Common Courage Press, out of little Monroe, Maine, exists because too often the major publishers of books do not have common courage or have convinced themselves that “courageous” books don’t sell.
How else to explain the absence of any large publishing house eagerly issuing the collection of columns by progressive media critics — Norman Soloman and Jeff Cohen — titled the Wizards of Media Oz.
Sprinting out of the box with a spirited introduction by Studs Terkel, Wizards documents what millions of Americans feel — that the mass media is dominated by a few giant conglomerates (like GE, Disney, Murdoch, Gannett and TCI) whose advertisers help shape what is permissible “news” and “opinion”.
Information critical of corporations, viewpoints that challenge establishment thinking are marginalized on network television’s Sunday morning pundit shows. Official source journalism crowds out civic journalism in the coverage of government/fairness stories. And “wide ranging discussions” — to use David Brinkley’s repeated phrase — means Washington journalists interviewing and chatting with one another — mostly the same journalists year after year.
Of course the very definition of “news” has become
grotesquely narrow on television and radio. Note the local television news menus of street crime, weather, sports and chitchat that regularly obscures most of what is going on in your town that is not violent, addictive nor the antics of celebrities.
Former Washington Post star reporter, Morton Mintz, says that newspapers have been filling more pages with soft features and flabby news stories instead of hard reporting that lets the advertising chips fall away from the newsroom. He observes that reporters, editors and publishers often get too close to people in high government and business organizations, socialize with them and become compromised.
Joe Pulitzer, decades ago, cautioned his Washington reporters for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch never to call a Senator or Representative by their first name. Compare that standard to a recent investigative article in the Wall St. Journal showing that major corporations laid down rules for newspapers and magazines about what kind of articles they did not want their advertisements to be associated with that day or week. Some editors regularly call advertisers to alert them to materials they may find less than adoring.
Helen Gurley Brown, longtime editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine, once told me that she deleted paragraphs in an excerpted section from our book on why women pay more that referred to the tobacco companies and smoking. The reason, “I don’t bite the hand that feeds me,” she declared, referring to her tobacco advertising.
In the Wizards of Media Oz, Solomon and Cohen use facts, satire and hard survey data to expose the myths — not the least of which is the one about the “liberal media”. After all, who owns the big media other than Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon supporters. Look at the editorial pages on the op-ed pages — you don’t see the likes of Jim Hightower, Ronnie Dugger, Studs Terkel or Noam Chomsky showing up in print. I could have mentioned many more progressive writers but you wouldn’t have heard of them for the obvious reason.
What is covered, how it is covered and what is not covered by way of news and opinion are the specialties of Solomon & Cohen. The layered biases, the taboos, the routines and the hypocrisy of this industry are described in memorable detail that names the players and the sacred cows.
Of course, both authors have paid a price for their out spokenness. Jeff Cohen was turned down as a co-host on Crossfire even though his guest appearances spiced up the show with crisp factual opinions instead of shouted blather. Their syndicated media criticism column appears in only a dozen or so newspapers -a tribute, one needs to say, to the few papers still out there that invite criticism of their industry.
But there are hundreds of reporters quietly cheering them on. The aggressiveness of corporate advertisers is worsening according to surveys of the working press. We have seen occasional excellent news reporting on television and in print to demonstrate how much the right to know is abridged the rest of the time.
Information is the currency of democracy, not the nightly lucre of media profits.
Reinforcements on an impressive scale are coming. Steve Brill who tore away the secret world of big law firms with his legal newspapers is soon to launch a monthly laser beam publication on the media — its censorship, self censorship, pomposities and trivializations.
Brill was stimulated to do this when he realized that the only people more arrogant, powerful and thin-skinned than rich lawyers are rich media personalities.