The core mission of independent watchdog journalism is to hold the powerful accountable on behalf of the “little people.” This seems a hopeless dream in our era of corporate media conglomeration, but in fact there are pockets of success. Courageous journalists are struggling to work even in the most dangerous corners of the earth. “Media Missionaries,” my updated report on American international journalism training, shares stories from the front lines of this global battle to tell the truth.
“Talk Show Culture,” my second new report available on this website, shows the opposite side of today’s media culture: the degradation of journalism into theatrical shouting matches, with collateral damage to civic life. Citizens are numbed by a constant barrage of assertions and attacks, presented by disingenuous “commentators” and “hosts” who are making money without any moral scruples about the lies they promote. Ann Coulter, for example, attacks as “treasonous” anyone who doesn’t agree with her extreme views. For sport, fame and money, she and her clones are knowingly poisoning Americans’ urgently-needed discourse about the very real and frightening challenges we now face.
That is not to say that the left’s favorite media analyst, Noam Chomsky, is a trustworthy guide either. He may be more intellectually honest than Coulter (it’s hard not to be) but like President Bush, he is driven by faith rather than knowledge. Watch out for neat theories! They bear no resemblance to messy reality. The corporate ownership of media companies is a big problem, and is undermining good journalism in many situations. But it is not by any means the whole story; true and important information is being verified and broadcast or printed every day by journalists working in this media marketplace. Those who dismiss the whole thing as hopelessly corrupt are simply too lazy to search out the real ground on which the truth stands.
It takes work to find what is real. But is is vital to do so. Particularly as the American presidential election nears, this is no time for sanctimonious ego-trips or leaps of patriotic faith.
Ralph Nader suffers from the first malady (of thinking if he’s not running for president, no one will represent the True Way), and as a result, he will likely cause real damage to the very values he claims to espouse. The world situation requires all of us to make real choices. The differences between Bush and Kerry are clear to the observer who is willing to look for verified facts rather than Hollywood atmospherics; whoever wins will affect generations to come on such issues as: American security and global stability, the direction of the Supreme Court, abortion rights, human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, scientific research, Social Security, health care, education, and of course, the environment.
Some voters act as if they’re picking a husband, or a beer buddy. Television makes it seem personal because the candidate is in your home, larger than life. You are voting for the leader of the free world. Choose a person who will have the knowledge, values and judgment to make the right choices that will affect everyone. Is their sex life, or their personal charm, really what matters here?
A group of student journalists at UMass Boston and Harvard are willing to throw themselves into these culture wars, despite the cynicism spewed out by the conservative Coulters and the leftist Chomskyites. These students have not given up on this sorry world nor on trying to do honest work. When the Democratic Convention comes to our doorstep in Boston this July, they will be putting out a small convention newspaper, on media issues, for the conventioneers. Keep an eye out on the web for “Media Nation,” coming your way in mid-July.