When it comes to his profession, Mike Wallace, of “60 Minutes” fame, is a hopeless romantic.
When Wallace, a University alumnus, had lunch with several Daily editors almost two weeks ago, he admonished those of us who were not planning on becoming professional journalists. According to Wallace, we were giving up on the chance to literally “write history” by opting for careers in other fields we were turning our backs on a profession that, by definition, aims to discover and publish (or broadcast) the truth.
As Wallace laid into us, I kept wondering “does this guy ever watch TV? How naive can you get?” Ten to 15 minute “60 Minutes” pieces are hardly the model for broadcast journalism these days instead people need their “news” quick and easy CNN Headline News- and “The O”Reilly Factor”-style.
The consequences of wham-bam-thank you-ma”am journalism have been devastating: “In a three-minute stretch between commercials, or in seven hundred words, it is impossible to present unfamiliar thoughts or surprising conclusions with the argument and evidence required to afford them some credibility. Regurgitation of welcome pieties faces no such problem,” wrote MIT linguist Noam Chomsky in Necessary Illusions, his study of media in democratic societies that was back in 1989.
Twelve years later, things are even worse. Not only are reporters simply regurgitating welcome pieties, they are tolerating unwelcome pieties in the name of protecting welcome ones. Lately, this phenomenon has probably manifested itself most clearly in stories and pieces about demonstrations by fair trade activists in Seattle, Prague and Davos, Switzerland.
In his frivolous piece for May”s issue of Vanity Fair about the World Economic Forum held earlier this year in Davos, James Atlas casually noted that: “Mindful of the previous year”s unrest and freaked-out by the anti-globalists said to be streaming toward Davos from every corner of Europe and the Free World, the Swiss government had banned all protests from the forum, imposing a virtual state of martial law.” The piece may have been for an entertainment magazine, but one still has to wonder about the strength of a prevailing ideology that tolerates a “virtual state of martial law” imposed to prevent the freedom of expression.
Not convinced? Luckily, you don”t have to take my word for it all you have to do is wait ten days to observe media complacency for yourself.
From April 20 to April 22, throngs of high-level negotiators from 34 nations will converge on Quebec City, Canada to start hammering out a final agreement to create the Free Trade Area of the Americas. The FTAA essentially aims to expand the failed (at least in terms of human suffering) North American Free Trade Agreement to almost every country in the Western Hemisphere.
In Quebec City, just like Seattle, Prague and Davos, there will be plenty of protesters (assuming the Canadian border patrol doesn”t turn most of them away) to complement the secret negotiations.
Prediction one: Unfortunately for the protesters and just about everyone else, there won”t be much coverage of the protests in Quebec City unless someone commits an act of violence. When a handful of anarchists in Seattle broke a Starbucks window, every journalist included it in his or her story while hundreds of non-violent demonstrators were being brutalized by police when half of the people at W”s inauguration were there to peacefully protest his illegitimate presidency, they got about as much coverage as the “Black Tie and Big Boots” inaugural ball.
Prediction two: What little coverage there is of the protests in Quebec City will be focused on the fact that the protesters are against “free trade” with an emphasis on the word “free.” With the possible exception of rank-and-file labor activists, they will be portrayed as a motley coalition of out-of-touch freaks who can”t accept basic economic truths. The “experts” will assure us that privatization and free trade are the only answer to today”s “changing economy” as if there is some sort of consensus among economists that this is the case (which there is not).
There is absolutely no way media outlets that purport to be objective can adequately cover something as complex as the debate over globalization in the way they cover everything else. The only way to distill (and justify) the upcoming events in Quebec City into USA Today-length stories and 30 second long pieces is to present them in an easy-to-swallow pro-globalization context. Just you wait and see.
This is Nick Woomer”s last column for the semester. He urges his readers to learn more about the FTAA by visiting www.stopftaa.org. Give him feedback at www.michigandaily.com/forum or via e-mail at email@example.com.