The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

March 28, 2013

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 28 Mar 2013 21:42:18
From: Portside moderator <moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG>
Subject: The Day That TV News Died




Chris Hedges
March 24, 2013
If any single day marks the fall of broadcast reporting, it's when Phil
Donahue was banished in 2003 for telling the truth about the coming war in
Phil Donahue was fired from MSNBC for espousing anti-war views before the
start of the conflict in March 2003., (MSNBC Screenshot),


I am not sure exactly when the death of television news took place. The
descent was gradual - a slide into the tawdry, the trivial and the inane,
into the charade on cable news channels such as Fox and MSNBC in which hosts
hold up corporate political puppets to laud or ridicule, and treat celebrity
foibles as legitimate news. But if I had to pick a date when commercial
television decided amassing corporate money and providing entertainment were
its central mission, when it consciously chose to become a carnival act, it
would probably be Feb. 25, 2003, when MSNBC took Phil Donahue off the air
because of his opposition to the calls for war in Iraq.
Donahue and Bill Moyers, the last honest men on national television, were
the only two major TV news personalities who presented the viewpoints of
those of us who challenged the rush to war in Iraq. General Electric and
Microsoft - MSNBC's founders and defense contractors that went on to make
tremendous profits from the war - were not about to tolerate a dissenting
voice. Donahue was fired, and at PBS Moyers was subjected to tremendous
pressure. An internal MSNBC memo leaked to the press stated that Donahue was
hurting the image of the network. He would be a "difficult public face for
NBC in a time of war," the memo read. Donahue never returned to the
The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill
themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script.
They spin the same court gossip. They ignore what the corporate state wants
ignored. They champion what the corporate state wants championed. They do
not challenge or acknowledge the structures of corporate power. Their role
is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system - to make us
believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns. The cable
shows, whose hyperbolic hosts work to make us afraid of self-identified
liberals or self-identified conservatives, are part of a rigged political
system, one in which it is impossible to vote against the interests of
Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, General Electric or ExxonMobil. These
corporations, in return for the fear-based propaganda, pay the lavish
salaries of celebrity news people, usually in the millions of dollars. They
make their shows profitable. And when there is war these news personalities
assume their "patriotic" roles as cheerleaders, as Chris Matthews - who
makes an estimated $5 million a year - did, along with the other MSNBC and
Fox hosts.
It does not matter that these celebrities and their guests, usually retired
generals or government officials, got the war terribly wrong. Just as it
does not matter that Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman were wrong on the
wonders of unfettered corporate capitalism and globalization. What mattered
then and what matters now is likability - known in television and
advertising as the Q score - not honesty and truth. Television news
celebrities are in the business of sales, not journalism. They peddle the
ideology of the corporate state. And too many of us are buying.
The lie of omission is still a lie. It is what these news celebrities do not
mention that exposes their complicity with corporate power. They do not
speak about Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, a
provision that allows the government to use the military to hold U.S.
citizens and strip them of due process. They do not decry the trashing of
our most basic civil liberties, allowing acts such as warrantless
wiretapping and executive orders for the assassination of U.S. citizens.
They do not devote significant time to climate scientists to explain the
crisis that is enveloping our planet. They do not confront the reckless
assault of the fossil fuel industry on the ecosystem. They very rarely
produce long-form documentaries or news reports on our urban and rural poor,
who have been rendered invisible, or on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or
on corporate corruption on Wall Street. That is not why they are paid. They
are paid to stymie meaningful debate. They are paid to discredit or ignore
the nation's most astute critics of corporatism, among them Cornel West,
Medea Benjamin, Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky. They are paid to chatter
mindlessly, hour after hour, filling our heads with the theater of the
absurd. They play clips of their television rivals ridiculing them and
ridicule their rivals in return. Television news looks as if it was lifted
from Rudyard Kipling's portrait of the Bandar-log monkeys in "The Jungle
Book." The Bandar-log, considered insane by the other animals in the jungle
because of their complete self-absorption, lack of discipline and outsized
vanity, chant in unison: "We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We
are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it
must be true." 
When I reached him by phone recently in New York, Donahue said of the
pressure the network put on him near the end, "It evolved into an
absurdity." He continued: "We were told we had to have two conservatives for
every liberal on the show. I was considered a liberal. I could have Richard
Perle on alone but not Dennis Kucinich. You felt the tremendous fear
corporate media had for being on an unpopular side during the ramp-up for a
war. And let's not forget that General Electric's biggest customer at the
time was Donald Rumsfeld [then the secretary of defense]. Elite media
features elite power. No other voices are heard."
Donahue spent four years after leaving MSNBC making the movie documentary
"Body of War" with fellow director/producer Ellen Spiro, about the paralyzed
Iraq War veteran Tomas Young. The film, which Donahue funded himself, began
when he accompanied Nader to visit Young in the Walter Reed National
Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
"Here is this kid lying there whacked on morphine," Donahue said. "His
mother, as we are standing by the bed looking down, explained his injuries.
`He is a T-4. The bullet came through the collarbone and exited between the
shoulder blades. He is paralyzed from the nipples down.' He was emaciated.
His cheekbones were sticking out. He was as white as the sheets he was lying
on. He was 24 years old. ... I thought, `People should see this. This is
awful.' "
Donahue noted that only a very small percentage of Americans have a close
relative who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan and an even smaller number make
the personal sacrifice of a Tomas Young. "Nobody sees the pain," he said.
"The war is sanitized."
"I said, `Tomas, I want to make a movie that shows the pain, I want to make
a movie that shows up close what war really means, but I can't do it without
your permission,' " Donahue remembered. "Tomas said, `I do too.' "
But once again Donahue ran into the corporate monolith: Commercial
distributors proved reluctant to pick up the film. Donahue was told that the
film, although it had received great critical acclaim, was too depressing
and not uplifting. Distributors asked him who would go to see a film about
someone in a wheelchair. Donahue managed to get openings in Chicago,
Seattle, Palm Springs, New York, Washington and Boston, but the runs were
painfully brief.
"I didn't have the money to run full-page ads," he said. "Hollywood often
spends more on promotion than it does on the movie. And so we died. What
happens now is that peace groups are showing it. We opened the Veterans for
Peace convention in Miami. Failure is not unfamiliar to me. And yet, I am
stunned at how many Americans stand mute."



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