Sensation Cocktail

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Where have all the reporters gone - long time ago?

For 12 years of my still-young life, I worked as a reporter in the newspaper industry. I covered politics, education, government, courts, emergency service personnel, the environment and politics - in short, nearly everything.

I prided myself upon checking facts, fleshing out sources and attempting to get all sides to a story (there are usually more than just two). I worked incredibly long hours for little pay, but I loved what I was doing. I wanted to educate my readers and keep them informed of pivotal issues that effected their lives, livelihoods and health.

I left this much-beloved, full-time profession - the only one for which I studied upon entering college - but continued to freelance after the birth of my son; and, I left it all-together when a divorce forced me back into workforce, full time. I had to work hours more conducive to child-rearing and needed something that would pay enough so that we didn't starve. It was an awful decision, but one I don't regret in that my 7-year-old son is already starting to show the signs of this decision - he's incredibly smart, well-adjusted and loving.

I miss the work. I was the most fulfilled, professionally, when I was reporting, despite the long hours and little pay. I have often thought that, when my son gets older, I would go back to the days when I would spend hours researching court documents, chasing sources for answers or even accompanying an investigator to the morgue during a murder investigation.

But, after watching the dilapidated state of news over this past five years, I'm not sure I'd be comfortable, or even welcomed, back into what is considered good-form reporting anymore.

News, television and radio news, in particular, in America, has gone from being a source of information to a surreal form of entertainment - I call is the "Fox"ification of the media.

When Fox News started about 10 years ago, it was a scrappy little network giving CNN a run for it's stodgy and up-until-then, non-competitive money. I watched, sitting on the couch so pregnant that I couldn't walk four steps without needing to sleep, as it competed brilliantly against the Ted Turner news giant in its coverage of the Columbine shootings.

Then a funny thing happened during the 2000 election: Fox started reporting news less and less and began catapulting the propaganda more and more. A viewer, lesser-training in the recognition of reporting versus spin, probably wouldn't notice the subtle changes. From calling the election in Florida for George W. Bush (when we all know - or should know by now - that Vice President Al Gore actually won the state and the popular vote, nationwide) to pairing the weakest, most spineless and less-attractive "liberals" against more formidable conservative mouthpieces, Fox began driving an agenda that has left real news reporting to the way of the dinosaur.

Now, one can't turn on the television without seeing three Republicans to one, or in some cases, NO, Democratic counter-viewpoint. If there is a Democratic answer, the interviewer is generally much harsher and sharper-tongued to this individual than to any of the mealy-mouthed Republican mynah birds on board and/or the Democrat is some corporate-shill or is a unfair caricature of what a liberal actually stands for.

And, when they're not sticking dreadfully poor representatives of the left on for face time, the news media is resorting to entertainment-as-news for what should be two-minute fillers. For example, while I dearly love Sir Paul McCartney, I'm sorry to say his divorce from Heather Mills shouldn't be the lead story on ANY American news network while 2,500 US military men and women have lost their lives in an unnecessary war (of course, if you only get your news from television or from Judith Miller at The New York Times, you don't know that the war is unnecessary: you probably haven't heard of the Downing Street Memos or the CIA concerns that information used to lead up the war was manipulated by the Bush Administration or you probably even believe Sen. Rick Santorum's claim that years-old mustard and sarin gas found buried on the Iranian border is a real weapon of mass destruction [HINT: It's not]).

And, if I see another bleached-blonde hanging onto the hotel balcony railing for dear life while the 70 mph winds of Hurricane Whatever rage on around her or Mr. Ken Doll breathlessly awaiting an SUV being chased by the police in ONE CITY (thus, effecting only those citizens in the general vicinity and not Americans as a whole), I think I'll just puke. Or, well, turn it off.

What has happened in the five years since I left the profession?

Well, for one thing, the profession has gone wholly corporate. There are only six media moguls who own the vast majority of the mainstream media - and guess what? And, only one of them started out as an organization who's sole purpose was to report news (Time-Warner). They are:

AOL Time Warner

The Walt Disney Company

Bertelsmann AG

Viacom

News Corporation

Vivendi Universal



That's it. That's 90 percent of the whole she-bang. Why should I trust a news organization such as NBC when it pumps up a war when I know it's parent company, GE, is a massive part of the military-industrial complex? Why should I trust the purveyor of children's television to tell me about the national debt? Why should I ever trust the CEO of a media company who says, "I don't want to denigrate Kerry... but from a Viacom standpoint, the election of a Republican administration is a better deal. Because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on. The Democrats are not bad people.... But from a Viacom standpoint, we believe the election of a Republican administration is better for our company," said Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone.

And, if you check the donations given to political candidates by each of these organizations, you will find, to the chagrin of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Joe Scarborough, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Pat Robertson and FOX News, in general, that none of them donate primarily to liberal candidates; ergo, those thousands of mainstream conservative talk show hosts who yell that the mainstream media are liberal are, well, LYING to you. Corporations and Republicanism go hand-in-hand like peas and mashed potatoes or peppers and onions or bread and butter.

There is one bright and shining light peaking through the corporate media wall and that's MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. Olbermann, who got his break-through start as an anchor with Dan Patrick on ESPN's SportsCenter, regularly challenges the powers-that-be in a fair manner. Why, he doesn't even shout over his guests and lets them answer the question, in full, that he just asked them.

Olbermann regularly takes on the rightest of the right-wing media, particularly his time-slot nemesis, FOX News's Bill oriole. He recently bitch-slapped oriole on his lies that American GIs killed innocent civilians during World War II while also chiding couch-potato Bill for attempting to challenge a four-star general (the last general, by the way, to win a war for the United States):

Last October Bill O'Reilly railed against a ruling that more photos from the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq might be released. His guest on his program was Wesley Clark. Clark is a retired four-star general, was for four years supreme allied commander of NATO in Europe. First in his class at West Point, wounded in Vietnam, earned the Bronze star, the Silver Star and has streets named for him in Alabama and in Kosovo. Therefore, naturally O'Reilly knows much more about the military than General Clark does. Clark defended the release of the additional Abu Ghraib photos saying we need to know what happened and to correct it. O'Reilly lectured him and concluded that there had always been atrocities, even by Americans in war.

Olbermann fleshes out the story with questions that actually make a guest think and answer in ways that are beneficial to Americans who are attempting to make decisions, including who would make a better representative to them in Congress on in the White House. In short, Olbermann is about the only mainstream media news anchor worth watching out of the thousands and thousands of talking heads on television these days. And, he's not a liberal, as the right-wingers allege he is. In fact, Olbermann admits he doesn't even vote because he doesn't want to appear impartial ("I'm not political. I don't vote -- I don't believe journalists covering politics should and I don't think the democracy would suffer if however many of us there are, recused ourselves").

And, while Olbermann is good - is truly fair and balanced - he cannot do it alone. Not only is MSNBC on in fewer markets that FOX, it's simply not advertised as well outside of its online offerings.

In fact, unless Americans get their news from the BBC or from other online sources, few of them even know about the possibility that their votes can be hacked via the new electronic voting machines. They don't know that African-Americans have consistantly been tossed from voter dolls by the Republican Party. They know little about the underlying causes to the leadup to the Iraqi War. They don't know about the Iranian oil bourse and the threat that it will switch to the Euro, thus depreciating the dollar. They don't know about our own deficit or the trade deficit with China and India.

In fact, unless it's about cheerleading for war or the name of Brad Pitt and Angela Jolie's new baby or who won American "Idle," they know very little.

And, that, breaks my heart.





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