Thursday, May 17, 2007

Entropy always increases

Been a while.

I've been slowly slogging my way through Greg Palast's ARMED MADHOUSE: From Baghdad to New Orleans - Sordid Secrets & Strange Tales of a White House GONE WILD. It's been an interesting trip so far.

When I say 'slowly slogging', I mean no disrespect to Mr. Palast, who is an engaging writer. It's just that when you have three stepdaughters, two of whom just had proms, and one of whom is about to turn 18 and graduate high school near simultaneously, and the last of which is merely seven years old and possessed of both Super Intelligence and HyperSonic Speed, well, spare time is nearly as mythical as the fabled unicorn.

Palast is a former forensic accountant turned investigative reporter who likes to report on things that make the American media very uncomfortable. Because of this, the current gang in power often refer to him as a "British reporter" although he's as American as I am; he simply has to find work with the BBC because no major American news organization wants to puts its brand on in depth, accurate accounts of exactly how the Presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 were so deftly hijacked, or exactly who is profiting so much from things like the drowning of New Orleans or the ongoing catastrophe we call the War In Iraq.

There's a reason why the American media is completely unwilling to tell tales out of school on the people in power, and it's pretty much exactly what you'd think. On page 274, Palast quotes Sumner Redstone, Chairman and CEO of Viacom, as saying:

From a Viacom standpoint, the election of a Republican administration is a better deal. Because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on... I vote for Viacom. Viacom is my life, and I do believe that a Republican administration is better for media companies than a Democratic one.

Viacom, in case you've been a practicing anchorite for the last twenty years, is the vast media monolith that owns CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Infinity, Showtime, Simon & Schuster, Midway Games (known for Mortal Kombat and Defender), BET, VH1, the CW, Comedy Central, Famous Players, Famous Music Publishing, Sundance Channel, the Movie Channel, FLIX, TNN, CMT, King World Productions, and several theme parks, among many, many other things.

It seems safe to assume that the corporate policies of media colossus Viacom will probably strongly echo the corporate policies of other, similar media megacorps -- not that we here in the 21st Century's brave new world have very many such to choose from anymore. Since 2004, the media has been controlled by 6 huge megamedia hypercorps -- Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch's News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, Viacom (formerly CBS), and General Electric's NBC.

With virtually all news reporting in America in the hands of only half a dozen corporate colossi, and with every single one of those corporate colossi hungering and slavering for the same thing above all -- deregulation -- it's easy to see why Palast had to go abroad to do any kind of really substantive investigative journalism as regards the behavior of the American master class... what George W. Bush once infamously called "the Haves and the Have-Mores". And it's also easy to see why Palast's reports never get seen or heard by American eyes or ears. If each of the Big Six 'votes for Viacom', or, rather, votes for their own corporate interests above all else, then each of them will, basically, do whatever they can to ingratiate themselves with those who make, administer, and enforce the laws of this country.

With Democrats having taken control of both houses of Congress in the 2006 elections, though, some basic re-alignments seem to have taken place. While Republicans were firmly in the driver's seat, Republican dirt stayed way back under the rug and Republican operatives could cavort with gleeful abandon through the ballrooms of power, more often than not on the taxpayer's dime, secure in the knowledge that the news media's prying cameras, microphones, notebooks, and electronic recorders would stay far, far away.

Now that Democrats have come into power, though, the media conglomerates seem to have come to the uneasy realization that they're going to have to do something to get back into the good graces of a political party they would much prefer to have permanently written off as ineffective and marginalized. So it is that the media has given broad, if grudging, coverage to the recent rash of Republican corruption scandals (most of which had actually been chugging merrily along for years when Republicans themselves were in control of every branch of government) especially including the U.S. Attorney purge.

If Viacom and the rest could be sure that the Democrats would be swept back out of power in 2008 and relegated to the perpetually subservient status Karl Rove has been promising for the last ten years, then I have little doubt that few papers and fewer television news organizations would have any interest whatsoever in covering Democratic Congressional investigations, no matter how lurid the results. But Rove's promise was inexplicably broken in 2006, and corporations don't remain out of the red by backing a political loser. With the Dems back in power, the megacorps need to throw at least a few bones into the donkey stall, however small and stinting those bones may be.

