OVERCOMING THE HAZARDS OF MEDIA
the "Love Bug" virus struck millions of computer hard drives, many
news outlets attributed the magnitude of the damage to overwhelming reliance on
the same type of software. Suddenly, in the digital world, steep downsides of
technical conformity were obvious. But such concerns should also extend to the
shortage of variety in media content.
on the worst virus attack in PC history, Time blamed "the perils of living
in a monoculture." The newsmagazine explained: "Security experts have
long warned that Microsoft software is so widely used and so genetically
interconnected that it qualifies as a monoculture -- that is, the sort of
homogeneous ecosystem that makes as little sense in the business world as it
does in the biological."
practical benefits of diversity suggest a question that's long overdue: What's
the sense of monoculture in mass media?
land where clear-cutting has occurred, the rows of trees that stand are apt to
resemble toothpicks -- especially when compared to the intricate and diverse
vegetation of natural forests. And if we take a close look at the country's main
news sources, the undermining of media ecology is all too evident.
now, cash crops dominate the media terrain. Little diversity takes root. Erosion
of public discourse is chronic, with monotonous and stultifying results. The
harvest of news and public affairs is akin to waxed vegetables: shiny and
dependable, yet lacking in flavor or nutrients.
in short supply? The actual experiences, perspectives and voices of some people.
They may not have the income to qualify as middle class. They may be immigrants
facing obstacles because of their race, religion or accent. They might be
homeless, malnourished, unschooled or stuck in low-wage jobs. Across the media
expanses, where do they fit in? Who advocates for them, or addresses their
concerns, with consistent focus and fervor?
TV was supposed to rescue us from the limits of broadcast television. But if you
click through basic cable and beyond, you may feel like a hiker wandering around
vast acreage of an artificial timber farm.
"Larry King Live." (Please.) Most nights, insipid would be too kind an
adjective. Along with featuring countless celebs who are mostly famous for being
famous, the nightly CNN show has pioneered bringing in big-name journalists from
other news outlets to share their purported wisdom. They know how to perform in
a TV studio. But their roots in down-to-earth America are usually so shallow
that it seems a major rainstorm would just about wash them away.
the absence of a healthy media environment, our society is prone to vitriol that
eludes direct challenge. For example, Don Imus -- ranked by Time as one of
"the 25 most influential Americans" -- delights in spewing out a fetid
brew of ersatz cleverness on his national radio program, whether at the expense
of blacks, gays, women or people with amputated limbs. Simulcast on MSNBC
television, "Imus in the Morning" is an audio horror show that often
denigrates because of skin color, sexual orientation or gender. (See the online
journal www.tompaine.com for extensive documentation.)
than recoiling at the invective from Imus and his crew, dozens of prominent
journalists continue to embrace it. Program regulars include CNN's Jeff
Greenfield and Judy Woodruff, CBS's Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer, NBC's Tom
Brokaw and Tim Russert, and Cokie Roberts of ABC and National Public Radio.
High-status print reporters don't hang back, either, as exemplified by such avid
participants in the Imus show as Newsweek's Howard Fineman and Jonathan Alter,
and syndicated New York Times columnists Frank Rich and Thomas Friedman.
when critics denounce the wise-guy racism and other assorted viciousness that
accompanies Imus in the morning, they're tagged as rigid ideologues. In
Greenfield's words -- spoken during a softball CNN interview he conducted with
his longtime pal Imus three months ago -- "political correctness is the
antidote to such poisonous drivel would be a healthy media environment that
promotes the ethics of anti-racism, anti-sexism and anti-homophobia on an
ongoing basis. Demagogue quipsters like Imus and his colleagues have it easy
because their corporate bosses refuse to give much airtime to those who are
ready, willing and able to support the kind of human solidarity that Imus works
to undermine. For now, bigotry breeds in media monoculture.
Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."