Term Paper: Media in America

Pages: 20 (4981 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Communication - Journalism  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] But that will not solve their problem, because it has been the so-called fourth estate, the news media, that has collaborated with Congress in preventing the Executive Branch from operating in secrecy. The news media, as Woodward makes clear, are never going to return to the pre-Watergate days when a president's actions were not questioned. Nor should they, even in a time of war."

Many critics argue that increasing media ownership concentration and the drive to sensationalize or commercialize news coverage have taken away the guts and gumption that investigative reporting requires (Waisbord, 2001). Business pressures have also had a negative effect on investigative reporting, as journalistic demands for a great deal of time, human and financial resources directly conflict with profit expectations and production cost controls. In addition, the fear that stories might result in serious lawsuits prevents news companies from supporting http://www.e11th-hour.org/Common/CLEAR.GIF

Aside from these factors, many investigative stories have been written and produced in the past decade. Major newspapers and television stations in the United States have produced articles that have revealed corruption, injustice, and business mismanagement. Local and network television news are the most popular source of investigative stories, which generally expose consumer fraud, in areas such as health care, social services, and home mortgages.

The New Role of the Media

In defense of the media, which has been criticized for being too independent and too powerful for the public good, Anthony Lewis of the New York Times wrote, "The press is protected [by the First Amendment] not for its own sake but to enable a free political system to operate. In the end, the concern is not for the reporter or the editor but for the citizen-critic of government (Herman and Chomsky, 1988)."

Lewis cited Supreme Court Justice Powell, who said (Herman and Chomsky, 1988): "no individual can obtain for himself the information needed for the intelligent discharge of his political responsibilities.... By enabling the public to assert meaningful control over the political process, the press performs a crucial function in effecting the societal purpose of the First Amendment." Therefore, as Judge Gurfein ruled in supporting the right of the New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers after the government had failed to show any threat of a breach of security but only the possibility of embarrassment: "a cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know."

Many people point out that the media were not always as independent, vigilant, and defiant of authority as they are today. Instead, it is believed that the experiences of the past generations taught the media to exercise "the power to root about in our national life, exposing what they deem right for exposure," without regard to external pressures or the dictates of authority (Herman and Chomsky, 1988). Thus, the generation in which we live poses a challenge to the propaganda of our nation's leaders.

The mainstream press portrayed the Watergate incident as a scandal in which Nixon sent a group of petty criminals to break into the Democratic Party headquarters. The Democratic Party represents strong domestic interests, solidly based in the business community, so Nixon's actions were seen as a scandal.

The Socialist Workers party, a legal political party, represents no business interests. Thus, there was no scandal when it was revealed, at the peak of the Watergate scandal, that the FBI had been disrupting its activities by illegal break-ins and other measures for a decade, violating democratic principle in more serious ways than Nixon was accused of. However, these covert and illegal actions received very little media.

In addition, the role of the FBI in the police assassination of a Black Panther organizer in Chicago was not portrayed as a scandal by the media, yet Nixon's "enemies list," which identified powerful people who were denigrated in private but suffered no legal consequences, was widely publicized and publicly criticized.

For the first time, the role of the media and their investigative reporting "helped force a President from office" (Herman and Chomsky, 1988) in what is held to be a most remarkable display of what some call media independence, and others call arrogance.

History provided Americans with a "controlled experiment" to determine just what was at stake during the Watergate period, when the confrontational stance of the media peaked. The media demonstrated its belief that because powerful groups are able to defend themselves, it is a scandal when their position and rights are threatened.

By contrast, as long as illegalities and violations of democratic substance are reserved for marginal groups or result in a diffused cost imposed on the general population, media opposition is obsolete. For this reason, Nixon could go so far, lulled into a false sense of security precisely because the media only stepped in when he began to threaten the elite.

The same thing happened during the Iran-contra scandals and the media's reaction to them. The media declared it a scandal when the Reagan administration was found to have violated congressional prerogatives during the Iran-contra affair, but ignored the fact that the International Court of Justice judged that the United States was engaged in the "unlawful use of force" and violation of treaties in its attack against Nicaragua.

A he sponsorship and support of state terror that cost some 200,000 lives in Central America in the preceding decade did not create any media attention because these actions were conducted in harmony with the elite's consensus. Thus, the media supported them, as demonstrated in reviewing the fate of worthy and unworthy victims.

Thus, the examples used to praise the media for their independence, or criticize their excessive zeal, actually demonstrate the opposite. Contrary to the usual image of an "adversary press" attacking an executive giant, the media's lack of interest, investigative zeal, and basic news reporting on the blatant illegalities of the executive branch have encouraged major violations of law.

Elements of Hollywood in the Media

As a result in the transformation of the role of the media from a Fourth Estate watchdog to a politically correct parrot, there has been a great deal of commercialization in the media and many of Hollywood's elements are now seen in the media. For example, two weeks into the war in Iraq, many media groups declared the American-led effort a complete failure (Marsden, 2003).

And the public reaction to these reports showed that the public believed most of what they heard from the agenda-driven and somewhat ignorant media, who failed to gather thorough and accurate information before placing their opinions in the media. Many media groups were criticized as treating the war as some kind of reality program, and the public reacted to the war as such, demanding the instant gratification involved in watching television.

During the war, "embedded reporters" traveled with front-line soldiers (Marsen, 2003). While many people viewed this as investigative reporting, others balked at the idea, arguing that images of allied tanks, rolling triumphantly and unimpeded through remote and unpopulated desert areas painted an inaccurate and biased view of the war.

On television, Americans watched an "embedded," excited CNN reporter report on how much "fun" the war was so far. The networks showed Iraqi soldiers surrendering to allied troops, while groups of Iraqis cheered the arrival of American and British soldiers. Some people called this investigative reporting. Others felt it was Hollywood's finest. Many believed it was the ultimate in media manipulation.

The media allowed viewers to see images of an easy offensive that would be met with little resistance and few challenges. As if on cue, feared Iraqi leaders seemed to just surrender when the allied forces showed up, and the Iraqi people gave up all loyalty to their leaders. However, this was all a show for the viewers, who did not want to see failure.

The viewers expressed disappointment when the U.S. failed to claim victory in a week. As a result, the media added a plot twist (Marsden, 2003). The New York Times suggested that the U.S. blew the entire war when it failed to kill Saddam Hussein on the first day of the invasion. MSNBC's Iraqi-based reporter, Peter Arnett, went on Iraqi TV to announce to the enemy that the U.S. war plan had failed. The April 7th edition of New Yorker Magazine reported that U.S. leaders had to pay the price for wanting to "do the war on the http://www.e11th-hour.org/Common/CLEAR.GIF

The Trend of Investigative Journalism

Investigative reporting exposes information about some type of wrongdoing that affects the public interest. Most of these exposes result from the work of the media rather than from information leaked to the media (Waisbord, 2001).

Before the Watergate scandal brought investigative journalism to the forefront of the media, investigative journalism was associated with solo reporters working on their own with little support from their media organizations. However, in the 1980's and 1990s, as the media accepted… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Media in America."  Essaytown.com.  July 18, 2003.  Accessed May 26, 2019.