Our Embedded Media

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Samuel Claiborne

Our Embedded Media

Samuel Claiborne

Recently there was an article on natural gas extraction in the NY Times. It was basically a cheerleading essay on how the wonderful new technology of ‘fracking' was going to exponentially increase the world's natural gas supply. There was not one single word in the entire article about this technology's serious environmental repercussions - from its use of large quantities of highly toxic chemicals, to the truly incredible quantities of water it requires.

This led me to think more and more about how our media have changed in my lifetime.

When I was a kid, the horrors of Vietnam were in our living rooms, and our magazines. As a young child, I was traumatized to see pictures of napalmed children in a copy of Newsweek while waiting in a pediatrician's office. Until that moment, I'd been an innocent 5 year old, never dreaming that people could do that to other people, let alone that my country could be the perpetrator of such unalloyed horrors.

But as traumatic as that experience was, it's far preferable to the embedded media we have now, which show us gee-whiz video game footage of smart bombs, but barely any pictures of the carnage, the reality of war. People the world over have been flooded with images of the true human cost to innocent civilians of our shock and awe campaign in Iraq and our incessant airstrikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But here in the US, we barely see a trickle of it in the mainstream media. And because of our media bubble, we fail to understand the world's outrage.

The horrifying truth of the Vietnam War, brought into our living rooms each night, helped end that war. It's very hard for people, when exposed to the truth of burned babies to feel enthusiastic about war, which is why the corporations behind our new and improved, highly consolidated media, try to shield us from such truths. Of course, the fact that these very same corporations make the weapons systems might have something to do with it as well.

When I was a kid, the NY Times and Washington post braved real threats of federal prosecution when they published the Pentagon Papers, which detailed, among many other things, how we were railroaded into the Vietnam War through a series of bold-faced lies.

Contrast that to the year 2000, when our disputed election was decided by the Supreme Court in Bush vs. Gore. I had no idea at the time that Justice Scalia had been friends with Dick Cheney for almost 20 years. Two of Scalia's sons worked for law firms involved with the case, and Justice Clarence Thomas's wife worked for the Heritage Foundation, which was sure to profit greatly from Bush's election. Yet not only did both of the justices fail to recuse themselves, but the media were largely silent. In fact, it was nearly five years later before I read a major story on the close friendship of Cheney and Scalia, and I was thunderstruck that we'd all been kept uninformed and ignorant of this incredibly salient fact by our major news outlets.

Where were the front-page headlines of every major newspaper demanding recusal while the world awaited a decision? Why wasn't Scalia's obvious and profound conflict of interest trumpeted on the morning talk shows, the evening round-ups, the Sunday TV news-fests?

From the courageous reportage on Vietnam, which permeated television, radio and print media, we've transitioned in a few scant decades to silence over Scalia's friendship with Cheney, silence over the theft of Ohio in the 2004 election, and the soft-peddling of our torture policies, which continues today - witness NPR's continued use of the euphemism ‘enhanced interrogation techniques'. Our media have grown more craven, more complicit, more Orwellian than I could ever have imagined in 1974, or1984 for that matter.

Justice Hugo Black said: "Paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell." - Yet our press now seems intent on beating the drum for war. I can still remember NPR anchor Bob Edwards stating ‘we know there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq' right after Colin Powell's laughably tortured and specious presentation to the UN.

In fact, our press even seems to have gone so far as to have colluded in a legal coup de tat underwritten by right wing think tanks and executed by members of our chief judiciary body.

Do we have a free press in this country? Yes and no. Sure, there are programs like Alternative Radio and Democracy Now, and periodicals like Mother Jones and The Nation. There are myriad sites of all political persuasions on the web. There is no hard hand of censorship evident most of the time - except, perhaps, when a newspaper wants to publish photographs of the returning coffins of our honored war dead.

But the average American looks to the mainstream media for their information, and the mainstream media is no longer free. It is bought and paid for by the same corporations that have bought our congress through lobbying - those that comprise the military/industrial/penal/pharmacological/oil and gas/agribusiness complex.

Far from being an objective, inquisitive force, our media have become cheerleaders for much that is rotten in America - because their paymasters profit from our inhumane health insurance system, our centralized energy production and distribution monopolies, our leadership as the world's number one weapons dealer, and our imperial rape of both human and natural wealth the world over.


Samuel Claiborne is a commentator for Northeast Public Radio, composer, essayist, poet, and author of the blog: Don't Piss in My Pocket and Tell Me It's Raining.

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