March 16, 2005

Wanted: Informed Public Outrage

More on the Times' front page investigation of the 'fake news' scandals (see below). Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! has an interview with P.R. expert John Stauber and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Laurie Garrett.

Stauber has a simple solution to the problem of fake news reports:
"They should be labeling it. The Radio, TV, and News Directors' Association has for decades now turned a blind eye to this, and it clearly violates their ethics code. In The New York Times article, they're muttering about strengthening their ethics code, but that won't matter, because they don't care. There's so much money to be made or saved, if you will, by replacing real news on TV with fake news, that this will continue to be a widespread problem unless there's a mobilization of outraged news viewers who demand that the F.C.C. step in and enforce standards which would seem to indicate that this is in violation of the F.C.C. standards..."
Outraged viewers demanding action? In the USA? What are the chances? As I said before, there should be 100,000 demonstrators camping on the White House lawns now. But there isn't. So why not?

Garrett touches on the answer when he talks about his experiences as a visiting professor of journalism at US universities:
I have seen this disturbing trend where I will ask students in the room, "How many of you want someday to work at a major newspaper, be a Woodward or Bernstein at The Washington Post or be a network television correspondent." A couple of hands go up. Then I look the at rest of the room. "Well, what is it you all want to do?" and they all say "public relations."

... And when you ask the students why public relations as opposed to journalism, often they would say to me, "Well, there really isn't that much of a distinction, but you can make more money on the P.R. side."
I've often said that Bush's disastrous Presidency is symptomatic of the USA's more general decline as a society. It's like the Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire - the broader social malaise provides a fertile breeding ground for the political-ecomonic corruption, which actually becomes more or less inevitable in a country where most people can't be bothered voting, let alone keeping up to date with the latest (and factual) news.

Disclaimer: They say people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. As an Australian, I'm not saying my own society is much healthier - I had similarly disillusioning experiences when I went to University back in the 1980s... Not surprisingly, Australians are also loathe to demonstrate and our PM is now sending more troops into Iraq just as Italy and virtually every other country pulls out. Our TV news is also pretty abysmal but it's not pre-paid and pre-packaged yet, as far as I know... Mind you, John Howard spent a taxpayer-funded fortune advertising Government programs in the lead-up to the last two elections...

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