9.27.2006

uninformed

Here's a great example of how the US media helps keep the population docile and ignorant. Check out Tennessee Guerilla Women's post (via Rising Hegemon) showing Newsweek magazine covers around the world.

I remember blogging about a similar occurrence when the rest of the world woke up to photos of bleeding children in a bombed-out Fallujah and the US media was chattering about, I don't know, was it JonBenet Ramsey? (I'm trying to find my old post, but haven't yet.) This is even more startling because it's the same magazine.

32 comments:

Scott M. said...

As an aside...

Split runs have been quite the controversy in the Canadian media over time. Initially, Time, Sports Illustrated and Newsweek simply put Canadian advertising in their existing US magazines and publishing them in Canada. Once this started happening, Canadian magazines complained that they were losing ad revenue. The government then stepped in and said that 30% of the content (IIRC) must be Canadian before Canadian advertising can be there.

That's why there's now a Time Canada and Sports Illustrated Canada, both with a nod to Canada.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Hmm. See, I'm very reluctant to refer to this phenomenon as the U.S. media "helping keep the population docile and ignorant," as if there were some purposeful conspiracy to do just that. I know someone will probably be offended by me saying this, but from where I sit, the problem isn't the media, it's the U.S. public that consumes it. Magazines want to sell copies if they want to stay in business, and they can't force people to be interested in foreign affairs. Those magazine covers simply show that Newsweek has evaluated that people would buy more magazines if they put a celebrity and her kids on the cover than if they put an Afghani warlord on the cover. And they're almost certainly right about that.

I mean this as neither a defense of the U.S. media nor as an apologia for the U.S. public. Just calling it as I see it.

L-girl said...

This is an old argument here. Not to dismiss it, it's an interesting one, but I'm kind of tapped out about it.

But just to clarify, I don't mean that there's a purposeful conspiracy. The US media is owned by a very small handful of mega-conglomerates that are all heavily invested in the status quo (if not literally invested in war profiteering - NBC, for example, owned by GE, major weapons producer), and at the very least do not want to rock the profit-making boat. They play to the lowest common denominator. Yes, Newsweek wants to sell magazines. But it is actually supposed to be a news magazine, not merely an entertainment venue.

This applies to all the US news outlets, which simply do not report news that makes the US look bad.

I just wanted to explain further what I meant.

Anonymous said...

I see your point I.P. and I lean that way myself. But it's a bit deceptive for the media to say "we're just a business and our goal is to sell advertising" on the one hand, and then turn around and make grand claims about their crucial role as defenders of truth, public watchdog etc.

Is Newsweek just a business, bending to consumer demand, or do they hold some special, protected status as one of the pillars of our society? If the latter, then don't they have a responsibility to do more than just sell advertising?

Lone Primate said...

I come down on the side "give the people what they want" too. While it's clear that White House, et al., spoonfeed the press, it's possible even necessary for the press to dig deeper. These days, not that many do. Nixon would get a free pass these days.

Frankly, I think the average Joe in the US is tired of bad news, and it really does keep coming. It's true everywhere, but in most place, the scope of it isn't as broad or as deep as it is in the States. Let's face it; there are still responsible venues out there, but they're getting pretty rarefied... shows on PBS and NPR. They're there, but how many people go looking? Some, but not many. And suddenly the US version of Newsweek is Newsweak. We keep hearing about how much more robust news reporting is elsewhere... I think it comes down to the standards the public expects.

L-girl said...

I think the average Joe in the US is tired of bad news

Where does he get this bad news? He's constantly told that things are great, and if they're not, it's his own damn fault.

Let's face it; there are still responsible venues out there, but they're getting pretty rarefied... shows on PBS and NPR.

Those are extremely rarified! Can you name any others?

Oops, I said I didn't want to have this argument again. And now I must run. So hopefully others will take it up. Ta-ta!

West End Bound said...

And suddenly the US version of Newsweek is Newsweak.

Very Good, Lone Primate! Love it.

I've gotta go along with IP's analysis on the media's "give the people what they want" attitude. It's all about profits and the bottom line. If the average US citizen really cared about truth in news reporting, we wouldn't be living under the bush monarchy. They are more interested in being entertained than being informed.

Ferdzy said...

I have to say, I grew up very sceptical about all mainstream U.S. political magazines.

When I was very small we went to El Salvador, where there had just been an election and a left-wing government got in.

Later, when we were back in Canada, Dad picked up an old TIME magazine in a waiting room, which described an anti-government demonstration that was attacked by police in the zocolo (main square) of San Salvador.

