by Rich Broderick • 9/11/08 • If there were any lingering doubts about whether the mainstream press, with a decreasing number of honorable exceptions, has ceased to operate as an independent source of news and information, you need look no further than the shameless “embedding” of journalists with the police during the Republican National Convention.
Some eight local news organizations took up the offer to “embed” journalists among the 3500 law enforcement personnel that locked-down St. Paul last week, apparently without thinking too long or too hard about either the etymological derivation of this word (getting into bed with) nor the origins of its current usage during America’s illegal and disastrous invasion of Iraq.
Journalists embedded with American police. That’s all we need to know about the current state of our mainstream press or how the police perceived themselves in relation to the citizens of St. Paul – they were the invading army, we the enemy. No wonder we had snipers stationed atop the Xcel Center. No wonder police in riot gear at a staging area before Thursday’s mass arrests on the John Ireland bridge felt free to loudly and brazenly trash-talk demonstrators, (“We’re gonna kick some ass!” they high-fived each other) without fear of their actions appearing on the evening “news.”
And what was one of the chief benefits of being embedded? Unlike credentialed, but non-embedded, reporters on the scene, the embedded journalists were assured by the cops that they would not be arrested. Translation: there’s probable cause to believe that the police deliberately targeted independent reporters for harassment, intimidation and illegal arrest.
Given the current disreputable estate of the Fourth Estate, the time has come for demonstrators to turn their attention away from trying to get the mainstream press to help “catapult the propaganda” and deliver a dissenting message to the general public. To continue to act on this premise is worse than feckless; it mimics the actions of children of abusive parents who continue to seek love and affirmation from the people who abused them in the first place. Such behavior only perpetuates cycles of victimization: cycles that breeds demoralization, self-loathing, and, ultimately, hopelessness.
It’s time, and past time, to accept that the mainstream media in this country, including their news organs, have devolved into nothing more than a normative institution, their sole function to promote as “normal” the values and behaviors necessary to sustain an unsustainable (albeit profitable for some) consumer culture at home and an unsustainable (albeit profitable for some) imperialist project abroad.
Yes, there will still be occasions when special circumstances compel the mainstream press to report the news fairly and objectively; Cindy Sheehan’s Crawford campout, for example, was effective in helping to solidify George W Bush’s reputation as a moral coward as well as a hopeless incompetent and petty sadist. But such circumstances are rare, increasingly so.
Instead, future demonstrations should focus primarily on building and sustaining solidarity – on keeping hope alive. Face it, KSTP-TV is _never_ going to provide accurate coverage of the kind of gathering that took place at the State Capitol on Labor Day, but what a boost to the spirits of those present to look around and realize I am not alone, that 15,000 or 20,000 people hold similar views about this country and the lamentable direction it is taking. Meanwhile other means of expressing dissent – and expressing it in ways that cannot be ignored, like general strikes – must be explored and implemented.
People disenchanted with the performance of the mainstream press also need to support with their time and money – above all money – the independent news media that have sprung up over the past decade. Don’t just visit and forward links to The Uptake, the Minnesota Independent, IndyMedia or the Daily Planet. Donate. Most independent news organizations, including the Daily Planet, operate on a shoestring. If we don’t want to have to rely exclusively on the corporate “news,” we must make sure independent operations live to fight another day.
One last point: In pursuit of its normative function, the mainstream news media have conditioned us into believing that “politics” only means “elections” – and only certain elections at that — and that the obligations of a citizen begin and end in the voting booth. Paradoxically, this distortion has left a growing power vacuum in the lower reaches of politics.
It’s all fine and dandy to talk about taking back our country, but before there is any chance of that happening, we are going to have to start by taking back our neighborhoods, our cities, and our counties one at a time. As I’ve said in previous posts, there are myriad positions on local and country boards, commissions, task forces, study groups, district councils, etc. begging for volunteers. Get yourselves appointed.
There’s nothing glamorous about this work. You’re not going to appear on TV (well, maybe on _Almanac_), but you will have a modicum of influence, which is to say power. Remember — the hour is late and the river is rising. Every day that passes we move closer toward solidification of the corporate-national-security-lockdown-state we saw on display in St. Paul. It’s going to take a concerted effort by all us, each day, every day from now until whenever – and not just when there are demonstrations planned – if we have any hope of stopping, let alone reversing, this trend.
And if we fail, make no mistake – nobody’s going to find out about it from the TV news.