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Whither News? Welcome Propaganda

The difference between news and propaganda has been shrinking more and more. It is a development that should worry every one because I can scarcely think of a single development more injurious to a healthy society than when the press loses or sacrifices its independence to a political agenda.

Fox News’ Sean Hannity had a special show about the “Power of Faith.” Among his guests was Sr. Simone Campbell who was sandwiched between two conservative priests on a panel. When she dropped a mention of her book, “A Nun on the Bus,” and it was clear that Hannity had no idea, one of the priests explained that Sr. Simone had criticized the budget proposals of Cong. Paul Ryan. “Oh, so you’re a communist,” said Hannity because, of course, in his universe, those are the only options, support Ryan or become a communist. It was pathetic.

The case of Cliven Bundy is yet more recent evidence of Fox News dabbling in the Leni Riefenstahl approach to relaying information. Bundy is a rancher in Nevada who became a bit of a folk hero on the right for standing up to the federal government. Hundreds of militia men, armed with assault rifles, came to his aid. The feds backed down. Voila, a Fox News star is born, and not just on Hannity’s more extreme show.  

But, to be clear, Mr. Bundy has been grazing his cattle on land he does not own for years and the owners of the land asked him to pay up. The normal word for that kind of person is a thief. And, because the owner of the land in question is the federal government, and other ranchers do pay for the right to graze their cattle on the land, you might call Bundy a welfare cheat. But, not at Fox News. So much for property rights.

I do not know about anyone else, but the idea that a bunch of heavily armed men descend upon a small town to stand up to the feds, this is not the kind of thing that warms my liberal heart. Can you imagine if, say, the Occupy Wall Street had attracted such heavily armed allies? Fox News, which daily carried news about the fact that the Occupy Movement was unsanitary, how would the network report if the Occupy movement had been joined by armed  allies, say, the Black Panthers? And, when a local news channel breaks a story about someone on traditional welfare scamming the system, does Fox champion that person for standing up to the feds? Of course not. But, Fox is playing for ratings and depends upon the most conservative viewers to keep those ratings up. They serve red meat because that is what the customers want.

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MSNBC had a segment that was possibly more insidious. Chris Hayes “exposed” the various ways former Governor Jeb Bush has been making money since leaving office. There was nothing illegal about Bush’s activities: He serves on more corporate boards than ethics groups think a good idea, one of those corporations went belly up. There was no real news here. Why, then, did this segment run? Because liberals would rather see the GOP nominate someone like Sen. Ted Cruz than someone with crossover appeal like Jeb Bush. Best to take him down early. That is a political objective, not a news objective. And, while Fox may be driven by ratings, MSNBC seems content to repeat whatever talking points are being circulated by liberal political groups. Insidious.

And, then, there is poor CNN. They no longer spend an entire hour talking about the missing Malaysian Airlines flight, but I have not watched an hour when that missing plane did not get some attention, and always more than a mention. On comes the panel of experts. On comes the reporter in Perth, Australia. At least we no longer have to see the “Breaking News” banner when there has been virtually no news since the flight went missing. I am deeply sorry for the people on that plane and for their families. But, the ambulance chasing quality of CNN when a story like this comes up is equally pathetic.

There are important issues facing our nation. 11 million undocumented workers still do not know if their situation will be regularized and they can come out of the shadows. Income inequality is the kind of issue that requires thoughtful perspectives from both parties. At a deeper level, the relationship of religion and society, at the heart of the HHS contraception mandate and other issues, is enormously complicated and the country would benefit from having news agencies explore that complexity. I worry that we must all hope the economy improves, but given the way our economy works, such improvement will only come when consumers start consuming again. Can an economy that relies so heavily on consumption survive morally or environmentally or even financially? For how long? There is no shortage of issues that deserve serious treatment and there is less hope for the success of our nation’s experiment in democracy if the electorate is persistently uninformed or misinformed.

After a day of reading and writing, in the evening hours I like to turn on the TV, have a margarita, make some dinner, and relax. Instead of relaxing, I find the cable news offerings so offensive, I get worked up, the opposite of relaxation. So, it is back to the history channel or to a sporting event. But, how many times can you watch an hour about Operation Barbarossa? The movie “The Help,” just made it on to TNT. I watched it twice. And, the NBA playoffs do not excite as did the NCAA tournament. I am accepting dinner invitations for long dinners downtown. And I am praying that the news industry will one day return to sobriety and away from propaganda.

 

 

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October 10-23, 2014

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