From Glenn Greenwald:
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the press corps dropped the ball at the beginning. When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings.
And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives — and I was not at this network at the time — but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president.
I am a big fan of the media critics Atrios, Brad DeLong, Eric Alterman, and above all Bob Somerby. For years (in the case of Alterman and Somerby’, for at least ten years) they’ve been documenting the shallowness, inaccuracy, dishonesty and ultimate Republican slant of the media — especially TV and radio, but also including such highly respected publications as the New York Times and the Washington Post.
However, they tend to be too willing to slip into the “Heathers” or “Villagers” explanation. Supposedly the media are staffed by a bunch of silly, shallow, people who only talk to each other and who, for example, did what they did to sabotage Al Gore’s Presidential run because he annoyed their silly high school sensibilities.
I’ve always believed that it was a management problem, and I think that Greenwald’s post confirms that I’ve been right. This does not mean that the Heathers are not silly people, and it doesn’t mean that they’re not culpable. But the people whose names we see are quite literally hirelings and lackeys (albeit very well paid hirelings and lackeys). They give management what it wants.
Greenwald gives several more examples, and over the years there have been dozens of reporters whose newspaper careers ended (or dead-ended) because of excessively accurate reporting — Seymour Hersh is only the most eminent of them. (To Greenwald’s list of recent suppressions, I’d like to add the case of Lara Logan, who tried to start an email campaign to keep her bosses at CBS from suppressing a story).
Every time that I make the claim that responsibility should be assigned to management rather than to individual reporters, the reflex “conspiracy theorist” accusation shoots back at me so quickly that I have to ask whether my statement even reached the cerebral cortex at all. All I claim is that management manages and that reporters can be hired, fired, promoted, and demoted, but people respond with abstruse theories proving that management does not, and can not, manage. And claim that I’m the crazy one, not them.
As for management’s motives, I have no way of knowing them. My present guess is that the owners and managers of the big media are pro-war, are responsive to the favors that the federal government hands out, and want low taxes (and an end to the estate tax, which is a major factor for the few family-owned publications: see here). They are not right wing on most other issues, but the Bush administration really isn’t either — by now they’ve double-crossed most of their conservative ideological constituencies. (That is to say, the nativists, the cultural conservatives, the fiscal conservatives, and above all the little-government conservatives.)
I’m sure that organized winger pressure is a factor too, but the public opinion isn’t the reason: the big media have always been more hawkish and more anti-tax than public opinion has been. A much bigger factor is advertiser pressure, since advertising pays all the bills for TV and radio and most of the bills for newspapers. Advertisers all have their own political agendas and have never been shy about pushing them; furthermore, a substantial proportion of high-end advertising is institutional advertising — e.g., for oil companies — which is intended to promote a company, rather than to sell any specific product.
Of course, Chomsky and company said all this twenty years ago. Maybe we shouldn’t have been tuning those guys out all that time.