FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

If U.S. Mass Media Were State-Controlled, Would They Look Any Different?

by JEFF COHEN

The Edward Snowden leaks have revealed a U.S. corporate media system at war with independent journalism. Many of the same outlets – especially TV news – that missed the Wall Street meltdown and cheer-led the Iraq invasion have come to resemble state-controlled media outlets in their near-total identification with the government as it pursues the now 30-year-old whistleblower.

While an independent journalism system would be dissecting the impacts of NSA surveillance on privacy rights, and separating fact from fiction, U.S. news networks have obsessed on questions like: How much damage has Snowden causedHow can he be brought to justice?

Unfazed by polls showing that half of the American rabble — I mean, public – believe Snowden did a good thing by leaking documentation of NSA spying, TV news panels have usually excluded anyone who speaks for these millions of Americans. Although TV hosts and most panelists are not government officials, some have a penchant for speaking of the government with the pronoun “We.”

After Snowden made it out of Hong Kong to Russia, New York Times journalist and CNBC talking head Andrew Ross Sorkin expressed his frustration: “We’ve screwed this up, to even let him get to Russia.”  By “we,” he meant the U.S. government.

Last time I checked, Sorkin was working for the Times and CNBC, not the CIA or FBI.

When a huge swath of the country is on the side of the guy-on-the-run and not the government, it’s much easier to see that there’s nothing “objective” or “neutral” about journalists who so closely identify with the spy agencies or Justice Department or White House.

The standard exclusion of dissenting views – panels often span from hawk (“he’s a traitor who needs to be jailed”) to dove (“he may have been well-intentioned but he needs to be jailed”) – offers yet another reason why young people, more libertarian in their views, have turned away from these outlets. Virtually no one speaks for them. While a TIME poll found 53 percent of respondents saying Snowden did “a good thing,” that was the sentiment of 70 percent of those age 18 to 34.

I teach college journalism classes about independent media. New developments like WikiLeaks and independent bloggers like Glenn Greenwald may scare the wits out of establishment media, but they sure don’t scare young people or journalism students.

As media employees at elite outlets have grown cozier with their government and corporate sources (Sorkin is famously close with Wall Street CEOs), they exhibit an almost instinctual antipathy toward those adversarial journalists who challenge powerful elites day after day.

Look at the reactions of some top mainstream journalists to Greenwald, who built up a big readership as a solo blogger before moving his blog to Salon and then the Guardian, where he broke the Snowden/NSA stories. I know several journalism professors who view Greenwald as one of the world’s best journalists. He’s known as accurate, thorough, well-documented and ethical.

It was Sorkin, the New York Times guy, who declared on CNBC that maybe Greenwald should be arrested: “I told you this in the green room – I would arrest him [Snowden] and now I’d almost arrest Glenn Greenwald, who’s the journalist who seems to be out there, almost, he wants to help him get to Ecuador.”

If it’s strange for a journalist to suggest another journalist’s arrest, it was almost as strange when Sorkin wrote in a Times column that he went down to check out the Occupy Wall Street encampment “after getting a call from the chief executive of a major bank.” Sorkin concluded: “As I wandered around the park, it was clear to me that most bankers probably don’t have to worry about being in imminent personal danger. This didn’t seem like a brutal group – at least not yet.”

Another mainstream media star is NBC’s David Gregory (seen literally dancing with White House source Karl Rove in 2007). Since he interviewed Greenwald on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” there’s been scrutiny of Gregory’s factually-misleading question: “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you be charged with a crime?” And of Greenwald’s response: “I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies.”

But I’m  just as bothered by Gregory’s retort – “Well, the question of who’s a journalist may be up to a debate with regards to what you’re doing “ – and the ensuing discussion in mainstream outlets questioning Greenwald’s bona fides as a journalist.

Washington Post article (“On NSA disclosures, has Glenn Greenwald become something other than a reporter?”) questioned the blogger’s credentials as a journalist because he’s also an advocate: “Greenwald has appeared frequently on TV to plead Snowden’s case as a whistleblower — an advocacy role many mainstream journalists would be uncomfortable with.”

The Post article spoke of “the line between journalism – traditionally, the dispassionate reporting of facts – and outright involvement in the news seems blurrier than ever.” Libertarian journalist Matt Welch critiqued the article as “historically illiterate.”

The truth is that many of the greatest journalists in our country’s history – from Ida B. Wells to I.F. Stone – were accurate reporters of fact, but hardly dispassionate. And mainstream outlets have always had hybrid reporter/columnists offering both fact and advocacy; one of the most famous, David Broder, graced the pages of the Washington Post for years, including its front page.

Broder was a reporter, columnist and TV talking head — yet no one questioned whether Broder was a genuine journalist. That’s because, unlike Greenwald, the reporting and opinions of a David Broder were militantly pro-establishment, pro-bipartisan consensus.

And Broder’s not alone as a hybrid reporter/columnist in the mainstream. Let’s not forget the delightful pundit who wanted to “almost arrest” Greenwald. His official Times bio states: “Andrew Ross Sorkin is a columnist, chief mergers and acquisitions reporter, and editor of Dealbook for The New York Times.”

The reason Glenn Greenwald’s credentials as a journalist are being questioned by some mainstreamers is not that he blurs the line between journalist and advocate. It’s because of the anti-establishment content of his journalism and advocacy.

Jeff Cohen is director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he is an associate professor of journalism. A former pundit on CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, he is the author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.” He launched the media watch group FAIR in 1986, and cofounded the online activism group RootsAction.org (which has petitioned in support of Edward Snowden).

Jeff Cohen is director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College and cofounder of the online activism group RootsAction.org.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail