This post has been UPDATED to include The Great Bill Moyers' presentation at the same conference.
Fellow Texans The Great Bill Moyers and former CBS anchorman Dan Rather had a few choice words to say about the corporate media this weekend at the National Conference for Media Reform hosted by Free Press.
Some highlights, first from Rather:
The Framers of our Constitution enshrined freedom of the press in the very first Amendment, up at the top of the Bill of Rights, not because they were great fans of journalists - like many politicians, then and now, they were not - but rather because they knew, as Thomas Jefferson put it, that, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was and never will be."
In the news and on the news, one could, to be sure, find persons and views that did not agree with all or parts of this official narrative. Hans Blix, the former U.N. chief weapons inspector, comes to mind as an example. But the burden of proof, implicitly or explicitly, was put on these dissenting views and persons... the burden of proof was not put on an administration that was demonstrably moving towards a large-scale military action that would represent a break with American precedent and stated policy of how, when, and under what circumstances this nation goes to war.
And these questions are met with what is now called, euphemistically and much too kindly, what is now called "message discipline." Well, we used to have a better and more accurate term for "message discipline." We called it "stonewalling."
But when a tough question is asked and not answered, when reputable people come before the public and say, "wait a minute, something's not right here," the press has treated them like voices crying in the wilderness.
But it is rare, now, to find a major news organization owned by an individual, someone who can say, in effect, "The buck stops here." The more likely motto now is: "The news stops... with making bucks."
One might ask just where the news fits into this model. And if you really need an answer, you can turn on your television, where you will see the following:
--Political analysis reduced to in-studio shouting matches between partisans armed with little more than the day's talking points.
--Precious time and resources wasted on so-called human-interest stories, celebrity fluff, sensationalist trials, and gossip.
--A proliferation of "news you can use" that amounts to thinly-disguised press releases for the latest consumer products.
Ensuring that a free press remains free will require vigilance, and it will require work. Please, take tonight's energy and inspiration home with you. Take it back to your desks and your workplaces, to your colleagues and your fellow citizens. magnify it, multiply it, and spread it. Make it viral. Make it something that cannot be ignored - not by the powers in Washington, not by the owners and executives of media companies. Write these people. Call them. Send them the message that you know your rights, you know that you are entitled to news media as diverse and varied as the American people... and that you deserve a press that provides the raw material of democracy, the good information that Americans need to be full participants in our government of, by, and for the people.
Then from Moyers:
"As journalism goes, so goes democracy," renowned PBS host Bill Moyers told the
crowd at the National Conference for Media Reform.
[Media consolidation is] …a corrosive social force. It robs them of their voice in public affairs, pollutes the political culture, and turns the debate over profound issues into a shouting match of polarized views promulgated by partisan apologists who trivialize democracy while refusing to speak the truth about how our country is being plundered.
So it is that democracy without honest information creates the illusion of popular consent while enhancing the power of the state and the privileged interests protected by it.
This is the role in which Rather can continue to make a difference: as critic of the MSM and a motivator to the public for action against the corporate media. I see this as more of his penance for playing Bush-lapdog (as most journalists did) for those years in the anchor chair at CBS Evening News. His piece on electronic voting machines was another bit of his penance, another "Our Father" hurled at the devil that is the corporate-owned media and its slavish devotion to BushCo.
Moyers has spent his career speaking truth to power; his Journal series was telling the truth about BushCo's lies and the media's peddling of those lies over a year ago. He didn't need Scotty McLellan to tell him Bush was lying.
I hope we keep getting more from Rather and Moyers--a couple of classic newsmen who still realize the importance of protecting the public from a hostile and controlling government. And I hope their example inspires a new generation of journalists to take the responsibilities of their profession as seriously as Rather and Moyers do.