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Friday, April 18, 2008

Clinical death of mainstream media

Excellent letter posted on Salon.com (Link)

"Last night’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama might not have offered new insights into the political plans of the two contenders, but it enabled the audience to make a first-hand diagnosis of the shocking state of public discourse in the United States.

The two moderators, Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous, spent the first 46 minutes of the debate discussing topics such as flag pins, the candidates’ choice of churches, and their attitudes about gun control. These issues are, at best, only peripheral to the staggering mountain of problems facing this nation. At worst, they reflect how much this country, and the mainstream media, have adjusted to the rightwing and proto-fascist fearmongering that dominated the last eight years.

It is hard to imagine any other democratic nation where a contender for the highest office is being asked, not by some thirdrate journalists but by prominent anchors, whether or not he is a patriot. And all of this because he is not wearing a flag pin! Instead of accepting as evidence for his patriotism the fact that Obama, who had to answer this question, subjects himself to the grinding two-year process of campaigning, the moderators resorted to an embarrassing line of questioning that invoked the atmosphere of twentieth-century totalitarian politics: “You are not flying the swastika outside your window!” or “Where’s your picture of Stalin?” A similar gusto for manufactured scandals was visible in the questions about Obama’s pastor, Mr. Wright. Obama has answered these questions before, he did so again in a way that seemed integer. Yet, the overarching point is: Why does it matter so much? George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condi Rice never listened to Wright, I assume, but they still lied, started a war, and approved the torturing of detainees.

The moderators’ and ABC’s performance made no secret about their contempt for democracy. Several times, Gibson announced that they would cut away to a commercial break. Why do they need a commercial break during a debate that features two persons who might run this nation as president? Are they afraid that people don’t have the attention span? To see how the moderators and the candidates struggled to finish questions and answers before commercial breaks was symbolic of how a capitalist media system has hijacked American politics: The timing of questions and answers, the presentation of arguments is not important per se but, rather, has to fit into a representational grid established by the corporate structure of the medium.

This contempt for democracy shapes how Stephanopolous and Gibson understand their roles as journalists. While they donned the mantle of relentless investigative journalists by pursuing the above mentioned trivia questions they also revealed a painful level of disregard for civil democratic structures. When Charlie Gibson asked whether the candidates would ignore the generals’ advice when it came to leaving Iraq, it was Clinton who had to remind Gibson that the US is not run by a military junta but by a civilian leadership that has the last word about when and how to use military force! No surprise, then, that there was not a single question about what the candidates would do about the Patriot Act or whether they would investigate possible war crimes by the current president, who admitted that he approved of “harsh interrogation methods,” a.k.a. torture. But, wait, how could Obama and Clinton know about this--Charlie, George, and their colleagues have yet to make a story about that. It will have to wait, though, because first we need to know about these missing flag pins!"
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