Â Â New U.S. embassy in Baghdad; asÂ big as Vatican City
Since 1976 media researchers atÂ Sonoma State UniversityÂ have runÂ Project CensoredÂ as theyÂ call their annual effort to rankÂ “the most important news stories that were under-covered, glossed over or ignored by the countryâ€™s major media outlets.” The Project recently published itsÂ 2008 list andÂ twoÂ entries impressed me with numbers:
InÂ anÂ October 2006 article for the Oakland-based CorpWatch, former California journalist David PhinneyÂ described the building of the new United States Embassy in Baghdad, a “$592 million, 104-acre fortress equal in size to the Vatican City.”Â
A SourceWatch report about a roundup of more than 30,000 fugitives in “three federally coordinated mass arrestsÂ . . . Â between April 2005 and October 2006 . .Â The operations directly involved over 960 agencies (state, local, and federal) and were the brainchild of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and US Marshalâ€™s Director Ben Reyna.”
The list makes sober reading, which is whyÂ muckraking of this sort has such a hard time making its way into mainstream media. Maybe it isn’t censorship so much as disinterest.When people interact with media they’re probably thinking, “Maybe I can kill a few minutes,” rather than, “What burning issueÂ awaits.”
HardÂ news is also costly, time consumingÂ and often dangerous to gather. Such storiesÂ may beÂ noble. But the social contract that used to support public service journalism back in the days of say,Â Walter Cronkite — a Project Censored supporter –Â is broken.Â Corporate mediaÂ once enjoyedÂ the profits to justifyÂ noblesse oblige.Â Now they’re in a squeeze.Â Moreover their audiences haveÂ changed.Â One new study referred to “the promiscuous news audience“Â in which people read freeÂ news off web sitesÂ and flit around at will. Why would any one news outlet develop expensive knowledge that might benefit the body politic in some diffuse way, but not benefit its brand even with reader loyalty?
Rather than merely criticize the shortcomings of mass media weÂ must create alternatives to fill the watchdog role mass mediaÂ have becomeÂ unable or unwilling toÂ fill.Â Networks of specialty blogs will help.Â These specialistists will join the think-tanks and the academics and public policy institutes that generate expertise. ButÂ there mustÂ be a mediumÂ to diffuse this knowledge into the popular thinking. Again this presupposes the public is interested in thoseÂ topics deemed important as opposed to which movie they shouldÂ attend. Â
All of this spells toughÂ time for journalists, of whom I would like to consider myselfÂ one. People like me got into the business to save the world. NowadaysÂ we’re lucky to have jobs. Seriously.Â RememberÂ “America What Went Wrong” the award-winning 1992Â newspaper series? Its authors, Donald Barlett and James Steele, got pink slips lastÂ May.
JournalismÂ once hadÂ slogans ofÂ assurance like, “all the news that’s fit to print.” TheseÂ days,Â in keeping with times, its mantra might be: Will speak truth to power for food.
(Postscript: Thinking a photo of the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad would be a good illustration for this posting, I searched one and found a USA Today story on the project. It, too, cited 104-acres but compared it to 80 footbal fields; not as powerful an image as the Vatican City referenceÂ butÂ no longer is the storyÂ completelyÂ “censored”Â either.)