Problem was, we were there on the date they said this happened, and it didn't. There was a red-cross parade. No demo, no violence, not so much as a bar-fight.

I don't tend to take a "the readers won't read it" view. I think it's more sinister, and has been for much longer than people realize. Although of course the fact that the readers won't read it is also a problem.

Lone Primate said...

Those are extremely rarified! Can you name any others?

Just off the top of my head, The Seattle Intelligencer, The Guardian, the International Herald, CBC, BBC... I mean, it's out there. The US has always been about competition, choice. I don't believe it's about denial of choice. It's that the demand doesn't bear the load. Even BBC America has had to drop some shows because they lose market share.

Rupert Murdock has bought up a lot of the world's news conduits, in most Western countries (even some in China!). But things haven't closed up as a result the same way. FOXNews could have, should have, been a dud in any educated country, but it's taken the US by storm. Why? Because it tells people what they want to hear. I'll grant you it's what Murdock and his ilk want them to hear, but that's not the same thing as saying he's forcing it on them to the exclusion of all else. It's hand-in-glove. More than elsewhere, I think, people in the US are the willing recipients of "the good news". We're winning. We're number one. Consume. Back the President. Back the troops. Drink the kool-ade. Doesn't everything look bright and colourful now?

Some people see past it, and I think most know they're not hearing everything they should. But for all that, I don't see anyone rushing to institute the USA version of CBC or BBC or any other major centre-left news organ. Surely, if the demand were great enough, the simple math of the dollar would rush to fill that need. But I'm not seeing that the other side of the Niagara. When I was in Georgia a couple years ago, I was amazed at how many of the commercials were about pointing out something horrible, but don't worry (soothing music), we have the $olution... People in the States seem to be yearning for good news and peace of mind, and that's where the money is, it seems.

L-girl said...

LP, you're absolutely right about Fox News. It lasts because a lot of people turn it on. No doubt.

However, the fact that there is little to counter it does not prove that people are being denied more and different perspectives.

The Seattle Intelligencer, The Guardian, the International Herald, CBC, BBC... I mean, it's out there.

Sure, online. I don't think the average working family should have to go online to get the news, something they probably have little time for. I think they should be able to flick on their TVs and open their morning newspapers and actually see what's happening on the world. They can't, and I don't think that's their fault.

The US has always been about competition, choice.

That's a myth. The US is about monopolies, and the powerful becoming more powerful. This has always been true of US media, from the earliest days of newspaper chains (Hearst, Pulitzer) to today. Now it is more pronounced than ever.

Surely, if the demand were great enough, the simple math of the dollar would rush to fill that need.

It's a nice thought, and it's what Americans are told to believe, but it's never been the case in terms of media. How would demand be known in this case? Most Americans don't even know they're missing anything.

L-girl said...

FOXNews could have, should have, been a dud in any educated country

I just noticed the word "educated". The US is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an educated country. It is an extremely uneducated country, and I do think the media pandering to the lowest common denominator has something to do with that.

L-girl said...

While it's clear that White House, et al., spoonfeed the press, it's possible even necessary for the press to dig deeper. These days, not that many do.

Exactly - that's my point! They media does not do their job. So how can people be informed?

I'm sorry I didn't notice this sooner. It's exactly what I'm saying. Instead of doing their jobs, the media runs White House press releases, and passes it off as news. I don't see how that can be construed as the consumer's fault.

L-girl said...

Also...

Don't discount the CIA operatives who are on the staff of all the major news outlets. This is not a tinfoil-hat theory, this is a known and verifiable fact that historians have shown time and time again.

This is indeed something sinister. The CIA fabricates stories for CNN, the New York Times, CBS, NBC, and of course, Fox News.

BushCo has paid off journalists (again, proven), planted fake news (proven), and used fake journalists in the press corps (proven). But long before this, since at least the 1950s, CIA agents have been posing as reporters and editors in major news outlets. I've never read anything that said this practice has stopped.

Not the consumer's fault. The media's, and the government's.

(Yes, I said I was all done with this argument, but I got a second wind! :) )

redsock said...

It's not only news magazines. I've seen/read some reports that the international versions of CNN have done and they are the absolute opposite of how things get reported/spun in the US.

Part of that, in my opinion, is that non-Americans are used to actual news and simply wouldn't put up with the clown acts that dominate in the US.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

This is an old argument here. [...] I'm kind of tapped out about it.

All right. I won't continue to bother you with my thoughts on it, then.

L-girl said...

