The good news is that The New York Times and reporter David Barstow have shown us, once again, why responsible journalism, as practiced by The Times, the Washington Post, and the The Los Angeles Times, provides a vital public service of keeping the polity informed.
Barstow’s story, “Message Machine: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand” in the Sunday, April 20, Times is a thoroughly researched, eye-opening investigative article that details how the Pentagon and the Bush Administration manipulated television network military analysts to push the administration’s pro-war, everything-is-great agenda for the Iraq invasion and occupation.
Not only were the TV analysts, mostly former generals, willingly manipulated by the Pentagon, but they were also not required by the networks to be transparent and reveal their conflicts of interest – their ties to lobbyists, consultants, and contractors desperate to get a piece of the war spending bounty.
The bad news is that even though the military analysts look bad – complicit and greedy – the networks look even worse – careless and duplicitous. The Times article by Barstow reminds us that we can’t trust television network news, especially FOX News, CNN, and MSNBC which were the most frequent users of the analysts.
I don’t know why we still delude ourselves by calling television “news” news. It isn’t news; it’s entertainment. Bill O’Reilly, Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity, Keith Olbermann, Katie Couric, Wolf Blitzer, Charles Gibson, Lou Dobbs, and Joe Scarborough are not journalists, they are entertainers. Like all entertainers, their goal is to be rich and famous. And to do so, they have to get noticed, they have to be outrageous, different, or cute, or, best of all, simplistically controversial and confrontational.
There is virtually no difference between these “news” entertainers and professional wrestlers. They all become popular by being over-the-top outrageous, fake, pumped up, overly made up tough guys who strut to a scripted “fight.” The animal ids of Americans have an increasing appetite for bloody fights and fighters – even in our politicians. It must be a reaction to collective frustration and anger at our powerlessness to make leaders and television executives care more about us than about themselves – their fame and wealth. Celebrity is the goal, not integrity. It’s Orwellian: Deception is truth; war is peace; entertainment is news.
There is one ray of hope. The Media Post Center for Media Research Brief reports:
"According to the Newspaper Association of America, new consumer research conducted by Clark, Martire & Bartolomeo and commissioned by Google, among people who research products and services after seeing them advertised in newspapers, 67 percent use the Internet to find more information, and nearly 70 percent of them actually make a purchase following their additional research.
John F. Sturm, NAA president and CEO, said '...newspaper advertising is incredibly effective in motivating consumers to make a purchase. This new study... demonstrates that print ads also drive people to conduct additional product research online.'"
This is the first good news I’ve seen about newspapers in over two years. The report suggests that a combination of newspaper and online advertising works best for advertisers, which might slow down the decline of newspaper advertising, thus allowing newspapers such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, and other great newspapers to survive as both print and online publications and to continue to serve the public interest and counteract the toxic, non-news entertainment of television.