Mass culture masquerading as high art, promoted by money-
hungry businessmen and consumed by the public unawares…
the commodification of culture.
Ermanno Rivetti on Dwight Macdonald
The calling of the press is very high; it is almost holy.
Dwight Macdonald was a writer and critic of great standing among the literati of New York; an intellectual with an intellectual’s disdain for much of what he saw happening to our country – not least the rise of celebrity journalism.
He was a very different breed of cat from United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, but their views on the press, were not disproportionate to its role in American life and culture.
America as an idea cannot be understood apart from the guarantees The Framers adopted in Philadelphia, as they embodied the very foundation of our republic and its attendant freedoms and are inextricably linked to the Constitution and Amendment I:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
But that was then and this is now – and things have changed.
If the press, or to use today’s nomenclature, media, have been the guarantors of our freedom, is it now the enemy of our freedom?
If media is driven by negative news, and it is, is that inescapable fact a danger to our freedom and sense of the world’s reality?
Meaning, if story after story, whether on the nightly news or in the morning newspaper, is overwhelmingly negative, does that not distort our reality?
Do we not come away from that reporting, whether television, radio, press, internet, or Twitter, as captive of 24/7 negative, bad, terrible, awful news? Does that not, in turn, shape our understanding of our world; that the prism through which we see our world is thereby darkened; that our world, our country, our state, out city, our communities, have either gone to hell, or are on the edge of slipping over into the abyss? That our world has been cut loose from its tether?
And, would any rational person think otherwise?
Let me move now to two issues – the Olympics and presidential politics
Since the MMXVI Olympic Games were held in Rio, let’s consider at how American media covered both the run up to the Games and the Games themselves:
First, the coverage before the Games was overwhelmingly negative. Neither the nation of Brazil nor the state of Rio de Janeiro where ready to host the Olympics Games, was media‘s steady drum beat. The government was in crisis, the economy had tanked, crime was up, venues were incomplete; Brazil would never get it together.
At one point, a few months out, it was so bad that thoughtful, informed friends of mine said the Olympics should be called off.
Uncertain myself, I asking sent an email to a friend, a coach of one of the U.S. teams, who, in his private life, is a remarkably successful businessman, a founder of the Carlyle Group and owner of the most successful baseball team in the minor leagues, asking whether the Games should be cancelled? He immediately responded with several hundred words as to why that should not happen, of the unmitigated disaster it would be – not just for Brazil but everyone.
As we now know, media’s incessant warnings about the Games, were wrong. The Games came off, athletes’ competed; Gold, Silver and Bronze medals were awarded (with the USA winning 121). Brazil didn’t get it all together, but, in the end it happened – and 200 million plus Brazilians have reason to be proud.
During the Games a U.S. Olympic swim team, celebrating its Gold medal, stayed out a tad too late, had too many glasses of wine, trashed a rest room at a service station in the wee hours, and when confronted about their boorish behavior, said it never happened.
Ryan Lochte, at 32 the senior member of the swim team, said they had been held up and robbed at gun point. Ryan Lochte lied.
As a consequence of his lie, three of his teammates had their passports confiscated by Brazilian authorities, the host nation and U.S. were embarrassed, and Lochte had four of his commercial sponsors cancel his contracts, costing him millions of dollars.
But this story received media overkill on a grand scale. The U.S. had 588 athletes in Brazil, but for three days running most of what we heard about was Ryan Lochte and his idiotic behavior.
The amount of coverage given Lochte compared to that of the U.S. women 4X400 relay team, men and women’s basketball teams, gymnasts, swimmers (save Michael Phelps), and so many other medal winners, was absurdly minimalist.
But the Olympic Games are every four years, so let’s move on to something of far greater importance, namely media’s coverage of the presidential campaign.
To do that, since this is neither an essay nor magazine article, I will focus on one media entity – MSNBC.
For me it began in June of 2015, when Donald Trump spoke at reception at the large home a New Hampshire supporter.
To my astonishment, MSNBC covered his speech live. Not bits and pieces, but all of it.
As a press aide to Bobby Kennedy in the presidential campaign of ’68; as press secretary to two U.S. Senators, one of whom was a candidate for president in ’72, I had never witnessed this – complete coverage of a candidate’s speech in a general election, much less a primary (there are speeches of the President of the United States that do not receive compete coverage).
But as incredulous as I found MSNBC’s coverage, that was only the beginning. The cable network essentially adopted Trump as their candidate. Meaning, that the ostensible “liberal” cable network, the non-Fox, right-wing conservative network of Hannity and O’Reilly, became Trump’s greatest champion.
Quite unbelievable, right? Believe it. It happened.
Trump was everywhere on MSNBC. There were his speeches and there were his interviews with the fawning Chris Matthews, the fawning Rachel Maddow, the fawning Joe Scarborough, and the almost, but not quite, fawning Mika Brzezinski
It was disgraceful. And, in a zillion years, no one would have thought that MSNBC, the “liberal’s own network,” would be largely responsible for the rise of Trump.
And while MSNBC was falling all over itself to cover Trump, some really good candidates on the Republican side, okay, one, Ohio’s John Kasich, a really good, decent, and honorable public servant were ignored – and, in consequence, a once great political party, the Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln, remember? was reduced to an angry, reactionary, all white racist party of lifetime members of AARP.
Should we expect mea culpas from the stars of MSNBC?
Not likely, they are all paid millions to do what they do – Rachel Maddow, $7 million; Chris Matthews, $5 million; Joe Scarborough, $4.68 million, and Mika Brzezinski, $2 million (it is reported) – which means, they aren’t exactly one of us.
So, why did they sell their souls to Donald Trump?
It’s called ratings and advertising dollars; that is the name of their game – and that takes precedence over ideology, left, right or center.
Or, as Les Moonves, president of CBS, famously said about Donald Trump, “It may not be good for America, but it’s Damn Good for CBS.”
By their dishonorable conduct in aiding the rise of Trump and in assisting in the takedown of the Republican Party, MSNBC seconds that.
George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.