Thursday, May 04, 2006

Media and the Decline Of The Beer-Swilling Liberal

"Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you're so clever and classless and free.
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see.
A Working-Class Hero is something to be.
A Working-Class Hero is something to be."

--John Lennon

I was cruising the blogs this morning, checking out what people had to say on the Red side of the fence, and saw a site titled YoungRepublican4NY. The young man running the site, whom I'm sure is very nice and whom I am not here to criticize, had a post up about the popular liberal hobby of bashing the well-known conservative cable outlet FOX News.

As I wrote to this young gentleman, I'm a proud lefty, and I understand the desire to rip on FOX. I admit, I do it myself sometimes. But this got me thinking about the state of modern news institutions in America, and I'd like to share some thoughts with the five or so readers who actually visit my site. Please, bear with me.

I come from a small Catholic family in rural Michigan. My Navy-vet father was a factory machinist most of his life, as well as bartender and school-bus driver. He's a gun owner who supports tighter gun control, and while he is by social standing blue-collar American, he is by intellect white-collar academic. My father is not an across-the-board liberal, any more than he is an across-the-board social conservative. However, the real reason I so respect my father is this: My father thinks for himself on everything. Though a much harsher disciplinarian than my mother growing up, my father was the one I went to with serious questions, the reason being that my father always gave me responses that were slow, considered, and arrived at in a rational way. I didn't really become actively involved in local politics until I hit college, but when I did, even though my political views began to shift strongly left, I still remembered the example of my father's approach to politics, and that was one of careful consideration and debate. It is this example that I think back to now, when considering the question of modern journalism in America.

As I've mentioned before, I'm a U.S. soldier stationed in Germany. As a soldier in Post Housing, I receive access to snippets of the three major cable news networks from the States: FOX News, CNN U.S., and MSNBC. In addition, my German cable TV package also grants me access to both BBC News and CNN International. I've been here in Germany since about last July, and since I've been here I've had ample opportunity to catch news from all five outlets I receive.

Now, when it comes to hating on FOX News-style yellow journalism, I am the polysyllabic Original Gangsta. I roll up in this bitch bringing the MAD blue-state. Watching "The O'Reilly Factor" is pretty much a guaranteed trip to the E.R. for high blood pressure. "Hannity and Colmes" gets me spitting potato-chip crumbs at the T.V. like some kind of street-preaching lunatic. When I say that FOX makes me want to bring a checklist and red pen to the couch, tallying up straw-man arguments and loaded questions, you best reckanize. But since I've been in the active-duty Army, I've come to realize that modern American journalism in general is every bit as guilty of ideological pandering as Rupert Murdoch's propaganda machine (Incidentally, did you realize that Murdoch has had a significant financial interest in Chinese television media? Sounds like his propagandizing runs both sides of the fence.). And that be some straight-up political science I be dropping to rock your mind. So raise up OFF these nuts. DNC Repra-ZENT, mothafucka.

(Word.)

Precisely. Word. Where was I?

Anyway, as I was saying, I have a number of problems with American cable news in general. First off, modern news in America has been tarnished since the 1994 Republican Revolution. I started really noticing it as a kid, when during the first Clinton administration, I saw constant attempts by conservative commentators to attack the President based on charges that increasingly turned out to be spurious. When the Lewinsky scandal came out in the wash, I saw countless surveys that supported the President in public opinion, but all the same I kept witnessing pundits trotting out the same, tired, recycled talking points in favor of impeachment. It felt like a broken record, driven by ratings and conservative agendas. The whole affair was, to me, a tasteless example of power-hungry Republican political maneuvering, and while at this time I still considered myself a Republican, this really marked the beginning of my defection to the American Left.

Things got so much worse after 9/11. By this time, I was a long-haired, bearded hippie in my sophomore year of college, and FOX News was really starting to take off in the ratings. As FOX exploded in popularity, I witnessed a dramatic backward slide in the level of public discourse. Even in my philosophy classes, I heard media talking points being regurgitated thoughtlessly, as though said talking points were legitimate arguments in any kind of political discussion. I watched all but a few committed students bleat out their support of the coming war in Iraq, and looking back it makes me feel guilty that I didn't get more involved. As a result of the dumbing down of American journalism, I, in the words of Allen Ginsberg, saw the greatest minds of my generation rot. Dissent against traditional authority became unpatriotic, and anyone who spoke out against Bush's idiot policies was written off as "emboldening the terrorists." And all through this, the stances taken by pundits on FOX News became even more right-wing. Things finally came to a head when an aunt of my fiancee caught me watching CNN, and told me I should be watching FOX News. When I asked her why, she looked at me with a straight face and stated proudly that it was the only news network that was really "fair and balanced." I had to roll my eyes and leave the room, disgusted.

Making matters worse, it wasn't even just FOX News that was guilty of this pandering. As talking heads ranted more and more about "liberal media bias," the other two members of the Big Three started shifting their stances to the right as well, in a desperate attempt to maintain credibility with Joe NASCAR. Serious issues began receiving less coverage, right up until the present day, where now I can't even turn on MSNBC without seeing yet another fluff piece about someone's life-saving dog or yet another missing white girl.

