Thursday, May 17, 2012

America’s hagiographic television: NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, PBS

journalism is produced in “an adversary environment where the goals of the reported inherently conflict with the goals of the reporter and the reader. It is this daily conflict that gives concrete importance and meaning to the First Amendment, to freedom of the press. Without that freedom there is no conflict, and without that conflict there is no truth.”

 --Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post (1974)

Russian television (RTV) is now available in English in hotel rooms overseas, right alongside BBC and CNN. It looks quite professional, much like the other networks. Of course the news is focused on Russia (as CNN emphasizes the U.S.), and of course President Vladimir Putin is presented in a favorable light. Under its slick veneer, RTV is hagiographic television.

Back in the ex-U.S.S.R., there are three major Russian TV networks. Two are owned by the state, and the third, commercial NTV, is a Gazprom-owned network. But Gazprom in turn is majority-owned by the state. According to a study by Professor Sarah Oates, University of Glasgow, most Russians believe news reporting on their three national channels is selective and unbalanced, but view this as appropriate. The people Oates interviewed made it clear they believe state television should provide central authority and order in troubled times.

You know what? American TV today looks a lot like RTV. News shows present President Obama and his family in a hagiographic manner; they are selling the Obamas to their audience. It’s as if the state actually owned NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, and a majority, not just a piece, of PBS. This happens to Democratic presidents only, and has since Newt Gingrich shut down the Federal government in 1995, turning the media from an adversary to an advocate for then-President Clinton.

We’ve come a long way from where Ben Bradlee had the Washington Post positioned in 1974, a paper hard on presidents of both parties.

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