Media Matters – “Crimes and Whispers” – The Nation

First, some short items. Jodie Allen, the editor of The Washington Post’s Sunday “Outlook” section, is not like The Wall Street Journal’s editors. But on the subject of the law of torts for wrongfully injured persons, she shares the same ideology, which is to mind the tort deformers’ diatribes, and who cares about the facts? She has commissioned about five such articles. In 1994 she candidly acknowledged that “the victims get plenty of coverage on television, and I’m interested in the abuses of the system.” She defines the abusers as allegedly frivolous claimants and their attorneys, who get paid only if they prevail, not corporate executives and their attorneys, who get paid whether they win or lose.

Nearly two years ago a freelance writer, John Gannon, submit­ted an article to “Outlook” exposing the work of the giant lobby in­tent on changing tort law to limit further the liability of corporate defendants. Gannon was encouraged to believe the article would be printed and responded to repeated requests, over many months, for changes. Then Allen turned it down. Information that runs counter to the assault on our civil justice system has received almost no at­tention in “Outlook.” Not the empirical studies of the National Cen­ter for State Courts, the General Accounting Office, the Harvard School of Public Health, the University of Wisconsin Law School, the RAND Institute for Civil Justice; nor the many new reports and books from scholars with no ax to grind. Their message: Juries, ver­dicts and the volume of litigation over product defects and medical malpractice are not out of control. The reality is that the great ma­jority of people who suffer wrongful injury by physicians, hospitals and corporations do not even file a case. That is where the problem resides; so many are without redress. Read, Jodie, read!

CNBC’s Posner/Donahue show was not renewed, but CNBC president Roger Ailes (proud right-winger, worked with Nixon) would say that the talk-show hosts themselves canceled. Well, after being told that management would have to vet their guests because the show was too liberal, and after having been dropped out of prime time, and after having shows (one critical of the cable industry) incur more upstairs shouting into their internal microphones on­stage than usual, Donahue and Posner called it a day. To remain under such restrictive conditions would have been a journalistic humiliation. What is noteworthy is that neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post television reporters, who knew about the struggle, thought it was worth mentioning. Loosen up, Roger, make your day less daily; provide an hour of talk by Noam Chomsky.

Now, some musings. Have you ever wondered about the absence from the national evening news of wise older people like John Kenneth Galbraith or George Kennan? Instead, again and again, you see verbal slickers half their age and with a tenth their ex­perience from some think tank or consulting institute. I once asked some TV producers why these people were missing.

Their answer: They talk too slowly and look too old.

Don’t you think citizens should have the opportuni­ty to ask questions at government press conferences? Now, only accredited reporters can ask governors, Cab­inet secretaries and Presidents the questions. Reporters are supposed to be observers and uncoverers; when were they ever meant to be exclusive gatekeepers of the responses of public officials?

You’ve noticed, no doubt, that the soundbite on the television news is getting shorter. In the early seventies it was about eighteen seconds long; now it is down to four to six seconds. Perhaps in the next decade the soundbite will be replaced altogether by the soundbark—a subhuman grunt of assent, delight, disgust or dissent.

Ever get tired of the same newspaper columnists two or three times a week year after year, sometimes decade after decade? Or the same talking heads on the Sunday network news talk shows? Why can’t they take a year’s sabbatical to renew themselves and give us all a break? Garry Trudeau took about twenty months off from Doonesbury in the early eighties to write plays. Maybe the others are afraid that someone will take their redundant place, un­like Trudeau, who is an original.

Considering the service, cost and content of your monopoly cable company’s channels, why not an organized cable-viewers group stimulated by mandatory daily notices on the channels that invite you to join a subscribers’ association, which, in turn, could negotiate better cable programming and pricing? Interested? Con­tact Essential Information, Box 19405, Washington, DC 20036.

Here are some more addresses for guides to mainstream media criticism:

Censored: “The News That Didn’t Make the News and Why,” by Carl Jensen and Project Censored; the 1995 report published by Four Walls, Eight Windows, 39 West 14th Street, #503, New York, NY 10011.

PR Watch, a quarterly of public interest reporting on the P.R./ public affairs industry, published by the Center for Media and Dem­ocracy, 3318 Gregory Street, Madison, WI 53711.

EXTRA, the bimonthly magazine of Fairness & Accuracy in Re­porting, the national media watch group. FAIR is at 130 West 25th Street, New York, NY 10001.

Newsprints, a project of Essential Information (address above), twice monthly; searches out and reprints significant stories from more than a hundred local and regional dailies that don’t find their way into the national media.

Adbusters: Journal of the Mental Environment, 1243 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6H 1B7, Canada. Lively reporting and colorful satire of the advertising industry with great specificity. One recent headline read, “Does Our Culture Need Lies to Live?” The editors ask?

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