Murrow, Cronkite, Jon Stewart And The Decline Of American Journalism

  I was in the middle of a workout when one of those “Did he really say that?” moments hit me.  It was Sen. Jay Rockefeller up on the big screen, complaining about the need for quality broadcast journalism.

He just noticed?   The situation’s been heading downhill  since Cronkite retired in 1981.  Let’s see, that’s……29 years of decline!  29 years, and somebody in a position of power in D.C. has recognized the need for quality broadcast journalism.  Hallelujah, Martha and Mary.  Pardon me while I get up off the ground.

What a bad joke.

But that’s not what got my attention.  It was the good Senator’s assertion that he’d be happy if the FCC could make the Fox News Channel and MSNBC  just “go away” that made me lean forward on the treadmill and nearly fly off into the stationary bikes.

Apart from the obvious First Amendment problems this creates, there is also an issue Mr. Rockefeller, apparently, isn’t thinking about.

The elimination of Fox and  MSNBC could very well turn Jon Stewart into the the most politically powerful person on the planet.   (I may be engaging in a bit of hyperbole here, but I’m sure you get the idea.)

Who would we watch?  Yes, Fox is to the right and MSNBC is to the left.  Nevertheless, they often times come far closer to the truth than our “mainstream media” which refuses to touch some of the most important issues of the day.  The stuff they’re supposed to be digging into if they pretend to be serving our “interest, convenience and necessity.”  Remember that old moniker?  It used to be the ground-rule for broadcasters.  It was gutted, along with so many other rules and regulations, during the frenzied years of Reagan-led deregulation, opening the door for broadcasters to pursue purely economic interests while leaving the public interest far behind.

And so the stuff we really do need to know goes largely unreported by the mainstream media.  Issues, like the ongoing abuse of prescription meds.   And the way health insurance companies, the oil industry, agribusiness and banking concerns continue to rape and pillage our middle and upper-middle class, shifting the wealth from the middle to the top with little or no regard for the national interest.  The way so many on Capitol Hill are overtly negligent in looking out for the interests of all Americans, as opposed to those relatively wealthy few at the top whose lobbyists continue hauling cash over to the House and Senate on a regular basis.  Stuff like that.  The stuff everybody knows about but never seems to want to discuss, except in a very superficial way on the mainstream media.

If you want to watch somebody who isn’t afraid to take off the gloves, you have to to go Fox News or MSNBC.  Or the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  You have to watch talk-entertainment shows or comedy.

The need for an electronic outlet capable of providing the American people with actual news is painfully obvious.  A news outlet that is objective, impartial and free from the yoke of advertiser’s demands, real or imagined by someone in the sales office who sees a huge commission slipping away if the news department alienates the good people at Boomer Burger by airing a report on the fat content of their double-triple bazonga burgers with bacon, cheese and special sauce.   Topped off of course, by a beverage containing caffeine, alcohol and just a touch of ginseng to keep us all healthy.  Oh, and you can super-size the fries…

And all the while the mainstream media continues to wail about the horrors of America growing increasingly obese and diabetic.

The solution is simple.  Establish a government funded national news channel, similar to the BBC, free from the pressures of advertising.  It was the pressure of advertisers, after all, that drove Ed Murrow from CBS.

The following is from Wikipedia:

“According to (Fred) Friendly, Murrow asked Paley if he was going to destroy See It Now, into which the CBS chief executive had invested so much. Paley replied that he did not want a constant stomach ache every time Murrow covered a controversial subject.[13]

“See It Now’s final broadcast, “Watch on the Ruhr” (covering post-war Germany), aired July 7, 1958. Three months later, on October 15, 1958, in a speech before the Radio and Television News Directors Association in Chicago, Murrow blasted TV’s emphasis on entertainment and commercialism at the expense of public interest in his ‘wires and lights’ speech:

“During the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live.  If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: Look now, pay later.” -Edward R. Murrow

Edward R. Murrow, the godfather of broadcast journalism, was driven from CBS in 1961, for the unforgivable act of performing journalism.  A reasonable person might feel that a country that can’t keep Ed Murrow on the air is a country that needs to examine its priorities.

And that was….let’s see…..49 years ago that Murrow was driven from CBS?

Senator Rockefeller, it’s so good to see you’ve noticed.   I agree with much of your assessment.  Especially the part about being “hungry for the facts that can nourish something called our democracy.”

You’re so right.  Question is, how could a worldwide news gathering operation with a commitment to journalism be funded?  It’s a cinch that the just-elected Tea Party folk won’t go for any new taxes.   Not to mention the whole “Party of No” thing.  Those guys voting for money to support a “socialist” news network?  Don’t make me laugh.

Wait a minute.  What about a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation?

You know, that just might work.

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