More Is Less

by Deck Deckert

November 3, 2003


The more TV news you watch, the less you know.

At least when it comes to the Iraq war.

A University of Maryland study has discovered that a sizeable number of Americans believes at least one of three things -- Iraq is linked to al Qaeda, Weapons of Mass Destruction were found in Iraq, world opinion favored the US invasion of Iraq.

All three things are wrong.

An astounding 80% of viewers who got their news from Fox held one of the three erroneous beliefs. "The more closely you followed Fox, the more misperceptions you had," Clay Ramsay, research director said. "No other news outlet came near that."

Well CBS, anchored by Dan Rather, came pretty close. An appalling 71% of CBS viewers believed one of the three wrong statements. CBS has fallen a long way from the days when Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America.

ABC viewers didn't do much better; some 61% believed what ain't so. The numbers from NBC and CNN were a marginal improvement, although still dismaying; 55% of viewers knew for sure one of the three wrong things was "true"

Newspapers and magazines did slightly better, but nearly half of their readers, 47% to be exact, were believers in the misinformation.

But only 23% of people who rely on NPR/PBS were similarly wrong.

A popular theory is that the great unwashed are deluded because they are just stupid. Popular and wrong. People can know only what they are told, and if they are fed nothing but administration propaganda by the mainstream corporate media, they will believe it.

Why are the media, particularly TV, so fawning and uncritical? Possibly it's because they are fearful of losing access to people in power if they ask tough questions. That is a consideration, but not much of one. That has always been so and yet the media used to do a reasonably good job of honest reporting.

Or it might be the move toward infotainment, the news presented as entertainment. Long debates about the rightness or wrongness of foreign policy can be deadly dull, for example. Yet clashes between people with passionately held but opposing viewpoints can be great entertainment as well as being quite instructive. The anti-war demonstrations, sometimes involving thousands of people, were great theater, or would have been if they had been covered with any honesty. But for the most part they were ignored, effectively hiding the degree of opposition, both at home and abroad, to the Iraq war.

It might be the cost. It is a lot cheaper to go along with the party line than to do independent reporting, cheaper and easier to do sound bites than cover something in depth. In the case of elections, it is more profitable to charge all the market will bear for campaign ads than to cover candidates as news stories.

But while there may be elements of truth in all of these, the main answer is much simpler -- and a grave danger to democracy. The corporate media are protecting their turf.

There is little difference between the interests of the half dozen corporations that control almost all the media, and the interests of the right-wing cabal that runs the country. And they see no problem with using the power of the media in service of those interests. War is great for ratings. War is great for the bottom line of many of the corporations which own the media, and fantastically profitable for their close friends and ideological soul mates in the corporate world.

Media support for the powers that be in the administration and Congress in the form of bribes, euphemistically called "campaign contributions" is paid back 1,000 fold with favorable legislation, such as the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Under that dreadful bit of legislation, for example, the way was cleared for a company called Clear Channel to buy 1200 radio stations. Clear Channel eliminated the news departments of most of its stations, leaving many communities without any local radio news. But when Bush needed help in getting his war off the ground, Clear Channel promptly sponsored pro-war rallies all across the country.

The dangers of the corporate media near monopoly are clearly evident. They helped give us the grotesque war on Iraq based on lies they refused to seriously examine. Now they are poised to repeat the crime in Syria and Iran.

It's not going to be easy to bring the corporate media to heel. But if we value our democracy, we better find a way.

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Main Media & Propaganda on Swans

Iraq on Swans


Deck Deckert has spent nearly two decades as copy editor, wire editor and news editor at several metropolitan newspapers, including the Miami Herald and Miami News, before becoming a freelance writer. His articles and stories on everything from alligator farming to UFOs have appeared in numerous U.S. publications. He has written two young adult novels under a pen name, and co-authored a novel about the NATO war on Yugoslavia, Letters from the Fire, with Alma Hromic.

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Published November 3, 2003
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