The White House sends advance teams of handlers to all Bush events to screen audience members and reporters for loyalty to the president and his policies. They eject possible “troublemakers” who might disrupt their contrived public forum.
The White House Press Office turned press conferences into parodies by seating a friendly faux journalist, former male escort Jeff Gannon, amid reporters and then steering questions to him when tough issues arose. They refuse to answer tough questioners such as veteran journalist Helen Thomas, effectively silencing reporters who might challenge the president or his aides.
The administration’s efforts have been amplified by a disciplined and well-organized “echo chamber” of blogs, newspapers, newsletters, journals and radio and televison broadcasters under the influence of conservatives and the Christian right. Often working hand in glove with the White House, these outlets systematically discredit mainstream media that question the official line. This criticism works it way from blogs and other fringe Web sites up the media food chain into radio talk show banter — from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, and Laura Ingraham — until it’s picked up by more mainstream news outlets.
As Michael Massing writes in his recent report on journalism “an unscrupulous critic can spread exaggerated or erroneous claims instantaneously to thousands of people, who may, in turn, repeat them to millions more on talk radio programs, on cable television, or on more official ‘news’ Web sites.” This echo chamber effect has effectively placed White House talking points once considered absurd at the center of media discourse; all the while dismissing as “biased” or “liberal” journalists who question their accuracy.
“We were biased … in favor of uncovering the news that powerful people wanted to keep hidden,” veteran TV journalist Bill Moyers, a frequent target of partisan attacks, recently explained about his PBS news show NOW.
“Conflicts of interest at the Department of Interior, secret meetings between Vice President Cheney and the oil industry, backdoor shenanigans by lobbyists at the FCC, corruption in Congress, neglect of wounded veterans returning from Iraq, Pentagon cost overruns, the manipulation of intelligence leading to the invasion of Iraq… We were way ahead of the news curve on these stories,” Moyers said, “and the administration turned its hit men loose on us.”
To read the rest of the report on the attacks against journalism, follow these links:
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