The Bush Administration has brought in a hatchet man, Kenneth Tomlinson, to head the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. His agenda: make National Public Radio toe the conservative line. Here’s a link.
That much isn’t really subject to debate. But here’s my idea about why they’re doing it.
The Pubbie leadership’s media crew (Rove and company) has figured out that with their strong conservative spin machine going in the media, they don’t NEED to control ALL the media, so long as the “objective” medai limit their reporting to that pathetic “he said-she said” style of reporting in which “balance” is assured on any issue by having partisans of both side spin things to their best advantage, without giving viewers any idea where the truth lies, even when one side is spewing lies, half-truths and misdirection by the bushelful and the other is telling the truth by any objective measure.
(Note: in this post, when I say “media” you may assume I mean broadcast media only. The Pubbies pretty much ignore the print media and the Internet because they don’t have the numbers that the broadcast media do, and their fans aren’t the impressionable types the Republicans seek to influence anyway.)
The Pubbies have their pet media – Fox News, the Clear Channel network and all the other hate radio programming on the right, most especially Rush Limbaugh. Any Pubbie talking point, however much of a lie, however DEMONSTRABLY a lie, can and will be taken up by these media and cranked up until the network news and cable channels have to deal with them.
So the mainstream media take them up, but, fearful of criticism from partisans of either side they are unwilling to take a stand on any issue, even the blandest of issues, cowering like an abused spouse who is afraid to say anything that might offend and set off another round of abuse. They fall into the “he said-she said” mode of simply reporting the claims of partisans on either side, without daring to weigh in on the truth or falsity of the claims of either, even when one side’s claims are clearly and demonstrably false. This creates a false equivalency that gives the liars a huge advantage.
And this is what Karl Rove has been relying on to make his disinformation campaigns effective. Rove has the Pubbie spin machine on the one hand, the “abused spouse” media on the other. There is a small number of objective media who challenge bald-faced lies, but there aren’t enough to be heard in the roar of the Pubbie spin machine and the abused spouse media.
The most glaring example of this in the last election cycle – and there were many – was the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attack on John Kerry’s Vietnam record. There was no equivalence to be had between Bush’s service record in Vietnam and Kerry’s – Kerry served IN Vietnam, on a very dangerious Swift Boat, where he actually did get shot at by Viet Kong. Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard, where he was not shot at, and where there’s strong evidence he was AWOL for a considerable portion of his service. Those are simply the facts. But Fox News, Clear Channel, Limbaugh and the rest of the Pubbie spin machine pushed the Swift Boat crew’s baseless accusations so aggressively that the big networks and other news channels had to deal with them.
Which they did in the “abused spouse” manner, unwilling to argue with either side, just presenting the he-said, she-said of it, as if both sides had claims that were equally valid, when nothing could be farther from the truth. Simply presenting Kerry supporters on one side and Swifties on another created a false equivalence between them that was deeply misleading. And it happened over and over and over again on network and cable news programming so that eventually Rove’s Big Lie acheived its goal of making Kerry’s service in Vietnam somehow seem dubious, as if casting doubt on the severity of wounds received in combat somehow made Kerry an equivalent to Bush, who never saw combat, and very likely didn’t show for his non-combat dutis.
There are objective media like the BBC which didn’t let the Swift Boat Vet’s lies pass unchallenged. And there were liberal media like Pacifica Radio that challenged the Swiftie’s lies as you might expect liberal media to. But neither had any kind of penetration in the American media landscape. Certainly nothing that could challenge the roar of the Pubbie spin machine and the abused spouse media.
The only real nail sticking its head up in the way of this media machine is NPR and to a much lesser extent, PBS. Both made attempts at objective reporting about the Swifties on occasion, looking hard at the factual basis, i.e., the lack of it, of the Swifties’ claims. (They also on quite a few occasions fell into the old “abused spouse” mode of the networks and cable channels.) And they have member states in most major media markets in the U.S. and a lot of the smaller ones. And unlike liberal media like Air America, they’ve got street cred as being an objective reporting source that will tell it like it is.
That’s why Kenneth Tomlinson was put in charge of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This organization, originally created to shield NPR from poltical pressure, is being used by Tomlinson and his Pubbie masters to pressure NPR to toe the conservative line. They aren’t nearly as popular as network news – note that their objective reporting didn’t make a difference in 2000 and 2004. Still, they’re the biggest threat to the Pubbie spin machine’s dominance of the airwaves, and for that reason they must be put down.
If Tomlinson and his cronies succeed, the Pubbie spin machine will have something less like a grip on American media, and more like a stranglehold.