Oh no no no! I/P, you are very, very welcome to share your thoughts on this or any other subject. I only meant I was tired of it. And as you see, I rose to the occasion later in the day. Please feel free to post anything you like. I enjoy your comments and I'm sure everyone else does, too.

James said...

Not the consumer's fault. The media's, and the government's.

It's the media's fault (Rupert Murdoch being a prime example) and the government's, but the consumer isn't entirely blameless, either. There's enough real news out there that many people can tell they're not getting the full story -- or could, if they exerted themselves enough to actually check into things.

Unfortunately, Americans take an incredibly passive approach to TV, a very passive medium to begin with.

The US is big on private corporations as content producers, and those do produce very successful and profitable television. But, for some reason, the television that is most likely to actually stimulate your brain comes from governments -- CBC, BBC, PBS... (not that the converse is true! I'm not saying government TV is inherently good. There are plenty of governments which produce nothing but the most mind-numbing propaganda.)

deang said...

I've seen/read some reports that the international versions of CNN have done and they are the absolute opposite of how things get reported/spun in the US.

Yes. Since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Amy Goodman has frequently opened many of her public talks with a split screen over her head, one side showing CNN America, broadcast only in the US, the other side showing CNN International, broadcast in the rest of the world, both showing simultaneous coverage from the first week of the invasion. The CNN America side is all rolling tanks, majestically fluttering US flags, hordes of troops, high-tech computerized aerial targeting screens, and explosions that look like fireworks. The CNN International side also shows some of that, but shows equal amounts of Iraqis on the street screaming and running in terror, bloody body parts covering a street after a US bomb hit, decimated cities, crying children covered in blood, on-the-ground footage of the quake-like reverberations when the Americans were bombing, etc. The audience gasped at this when I saw her speak.

Lone Primate said...

Instead of doing their jobs, the media runs White House press releases, and passes it off as news. I don't see how that can be construed as the consumer's fault.

For me, it is. I'm old enough to remember Watergate. You can't tell me this did not once abundantly exist in the United States. Even across the border, even as a little kid, I saw it. The press in the early 1970s did not go running to the White House to be told what to think. There were lessons learned in the McCarthy era and Vietnam that were honed to a fine point by then, and used to devastating effect. Nixon essentially lost his job over what... covering up a break-in to dig up dirt on a political detractor? People cared.

But they just got tired of hearing the truth. The Leave It to Beaver days were behind them, and it was a downer. Along comes the Gipper and it's "Morning in America" again, and suddenly greed is good, war is the quick fix, blaming the poor while breaking the bank on Star Wars is the new way. People ate it up with big spoons. Civil rights were a done deal, Rambo won Vietnam, oil was cheap again; great -- onward and upward. And that, coincidentally, is when I personally really started to feel different from people in the States. As a people, they abandoned something, some attitude we'd had in common when I was a kid.

If this were common in the West, I'd have to agree with you. But other countries will still report the things they'll ignore or even lie about on FOX, or even CNN. Just look at those Newsweek covers. That's not censorship, that's sales. No one in the United States decrees that; companies do it because they know their audience(s). Real news still sells elsewhere. In the US, life now is about fake pageants like Survivor; constant cushions from hard realities.

We look at this and we take differ approaches to it. You take the foreign or online examples I gave and suggest they're unapproachable (despite the fact that according to Neilsen, the US had 207,161,706 Internet users as of Aug/06, which equates to 69.3% penetration), and that the lack of such news organs inside the US absolves the people of responsibility for their ignorance. But to me, their ignorance is a comfort they've donned and they reward news agencies that do not threaten it. A country with, what, four or five different kinds of Cool Whip can't support a serious news organ in the manner of, say, the BBC? No; rather, they won't support one. They shovel their cash at FOX and CNN's advertisers while things like NPR go begging, derided as the province of unpatriotic pencilnecks.

Americans don't live in Albania. They do hear unpleasant truths. But by and large they reject them, and vehemently. The fact is, they economically shoot the messenger and reward the storyteller. And it's been that way since the Reagan Administration. Even Dan Rather isn't Dan Rather anymore.

L-girl said...

It's the media's fault (Rupert Murdoch being a prime example) and the government's, but the consumer isn't entirely blameless, either. There's enough real news out there that many people can tell they're not getting the full story -- or could, if they exerted themselves enough to actually check into things.

You're right. It's true. I should take a more balanced view of this.

I can't just say "it's the people's fault" and let the government and the media off the hook as some seem to, as if it's all consumer-driven. But I shouldn't write the consumer out of the equation either.

L-girl said...

