Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Capitalism as Ethical Compass

While it would be interesting, and frankly just damn funny, to list the (now somewhere around 33) advertisers scrambling to retroactively disassociate themselves from Glenn Beck, the events inspiring his recent temporary “suspension” speak to something larger that is altogether embarrassing about our nation, our culture, and ourselves.

When corporations exhibit a scintilla of integrity or sober judgment, it should shame the rest of our country’s population, who have no overarching profit/loss motives or PR concerns to overcome in making their decisions. When Major League Baseball took it upon itself to racially desegregate, years ahead of the federal government and the society at large, there was no great sigh of resigned embarrassment around the country, but there should have been. When a nation’s political and social advancement is left to professional sports, something is seriously wrong with the country and its people. Today, it is no small thing for any giant corporation like Proctor & Gamble or Wal*Mart to draw a line in the sand and specifically cite something they perceive as reprehensible, risking the potential alienation of a particular demagogue’s audience who are at the end of the day, the very consumers they are trying to advertise to.

Recently I’ve read perspectives on this retreat from Beck’s show by marketers (but not a retreat from Fox News Channel itself) in places ranging from the Myers Report to Advertising Age. Interestingly, there hasn’t been much of an uproar, or even expression of surprise at what the Right is calling “activism” and “coercion,” and what the Left is calling “responsibility.” No one is surprised that Beck’s latest remarks are the straw that broke the camel’s back, and no one ever doubted that the camel’s back was in peril for these many years. Beck appears on a network that allows him to show footage of Nazis as a backdrop while talking about the President of the United States. While Fox “News” insists it is “fair and balanced” and maintains it exists to counter the media’s Liberal bias, it cannot cite examples of CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS or news organizations in any other media that engage in regularly calculated omissions of important events or that issue forth lies on a nearly daily if not hourly basis, -certainly nobody matching its own level of reach and recognition. Fox News is a propaganda media network, and it repeatedly shields itself from recrimination by maintaining that its “analysts” are not journalists, but on-air “commentators” merely expressing opinions. Rupert Murdoch has brusquely constructed his network with programming blocks that offer hyperbole, fiction, paranoia, exaggeration, -in short a network where “feelings” and “suspicions” are always more important than the facts. Murdoch shields the “News” part of his product’s name with a single legitimate news program that sticks to the facts and operates according to the institutionalized practices and standards of journalism in America: the afternoon program hosted by Sheppard Smith may be the only objectively-postured news program Fox features daily. All other slots are filled with, at best, sad parodies of what broadcast journalism is supposed to be, including Geraldo Rivera and Greta Van Susteren’s shows. At worst, you’ll get Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly.

Opinions are protected speech by our Constitution, so Fox “News” manages to cover any of its partisan nonsense, distortion or out-and-out lies by presenting them as opinion. But a lie is not an opinion, and in any case, opinions and beliefs have no place in the reporting of the facts. Journalists are not to report what they believe to be factual, only what they know to be factual… or at least this is what journalists do everywhere else, except on Fox “News.”

You can only know a fact. You cannot know a lie.

A lie can only be believed or disbelieved:
If a person says “2+2=5,” this is not something they know, it is something they believe, or say they believe. In a concrete sense they can only know the fact “2+2=4,” or know nothing at all.

Logic notwithstanding, the idea is that this is somehow all covered by freedom of speech and the freedom of the press is incorrect. The freedom of Speech is not a right to lie, and freedom of the press is not a Constitutional right to disseminate said lie. In an ideal world the Fox “News” Channel’s violations would be subject to all kinds of actions, legal and regulatory. Journalism is in fact subject to regulations and laws, even if you try to sneak by and call journalism “opinion” as Rupert Murdoch has done by creating Fox “News.” In an ideal world, or in a nation that simply operated by the rules it claims are its laws, Fox “News” would suffer fines that would dwarf the nonsense that plagued Howard Stern in 1990s. In an ideal world the FCC would actually do something about Fox “News” and its violations of the Republic’s Fourth Estate.

Instead, it is advertisers at the urging of an online community who have to point out to the rest of us that this is unacceptable, despicable and wrong by pulling their ads off of what they clearly view as the worst show on Fox “News,” in some cases publicly reiterating that they had already requested their ads not be associated with Glenn Beck’s program in the first place.

Why is it that we as a nation have not done the same with our time and attention? Are we waiting for the 3 remaining advertisers to leave his show, or are we just waiting for a slow death from embarrassment and shame? I wonder at the questionable people and things we’ve allowed to take the place of names like Murrow, Cronkite, Brinkley, Brokaw, Jennings, Koppel, Lehrer, Macneil, Moyers and Russert.



Jack Jodell said...

Great rip-up of TV's version of The National Enquirer, SJ. Fox "News" is completely devoid of ethics or morals. Rupert Murdoch has taken TV "news" and turned it into a sort of "professional" wrestling programming, where everything is fake and slanted the way he wants it slanted. He is capitalizing and profiting, evil bastard that he is, on manufactured spectacle and conflict. News of fact has little airplay on Fox.

It is a sad commentary on this country indeed that the National Enquirer and Fox News have such a wide circulation. They're not even good enough to be called "Yellow Journalism." What they really are is "Brown Journalism"---pure shit.

SJ said...

agreed. It's pretty sad when advertisers are backing off immediately just because of emails ...but Americans won't stop watching.