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Media Backs Off After 9/11

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Autor:   •  March 9, 2011  •  1,299 Words (6 Pages)  •  260 Views

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I know we were supposed to focus our response on a news story from right now but I believe that sometimes you need to look back in order to go forward. So keeping with that sentiment, while I was doing my research for this project I found some stories from 2001 that were ignored so I chose to focus on one of them.

Immediately after September 11th the United States media went into lapdog mode. An instant consensus emerged among the nation's editors: now is not the time to ask tough questions. Wrapping themselves in the flag, hordes of journalists shelved their critical-thinking skills, essentially recasting themselves as spokespeople for the U.S. government. Some media outlets were more blatant than others. Reuters reported that bosses at cable leviathan CNN sent a memo to correspondents covering the war in Afghanistan saying, "We must remain careful not to focus excessively on the casualties and hardships that will inevitably be a part of this war, or to forget that it is the Taliban leadership that is responsible for the situation Afghanistan is now in."

No ominous-looking government officials barred the publication or broadcast of this story. I believe the real issue is self censorship. First, as we've seen in the past, there's a fear of controversy on the part of upper-level editors, especially in emotionally charged times. I think individual reporters wanted to ask the questions, but the atmosphere of shock really reduced any critical analysis of the U.S. government. The big media mantra seemed to be 'We're going to support the government getting the bad guys. And we're not going to pursue the inconsistencies that keep arising.'

Second, there's the problem of resources. It takes money and staff to chase down big stories - and increasingly, major media outlets, owned by companies that care only for the bottom line, don't want to put out that kind of cash. Eviscerated by the recession, media companies laid off more than 2,700 employees in 2001, by the calculations of The newsrooms have been forced to make a profit, and to do that you cut staff, you cut salaries, and you look for sources of news that are reliable and consistent.

Robert McChesney, research professor at the Institute of Communications Research at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, agrees with me. "There's been a phenomenal collapse in the coverage of international politics in U.S. news media from the mid '80s into 2001," he told "It's expensive to cover foreign affairs. The big companies that own our news media figured they could get rid of all those reporters and make a lot more money. So that's exactly what they did." The result, according to McChesney: "You can roll over a drunk on the streets of Helsinki, Finland, and they'll know more about what's going on in the world than half the Ph.D.s in the United States."

When looking for a story to research I found one that directly relates to our discussions in class. In 2001, the FCC moved to privatize airwaves. There was a time, not so long ago, when major news organizations assigned reporters to every semi-significant federal government office. Even into the 1980s you could find journalists hungry for a scoop stalking the corridors of regulatory backwaters like the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Maritime Commission. In this belt-tightening era that's no longer the case.

Perhaps that's why the mainstream media missed one of the scariest stories of the year: how big media, backed by 37 prominent economists, is angling to buy up the radio airwaves. If the scheme succeeds, the radio spectrum, now held in common by all of us and licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to broadcasters, will be transformed into chunks of electronic real estate and sold off to the highest bidder. And you think radio is bad now?

The story actually dates back to 1995, when the Freedom and Progress Foundation - a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank funded by tech, telecom, and media heavies - began calling for the privatization of the airwaves. At the time, the proposal was considered a tad extreme, even for the deregulation-obsessed Clinton administration.

Now, however, the media titans have found a key ally: FCC chair Michael K. Powell, a Bush appointee and son of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Like Newt Gingrich, the younger Powell is one those curious government officials who spends most of his time trying to demolish government. So far in his tenure at the helm of the FCC, Powell has jettisoned its historic mandate to act "in the public interest," green lighted the expansion of Rupert Murdoch's empire, and moved to relax already weak rules limiting media monopolies. (It's telling that Powell refers to the companies his agency allegedly oversees as "clients.") In this ÑŒber-laissez faire environment, the proposal to gradually privatize the airwaves seems to be gaining traction.

The implications are enormous. "If the flow of human communications


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