What’s Wrong with American Journalism?

The journalism industry seems to be on its last legs these days, and everyone thinks they know why. Is it faulty business models? Corporate greed? An inevitable result of changing technology? Over the past year or so, as both the Tribune Company and the Sun-Times Media Group have filed for bankruptcy protection, fingers have been pointed and explanations advanced. Perhaps the debate is getting old, but here at the Weekly we thought we’d consult two groups whose opinions are often overlooked: the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, a Maoist group based in Chicago, and the University of Chicago’s Objectivist Club, which advocates the individualist philosophy of Ayn Rand. Here are their thoughts on journalism’s future and problems.

Learning to See Through the Eyes of the Emperor
by Toby O’Ryan, RCP
U.S. journalism trains people to see through the eyes of empire. Imperial interests guide the premises and assumptions of each article and TV segment, from the problems it poses to the conclusions it draws.

Look, for instance, at the role of the press during the buildup to war against Iraq–a war, let us not forget, which has almost certainly taken the lives of over one million people. The entire press parroted every empty claim about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction–with the New York Times outdoing them all with “investigative reporting” from Judith Miller that turned out to be utterly bogus. The few people who did get on TV to raise a question about these claims were pilloried (e.g., Paula Zahn, “objective commentator” on CNN, saying that the former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who disputed the egregiously false claims made by the Bush Administration, had “drunk Saddam Hussein’s Kool-Aid”). And every mainstream journalist understood that any deviation would be met by effective professional death (e.g., Dan Rather, former CBS News anchor, in an unguarded moment on BBC in June of 2002, compared his situation to the time in the South African upsurge when, in Rather’s words, “people would put flaming tires around people’s necks… In some ways, the fear is that you will be necklaced here, you will have the flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck…”).

But it goes beyond the lying and intimidation. The little dissent allowed into the mainstream media must be framed in terms of “what is good for America.” In this way, the terms of debate and mode of presentation train people to think as mini-emperors. “What are we going to do in Iraq?” And today: “How can we best defend American interests in Afghanistan?” That “we” masks a fundamental conflict between those in whose interests these wars are really fought and the vast majority of humanity–including, yes, the vast majority of people who live in the U.S., however they may perceive their interests at any given time.

On this foundation, the entire range of political thinking, and hence action, becomes straitjacketed and suffocated. As Revolutionary Communist Party, USA chairman Bob Avakian pointed out in a recent talk, “Unresolved Contradictions, Driving Forces for Revolution,” every item in the news is presented not in terms of what is true and what are the larger implications, “but ‘what do the Democrats say, what do the Republicans say?’ Over and over again, through ‘mainstream’ ruling class media, such as CNN, the idea is propagated and reinforced that these are the only terms on which things can even be considered politically–Republicans vs. Democrats.”

Let me pose an alternative: a journalism and a political orientation that seeks the truth and strives to lay bare the systemic dynamics behind every outrage… one that shows the pathways to revolutionary change of that system, in the interests of humanity.

The problem of U.S. journalism? In a word, imperialism.

The solution? Seeking truth, making revolution.

American News vs. Reality
by Manuel Alex Moya, Objectivist Club

Consider the missions and mottos of some of the media organizations that are popular in our culture today:
– “All the News That’s Fit to Print” -New York Times
– “Inform, Involve and Empower” -CNN
– “Fair and Balanced” -Fox News
– “We recognize that a work force comprised of a wide variety of perspectives, viewpoints and backgrounds is integral to our continued success.” -CBS
Obviously a paper doesn’t have room to fit all the news in the world. So which events are more “fit” to be printed than others? On what basis does a news company consider its audience to be “informed”? What constitutes views that are “fair” and “balanced”? Fair to whom? Should equal consideration be given to any and every perspective?

The reigning doctrine in American media is clear. Most news agencies hold that there are “two sides” to every event, argument, or thought, and that both need to be reported. In these stated premises there is no objectively “right” or “wrong” viewpoint. Those news agencies that are popular today are those that are either: a) open to trumpeting any popular perspective, even those which are irrational, or b) closed to considering any perspective, even those which are rational.

However committed to nonpartisanship and ideological “tolerance” most news agencies may claim to be, they forget that this commitment is itself based on a theoretical premise–the theory of pragmatism. As a philosophy, pragmatism holds that there is no reality. If nothing is real, then how are we to look at truth? As the pragmatist philosopher, William James says, “‘The true,’ to put it very briefly, is only the expedient in the way of our thinking, just as ‘the right’ is only the expedient in the way of our behaving.” In other words, there are no objective truths, only that which works.

Imagine if a candidate for office ran his campaign advertising explicitly that he was an aspiring dictator. Imagine if such a candidate wanted to possess control over every aspect of life–the auto industry, banks, health care, etc.

If a reporter wanted to expose him for the fascist he is, he and his publication would be condemned for being “biased” or “one-sided.” Since our culture expects a pragmatic approach to “reality,” they would expect their news in the same light, where either: a) multiple views are passed, regardless of their validity, or b) no objective judgment is passed.

The fact of the matter is that we can never escape our “biases,” our means of integrating information, our philosophical premises. To claim that one is reporting a “truth” over a falsehood, means that one recognizes philosophically, that reality exists and that he is bringing into focus an aspect of it. It means that he recognizes that things cannot be true and untrue at the same time, since in reality, there are no contradictions. It means recognizing that reporting views that are “expedient” for range of the moment ratings, blind us to those views that are fundamentally true, always.

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