What Liberal Media?
In the Neocon era, especially, has Liberal Media become an urban legend?
by Freethinker Bob

"Another excellent example of flak came in 1995 when the Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds Corporation sued ABC for investigations into nicotine manipulation in cigarettes. ABC had to subsequently apologize and fire the story's investigative journalists."

In an era of increasing "infotainment," the mass media plays an extraordinary role in framing public debate and opinion. To the chagrin of many, the era of Woodward and Bernstein has fallen to the faux pulpits of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. As such, the days of investigative journalism and hard-hitting questions have surrendered to heightened sensationalism and bullying agendas reminiscent of late-19th Century “yellow journalism.”

Equally disturbing to consider is how the bulk of American media outlets are now concentrated in the hands of a privileged few, interested more in selling the corporate line than looking out for the public interest.

As scholar Noam Chomsky alludes to in his book Manufacturing Consent, the media has an influential and impacting bias toward the private sector over the public good. This bias starts with owners like Fox's Rupert Murdoch, who typically dictate their personal slant to the news organizations that they own. The assumption, meanwhile, is that reporters directly control the manufacturing of news. That's like saying the workers on an automobile assembly line have a direct say over what product the auto industry decides to build.

After owners, the largest bias control mechanism in American media is advertising. Here, news outlets cannot afford to offend, as over 50 percent of magazine, 80 percent of press and nearly 100 percent of radio/television outlets are funded by advertisements.

On average, corporations pay more than $170 billion per year to media outlets for advertising time. Advertisers also demand supportive editorial and programming departments. If an advertiser doesn't like the investigative reporting going on that could, for example, aid the consumer and impact the corporation's overall profit margin, they again simply yank the primary source of funding: the ads. One example of this came in 2003, when CBS yanked its critical bio-drama “The Reagans” after receiving threats of commercial withdrawals from several prominent advertisers.

The third media control device is the sources utilized. Because opinion technically belongs on the editorial page, media outlets cannot typically come right out and give their impacting biases in "objective" news articles. The way to get around this is to have reporters rely on "expert" sources, who readily give them quotes and statistics that enforce the newspaper owner and advertiser’s underlying opinions. In 1995 alone, for instance, three of the top four quoted "think tanks" – the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute – were strictly conservative and corporate-funded.

The fourth major media control device is flak. Flak is pressure from the government, corporations and corporate-backed media groups like Accuracy in Media. The pressure, usually in the form of "libelous" lawsuits, comes when news outlets actively challenge or investigate beyond the public relations information given. To avoid losing sponsors as well as government access—as was seen during coverage of the latest Iraq invasion—major media outlets “report” almost verbatim from press releases that are then distributed to a mass audience as "news."

Another excellent example of flak came in 1995 when the Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds Corporation sued ABC for investigations into nicotine manipulation in cigarettes. ABC had to subsequently apologize and fire the story's investigative journalists.

So, the next time you turn on the nightly news, or pick up a newspaper, you should really consider asking who influences what’s being seen. The answer: the owners, advertisers, sources and flakers. Along with that, a second question sorely needed is what are the owner and advertiser’s overall agendas and biases, and why? Take for instance NBC’s owners Westinghouse and General Electric, who both have staked financial interests in government defense contracts and, not surprisingly, wartime coverage.

In a land of often-referred-to democratic principles, a subtle "propaganda model of news" is the means to keeping the public pacified. Inasmuch, taking America’s increasingly "infotainment" media at face value ultimately leaves one confined to blinders. Only through skepticism and looking behind the corporate curtain can Americans realize the impact news has and how it truly drives our day-to-day opinions.

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