Friday, May 30, 2008

The Function of the Media

This thing, what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material? And what its causal nature [or form]? And what is it doing in the world? And how long does it subsist? Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Ch. VIII, sec. 11)

We live, methinks, in very idealistic times. As the saying goes, however, this too shall pass. Nothing wipes idealistic fancies from the mind like the experience of an unforeseen reality.

The meaning of idealism to which I refer is the childish type- the sense that the virtuous ideal manifests, as a matter of course, in the material plane. To wit, the sense that financial entrepreneurs are men of vision working selflessly for the good of mankind and, more apropos to today's musings, that the function of the media is to inform the public of important events in a "fair and balanced" manner (or that the White House Press Secretary's first allegiance is to the truth rather than to his or her boss) are examples of this idealism.

How else, but in reference to such idealism, can one explain the recent brouhaha occasioned by the publishing of former White House Press Secretary, Scott McClellan's new book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, which belatedly relates the now rather obvious, to the thoughtful, at least, conclusions that President Bush relies more on gut than reason, that the media was uncritical of pro-Iraq War arguments, that winning a second term was more important to the incumbent in 2004 than governing well, or that Rove, Cheney, Libby and Bush were, contra their claims of innocence, intimately involved with the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity as covert CIA Agent.

If the experience of an unforeseen reality is the most potent means of wiping idealistic fancies from the mind, a close second would be statements contrary to the ideal from those idealized. In like fashion to an imaginary Catholic Priest telling his flock that it isn't his job to intercede with God of their behalf I place the following idealism dashing statement from ABC's Charles Gibson: it is not our [the media's] job to debate them [the administration]; it's our job to ask the questions.

Hold the presses, is he telling me that the function of the media is not to keep media consumers well informed of key events under the assumption that people in power are wont to lie when it suits them? Is he, by inference thereof, telling me that the function of the media is, in the words of our President, to catapult the propaganda?

Of course he is, and thank God that the Peter Principle is still working such that dim wits (for only a dim wit could fail to see that he will only be paid so long as the idealistic dream of a virtuous media is maintained) like Mr. Gibson can rise to positions of prominence and make such truthful, and, in the process, idealism dashing, statements.

The function of the media, as Marcus Aurelius' view above helps us see, is, as it always is; to promote the views of the owners thereof. This was true almost a thousand years ago when the clergy of Pope Urban II preached the virtues of slaying the infidels and delivering Jerusalem. It was true when the print media of Colonial America preached the virtues of revolution. And since these United States became a Corporate Plutocracy it has been true here.

This isn't to say that the effects of the media have always been negative, but rather to point out that expectations that the media is other than it is, are unfounded. Few and far between are those intrepid journalists who buck the will of their masters.

"Remember the Maine," screamed the headlines from Hearst's newspapers, and to War with Spain we went. "Remember the Lusitania," screamed the headlines from those same newspapers as the US entered WWI. "American Planes Hit North Vietnam After Second Attack on Our Destroyers; Move Taken to Halt New Aggression," ran the headline in the Washington Post in reference to the fictional Gulf of Tonkin attack, and into Vietnam we went in force.

Why, I wonder, should thinking men be surprised that the media were as uncritical about the lumping of Saddam's Iraq into the bin of Al-Qaeda terrorism as they were about the three examples above? Childish idealism only, it seems to me, explains the surprise.

The function of the media is to promote the views of its ownership- to propagandize. Power, by Bertran Russell, a man who learned a thing or two about bucking the media led view, speaks quite eloguently to this issue.

The function of the thinking man is to see through the propaganda, to distill the facts from the rhetoric, and to draw his own conclusions. Although I wish it were otherwise, I don't fault the media for their performance.

As the hero from V for Vendetta puts it, when he imposes his own image and words on the media:

Allow me first to apologize.

I too, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of the everyday routine...the security of the familiar,the tranquility of repetition.

I enjoy them as much as any bloke. But in the spirit of commemoration whereby important events of the past, usually associated with some one's death, or the end of some awful, bloody struggle are celebrated with a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this November the 5th, a day that is, sadly, no longer remembered, by taking time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat.

There are, of course, those who do not want us to speak. Even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way.

Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and, for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.

And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there?

Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression.

And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and surveillance coercing your conformity, and soliciting submission.

How did this happen?

Who's to blame?

Certainly there are those who are more responsible than others. And they will be held accountable.

But again, truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.

I know why you did it.

I know you were afraid.

Who wouldn't be? War, terror, disease.

There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense.

Fear got the best of you.

And in your panic, you turned to ......

Well, we know how it turned out.

Some readers might be wondering if, as Natalie Portman's Evey did: Are you, like, a crazy person?

To which I'll reply, I am quite sure they will say so.