Think about that now: when a four-year-old black girl is found beheaded off the side of a major highway in America, the public hears nothing and, if they do, barely react. But the moment we hear about another Jennifer Wilbanks or Natalee Holloway, we're collectively up in arms, desperately looking for some poor brown guy to lynch, regardless of guilt. When Kobe gets accused of rape by a white girl, we're dying to lock him up, but when a 27-year-old student at NC State accuses members of the Duke lacrosse team of a brutal crime, we hear our media slamming her reputation and race, all the while obsessing over the fact that, to pay for her education, this young woman works as an exotic dancer, a choice many young women in college are forced to make these days.

I didn't manage to find an aloe to salve my media burns until I relocated to central Germany, where for the first time I managed to receive the International version of CNN. It soothed my injuries almost immediately. On CNN International, which covers news stories from North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, there are no real talking-head shoutfests. There are no human-interest fluff pieces--just serious news and debates revolving around topical issues with global impact. I receive news about the riots in France; I hear about power struggles within the growing European Union. I hear about both sides of the story in the war-torn deserts of Iraq, and I witness coverage regarding population disparities between men and women in China. I even see commercials for Iraqi cell-phone providers. Sure, the headlines can be a little dry, and I know that people in America get tired of "all the bad news out there these days." But damn it, these are important issues which affect us all, and if I hadn't been stationed outside the Continental U.S., I'd still be hearing more about last night's "American Idol" than about efforts to save lives ruined by the earthquakes in Pakistan.

FOX News is yellow journalism at its worst, I can admit that. But if you don't believe that the other networks are desperately playing catch-up with Bill O'Reilly, you're completely fooling yourself. You really want serious news? Go check out Reuters Online. Go check out BBC News. Go check out Alternet. Hell, go check out C-SPAN if that's what you're limited to. At least then you'll be getting informed on the inner workings of American politics. But if you're willing to just let the modern ratings-hungry media continue pouring jingoistic poison into your ear, then don't be surprised when, on your next European vacation, you venture outside of your hotel and the locals all look at you like a loud-mouthed, flag-waving idiot.

Back in the days of our grandparents, news outlets reported the issues, and let the American public argue it all out--in their living rooms, at the water cooler, at the local tavern, or even with the kids at the dinner table. Journalists like Murrow and Cronkite and Bernstein delivered our news, even if it was controversial, and trusted the American public to make its own decisions. Unlike now, they did real reporting, and we did real deciding. And look what it got us--the end of McCarthy. Desegregation. Women's Lib. The end of military operations in Vietnam. The downfall of Nixon. Doesn't anyone else miss that sense of civic involvement in American Democracy?

If I'd been a member of my grandfather's generation, I'd be sitting right now, as Kevin Smith said, in some dive bar with my union buddies, bitching about how good we used to have it under Kennedy. Contrary to how the modern pundits might portray me, I am not some effete, soy-latte-sipping, Birkenstock-wearing academic. Well, I AM an academic, but so are a lot of people. Nevertheless, I am also a beer-swilling, meat-and-potatoes, pro-union, pro-choice, hippie-loving liberal. And guess what? I happen to be a spit-shined, combat-ready member of America's Finest. And I'm here to say that unless people start getting off their asses and demanding news that genuinely affects them, beyond carping about prices at the pump, the media's just going to keep feeding us the same shit to keep our eyes on the little glowing screen, and off what's really happening in the world around us.

A Beer-Swilling Liberal is something to be.


5 Comments:

Blogger cinnabari said...

Word.

My mother tells me Fox News is the only fair and balanced network, too, and my eyerolling probably looks a lot like yours. But I'm not 100% convinced the media's ever been objective... Munrow, bless his McCarthy-hammering little heart, was hardly without bias. But he did have integrity, and I think that's something very much missing in the great ratings hunt.

The hoi polloi wants its bread and circuses (and cheap gas!). They don't want information. The media's a business, and it's adjusting its product accordingly.

Me, I'll be over here reading Le Monde and the BBC...

7:37 PM  
Blogger The Tom Brown said...

A larger part of the problem seems to be that much of our news outlets number one priority is to make a buck. Before the 80's companies thought it to be their duty to supply people with fair and accurate news reporting about things that really mattered. Money could be lost in this endeavour because they would make up the money in their entertainment programming. Then people started to think that money could be made with the news. That's when you get celebrity gossip (I'll admit the second thing past the headlines on CNN.com that I check out is the showbiz section) and crap about dieting.

Oh, and one correction: The rape victim was a student at NC State, not Duke. The rapists were from Duke.

11:20 PM  
Blogger Spc. Freeman said...

Duly Noted. The edited page shall reflect the new information. Thank you.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Sara E Anderson said...

There are plenty of beer-swilling liberals in this country. Look no further than Drinking Liberally.

1:11 AM  
Blogger Sand Gets in My Eyes said...

I learned a long time ago to always double source everything that comes from the media! For every FoxNews (or Washington Post) story there is a CNN equivalent.

Let me suggest a great (if slightly outdated) book on the subject, Bias by former CBS reporter Bernie Goldberg. It will give you a whole new insight into how we as Americans are manipulated by the media and is sure to raise your bp!

That said, living and working as a writer in a place where every story passes through multiple censors before being published, has given me a new appreciation for the American press and the freedoms we need to - and you've vowed to - protect.

(Oh and thanks for the visit! I'm enjoying your blog and will be a frequent visitor!)

1:56 PM  

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