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05.28.08

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An Open Letter

For shame: War news that never was news

By P. Joseph Potocki

Dear Corporate Broadcasters:

Remember bombs dropping while your video footage awed us half a decade ago? Public opinion had largely coalesced around the president, pumped up by broadcast media's unrelenting pre-war, Super Bowl–style, whiz-bang enthusiasms. One big reason a majority of the public backed the Iraq invasion was because you in the mainstream media had failed in your mission to investigate what we now know were false pre-war claims and assertions. You traded objective inquiry for cheers and talking points.

Open societies require free, wide-ranging discourse and self-examination in order to remain open and free. These practices are especially critical when violent conflict is proposed. But those who dared question or presented facts contrary to let-'em-have-it excitations were simply disappeared, la Phil Donahue, or not allowed on "your" airwaves in the first place.

In short, you, the entire corporate broadcast news industry, stand guilty of propagandizing We, the People of the United States of America, compelling us to support a baseless, morally reprehensible and illegal war. You overwhelmed the American public with a staccato war-mongering repertoire of lies, fear, high-tech romance, giddy bravado, lapel-pin patriotism and hormonal rage spilled from the maws of an unending chorus of financially conflicted and ethically putrefied old brass and right-wing babbleheads. And then we went to war.

Your payback? A spike in viewership, listenership and profits—and no more silly congressional talk of broadcast regulation. In fact, the Republican-dominated FCC just recently handed you yet another deregulatory plum, though that ruling is now threatened by Congress.

Broadcast media's pompon cheers encouraged the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi innocents and the destruction of a sovereign nation's infrastructure as well as many of civilization's seminal cultural artifacts. By "misunderestimating" war's impact, you share blame in driving the diverse religious sects and tribal groups that we Americans can still hardly discern from each other into desperate warring factions. Consequences of these actions have led to one in five Iraqi's being forced into internal displacement, or else fleeing their country altogether.

You, America's corporate media, failed to adequately investigate, research, question, counter, analyze or debate a dizzying array of now proven false claims presented as fact by the G. W. Bush administration. Moreover, you ignored, prevented and continue to exclude voices of truth and reason (Ritter, Chomsky, Zinn, et al.) from participating in discourse concerning our violent overseas activities, while even today you continue to provide a forum for those who have been demonstrably wrong about Iraq from the beginning.

America's newest showroom conflict will likely be with Iran. How well have you covered this issue so far? Aside from pieces that a Joint Chiefs leadership change might have something to do with disputed Iran policy, and vague mention that certain cabinet members might favor negotiating with Iran over bombing it, no one aside from Bill Moyers seems interested in or capable of critically examining the Iran situation.

And yet this is the law: We, the People, own the airwaves. Arms manufacturer General Electric does not. Rupert Murdoch, Clear Channel and Disney do not. You, the broadcast media, lease time on our commonly held airwaves at our pleasure and discretion. We lease these public airwaves to you, and you in turn are charged with broadcasting in our public interest. For that we permit you to produce commercial revenue. But while you do make your money, you rarely program for the public good.

Congress must reform and bolster legislation dealing with licensing corporate broadcast media, that these media sources be obliged to comply with all laws concerning broadcasting in the public interest and to make certain that the Justice Department fully enforces them. Should a broadcaster fail to comply, that license should be revoked.

These are a few media reform recommendations:

• That broadcasters pay a fair sum, which you have not, for the right to commercially broadcast.

• That the American public require all broadcast license ownership return to the commons should any broadcaster leave the air.

• That broadcasters be proscribed from engendering propaganda.

• That candidates for office receive free and equal air time.

• That commercial news and opinion programming be dramatically expanded to offer the widest range of ideas and opinions in order to assure that a more vibrant democracy might flourish and prosper.

By honoring and renewing your compact with the American people, not only does the broadcast news industry stand to regain a measure of respect and legitimacy, but you may just help save our struggling democracy.

Open Mic is now a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write [ mailto:openmic@bohemian.com ]openmic@bohemian.com.


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