In the midst of the Scott McClellan book and media tour we're seeing one of my favorite cultural trainwrecks: the Media Searches it Soul show. Colbert called it "Media Culpa" but I think that is a misnomer; nowhere have I seen anyone admit fault or apologize. All I've seen, as Glenn Greenwald notes, are phony introspection, self-absolution, and aggressive defensiveness.

Greenwald notes the example of Charles Gibson, who you might remember as the bag of dick hair who made the Pennsylvania Democratic debate one of the saddest spectacles since Godfather III. In the video you can see Gibson bristle and note how skeptical and incisive the corporate media were:

I think the questions were asked. I respectfully disagree with the gentle lady from the Columbia Broadcasting System. I think the questions were asked. . . . I can remember getting in trouble with administration officials for asking questions they didn't feel comfortable with.

Wow, he was so tough that he actually drew the ire of the people whose ire he is paid to draw! It would be funny enough that he'd brag about a few tough questions thusly, but it's even funnier when we go back and see the questions Gibson asked:

Specifically, of all the biological and chemical weapons that he outlined, and the means of delivery, what's the most frightening? Should be the most frightening?

How compromised are the inspectors there? Are they totally infiltrated by Iraqi intelligence?

Oh man, the administration must have been walking funny after that no-lube reaming! But wait, it got even tougher!

James Woolsey, the Iraqis immediately challenged a lot of what was shown, said it was altered, said it was doctored. The international community — do they know that stuff was genuine?

Oh, anybody who is objective about this I think does. The people who now doubt whether or not Saddam really has WMD programs, chemical and bacteriological, in particular, are really of two types, either they work for Saddam or they're doing a human imitation of an ostrich. There really are, I think, no other possibilities.

It amazes me that Gibson would be stupid enough to get defensive when he knows damn well how easy it is to find every word these people have ever said on the air. While it would be like taking candy from a baby to point out the miles of fawning, supplicating, obsequious questions the media asked or the slack-jawed credulity and naïveté with which they swallowed this bullshit, I'm more troubled by a throwaway line in the Greenwald piece. Sayeth Gibson:

It was just a drumbeat of support from the administration. And it is not our job to debate them; it's our job to ask the questions.

If this isn't everything wrong with American society in 20 words or less, I don't know what is. So much of what I do on this website boils down to asking, What the fuck happened to this country? Well the answer is, this. This is what the fuck happened to us.

The media, which fill perhaps the most vital role in our democratic system, have managed to redefine their job and abdicate the overwhelming majority of it. Actually, Chuck, your job is not to "ask the questions." It is to ask the questions, record the answers, and then (and here's the key part) figure out whether or not said answers are true. This often involves "research" and "reporting." It means giving up the child-like faith (or is it simple laziness?) that Official Sources are telling the truth.

Instead the media have subcontracted the skepticism – that part of the job has been farmed out. To whom? Well, to you and I. Their role is stenography. It's our job as viewers to figure out whether or not what we read or see is true. In other words, "We Report, You Decide" has become more than a slogan. It's a professional creed, an industry-wide motto. Don't be Biased, don't be Critical, don't Take Sides, and never make the sources angry (how can we deliver hard-hitting news without access??). Just write down what they say – write it down nice and accurately. Let the viewers, most of whom would rather be distracted with bright colors and moving objects than deal with reality, do the vetting.

The saddest part is that they don't even understand why they're being criticized. There is an overwhelming sense of not only defensiveness but also a good deal of "What, what did we do?" cluelessness. They honestly don't see the problem given that they fulfilled all of the requirements of contemporary journalism: keeping the advertisers happy, keeping the people they cover happy, repeating what they're told, and constantly checking the ratings to make sure that the public is being told what it wants to hear. Sorry to burst the bubble, but journalists' primary functions are to irritate elected officials who sell the public a ration of shit and tell the public what it needs, not wants, to know.

One thought on “STENOGRAPHY”

  • Quite right, quite right. Trenchant and insightful. When news media really buys into (no pun intended) capitalist foundations, it ceases to function in an essential capacity. Particularly in a society as divided into two clear political factions as ours is (whether or not those divisions run as deep as it seems is another issue, but it at least appears that these distinctions are significant) because if you take a side, you piss off half of your potentially paying customers.

    It's also a sort of "fake personal empowerment" that's been going on for a while now. To say "we report, you decide" is such bullshit, because "we" lack the necessary context to make decisions about 99% of the time. It's a really basic error to think that accurate stenography always gives us enough information to make an informed decision.

    Ah well. Lots of interesting issues tied up in this discussion. Also, solutions don't readily present themselves. At least not to me.

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