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The Black Commentator - Mainstream Media Serve Up Garbage As Legitimate News Coverage - Color of Law

Speaking of his fellow journalists, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann was right when he told David Letterman that “Most of us in news are not smart enough to figure out what's going on. We may pretend that we're good enough to do that. But in fact, when we look you in the eye, in the camera, we're really just making it up.” I think he’s onto something.

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Elizabeth Edwards, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and wife of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, decried the state of the press and the problem of shallow media coverage of the issues:

Well, the rancor of the campaign was covered. The amount of money spent was covered. But in Pennsylvania, as in the rest of the country this political season, the information about the candidates’ priorities, policies and principles - information that voters will need to choose the next president - too often did not make the cut. After having spent more than a year on the campaign trail with my husband, John Edwards, I’m not surprised.
Why? Here’s my guess: The vigorous press that was deemed an essential part of democracy at our country’s inception is now consigned to smaller venues, to the Internet and, in the mainstream media, to occasional articles. I am not suggesting that every journalist for a mainstream media outlet is neglecting his or her duties to the public. And I know that serious newspapers and magazines run analytical articles, and public television broadcasts longer, more probing segments.

But I am saying that every analysis that is shortened, every corner that is cut, moves us further away from the truth until what is left is the Cliffs Notes of the news, or what I call strobe-light journalism, in which the outlines are accurate enough but we cannot really see the whole picture.

Meanwhile, conservative-turned-liberal commentator Arianna Huffington has criticized the “self-loathing” liberal media for placing “unabashed propagandists” on their payroll, deceptive individuals such as Karl Rove at Newsweek, Tony Snow at CNN, and Bill Kristol at the New York Times.

Perhaps a most fitting example of what is wrong with much of the mainstream media in general - and their coverage of this campaign season in particular - was the Pennsylvania Democratic debate. Hosted by ABC, it is more aptly called The Trial of Barack Obama. Despite the myriad crises facing this country, including recession, home foreclosures, health insurance, global warming, and a worldwide food shortage, much of the debate focused on patriotism, flag lapel pins, and angry Black preachers.

To add insult to injury, one of the debate moderators, George Stephanopoulos, a former advisor to Hillary Clinton’s husband when he was president, was a walking conflict of interest. And he appears to have received some of his questions from the right-wing Fox News. Fox host, Sean Hannity, suggested that Stephanopoulos ask Obama about his ties to William Ayers, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor who was a member of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. Stephanopoulos complied with Hannity’s recommendations, and his conduct was criticized even by much of the mainstream media, and the thousands of people who left comments on the ABC website. How many of us long for the days when the League of Women Voters sponsored these debates and focused on the issues that mattered, as opposed to today’s sensationalism, gossip and guilt by association?

This leads us to Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The Wright issue was tailor-made for the mainstream press. Small portions of Wright’s “controversial” sermons, taken out of context, were played continuously over the airwaves. The mostly white-conservative-male punditocracy - political hacks and establishment tools who are culturally insensitive, wholly ignorant about the history of the Black church and the history of this nation, yet well-versed in race-baiting – ran with Dr. Wright. The 24-hour cycle of cable news, with its emphasis on the sound byte, and the need to entertain, divert attention and make a buck, demanded no less.

It was far easier for them to create the narrative of the wild-eyed, irrational Black radical than to present the truth: a scholar and theologian with a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and a doctorate from United Theological Seminary, who is far more educated than those who would unfairly critique him; a man who served his country for six years in the Marines and in the Navy, and was part of the medical team that cared for President Lyndon Johnson; a man who has served his Chicago community for thirty-six years, and a man who has received death threats, and whose church has received bomb threats since his statements were first publicized.

Then finally, the media allowed Dr. Wright to tell his own story. Bill Moyers had a lengthy and thoughtful interview with Wright on PBS. CNN and C-SPAN aired, in its entirety, his April 27, 2008 speech before the Detroit branch of the NAACP, and his April 28 speech at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. In those presentations, Wright gave the audience a lesson on the Black church and the legacy of racism in the United States. Agree with him or not, Dr. Wright has provided something which is sorely lacking in much of today’s mainstream news coverage: historical context, relevance, and an unfiltered voice speaking truth to power.

Now, I do not want to paint broad brush strokes here in my condemnation of the media. I have spent a number of years involved in various media organizations - mainstream, Black, Latino and alternative press, in print, online, on the radio and on television. And I have learned that there are countless journalists, capable, hard-working and experienced, who perform their job with integrity, attention to detail, and a sense of responsibility to the public. But it seems that the empty-headed talking heads, the fashion models and over-scripted, over-rehearsed cue card readers, increasingly are the norm. And fewer and fewer corporations are controlling what we see, hear and read. Unfortunately, style prevails over substance, and the real issues get lost in the process.

The public outcry over the Pennsylvania debate was a warning to the corporate media: If you hope to survive and regain credibility, you must change your ways. Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a lawyer and journalist based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin's Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International UK spokesperson, organized the first national police brutality conference as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. His blog is Click here to contact Mr. Love.

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May 1, 2008
Issue 275

is published every Thursday

Executive Editor:
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Peter Gamble
Est. April 5, 2002
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