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Petoskey News-Review (Michigan)

Jeff Cohen's Message Clear: Don't Trust Big Corporate Media

Christina Rohn

The message from Jeff Cohen's lecture Tuesday at North Central Michigan College was clear -- "You can't trust the big corporate media."0314 03

Cohen, who in 1986 founded Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a national media watch group that documents media bias and censorship, talked to a crowd of about 375 in NCMC's Student Center Cafeteria about what he called his "misadventures" in the mass media.

Throughout his broadcast journalism career, Cohen worked for CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, and likened his rise and fall in broadcasting to the story Alice In Wonderland.

"Alice fell into a rabbit hole and I fell into the muck of 24/7 news," he said.

Cohen explained to audience members that, because of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, large entertainment companies such as Time Warner, Viacom and Disney have been able to take over many of the country's news outlets, therefore inserting their own code of ethics and bias into the national news.

He said that true journalism has been blocked by these corporations because they are protecting their special interests, and as a result, instead of hearing about the important world issues, the public is saturated with news about "Britney Spears and her sister."

"When big news is blocked, trivia falls into the vacuum," Cohen said. "When journalists are too busy waving flags, they're too busy to do their job, which is ask the tough questions."

Cohen said his broadcasting career came to an end just before the United States invaded Iraq. At the time he was a senior producer for the hit MSNBC show Donahue, and says he believes the network terminated the show because it was doing its journalistic duty.

"Donahue was terminated on the eve of the Iraq invasion -- how often does a channel kill its most watched program?" he said. "Those of us who challenged invading Iraq, and those of us who acted skeptical, for the most part, we've been banned from the media."

Cohen said a majority of the media personalities who were wrong about the invasion of Iraq have been promoted within the industry. As a result, he says he believes the news media can be summed up in one word -- kakistocracy.

"It means ruled by the worst," he said.

Cohen said he believes the American public is extremely misinformed.

"The power is at the top, and in our country there's a huge gap between knowledge versus income," he said. "I don't think it's a mystery that the American public is so misinformed -- I've made the argument that it's somewhat by design."


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Dolly Hunt, a Lake Superior State University transfer student to NCMC, who considers herself an independent, said she agrees with Cohen's assessment of the media.

"I think that people are blindsided by the media -- they have a false sense of consciousness," she said. "Our entire social world is controlled by the power elite, and I fear for the young people because, in conversation with them, they don't see it."

As Cohen ended his lecture, he did so on a positive note, pointing out that independent journalists are on the rise, attempting to counteract the corporate media's bias.

"The good news is that the independent media in our country is booming thanks to the Internet -- it's the failures of corporate media that has led millions of independent journalists to start asking questions," he said. "It's an exciting time, but we have to keep the Internet safe from media conglomerates."

Steve Keller of Cross Village, who considers himself a conservative, said he was surprised by how Cohen came across in the lecture.

"He was more fair-minded and a little less radical than I thought he'd be," he said. "Of course I don't agree with most of his political viewpoints, but his views about the media I agree with."

Keller said he believed Cohen's lecture could have focused more on a solution to the problem than the problem itself.

"I thought it was surprising that he didn't get around to his solution, which was publicly funded television and the Internet, until the Q-and-A portion," he said. "It (the lecture) was fairly negative and pessimistic, as opposed to finding a solution."

NCMC student Nicole Oliver said she was inspired by the lecture and hopes others were as well.

"If the entire society as a whole decides not to stand for corporatized media, then it will be a peoples' media revolution, but if we sit still and silent, it's going to continue," she said.

Oliver said because of the large turnout at the lecture, she is hopeful that things will change.

"During the last lecture we had around 20 to 25 people, and this time we had standing room only," she said. "I'm really excited a lot of people took an interest, and I'm optimistic about change happening."

© 2008 Petoskey News-Review

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