Media Critics of the World Unite
Few countries publish as many books and articles on media criticism as the United States. Logically, all of this good work has little to no effect on the shaping and publication of news. Any adequate criticism, which describes media indoctrination (overt or " innocent ") as the natural by-product of a system of domination, cannot expect to find " mistakes " and should hardly insist on reform. What is too essential to be " repaired " is bound to remain unsalvageable within the existing system. It is.
So, what is puzzling is something else. Why do media critics in the U.S. often seem so ignorant of, and indifferent to, what happens elsewhere in the world, especially when a comparative approach would add a lot to the effectiveness of their work ? Like the following ideas : no, America is not so "exceptional" ; yes, the personal ideas and antics of Dan Rather, Barbara Walters, Thomas Friedman, and Larry King matter very little in the end ; elsewhere too, unexceptional exceptions abound, other " fast thinkers " can be trusted to speak for those who already own the world.
But whereas we know about you, many of us, you don't about us. We know about the General Electrics and the Disneys who own your NBCs and ABCs. We know about your pundits, your great communicators, their former communications directors (George Stephanopoulos's latest book, for instance, is just about to be published into French). We know about Matt Drudge, Oprah and the Fall of the Wall (at the LA Times). What do you know about us ? How many Americans, even among media analysts, care in any way about the European reach and power of TF1 and Vivendi ?
When you describe for us the way in which Pete Williams, the Pentagon spokesman during the Gulf War, became, almost immediately after the war, the NBC correspondent at the Pentagon, we understand something about the connection between the military and a network whose parent company, General Electric, sells weapons to the Pentagon. We understand something about ownership, power, and propaganda.
Likewise, for you, would it not be helpful to know that TF1, the largest television network in Europe, treats very generously the foreign leaders who decide big governement contracts on behalf of Bouygues, the huge building conglomerate which owns a large share of TF1. Like the late King Hassan II of Morocco who let Bouygues build the Casablanca mosque. Like Angola's Jonas Savimbi who was counted on to sign Bouygues for off-shore drilling platforms. Like the president of the Ivory Coast who granted Bouygues the water and electricity markets in his country. Would it not be helpful to American critics of the media to know that Vivendi, the largest employer in France, owns one of the biggest French television station, Canal Plus, and scores of magazines ; that its president, Jean-Marie Messier, was the governement official who, between 1986 and 1988, organized the privatization of the company he now directs ? More generally, how many Americans have any idea of how the war in Kosovo was covered in France, Nigeria, India?
And, regarding pundits, do you imagine how stale the political, cultural, and economic discourse can be when a mere thirty commentators, who basically agree that we live in the best of worlds and who live in the same neighborhoods of Paris, pontificate on everything, trade favors and positions, " debate " one another, thus setting the perimeter of what the discussion should be about ? Of course, you can imagine. After all, the United States has set the model for this not-so-subtle indoctrination cloaked in the lordly theories of democratic intercourse. Still, Americans rarely seem to even try to enrich their analyses with examples drawn from outside the United States. Just how many articles - not to mention books ! - published between New York and Los Angeles address media issues through non-American cases and lenses ? This is too bad, of course : nothing explains better the systemic nature of the media beast we are fighting than a journey through some of the countries it has ideologically reshaped, making them more pliable to the interests by which it is owned.
In Gannett's Newseum, near Arlington cemetery, there is an exhibit " narrating " the history of journalism. Unsurprisingly, it only tells a history of American journalism. In this parochialism, however, Gannett is hardly different from its most ferocious critics.
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