Beat: Down The Media Rabbit Hole In 1999
Alice returned from her journey, she was visibly shaken. "Frightful,"
were going to visit Medialand for all of 1999," I reminded
her, "so why --"
it," Alice interrupted. "When I was a kid, I found Wonderland
to be strange -- but Medialand is something else. I was lucky
to get through half of January."
first day set the tone." She sighed. "I saw more than
a dozen Tweedledums and Tweedledees -- news anchors on competing
TV networks. When they opened their mouths, I couldn't tell them
apart. And the longer I was in Medialand, the weirder I felt."
you go through that `Drink Me, Eat Me' thing?" I asked.
looked offended. "Certainly not. And there wasn't a hookah-smoking
caterpillar in sight." She paused. "But I did pick up
the Jan. 11 edition of Time magazine."
special issue on `The Future of Medicine.' Maybe you didn't notice
that all the ads in the entire magazine -- 38 pages of advertising
-- were for Pfizer pharmaceutical drugs."
I admitted. "Hadn't noticed."
were a lot of articles about `The Biotech Century,' concluding
with an essay headlined `All for the Good: Why Genetic Engineering
Must Soldier On.' When I called Time editors to complain, they
assured me that advertising doesn't affect content."
lowered her voice before continuing. "Overall, in comparison
to America's leading journalists, I'd say the Mad Hatter and the
Queen of Hearts were models of sanity."
you're exaggerating," I said.
way. I watched TV news. I saw Brokaw, Jennings and Rather. Woodruff
and Shaw. Cokie and Sam. Walters and Downs. Shields and Gigot.
Not to mention Koppel, Lehrer, King, Snow, Geraldo, McLaughlin..."
Her eyes were glazing.
what's the problem?"
start with the most powerful senator right now, Trent Lott. During
this decade, he's been cozy with a blatantly white- racist organization,
the Council of Conservative Citizens. Lott endorsed and praised
the group -- and spoke at its meetings. But the scandal-crazed
press corps has been very slow to cover the story -- with a few
notable exceptions, such as Washington Post reporter Thomas Edsall
and some columnists."
Alice replied grimly. "For instance, take a look at this."
She handed me a clipping from the front page of the New York Times,
dated Jan. 7, 1999.
first sentence read: "United States officials said today
that American spies had worked undercover on teams of United Nations
arms inspectors ferreting out secret Iraqi weapons programs."
was incensed. "Don't you remember what happened last year?
The U.S. government and news media kept insisting that the U.N.
weapons inspectors weren't spies and had to be given full access
to all sites in Iraq. Last December, the U.S. and Britain fired
hundreds of cruise missiles at Iraq for several nights -- with
the rationale that the regime in Baghdad hadn't cooperated enough
with the inspectors.
it turns out that some of the inspectors were spies for the United
States -- but when the news broke, it was a one- day story! The
vaunted Washington press corps, supposed seekers of truth, just
eyes were flashing. "Medialand is a vast expanse of illusion
and duplicity," she went on. "Take all the concern about
`terrorism.' The first Sunday of the new year, I was listening
to `Weekend Edition' on National Public Radio. The host, Margot
Adler, did an interview about terrorism with former CIA official
exhaled with exasperation. "Don't you understand? Cannistraro
was in charge of the CIA's Contra activities during the early
1980s, when they were killing civilians all over Nicaragua. In
other words, he helped run a terrorist operation. But in 1999,
NPR News is interviewing him -- at length -- as an expert on how
to stop terrorism. No mention of his bloody background."
you should stay away from Medialand," I commented.
news coverage of `terrorism' reminds me of a discussion I had
with Humpty Dumpty a long time ago," Alice declared. She
grabbed a book, turned some pages and read aloud:
I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone,
"it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor
question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words
mean so many different things."
question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master
-- that's all."
Solomon is the co-author of "Wizards of Media Oz: Behind
the Curtain of Mainstream News" and the author of "The
Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh.")