Since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Amy Goodman has frequently opened many of her public talks with a split screen over her head, one side showing CNN America, broadcast only in the US, the other side showing CNN International, broadcast in the rest of the world, both showing simultaneous coverage from the first week of the invasion.

Very powerful! That's an excellent example of what I was originally posting about. Thanks for that, Dean.

L-girl said...

For me, it is. I'm old enough to remember Watergate.

As am I. That's precisely why I lay most of the blame at the media's door. On one hand, you had the Pentagon Papers. Today, you have Judith Miller.

In the Watergate era (and please don't diminish what that means! it was a terrible crime against democracy, by a crazy person in the White House, who wanted to use nuclear weapons against SE Asia), the New York Times helped end the war. Today, they helped sell it to the public.

You can't tell me this did not once abundantly exist in the United States. Even across the border, even as a little kid, I saw it. The press in the early 1970s did not go running to the White House to be told what to think.

That is my point exactly. You appear to be agreeing with me, although I know you are not.

People cared.

Not especially, LP. People were sick to death of seeing the hearings on TV. Sick to death. People complained about it constantly, and demanded the networks stopped showing them. But they showed the hearings anyway.

A very small percentage of Americans actually got up and protested the Vietnam war - but the protests were on the nightly news. As was the bloody war. And showing the truth helped end the war.

Contrast that with what Dean posted, above.

And you're saying the public asked for this change?

That they bought it and continue to buy it, I can agree with that. But asked for it with their purchasing dollars? That's a bit much.

But they just got tired of hearing the truth. The Leave It to Beaver days were behind them, and it was a downer.

This is a construction of yours. It doesn't mesh with reality. No one ever wanted to hear the truth. But the news media gave it to them anyway.

Along comes the Gipper

And with him, the escalation of image-driven election campaigns with a minimum of facts, and a proliferation of corporate media that lost the ethical wall between sales and content.

They do hear unpleasant truths. But by and large they reject them, and vehemently. The fact is, they economically shoot the messenger and reward the storyteller. And it's been that way since the Reagan Administration. Even Dan Rather isn't Dan Rather anymore.

I'm not sure what this means, as Dan Rather's been a corporate hack for a good 10, 15 years now.

I do agree, from what everyone has written, that the US news consumer bears some responsibility for this. But I can't understand how you can get from your contrast of Watergate to Iraq and not see how much was foisted on the US public.

To say "people cared then" is to buy into some kind of reverse mythology about the US. Remember, Nixon was re-elected in a landslide. What did people care so much about? Certainly not foreign policy.

redsock said...

If the American people were receptive to more honest reporting, Woodward and Bernstein wouldn't have been such mavericks.

The myth of US citizens once caring deeply about current events and hard news is as false as the myth of the US as the beacon of democracy throughout the world.

James said...

This is a construction of yours. It doesn't mesh with reality. No one ever wanted to hear the truth. But the news media gave it to them anyway.

But now, with the multiple 24-hour news networks, one network can decide not to give them the truth, but to give them comforting fictions. And people flock to the comforting fictions, so the other networks abandon the truth in order to keep their audience.

Back in the 50s, the head of CBS said, "The CBS News doesn't need to make money. I have Jack Benny for that!". Now, thanks to the whole 24-hour news network formula, the news has to be profitable, which means it has to draw an audience so that advertisers will by spots. Back in the days of Watergate, the news was subsidized by the rest of the networks' programming. Now, it's beholden to ratings.

Which is one reason why some of the best TV is government-run -- it isn't dependent on advertisers to survive. Though that's changing, and not for the better.

L-girl said...

But now, with the multiple 24-hour news networks, one network can decide not to give them the truth, but to give them comforting fictions. And people flock to the comforting fictions, so the other networks abandon the truth in order to keep their audience.

Right. I'd go a step further, in that I think most viewers (say, of CNN) don't have the slightest idea they are seeing "comforting fictions". They don't compare it to anything, and they assume they are watching news.

They flock to it because it's always on, is easy to understand, and is entertaining.

This is partly why I lay the blame more on the media than the consumer. The consumer is expecting CNN to show them the actual news. After all, it claims to be a news network. Despite any kind of figures about internet usage in the US - much of which is filtered through corporate giants such as AOL (and believe me, people don't even realize that, they think they're using the internet when they're just clicking on pre-programming AOL buttons) - most Americans are not educated enough and political enough to know that when they're watching CNN, they are not actually seeing the news.

Interestingly, I haven't found people in Canada - not online, in person - any more informed than people in the US. In casual conversations I have at work, or in my neighbourhood, I don't see an extremely low awareness and understanding of global events.

