ed Schultz, Lou Dobbs, Neil Cavuto, Bill O’Reilly, Greta Van Susteren, Rick Sanchez, and Chris Matthews–we’re getting opinion news!
Let me repeat and use boldface: we’re getting opinion news!
Somewhere, this country’s “press” corps stopped reporting news, but started reporting opinions. The opinions have always been the jobs of the persons with editorial columns and the op-ed pieces and the “letters to the editor” sections. But somewhere along the line we began having news personalities reporting their voracious opinion. Granted I like the hyperbole that is Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, but in all fairness I have to acknowledge the bombastic nature of their polar opposites of Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck–who actually have the political backing of the Tea Party, something their MSNBC counterparts don’t have. (I will allege that while the persons at Fox News Channel have the backing of neo-conservatives and the Tea Party, MSNBC and their crew have the backing of moral integrity, but meh, who’s keeping up with that stuff?)
This opinion news is being passed off as real news. Both political sides are in a point-counterpoint battle with each other, both trying to refute one over the other and the American people are caught in the middle. Yes, it’s a scary day in America when persons take what Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity say as gospel news. I think Colin Powell terms it the best as far as media is concerned.
What we have is a media industrial complex. They are for profit and about the bottom line. They are not driven by integrity, any moral compass, nor any altruistic ideal for the American public. For the Shirley Sherrod case to even exist means that there’s a problem and for the American public to be intimately familiar with the personhood of Rev. Terry “I burn Qu’ran’s for a living” Jones of Gainesville, Florida to be a household name for an entire week of a news cycle means that we’ve turned the corner somewhere. Even 15 years ago, at best those two would have been some buried news item and certainly not leading national news.
Another thing the media industrial complex does is shout down the local news. Persons watch “The Daily Show” (which coincidentally comes on at the 11pm eastern/10pm local news time slot) rather than watch their own local news. People don’t buy the newspapers like they used to, and the competition between local news and local newspapers isn’t quite like it used to be. People will watch the opinion news shows on national issues rather than be informed about their own local politics. This means people are more geared up for a rally on the Mall rather than about their county board that wants to raise local taxes or go protest at the local board of education over funding cuts or school closings. Well why is that? Because they’re too focused on hearing who’s the “Worst Person of the Day” is or waiting to hear the next Sarah Palin interview excoriating the president’s manhood.
And since we’re on the subject, I’ll just step all into it: persons like Rupert Murdoch are not to be trusted. Nor anything he has his hand in. This guy owns Australian media, moved into Great Britain, came to America started up Fox News Channel, owns some major newspaper dailies here in the United States (including supermarket tabloid Star and tabloid-like New York Post). In short, Murdoch is a media magnate who started News Corporation that owns such a large stock of international media its sickening.
He even has his hand in Zondervan. Yes, the Bible and Sunday School material publishing company.
That being said, and in my best conspiratorial voice, the American people are being played as mere pawns in this game. We’re nothing more than strategic moves worthy of one-dimensionally moving forward as mindless drones. Perhaps we’ll use our one offensive move and knock off another misplaced piece, but we’re still just in lock-step protecting the king, who doesn’t have a problem letting the pawns be collateral damage in the war against the opposing side.
The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. — George Orwell.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL
2 thoughts on “Failure To Communicate: When The Press Became The Media”
Great piece. Americans have become very lazy in their attempts to acquire fair, balanced, and unbiased news. It is much easier to regurgitate the tried opinions of a news personality than it is to evaluate an unbiased bit of information and form your own opinions. To quote the articulate opinions of personalities with paid writing staffs allows the general public to appear more informed than they generally are. It also allows us to mask our personal biases by giving us credible reasons to feel they way we do. If I believe that the wealthy should pay more taxes because I have a bias against the rich, I can simply mask my own personal bias by re-articulating the intellectual propaganda of left loving news personalities. The same goes with right loving personalities. If I think Obama is a racist Muslim because I’m an idiot, I can sound more informed (at least in my own mind) by quoting someone on Fox who has tried to intellectualize that type of foolishness.
At the end of the day people just want to find a justification for their feelings. The Media is all to happy to provide us with such justifications, especially on the dime of advertisers. (Which, incidentally, is another reason for the deplorable state of our “press” – if press is a money making engine and shock/sensationalism sells – how can we ever expect to get balanced news coverage? )
On point, on all points. Particularly the press/media distinction, a skillfully apt piece of semantics that highlights the basic problem.
I admit to having “given up” recently, in that I’ve come to get most of my national news from Olbermann & Maddow. How embarrassing. I feel that my brain is slowly calcifying because of this (mostly Olbermann), but the problem is that sticking to “option news” is really the only way to keep yourself from going completely insane. In this horrific post-fact society we now live in, pompous pundits will go on television and debate whether 2 + 2 = 4. Loudly. There really are two separate, irreconcilable universes in American public thought, complete with, incredibly, their own HISTORIES. That’s not democracy, that’s dysfunction. I’d even call it national schizophrenia. There is literally not a single thing that can happen, or ever DID happen, that is not now up for debate, not just about how it happened but WHETHER it happened. It’s insane.
I’d like to believe things aren’t as shameless as they were during the fabled Hearst/Pulitzer rivalry, when a major daily could actually CAUSE the United States to enter a war (from what I understand, historians seem to agree that’s largely what happened), but really—-how different is from from Iraq in 2003? If the media hadn’t put on miniskirts and started waving pom-poms instead of doing its job of cutting through spin and reporting the complex, non-soundbite truth, Bush probably couldn’t have gotten away with it.
You’re absolutely right about the neglect that local news/politics suffers at the hands of those who eat up the juicy national stuff. I think it’s one of the biggest reasons newspapers are suffering the way they are. And without local coverage, we are all going to be in serious trouble.
I’m guilty of this to an extent, though I do buy the crummy New York Daily News every morning. (The Post almost never—giving my quarters to Murdoch makes me feel unclean.)
“He even has his hand in Zondervan. Yes, the Bible and Sunday School material publishing company.”
You don’t have to be a believer for your gills to turn slightly green upon learning that.
That is SO waiting for some show to make fun of, like depicting a Bible rewritten in the New York Post style, complete with banners at the bottom of the page for FOX.