The news is coming to us hot and heavy these days. There is scandal after scandal, outrage after outrage. The media playbook treats it all as a way to build audience, and raise ratings (and revenue) by polarizing opinion.
Here’s what the Republicans say; here’s how the Democrats respond. Obama is good; Obama is bad. So and so says this; so and so fires back. It’s mostly heat, not light.
There are rarely any other views, or ways of understanding events presented.
News programs are the new wrestling shows, a noisy battleground, in the morning, on the Sunday shows, and all day long on cable networks. The goal is not to explain, probe, or ask questions.
No, it’s to squeeze a repetitive and narrow narratives into a morality play that provokes as much emotion as possible.
It’s been said we live in an era of “missing information” and the news is the best arena that defines it—not by what’s being reported, but how its being reported, and mostly by what’s not being reported.
Let’s look at current major “stories”—stories is an appropriate word—to show how this process works.
1. The IRS
At issue is the decision of one office of the IRS to target small Tea Party Groups. They are now apoplectic, using the incident to picture them as martyrs while launching campaigns to raise money for them as victims.
The President is apologizing, “accepting resignations” from temporary officials. Yada Yada Yada.
Unmentioned; This is not the real tax scandal focused on the way big money has taken over the electoral system using non-profits and anonymous sources with the Federal Election Commission and the IRS looking the other way.
The IRS of course has been a favorite tool of punishment since the days of Al Capone. Remember the Nixon enemies list?
• How many peace and justice groups experienced the same treatment? For how many years did the IRS go after leftists? Did anyone in our fearless media ask?
• Did the right-wingers now crying bloody murder ever speak up when the IRS harassed its enemies?
Do I even have to ask?
Why isn’t Karl Rove’s “dark money” manipulations tied to this? William Boardman writes: "Karl Rove is the real poster boy for the so-called IRS (Internal Revenue Service) 'scandal' of taking a closer look at applications by political organizations seeking a 501(c)(4) tax status that not only makes them tax exempt but protects their donors with anonymity."
Sheila Krumholz, of the Center for Responsive Politics, the group that tracks all money in politics wrote (with her board chairman) in the New York Times:
"With the surge of dark money into politics, we need to ensure that the I.R.S. is capable of rigorously enforcing the law in a nonpartisan, but also more effective, way. While we focus on the rickety raft of minor Tea Party groups targeted by the I.R.S., there is an entire fleet of big spenders that are operating with apparent impunity."
Unfortunately, this real problem is not yet news.
And, for that matter, do all the corporations who get away without paying any taxes rate this type of media treatment too? Why isn’t that a mega scandal? Just asking.
2. The Boston Bombers
It was left to Russ Baker of the small WhoWhatWHy website to catalogue the many unasked and unanswered question about what really happened in one of the most “covered” recent news spectacles.
He writes before sinking his teeth into the substance:
“Most of the national and international media have left Boston—and essentially moved on from the Marathon bombing story. But at WhoWhatWhy, we’re just getting started.
Why? Because we see a lot of problems with what we’ve been told so far. We’ve been disappointed that the media have failed to demonstrate healthy skepticism while passing along, unchallenged, the (self-serving) assertions of “the authorities.”
It is the job of journalism not only to report what authorities say, but also to confirm their claims, and address anomalies, errors, inconsistencies, outright lies, and cover-ups, large and small.”
3: Spying on the Associated Press
It turns out there is much more to the story about the government investigating leaks to the AP. It turns out the news and the government had been negotiating, about when to release the story, and the AP had held its story for five days and was wrangling with the White House over who would break it suggesting that there may be questionable practices on both sides.
Andrew Beaujon of the Poynter Institute that covers media practices reported:
“The Associated Press held its story about a foiled underwear bombing for five days, Carol D. Leonnig and Julie Tate report in The Washington Post. But on Monday, May 7, “CIA officials reported that the national security concerns were ‘no longer an issue,’” they write. Then the government began jostling with AP over who would get to break the story.
When the journalists rejected a plea to hold off longer, the CIA then offered a compromise. Would they wait a day if AP could have the story exclusively for an hour, with no government officials confirming it for that time?
Then an administration official called, saying, “AP could have the story exclusively for five minutes before the White House made its own announcement. AP then rejected the request to postpone publication any longer.”?The AP may be our leading news agency, and a cooperative one no less, but it has a long history of collusion with power, belittling opposition movements worldwide, echoing US government claims and skewing the news.
This goes way back—here’s a story I found from 1914 from the Radical magazine “The Masses.”
“Last summer, after a number of publications, including Collier’s Weekly and The Independent, had delicately intimated that the Associated Press gave the country no fair amount of the struggle between labor and capital in West Virginia, THE MASSES decided to look into the case. It decided that if this thing were true, it ought to be stated without delicacy.
The result was a paragraph explicitly and warmly charging the Associated Press with having suppressed and colored the news of that strike in favor of the employers. Accompanying the paragraph was a cartoon presenting the same charge in a graphic form.
Upon the basis of this cartoon and paragraph, William Rand, an attorney for the Associated Press, brought John Doe proceedings against THE MASSES in the Municipal Court of New York. Justice Breen dismissed the case.
Rand then went to the District Attorney. And the District Attorney considered the case serious enough to receive the attention of the Grand Jury. He secured an indictment of two editors of THE MASSES for criminal libel. Max Eastman and Arthur Young were arraigned on December 13, pleaded not guilty, and were each released on $1,000 bail. The date for the trial is not set. The penalty for criminal libel may be one year in prison, $5,000 fine, or both.”
So much for Freedom of the Press! In this case, critics were demanding freedom from the press.
4. Benghazi Blunders
The government has released emails on Benghazi, The Republicans want more. The issue is defined as one of bad security by Hillary Clinton’s State Department. Once again, there’s been no independent investigation. It has become a partisan football while skirting deeper issues.
Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman has come forward to question whether this office in Benghazi was really a consulate but an “intelligence platform” for use in a covert war that the sacking of the embassy became part of. He writes:
“When U.S. personnel were airlifted from Benghazi the night of the attack, there were seven Foreign Service and State Department officers and 23 CIA officers onboard. This fact alone indicates that the consulate was primarily diplomatic cover for an intelligence operation that was known to Libyan militia groups.”
So again, what’s offered up as news may be a way of masking the real news—and/or truth—information that the government and other interests want to conceal, with most of the media looking the other way playing games.
News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org and blogs daily at NewsDissector.net. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.