aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Saturday, May 28, 2005
Dollars devastate diversity
Guest post by Jen.
Do billions botch biodiversity?
A letter in this week’s journal Science (written by the president of the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy, and others) draws an explicit correlation between rising GDP and falling biodiversity (R = 0.99 in the U.S., for you statistics fans). CASSE has already told us that
What has become, slowly but surely, a primary threat to our national security, the environment, and future generations? Economic growth,
our highest domestic priority! Yet our students and citizens are continually told that economic growth is the key to our national security and environmental protection...in defiance of ecological principles and basic physics!
Now CASSE’s data rich article reaches out to the world’s academic sector, reminding us that
a higher GDP cannot resurrect an extinct species.
Off to the mountains, but when I’m back…
I have been hammered these past 2 weeks. I’ve been traveling, had a bunch of medical appointments and work is busier than ever, so tending to my blogging has been tough. Today I’m heading to the North Georgia mountains for a few days of R&R (reading and relaxation) in a cabin--a cabin with no phone.
So, for the first time since I started blogging some 6 months ago, I will go a day without posting. My guest poster Jen will be posting as usual, so there will be fresh content here.
The speech is the equivalent of a college course in media criticism. It is an important statement from a man who was there for the birth of public broadcasting. It cries out for broad public attention and debate. And when I return, I will have an extensive post with my reaction to it. (And for the Hillary haters among us, another Hillary post too).
The fight we’re in today
I want to tell you about another fight we’re in today. The story I’ve come to share with you goes to the core of our belief that the quality of democracy and the quality of journalism are deeply entwined. I can tell this story because I’ve been living it. It’s been in the news this week, including reports of more attacks on a single journalist—yours truly—by the right-wing media and their allies at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
As some of you know, CPB was established almost 40 years ago to set broad policy for public broadcasting and to be a firewall between political influence and program content. What some on this board are now doing today—led by its chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson—is too important, too disturbing and yes, even too dangerous for a gathering like this not to address.
We’re seeing unfold a contemporary example of the age-old ambition of power and ideology to squelch and punish journalists who tell the stories that make princes and priests uncomfortable.
Let me assure you that I take in stride attacks by the radical right-wingers who have not given up demonizing me although I retired over six months ago. They’ve been after me for years now, and I suspect they will be stomping on my grave to make sure I don’t come back from the dead.
I should remind them, however, that one of our boys pulled it off some 2,000 years ago—after the Pharisees, Sadducees and Caesar’s surrogates thought they had shut him up for good. Of course I won’t be expecting that kind of miracle, but I should put my detractors on notice: They might just compel me out of the rocking chair and back into the anchor chair.
Moyers: Why I’m in hot water
One reason I’m in hot water is because my colleagues and I at NOW didn’t play by the conventional rules of Beltway journalism. Those rules divide the world into Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and allow journalists to pretend they have done their job if, instead of reporting the truth behind the news, they merely give each side an opportunity to spin the news.
Jonathan Mermin writes about this in a recent essay in World Policy Journal. (You’ll also want to read his book Debating War and Peace, Media Coverage of U.S. Intervention in the Post-Vietnam Era.)
Mermin quotes David Ignatius of The Washington Post on why the deep interests of the American public are so poorly served by Beltway journalism. The “rules of our game,” says Ignatius, “make it hard for us to tee up an issue ... without a news peg.” He offers a case in point: the debacle of America’s occupation of Iraq. “If senator so and so hasn’t criticized postwar planning for Iraq,” says Ignatius, “then it’s hard for a reporter to write a story about that.”
Mermin also quotes public television’s Jim Lehrer acknowledging that unless an official says something is so, it isn’t news. Why were journalists not discussing the occupation of Iraq? Because, says Lehrer, “the word occupation ... was never mentioned in the run-up to the war.” Washington talked about the invasion as “a war of liberation, not a war of occupation, so as a consequence, “those of us in journalism never even looked at the issue of occupation.”
“In other words,” says Jonathan Mermin, “if the government isn’t talking about it, we don’t report it.” He concludes: “[Lehrer’s] somewhat jarring declaration, one of many recent admissions by journalists that their reporting failed to prepare the public for the calamitous occupation that has followed the ‘liberation’ of Iraq, reveals just how far the actual practice of American journalism has deviated from the First Amendment ideal of a press that is independent of the government.”
Who’s on PBS?
I had been deeply impressed by studies published in leading peer-reviewed scholarly journals by a team of researchers led by Vassar College sociologist William Hoynes. Extensive research on the content of public television over a decade found that political discussions on our public affairs programs generally included a limited set of voices that offer a narrow range of perspectives on current issues and events.
Instead of far-ranging discussions and debates, the kind that might engage viewers as citizens, not simply as audiences, this research found that public affairs programs on PBS stations were populated by the standard set of elite news sources. Whether government officials and Washington journalists (talking about political strategy) or corporate sources (talking about stock prices or the economy from the investor’s viewpoint), public television, unfortunately, all too often was offering the same kind of discussions, and a similar brand of insider discourse, that is featured regularly on commercial television.
Who didn’t appear was also revealing. Hoynes and his team found that in contrast to the conservative mantra that public television routinely featured the voices of anti-establishment critics, “alternative perspectives were rare on public television and were effectively drowned out by the stream of government and corporate views that represented the vast majority of sources on our broadcasts.”
The so-called experts who got most of the face time came primarily from mainstream news organizations and Washington think tanks rather than diverse interests. Economic news, for example, was almost entirely refracted through the views of business people, investors and business journalists. Voices outside the corporate/Wall Street universe—nonprofessional workers, labor representatives, consumer advocates and the general public were rarely heard. In sum, these two studies concluded, the economic coverage was so narrow that the views and the activities of most citizens became irrelevant.
All this went against the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 that created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I know. I was there. As a young policy assistant to President Johnson, I attended my first meeting to discuss the future of public broadcasting in 1964 in the office of the Commissioner of Education. I know firsthand that the Public Broadcasting Act was meant to provide an alternative to commercial television and to reflect the diversity of the American people.
Critics praise Now
The Los Angeles Times said, “NOW’s team of reporters has regularly put the rest of the media to shame, pursuing stories few others bother to touch.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer said our segments on the sciences, the arts, politics and the economy were “provocative public television at its best.”
The Austin American-Statesman called NOW, “the perfect antidote to today’s high pitched decibel level, a smart, calm, timely news program.”
Frazier Moore of the Associated Press said we were hard-edged when appropriate but never “Hardball.” “Don’t expect combat. Civility reigns.”
And the Baton Rouge Advocate said, “NOW invites viewers to consider the deeper implication of the daily headlines,” drawing on “a wide range of viewpoints which transcend the typical labels of the political left or right.”
Let me repeat that: NOW draws on “a wide range of viewpoints which transcend the typical labels of the political left or right.”
The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 had been prophetic. Open public television to the American people—offer diverse interests, ideas and voices ... be fearless in your belief in democracy—and they will come.