18th March 08:58
The Fall of the American Media
The Fall of the American Media
Twenty-seventh - thanks to Ann Coulter it isn't lower!
© Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Bartcop had a link to an article at Arab News which stated that an
outfit calling itself "Freedom House" had rated the world's media,
and that in terms of having a free press, America ranked only 27th in
That the free press in America has taken a catastrophic plunge over the
past 15 years is pretty much beyond dispute. One can spend a few days
reading the Washington Post and realize that the glory days of Woodward
and Bernstein are long passed. One can read its crosstown rival, the
Washington Times, and realize that some segments of the American press
are no better than the once-ridiculed Pravda of the Soviet era.
The Arab News story on the survey began with the acid remark, "Recent
polling data shows that most Americans think their press is the freest
in the world - indeed, some believe it is too free." Obviously, an
attitude like that left a lot of room for encroachment that an at best
passive and at worst timid populace would tolerate quite willingly.
But I got around to wondering what the criteria of the survey was,
exactly. On one end of the American journalistic spectrum, you had
outfits like Moon's rag or Faux News, which are often only one step
above newspapers in some countries where the daily headline better sing
the praises of the Glorious Leader, or a certain managing editor would
be taken out and shot. At the same time Bartcop could level his daily
blasts against Putsch and manage to avoid falling into the American
Gulag. Did Freedom House factor in such wide variation?
So I went to Freedomhouse.org and examined their methodology. I was
wondering if they considered the influence of private ownership on the
media. They do, along with a host of other factors. Their methodology
Our examination of the level of press freedom in each country is
divided into three broad categories: the legal environment, the
political environment, and the economic environment.
The legal environment encompasses both an examination of the laws and
regulations that could influence media content as well as the
government's inclination to use these laws and legal
institutions in order to restrict the media's ability to operate. We
assess the positive impact of legal and constitutional guarantees for
freedom of expression; the potentially negative aspects of security
legislation, the penal code and other criminal statutes; penalties for
libel and defamation; the existence of and ability to use Freedom of
Information legislation; the independence of the judiciary and of
official media regulatory bodies; registration requirements for both
media outlets and journalists; and the ability of journalists' groups
to operate freely.
Under the category of political environment, we evaluate the degree of
political control over the content of news media. Issues examined in
this category include the editorial independence of both the
state-owned and privately-owned media; access to information and
sources; official censorship and self-censorship; the vibrancy of the
media; the ability of both foreign and local reporters to cover the
news freely and without harassment; and the intimidation of journalists
by the state or other actors, including arbitrary detention and
imprisonment, violent assaults, and other threats.
Our third category examines the economic environment for the media.
This includes the structure of media ownership; transparency and
concentration of ownership; the costs of establishing media as well as
of production and distribution; the selective withholding of
advertising or subsidies by the state or other actors; the impact of
corruption and bribery on content; and the extent to which the economic
situation in a country impacts the development of the media.
That is pretty hard to fault. One of the biggest threats to American
freedom is the strange notion that tyranny and repression are all right
if inflicted by the private sector. Thus Americans are watched by more
cameras, are accustomed to having every move they make at their jobs
closely scrutinized. Americans are convinced that employers have a
"right" to tell employees how they must dress, how they must act, even
how they must behave when off duty. People cheerfully become wage
slaves while inveighing that government must always be watched because
it might encroach upon one's personal sovereignty. "Recent polling
data shows that most Americans think their press is the freest in the
world - indeed, some believe it is too free."
Freedom House took that into account, along with the effects of
collusion between government and reporters (Armstrong Williams, Robert
Novak, Jeff Gannon, etc.) and self-censorship as a result of social,
political, or economic factors. The US, which ranked 15th in the 2004
survey, still had a ranking of "free."* Pretty bad for a country the
inhabitants like to brag is "the freest on earth," but compared to
everyone else, pretty good.
In just one year, it slid to 27th, putting it on a par with Canada, the
Barbados, Estonia, and Latvia.
It would have been much worse, but for two things. First, there is the
fact that the government and the corporate interests haven't figured
out how to squelch the independent media that remains. They are trying,
of course: the most recent story reported in the remaining free press
was efforts by the new chairman of CPB, the parent corporation of
public broadcasters NPR and PBS, to introduce "more conservative"
coverage to the already decidedly right-leaning networks. Later it was
revealed that the chairman was in fact a toady to the White House who,
despite frequent meetings with Karl Rove and other admin officials,
actually tried denying any links to the White House.
So there is still an independent media, and of course, there are tens
of thousands of people like myself and Bartcop who are willing to talk
about this kind of stuff.
So that pushes the freedom rating up a few notches.
The second is that the study isn't really designed to distinguish
between sloppy journalism and deliberate lying. Diana Griego Erwin, the
renowned Sacramento Bee columnist, resigned the other day when a
in-house investigation revealed that some of the sources in her recent
was it sloppy journalism, or deliberate lying? And how do you tell?
Either way, though, the study would consider Griego Erwin - if guilty
- an example of repressed press.
At the same time, the Lord Haw-Haws of the right, such people as Ann
Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Weiner sometimes speak out against
the government (usually pretending that the people who are out of
power, be they liberals, Jews or ***s, are actually secretly running
everything) and of course aren't being suspended by their editors for
breaches of journalistic ethics. (Just try to imagine EIB or Newsmax
demanding journalists submit to fact-checking!)
I won't insult the intelligence of my readers by pretending we
can't know if they are lying or not. Of course they are lying. They
are paid liars for the GOP. But the study would have to classify them,
with their outspoken "anti-government" stances, as examples of a free
There you have it: Griego Erwin may have invented sources, and that's
a less free media. Ann Coulter simply lies, but she claims to lie about
the powers that be, so that's evidence of a free media. Amazing,
So if the ranking of 27th for "the freest nation on earth" (something
Americans used to refer to themselves as) strikes you as appalling,
remember: it's actually even worse.