Heroic Free Press
never get the heroic investigative journalists of American media
on the couch, confessing their sins and blaming their childhood.
No, indeed, the knights of the quill hang onto their Woodward-and-Bernstein
self-portrait first painted in 1973. They look in the mirror and
see Peter Zenger.
all, investigative journalists brought down the tyrant Nixon. Never
mind that the press had it in for the Trickster, ever since he attacked
them in 1962, after failing to win the governorís seat in California.
Never mind that many in the press only began kicking Nixon once
he was already safely down. Never mind that the press, generally,
gave Ronald Reagan a free pass mostly because he was much more agreeable
a Democrat in the White House, the relationship between government
and media generally becomes one of undying love. Bill Clinton had
to be really, really deep in it before the press thought it well
to look into his activities. Even then he got a free pass for his
foreign policy. Hence, the rise of the Drudge Report and other alternative
conclude, then, that the greater part of US media consists of shills
for state power, complicated only by little attitudinal nuances
about those in office. The press gang find it hard to warm up to
a Republican. But if a Republican transforms himself into FDR with
two hats Dr. New Deal and Dr. Win-the-War the press treats him
as an honorary Democrat, who has "grown" in office and
overcome his natural narrow-mindedness.
Views on the Press
Jefferson famously wrote that "were it left to me to decide
whether we should have government without newspapers or newspapers
without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer
the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those
papers & be capable of reading them." Leaving to one side
the problem of mass semi-literacy caused by public schools, I have
to say that Jefferson could never have anticipated todayís talking
heads, Tom, Dan, and Jim, or our great paper of record, the New
York Times. Still, if one had to choose between government
without NBC, or NBC without government, the choice would be worth
looking into. You can turn NBC off.
Tucker, the dean of the late 19th-century individualist
anarchists, based in Boston off all places, became quite vexed by
the press. In curmudgeonly fashion, he wrote: "Much as I value
the liberty of the press, yes, because I value it, I should
like to see the knife of authority buried to the hilt in the tenderest
part of the ordinarily truckling newspapers of New York and then
turned vigorously and mercilessly round. Perhaps, after that, Comstock
laws, anti-lottery laws, and other similar legal villainies would
no longer be made possible by the subservient hypocrites
who cry out against oppressions only when victimized themselves."
other words, if the press could not be bothered to defend freedom
generally, Tucker didnít much care if government infringed their
freedom. He didnít really mean that. In any case, freedom of the
press does not really "belong" to the existing press lords.
The people have an interest in it. Suppression of the Times
would be good, clean fun, but would also make it harder for anyone
to set up an Anti-Times.
even have an amendment about that. It begins "Congress shall
make no law" and goes on from there. It seems dead simple,
doesnít it? But Congress canít or doesnít read our parchment
guarantees, and thus their very life falls prey to courts, politicians,
and other such worthies. The record of the courts is rather spotty,
especially during emergencies.
the Constitution had a Cheshire Cat clause "this Constitution
shall go in and out off effect, depending on whether there is, in
the Opinion of the president or his Chief advisors, an Emergency
requiring Special measures" I would feel better about
it. At least then we would know that there is no Constitution, and
could quit worrying about it and get back to our daily affairs.
Much time would be saved.
shall make no law what a joke, but then we all recall what
Will Rogers said.
Incredible Lightness of Pragmatism
the press is nothing if not practical or pragmatic. The press keeps
away from real criticism. Barring the return of Nixon, this will
for the US government, its attitude toward criticism was underscored
by the bombing of the Belgrade TV station, two years ago, and the
attack on the Kabul office of Al-Jazeera this week. Of course
those were enemy media and we know what a broad construction the
US government has of the word "target." We have come to
expect this sort of thing.
was interesting was the near silence of certified US media about
these attacks. Obviously the First Amendment doesnít apply to foreign
media, enemy or otherwise, but one might have expected our media
to spot some sort of general principle worth noting. But I digress.
real point is that for most of the US media, politics not to mention
all discussion outside a very narrowly defined spectrum of respectable
opinion stops at the waterís edge, with few exceptions. Some cynic
has said that the reason we didnít have censorship all through the
Cold War was that US media censored themselves. That puts
things in an overly favorable light.
role of the media is actually more proactive than that. US media
see themselves as an arm of government, they love government and
wish for Americans and the world to have much more of it. Now and
then a critic sees that posture as a problem.
of these nay-sayers is Noam Chomsky full stop. Yes, the
Noam Chomsky; the very embodiment of anti-American hate and
criminality lately pilloried on a website where all thoughts are
second thoughts. I need say no more.
it is true, has some funny economic views. Chomsky kicked off a
revolution in linguistics, when that discipline was still wandering
in the desert of behaviorism looking for the oasis of structuralism.
Not everyone likes generative grammar. So what?
made Chomsky known and controversial was not what made Milwaukee
famous, but was instead his running critique of the US empire, dating
from the Vietnam War. Anyone who believes that we have an heroic,
critical press in this country should read Edward S. Herman and
Noam Chomskyís Manufacturing
Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York,
1988). Their point is not just that US policy-makers have been hellbent
for empire for many decades. The interest in this book is the role
that American media play in relation to power. It has largely consisted
of overall support, tempered by nagging.
foreign policies were self-evidently just, such thorough-going support
would be less of a problem. They are not, however, and that makes
much of US news coverage a seamless web of "systematically
misleading expressions" to steal a phrase from a philosopher.
be systematically misled on matters which might require the sacrifice
of our sons and daughters, our prosperity, and other things of value,
would be very unfortunate. Unhappily, it seems to be our fate. On
such matters, Chomsky and Herman are better guides to the doings
of the press than are the various office-bound bombardiers of the
Neo-Con variety, who can only fault the press for not being as war-crazed
as they themselves are.
LRC, we are entirely in favor of first thoughts, second thoughts,
or third thoughts, provided that the thoughts have some connection
with reality. This is one reason why, in this happy era of the net,
we read the foreign press. There are many things that Dan, Tom,
and Jim just wonít tell us.
Joseph R. Stromberg [send
him mail] is the JoAnn B. Rothbard Historian in Residence at
the Ludwig von Mises Institute
and a columnist for Antiwar.com.
© 2001 LewRockwell.com
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