Monday, May 14, 2007

The Media Are The Menace

Last night's San Francisco Chronicle had a preview of the new Media Matters report on the lack of diversity of the guests on Sunday talk shows. You know the drill. It's one of the blatant examples of bias that typifies our corrupt, incompetent, corporate media.
Seeing nonwhite men on the Sunday shows is as rare as seeing them on the floor of the U.S. Senate. According to a study to be released Monday by the liberal media organization Media Matters for America, which was obtained by The Chronicle, at least 77 percent of the 2,150 guests who appeared on the four major Sunday shows in 2005-06 were men; at least 82 percent were white.
Well, that fits our national demographic, right? Well, at least the demographic of those whose opinions actually matter, right? White men. Every week, all the time. Of course, these movers and shakers are so intelligent, reponsible, and attuned that it doesn't matter. They still best represent what needs be the focus of the national dialogue. Right?

The Chronicle article then goes on to describe the April 15 episode of NBC's "Meet the Press," which was a rare example of a show that featured two African-American guests! Of course, that was the week of the Don Imus controversy, when race issues actually mattered to the Powers That Be. It mattered because one of their own had finally gotten in trouble for behaving like a bigoted bully. PBS's Gwen Ifill upbraided Tim Russert for having continued to appear on the Imus show, long after it had become clear that Imus repeatedly made racist comments, including one about Ifill herself.
"There has been radio silence from a lot of people who have done this program who could have spoken up and said, 'I find this offensive or I didn't know,' " Ifill said. Turning to Russert, Ifill said, "These people didn't speak up. Tim, we didn't hear from you."

Not only did the moment make for good TV, it was a rare example, analysts said, of how broadening the pool of talking heads can lead to a more inclusive and representative national conversation. Sunday shows are closely monitored by the nation's decision-makers, as a barometer of Beltway buzz.
That's part of the problem: the nation's decision-makers and the Beltway buzz. Glenn Greenwald and Digby absolutely nailed that one, last week. Greenwald got into an exchange with the always embarrassing Joe Klein (Joke Line). It started with this article, which evoked this response, at which point Greenwald succinctly and perfectly summarized the entire problem:
My point was that Beltway pundits are far too insulated and detached from the people whom they baselessly claim to represent, not that leaving the Beltway is bad. The fact that it is supposed to be some sort of commendable or distinguishing attribute that Broder goes on field trips to America in order to study how the "ordinary people" think -- much the way a zoologist travels to the jungle to observe the behavior of different species -- illustrates that point.
Digby then did what often makes Digby the best of all bloggers:
I would actually take the argument another step and point out that Broder and others also venture out into the American landscape with a sort of pre-conceived notion of what defines "the people" that appears to have been formed by TV sit-coms in 1955. They seem to see extraordinary value in sitting in some diner with middle aged and older white men (sometimes a few women are included) to "ask them what they think." And invariably these middle-aged white men say the country is going to hell in a handbasket and they want the government to do more and they hate paying taxes. There may be a little frisson of disagreement among these otherwise similar people on certain issues of the day because of their affiliation with a union or because of the war or certain social issues, but for the most part they all sit together and politely talk politics with this anthropologist/reporter, usually agreeing that this president or another one is a bum or a hero. The reporter takes careful notes of everything these "real Americans" have to say and take them back to DC and report them as the opinions of "the people."

Meanwhile, someone like me, who lives in a big city on the west coast and who doesn't hang out in diners with middle aged white men are used as an example of the "fringe" even though I too am one of "the people" as are many others --- like hispanic youths or single urban mothers or dot-com millionaires or elderly southern black granddads or Korean entrepreneurs (or even Sheryl Crow.) We are not Real Americans.
Digby then traces this mythical America to Joseph Kraft, forty years ago, and brings it home with an analysis of how the Beltway punditocracy also mythologizes itself, and the effect that had on their false outrage over President Clinton's personal misbehavior:
Yet, even while they ostentatiously ranted and wailed hysterically with anachronistic notions of bourgeois American values, they still carried on as if the White House and the nation's capital belonged to them instead of the American people, which is the very definition of elitism. What an achievement! The very rich and powerful (but we won't talk about that) "bourgeoisie" now had to save degenerate "Middle America" from itself.

When the equally phony George W. Bush came to town it was love at first sight, and why wouldn't it be? Here you had a man whom these people could truly admire --- a rich man of the bluest blood, born into one of the most powerful families in America who nonetheless pretended to be some hick from Midland Texas. He took great pride in his phoniness, just as they did, and they all danced this absurd kabuki in perfect step for years each pretending to the other that they were all "just regular guys."
Exactly. It's a magnificent read!

The Media Matters report is now online:
Not only are the Sunday morning talk shows on the broadcast networks dominated by conservative opinion and commentary, the four programs -- NBC's Meet the Press, ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday -- feature guest lists that are overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male.

And the top-rated Sunday show -- Meet the Press -- shows the least diversity of all. The NBC program is the most male and nearly the most white (Face the Nation beats it out by 1 percentage point), and it has the highest proportion of white males to all other guests.
And I will close by posting a little media guide I threw together to use as a comment in media related diaries. Much of what's wrong with America can be traced to our media's bias. That's one of the many reasons the internet and the blogs have become so critically important!
anyone interested in the complicity of the media in creating and enabling bush should check out the following:

for background:
mark hertsgaard- on bended knee: the press and the reagan presidency

gene lyons- fools for scandal: how the media invented whitewater

joe conason & gene lyons- the hunting of the president: the ten-year campaign to destroy bill and hillary clinton

for the current era:
eric alterman- what liberal media?

eric boehlert- lapdogs: how the press rolled over for bush

frank rich- the greatest story ever sold: the decline and fall of truth from 9/11 to katrina

al franken's books also cover the subject, although not in as great detail.

also check websites:
media matters

daily howler

fairness and accuracy in reporting

make no mistake- it's not just a matter of incompetence. the corporate media deliberately help republican presidents and undermine democratic ones. we need always keep this in mind! they are not a peripheral problem, they are at the heart of what's so terribly wrong in this country.

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