“What are we to make of all this? Even today, anyone relating the known events … must painstakingly and correctly hedge them with weighty disclaimers, because the story seems to reek of conspiracy theory.”
The author wrote the above in reference to the “white van incident” on the day of 9/11.
The Bonus Book of the Week is “Bad News, The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the Danger to Us All” by Tom Fenton, published in 2005.
This is a book-long rant on how journalism has become profit-seeking entertainment. As is well known, nowadays, media moguls are the ones who judge whether every attention whore’s idiot-box or Web utterance is “news” or not.
The decline in the educational value of news has been a gradual process. The Postwar Era through the 1980’s saw America make a large investment in newsgathering around the world.
An indication of America’s popular-culture bent is the fact that, in the history of television, the shows that had the absolute highest annual ratings-figure on five occasions included only “The Cosby Show,” “All in the Family” and “60 Minutes.” The third show– a news-magazine that provided in-depth coverage of scandals which hurt ordinary Americans, had a run of 22 years as one of the top ten-rated programs.
The author believes that American politicians have subscribed to a recipe for disaster– excessive deregulation (including in the media industry) that has led to unbridled greed, and ultimately, financial scandals and crashes. America saw its share of those between the end of the 1990’s into the single-digit 2000’s.
Such politically-generated turmoil has killed journalism by allowing media companies to become monstrously large oligopolies that tow the line of one political party or the other in the pursuit of money, in the United States. The cost-cutting among media-company owners has caused the field of journalism to regress to a time before commercial aviation (!) For, there are few or no journalists stationed outside the United States, gathering stories that would keep viewers, listeners and readers informed; perhaps improve the quality of their lives, or even save lives.
There occurred some poetic justice when large corporations in the entertainment business such as General Electric, Disney and Viacom lost money as a result of 9/11. The author contended that experienced journalists used to gather information internationally that allowed them and the government to connect foreign-policy dots to minimize unrest plus give indications of terrorist threats, and minimize economic instability in the world.
The author also argued that well-informed viewers could change history for the better, but credited them with more power than they actually have. Indirectly, yes, their viewing habits could lead to the boosting of ratings of shows that would help them vote for a better electorate.
However, viewers aren’t likely to stop using the idiot box or the Web to get a clue as to what’s going on in the world– and, in order to acquire some context, suddenly start reading the personal accounts of old-school journalists who sincerely tried to be fair and objective– unless they have done so as a lifelong habit. They have obviously, passively accepted the fact that their knowledge sources have become tabloid garbage.
Some readers might say that keeping track of international affairs is the job of foreign service officers, not of journalists. Diplomats from the United States are highly compensated and live in palaces full of servants (even in Third World countries, generously financially aided by American taxpayers) in exchange for their round-the-clock vigilance of developing, sometimes life-threatening situations, on-location. They’re supposed to keep Americans safe. The author pointed out, though, that journalists used to be an extra source of intelligence. Not anymore.
By the start of the war in Afghanistan in 2002, “American news organizations had so depleted the ranks of hard news reporters over the years that they suddenly had to send out whatever lifestyle, fashion, and gossip types they could muster on a moment’s notice– plus, of course a few Big Names who knew far more about grandstanding than they did about Afghanistan.”
Read the book to learn more details of this disturbing situation.