Oh, Big Media is still assiduously cultivating the Republicans, just in case a conservative comeback is in the offing... this is why the media has so incessantly harped on idiotic non-stories like John Edwards' haircut, and so assiduously ignored Rudy Guiliani's heartless snub of a farm family in Iowa because they weren't rich enough for him.

But, at the same time, the Big Six have also tried to show themselves as more 'impartial', meaning, to keep the government axe off their necks and their profits, they're doing favors for the Democrats now, too. It's a tricky balancing act, and probably exactly mirrors the intricate dance that various lobbyists and other members of Washington D.C.'s power elite are going through now -- trying hard not to alienate or aggravate their old Republican buddies, just in case, while at the same time trying to cement new bonds with the current Democratic majority leaders as well... but not cement them TOO firmly, just in case Karl Rove rejuvenates his mojo and manages to steal Congress back in '08.

It doesn't go too deep. Nobody out there is crazy enough to try to really investigate what happened when Cheney shot a guy in the face on a hunting trip... hell, no major media outlet even wants to report the actual details of such a 'hunting trip' (in which cage-raised grouse with clipped wings are released at specific points for the Vice President and his entourage to shoot at, which would hardly strike the Republican base as being particularly daring or manly) for fear of pissing off people who might still be able to do them a bad turn.

On the other hand, the very instant Britney Spears gets out of a car anywhere without her panties on, we'll get breathless up to the second coverage.

If there's a lesson to be learned from this, it's that newspapers should be independent and TV news programs should be carried as a public service by the networks, and not required to support themselves with commercials. Furthermore, the fewer companies who control what we read and hear, the worse informed we are about things that matter.

And, lastly, corporations suck, and at the very least, we need someone in high office somewhere to take a great big swing at them. Rescinding the idiotic legalism making corporations into "natural people" would be an excellent first step, and writing some laws that would allow certain types of lawsuits to penetrate corporate legal shields, and reach into the personal assets of corporate CEOs, board members, and even stockholders, would be a fabulous follow up.

Not that reforms like that will ever happen under Republicans, who still firmly believe that what's good for business is good for America... at least, the 1% or so of America that currently controls 32.7% of American wealth. As long as Republicans remain the party that caters to that 1%, they will continue to be the party that "votes for Viacom". And as long as that happens, Viacom will continue to enjoy the same legal protections as a 'natural person', and Viacom's CEO, board of directors, and shareholders will continue to be shielded from having to actually deal with any of the consequences of their actions.

The problem is, of course, that the game is rigged towards the Viacoms of the world, and always has been... and once the Democrats get into power, they very quickly become the party that 'votes for Viacom' themselves.

What we need is a political system that does not elect politicians.



At 5:30 PM, Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

Hope you're sitting down...but I completely agree with you.

What you've written (very well, mind you) makes me glad I chose not to go into journalism. It's not just sleazy and corporate-controlled as you noted but over the last decade or so, has gotten extremely lazy.

I'm afraid we'll never see "impartial" journalism again. Even my beloved NPR has become tainted.

I had high hopes that the pressure of bloggers would light dynamite under "traditional" journalist's rumps...but I'm still waiting for that fuse to burn down...

At 7:46 AM, Blogger AaA said...

It did, and there was only a brief sputter, not even as bright as a flaring matchstrike.

At 7:53 AM, Blogger AaA said...

Hmm, I had more to say.

It's no secret that I am a staunch supporter of capitalism. But there is one aspect of it that I have come to loathe, and that is corporatism. From my white papers:

Corporatism: I have nothing against businesses per se, but when they get to the corporate stage, too large a gap comes into being between the workers and the highest levels of management. Once this gap is reached, management suddenly loses its ability to see its workforce as human, and begins treating them like assets to buy and sell. I understand that business is business, and the business of business is making a profit, I get it. But while a human can sit back, take stock of his possessions, and realise contentment, and think to himself: 'I have enough, I am happy.', a corporation cannot do this. It is never content, it must always grasp after more and more. And it will sacrifice anyone and anything to get more, no matter who is hurt.

Now, that's bad enough. But when you add general political corruption to the mix, well, the system rapidly breaks down when you let the media outlets that are supposed to be our canaries in the coal mine be run by the pockets of methane gas.


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