15 Reasons Why Media Don’t Do Journalism

MEDIA, 12 Jun 2023

Caitlin Johnstone - TRANSCEND Media Service

Mass Media Employees Act Like Propagandists

4 Jun 2023 – If you watch western news media with a critical eye you eventually notice how their reporting consistently aligns with the interests of the US-centralized empire, in almost the same way you’d expect them to if they were government-run propaganda outlets.

The New York Times has reliably supported every war the US has waged. Western mass media focus overwhelmingly on foreign protests against governments the United States dislikes while paying far less attention to widespread protests against US-aligned governments. The only time Trump was universally showered with praise by the mass media was when he bombed Syria, while the only time Biden has been universally slammed by the mass media was when he withdrew from Afghanistan. US media did such a good job deceitfully marrying Saddam Hussein to the September 11 attacks in the minds of the public in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq that seven in ten Americans still believed he was connected to 9/11 months after the war began.

That this extreme bias occurs is self-evident and indisputable to anyone who pays attention, but why and how it happens is harder to see. The uniformity is so complete and so consistent that when people first begin noticing these patterns it’s common for them to assume the media must be controlled by a small, centralized authority much like the state media of more openly authoritarian governments. But if you actually dig into the reasons why the media act the way they act, that isn’t really what you find.

Instead, what you find is a much larger, much less centralized network of factors which tips the scales of media coverage to the advantage of the US empire and the forces which benefit from it. Some of it is indeed conspiratorial in nature and happens in secret, but most of it is essentially out in the open.

Here are 15 of those factors:

1. Media ownership.

The most obvious point of influence in the mass media is the fact that such outlets tend to be owned and controlled by plutocrats whose wealth and power are built upon the status quo they benefit from. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, which he bought in 2013 from the also-immensely-wealthy Graham family. The New York Times has been run by the same family for over a century. Rupert Murdoch owns a vast international media empire whose success is largely owed to the US government agencies with whom he is closely intertwined. Owning media has in and of itself historically been an investment that can generate immense wealth — “like having a license to print your own money” as Canadian television magnate Roy Thomson once put it.

Does this mean that wealthy media owners are standing over their employees and telling them what to report from day to day? No. But it does mean they control who will run their outlet, which means they control who will be doing the hiring of its executives and editors, who control the hiring of everyone else at the outlet. Rupert Murdoch never stood in the newsroom announcing the talking points and war propaganda for the day, but you’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of securing a job with the Murdoch press if you’re a flag-burning anti-imperialist.

Which takes us to another related point:

2. “If you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.”

In a contentious 1996 discussion between Noam Chomsky and British journalist Andrew Marr, Chomsky derided the false image that mainstream journalists have of themselves as “a crusading profession” who are “adversarial” and “stand up against power,” saying it’s almost impossible for a good journalist to do so in any meaningful way in the mass media of the western world.

“How can you know that I’m self-censoring?” Marr objected. “How can you know that journalists are-”

“I’m not saying you’re self-censoring,” Chomsky replied. “I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.”

In a 1997 essay, Chomsky added that “the point is that they wouldn’t be there unless they had already demonstrated that nobody has to tell them what to write because they are going to say the right thing anyway.”

3. Journalists learn pro-establishment groupthink without being told.

This “you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting” effect isn’t just some personal working theory of Chomsky’s; journalists who’ve spent time in the mass media have publicly acknowledged that this is the case in recent years, saying that they learned very quickly what kinds of output will help and hinder their movement up the career ladder without needing to be explicitly told.

During his second presidential primary run in 2019, Senator Bernie Sanders enraged the mass media with some comments he made accusing the Washington Post of biased reporting against him. Sanders’ claim was entirely correct; during the hottest and most tightly contested point in the 2016 presidential primary, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting noted that WaPo had published no fewer than sixteen smear pieces about Sanders in the span of sixteen hours. Sanders pointing out this blatantly obvious fact sparked an emotional controversy about bias in the media which yielded a few quality testimonials from people in the know.

Among these were former MSNBC reporter Krystal Ball and former Daily Caller White House correspondent Saagar Enjeti, who explained the subtle pressures to adhere to a groupthink orthodoxy that they’d experienced in a segment with The Hill’s online show Rising.

“There are certain pressures to stay in good with the establishment to maintain the access that is the life blood of political journalism,” Ball said in the segment. “So what do I mean? Let me give an example from my own career since everything I’m saying here really frankly applies to me too. Back in early 2015 at MSNBC I did a monologue that some of you may have seen pretty much begging Hillary Clinton not to run. I said her elite ties were out of step with the party and the country, that if she ran she would likely be the nominee and would then go on to lose. No one censored me, I was allowed to say it, but afterwards the Clinton people called and complained to the MSNBC top brass and threatened not to provide any access during the upcoming campaign. I was told that I could still say what I wanted, but I would have to get any Clinton-related commentary cleared with the president of the network. Now being a human interested in maintaining my job, I’m certain I did less critical Clinton commentary after that than I maybe otherwise would have.”

“This is something that a lot of people don’t understand,” said Enjeti. “It’s not necessarily that somebody tells you how to do your coverage, it’s that if you were to do your coverage that way, you would not be hired at that institution. So it’s like if you do not already fit within this framework, then the system is designed to not give you a voice. And if you necessarily did do that, all of the incentive structures around your pay, around your promotion, around your colleagues that are slapping you on the back, that would all disappear. So it’s a system of reinforcement, which makes it so that you wouldn’t go down that path in the first place.”

“Right, and again, it’s not necessarily intentional,” Ball added. “It’s that those are the people that you’re surrounded with, so there becomes a groupthink. And look, you are aware of what you’re going to be rewarded for and what you’re going to be punished for, or not rewarded for, like that definitely plays in the mind, whether you want it to or not, that’s a reality.”

During the same controversy, former MSNBC producer Jeff Cohen published an article in Salon titled “Memo to mainstream journalists: Can the phony outrage; Bernie is right about bias” in which he described the same “groupthink” experience:

“It happens because of groupthink. It happens because top editors and producers know — without being told — which issues and sources are off limits. No orders need be given, for example, for rank-and-file journalists to understand that the business of the corporate boss or top advertisers is off-limits, short of criminal indictments.

“No memo is needed to achieve the narrowness of perspective — selecting all the usual experts from all the usual think tanks to say all the usual things. Think Tom Friedman. Or Barry McCaffrey. Or Neera Tanden. Or any of the elite club members who’ve been proven to be absurdly wrong time and again about national or global affairs.”

Matt Taibbi also jumped into the controversy to highlight the media groupthink effect, publishing an article with Rolling Stone about the way journalists come to understand what will and will not elevate their mass media careers:

“Reporters watch as good investigative journalism about serious structural problems dies on the vine, while mountains of column space are devoted to trivialities like Trump tweets and/or simplistic partisan storylines. Nobody needs to pressure anyone. We all know what takes will and will not earn attaboys in newsrooms.”

And it is probably worth noting here that Taibbi is no longer with Rolling Stone.

4. Mass media employees who don’t comply with the groupthink get worn down and pressured out.

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Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Contact: admin@caitlinjohnstone.com

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