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Media in the United States

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In recent times, the American media has been plagued with all sorts of problems including, sliding profits, scandals about manipulation, plagiarism, and propaganda, falling readership in the press, "dumbing down", and so on.

Media omissions, distortion, inaccuracy and bias in the US is something acknowledged by many outside the USA, and is slowly realized more and more inside the US. However, due to those very same omissions, distortion, inaccuracy and bias in the US mainstream media, it is difficult for the average American citizen to obtain an open, objective view of many of the issues that involve the United States (and since the United States is the largest economic and military power in the world, they are naturally involved in many issues!).

From a political angle, for a nation to remain strong, it has historically needed the support of its people, including those who are not in power and those who are exploited. A level of conformity is also required, even if it is quite loose, to not only allow people to live together in society, but also, for power holders, to more predictably deal with its citizens.

An essay from the prestigious journal, Columbia Journalism Review, notes the crucial role of free media and the need for public education in society to maintain democracy:

In recognition of the role that the press played in the nation's founding, and in appreciation of the crucial role it plays in maintaining a free society, the press was granted special protections under the First Amendment.

But the founders knew that a free press would be worth little if the people could not read it, so public education became one of the great obsessions of the leaders of the early republic. [The problem in Europe at that time] was restricting education to the wealthy, in the mistaken belief that "knowledge is the parent of sedition and insurrection." Instead, he wrote, education was vital to the maintenance of a free society. This concern with education was widespread in the founding generation, and Thomas Jefferson famously listed the establishment of the University of Virginia as one of the three great accomplishments of his life (he omitted his presidency from the list).

- Evan Cornog, Let's Blame the Readers, Columbia Journalism Review, Issue 1, January/February 2005

The idea of "citizenship education" grew from these ideals stressing the education of the American institutions, the value of democracy, thinking critically about their society and their roles in that society etc. But "with business groups looking to schools essentially to educate workers for a complex industrial society" an inherent conflict was brewing.

Thus, "the traditional and primary collective goal of public schools building literate citizens able to engage in democratic practices" [also the goal of American's founders] was "replaced by the goal of social efficiency, that is, preparing students for a competitive labor market anchored in a swiftly changing economy." In addition:

This redefinition of citizenship has been part of a larger push toward privatizing much that used to be public - and, in particular, governmental - in American society. For decades the Republican Party and allies in the business community have worked to reduce government's role in American life. It is a measure of their success that faith in democratic government has largely been replaced by faith in the market. It was the senior President Bush who urged upon the nation a less expansive model of civic engagement... Implicit in this was the notion ... isolated individuals should try to do good - in isolation. Earlier generations had expressed different ideals. In his inaugural address in 1941, as the threat of world war drew ever closer to the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt said that American democracy was strong "because it is built on the unhampered initiative of individual men and women joined together in a common enterprise." Sixty years later, after the September 11 attacks had shaken the nation, President George W. Bush urged Americans to pull together by going out and spending money, or taking a trip to Disney World. Consumerism had become the common cause.

- Evan Cornog, Let's Blame the Readers, Columbia Journalism Review, Issue 1, January/February 2005

(See also this site's section on the rise in consumerism detailing how politically active citizens in the 1960s were dumbed down and diverted to consumerism.)

The mainstream media too have seen similar transformations. Pressures to make profit require more and more avoidance of controversial and sensitive issues that may either criticize aspects of corporate America or reduce the buying moods of readers. In doing so, much of the agendas are driven by governments and business interests, with less criticism. Over time, as people get accustomed to a lower quality media, propaganda becomes easier to disseminate.

"a principle familiar to propagandists is that the doctrine to be instilled in the target audience should not be articulated: that would only expose them to reflection, inquiry, and, very likely, ridicule. The proper procedure is to drill them home by constantly presupposing them, so that they become the very condition for discourse." - Noam Chomsky

- Quoted by Scott Burchill, The Limits of Thinkable Thought, February 4, 2000

The media is therefore one avenue by which such support and, if needed, manipulation, can be obtained. The US is no exception to this. As the following quote summarizes, the role of the media from the view of politics is often less discussed:

George Seldes, a reporter for over seventy years, points out that there are three sacred cows still with us today: religion, patriotism, and the media itself... Patriotism, defined as taking pride in one's country, allies the masses with the ruling powers. The media refuses to discuss its consistent failure to inform the masses of this ongoing control. It has been in place for so long that few are aware of how it came about or that it is even still there. But many people are intelligent, moral, and idealistic; if the media would discuss the true history of these three sacred cows, that control would quickly disappear.

- J.W. Smith, The World's Wasted Wealth 2, (Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994), p. 11.

There are many ways in which the media is used to obtain such support and conformity. The U.S., often regarded as one of the more freer countries with regards to its media, is therefore worth looking at in more detail. This is a large topic so this section will be updated from time to time.

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