Flimsy Sanity: Bill Moyers Speech

Flimsy Sanity

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bill Moyers Speech

Here are just a few snippets from Life on the Plantation by Bill Moyers delivered to the Media Reform Conference, Memphis, TN January 12, 2007

Beyond what is officially labeled “Secret” or “Privileged” information, there hovers on the plantation a culture of selective official news implementation, working through favored media insiders, to advance political agendas by leak and innuendo and spin, by outright propaganda mechanisms such as the misnamed “Public Information” offices that churn out blizzards of factually selective releases on a daily basis, and even by directly paying pundits and journalists to write on subjects of “mutual interest.” They needn’t have wasted the money. As we saw in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the plantation mentality that governs Washington turned the press corps into sitting ducks for the war party for government and neo-conservative propaganda and manipulation. There were notable exceptions – Knight Ridder’s bureau, for example – but on the whole all high-ranking officials had to do was say it, and the press repeated it, until it became gospel. The height of myopia came with the admission by a prominent beltway anchor that his responsibility is to provide officials a forum to be heard. Not surprisingly, the watchdog group FAIR found that during the three weeks leading up to the invasion, only three percent of U.S. sources on the evening news of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX, and PBS expressed skeptical opinions of the impending war. Not surprisingly, two years after 9/11, almost seventy percent of the public still thought it likely that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the terrorist attacks of that day. An Indiana school teacher told the Washington Post, “From what we’ve heard from the media, it seems like what they feel is that Saddam and the whole Al Qaeda thing are connected.” Much to the advantage of the Bush administration, a large majority of the public shared this erroneous view during the buildup to the war– a propaganda feat that Saddam himself would have envied. It is absolutely stunning –frightening– how the major media organizations were willing, even solicitous hand puppets of a state propaganda campaign, cheered on by the partisan ideological press to go to war.

There are many other ways the plantation mentality keeps Americans from reality. Take the staggering growth of money-in-politics. Compared to the magnitude of the problem, what the average person knows about how money determines policy is negligible. In fact, in the abstract, the polls tell us, most people generally assume that money controls our political system. But people will rarely act on something they understand only in the abstract. It took a constant stream of images – water hoses, dogs and churches ablaze– for the public at large to finally understand what was happening to Black people in the South. It took repeated scenes of destruction in Vietnam before the majority of Americans saw how we were destroying the country to save it. And it took repeated crime-scene images to maintain public support for many policing and sentencing policies. Likewise, people have to see how money-in-politics actually works, and concretely grasp the consequences for their pocket books and their lives, before they will act. Media organizations supply a lot of news and commentary, but almost nothing that would reveal who really wags the system, and how. When I watch one of those faux debates on a Washington public affairs show, with one politician saying this is a bad bill, and the other politician saying this is a good bill, I yearn to see the smiling, nodding beltway anchor suddenly interrupt and insist: “Good bill or bad bill, this is a bought bill. Whose financial interest are you serving here?”

The greatest challenge to the plantation mentality of the media giants is the innovation and expression made possible by the digital revolution. I may still prefer the newspaper for its investigative journalism and in-depth analysis but we now have in our hands the means to tell a different story than big media tells. Our story. The other story of America that says free speech is not just corporate speech, that news is not just chattel in the field, living the bossman’s story. This is the real gift of the digital revolution. The Internet, cell phones and digital cameras that can transmit images over the Internet, make possible a nation of story tellers…every citizen a Tom Paine. Let the man in the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue think that over. And the woman of the House on Capitol Hill. And the media moguls in their chalets at Sun Valley, gathered to review the plantation’s assets and multiply them; nail it to the door– they no longer own the copyright to America’s story– it’s not a top-down story anymore. Other folks are going to write the story from the ground up and the truth will be out, that the media plantation, like the cotton plantation of old, is not divinely sanctioned, and it’s not the product of natural forces; the media system we have been living under was created behind closed doors, where the power brokers meet to divvy up the spoils.

2 Comments:

  • At 5:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Appreciate the content. It is just as revealing how non news is used to divert us away from potentially embarassing news, like the way M.J. chose to announce his divorce behind the smokescreen of MLK day activities so nobody would pay any attention to it. Also, consider how much is just stuck in the never mention column. But the one to really pay close attention to is news items that appear once, and then just disappear, and you wonder who it is that has the power to pull important stories right out from under everybody. Those are the ones that are such a danger to our freedom and life!

     
  • At 10:00 AM, Anonymous RJ Adams said…

    I went straight to the speech and was so absorbed I forgot to return and comment. I'm very glad Moyers is returning to our screens.

     

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