I'm starting to wonder if the supposed contrast between Americans and Canadians/Europeans, how informed each is supposed to be, is perhaps a bit of a myth itself. That's a post for another day.

L-girl said...

Typo: I don't see an extremely low awareness and understanding of global events.

That should be "I see an extremely low awareness..."

Woti-woti said...

L-girl says: "I see an extremely low awareness"

Ah, finally something I want to weigh in on. I've been following the discussion, but find it so general, I really don't know where to start.

CNN has been screaming the question for days "whether America is safer now than it was 5 years ago?" What a stupid question. Yet none of their highly paid anchors or smart guests dare blow holes in this scare-mongering vagueness to actually discuss how complex the issues are. Who said that news was supposed to be entertaining--the presenters or those mysterious fairies who conjure up 'ratings' of what people are watching (let alone what they are acually digesting)?
I've lived all over the place and I'm sad to conclude that the phrase "all politics is local" also applies to foreign policy, or any other macro issue. Call it snobbery or arrogance or whatever on my part, but your average citizen anywhere usually thinks of a foreign country only in terms of a possible vacation destination, or whether they can beat the bastards at their favourite sport.
People who take time to research and analyse complex policy issues that may only affect them philosophically are few and far between, but maybe internet forums like this will expand the numbers.
It's easy to see who really learned from Watergate. Power-hungry politicians and the corporations that back them know that the more of the media they control, the more they can spoon-feed their agenda to a public that is more concerned whether their standard of living is better than it was 5 years ago. Canadians don't meet any loftier standard here than anyone else.

Lone Primate said...

Not especially, LP. People were sick to death of seeing the hearings on TV. Sick to death. People complained about it constantly, and demanded the networks stopped showing them.

And evenutally, they got their wish. This is exactly my point. No one TOLD them to stop listening. They told the media this kind of thing would lead to the channel changing. Enter CNN, FOXNews.

I wasn't belittling what Nixon did per se. Really, I should have gone on to contrast it. Nixon was ousted for a domestic crime that cost no lives, though the bombings in Cambodia were tossed to guild the lily -- the real issue was obstruction. That was the smoking gun, that was Dean's "cancer on the presidency".

Reagan walked on water all through the Iran-Contra hearings. People cheered him for his "teflon" untouchability. He and his whole administration defied Congress, broke the law. Thousands of innocents died in Latin America as a result, and Ollie North wore it on his sleeve to the acclaim of millions of his countrymen. By then, this sort of conduct made the President a hero. A legend. Ollie North took a bullet for his Commander-in-Chief. Something in the attitude of the people in the US had changed. And it's reflected today in the news they get, the news they seek, the view of the world they want presented to them.

I get the feeling we're observing pretty much exactly the same phenomenon here, but your symptoms are my causes, and your causes are my symptoms. Ultimately, I don't believe people are really being deliberatly denied information by competing news organizations, so much as they've demonstrated they'll punish Cassandras and reward news that soothes their fears. I think it's an opportunity the White House exploits, less than one it orchestrates.

L-girl said...

Nixon's domestic crime almost overturned the entire democratic process. It was a biggie.

I see your point, LP, and it's a good one. It's something I must look at and duly acknowledge. My quibble, however, is with your before/after characterization.

Something in the attitude of the people in the US had changed.

You're saying the media finally sunk to the level of the populace, and I can go along with that. But why you think the populace ever had loftier ambitions and the brains to match them... it's just not so.

As you said, they got their wish. It's the same "they". Before, after and during.

I think it's an opportunity the White House exploits, less than one it orchestrates.

Well, it very clearly orchestrates some of it, that's been proven again and again. Buying off journalists, planting fake news, denying access - this is happening all the time. That's fact.

They also exploit it. No doubt about that.

They do both.

Remember, though, my original post wasn't about what the WH does, but what the media does.

L-girl said...

It's easy to see who really learned from Watergate. Power-hungry politicians and the corporations that back them know that the more of the media they control, the more they can spoon-feed their agenda to a public that is more concerned whether their standard of living is better than it was 5 years ago.

It's very true, Woti. The lessons of Vietnam, too: don't show the bodies, don't show the guts of the war on TV, control the media more tightly, sell the public a "quick and clean war", keep the public afraid, muzzle the protestors.

scylla said...

Bit of an aside but still related to this thread. Fox News (at least in Bill O'Reilly's show) has been reporting Foley as a Democrat for the past couple days. Imagine those who only get their news from Fox.

L-girl said...

Scylla, Allan *just* sent me a link about that! Feel free to leave this in comments on today's post - it's very relevant.