Friday, September 21, 2007

The Business Of Media

Greg Sargent at TPM's The Horse's Mouth has been combing through Dan Rather's lawsuit against CBS and found a doozy of an item.

n late April 2004, Mr. Rather, as Correspondent, and Mary Mapes, a veteran producer, broke a news story of national urgency on 60 Minutes II — the abuse by American military personnel of Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison. The story, which included photographs of the abusive treatment of prisoners, consumed American news media for many months.

39. Despite the story's importance, and because of the obvious negative impact the story would have on the Bush administration with which Viacom and CBS wished to curry favor, CBS management attempted to bury it. As a general rule, senior executives of CBS News do not take a hands-on role in the editing and vetting of a story. However, CBS News President Andrew Heyward and Senior Vice President Betsy West were involved intimately in the editing and vetting process of the Abu Ghraib story. However, for weeks, they refused to grant permission to air the story, continuously insisting that it lacked sufficient substantiation. As Mr. Rather and Ms. Mapes provided each requested verification, Mr. Heyward and Ms. West continued to "raise the goalposts," insisting on additional substantiation.

40. Even after obtaining nearly a dozen, now notorious, photographs, which made it impossible to deny the accuracy of the story, Mr. Heyward and Ms. West continued to delay the story for an additional three weeks. This delay was, in part, occasioned by acceding to pressures brought to bear by government officials urging CBS to drop the story or at least delay it. As a part of that pressure, Mr. Rather received a personal telephone call from General Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urging him to delay the story.

41. Only after it became apparent that, due to the delay, sources were talking to other news organizations and that CBS would be "scooped," Mr. Heyward and Ms. West approved the airing of the story for April 28, 2004. Even then, CBS imposed the unusual restrictions that the story would be aired only once, that it would not be preceded by on-air promotion, and that it would not be referenced on the CBS Evening News.

Two media false constructs bug me the most. News exists and they just channel it. They have no role in hyping some stories and burying others, they are simply empty vessels.

The other false construct is that the fact that the big media now are public companies traded on the stock market, with investors worrying about the bottom line has nothing to do with how they report the news.

When's the last expose of GE's military contracting been done btw? There are many issues debated in congress and in the White House that have huge economic impacts on media conglomerates. Net Neutrality, copyright, pirated entertainment, market consolidation, corporate tax rates.

Most of these issues, the Republican party sets out policy that favors big business. The democrats aren't far behind. To pretend that this is not an issue does nobody any favors. There is not much of an independent media left.
We almost all try to please our bosses, even subconsciously. If journalists genuinely can forget the fact that their parent company needs a politician to push tax breaks their way, they are better people than me.