Media: Subverting Free Speech

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Since 9-11 American journalism—within the alleged “mainstream�—has rapidly degenerated into an institution that primarily represents status quo interests to the detriment of average Americans. They have done this by denying equal representational access to all of America’s divergent voices, which has led to media homogenization and caused grave harm to democratic practice.



[Speaking Truth To Empower]

Media: Subverting Free Speech

Ever since the ascension of these unindicted war criminals now loitering in the White House and other government offices the unfulfilled dream of American Democracy is fading along with democracy’s fundamental underpinning: free speech.    

These days Americans are being taught to agree with whatever their “leaders” tell them. Asking tough questions is now the ultimate taboo. We shouldn’t be surprised when politicians try to stifle debate and dissent, but we should be very worried when news media are the one’s muzzling open dialog. Lately, this has been happening with greater frequency.

It’s very easy to pick on right-wingers like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and networks like Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Network. But to illustrate how wretched the state of journalism truly is, let’s examine the “most trusted name in news,” a network that is labeled as liberal: CNN.

Recently, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while in town to address the United Nation’s General Assembly, speak at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), where he had been invited.

In the lead up to the Columbia forum many were critical of the decision to allow Ahmadinejad a platform to speak. This sadly included many in the so-called “mainstream media.” For example, during an on-air interview, CNN’s John Roberts said to John Coatsworth, Dean of SIPA: “Here is a leader who has advocated the destruction of Israel, denied the Holocaust and is accused by our government, the United States government of supplying both fighters and equipment to insurgents in Iraq to kill U.S. troops. Why would you ever want him on you campus?”

Coatsworth replied “We have to be able to deal with and negotiate with leaders like this, however much we may disagree with their views.”

Roberts then played an excerpt of former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich who said, “I think that Columbia is being very foolish to allow that kind of person to have a venue like an American University.” At this point Roberts asked Coatsworth if he wasn’t worried that Ahmadinejad would use the Columbia platform to spread propaganda, given that he is a “spinmeister.”  

Several things are wrong here. For one thing is this alleged “journalist” so clueless that he doesn’t understand in a democracy no view—or voice—should be censored no matter how abhorrent? How much “spin” emanates from the US government daily? Aren’t journalists supposed to be defenders of “free speech” and the First Amendment? More than anyone shouldn’t a journalist understand that rigorous debate is democratically essential?

Where better to have a debate than a university? Moreover, by refusing to debate those who we dislike we forfeit the best opportunity to expose flaws in their ideas. But, Roberts’ ridiculous questions should be understood within this context: America’s “mainstream media” no longer encourages—assuming it ever did—debate among diverse voices.

Remember when the plug was pulled on the Phil Donahue Show, because MSNBC was afraid Donahue would parade anti-war activists on television in the run-up to war? The Donahue debacle was instructive, for revealing the “mainstream media” role in suppressing voices rebellious against the “establishment.”

Today they tell us that the Iraq War is “unpopular.” Yet, those who fought against the war from the very beginning were silenced and called “fringe elements.”

A few days before Roberts interviewed the Columbia dean he and his CNN colleagues were railing against the “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” advertisement by Moveon.org in The New York Times. The advertisement, correctly, pointed out that General Petraeus is a lying lackey. Is there seriously any media institution that believes Petraeus, who has presidential ambitions, told the truth before Congress? Dazzled by the general’s gleaming medals, many pretended not to see through the obvious lies.

But Roberts—and others at CNN, like Wolf Blitzer— gallingly pressed Democratic members of Congress about denouncing Moveon.org. Remember the old Soviet Union where those who bucked the status quo disappeared? Are we heading there?

A few days later a theatrical denunciation—in the form of a non-binding amendment—was enacted in Congress. Yet, why were no objections raised when John Kerry’s character, courage and medals were called into question by the scurrilous Swift Boat Ads?

Worst of all, Herr William “Final Solution” Bennett was allowed on CNN, where he was treated with kid gloves, after he stated that aborting Black babies would reduce crime in America. Wolf “Mr. Situation Room” Blitzer, questioned Hillary Clinton about denouncing Moveon.org, but allowed Bennett to spin his tall tales without any challenging questions. He never gave Harry Belafonte this privilege after Belafonte called Bush a “terrorist.” This is what they call “balanced journalism?”

Since 9-11 American journalism—within the alleged “mainstream”—has rapidly degenerated into an institution that primarily represents status quo interests to the detriment of average Americans. They have done this by denying equal representational access to all of America’s divergent voices, which has led to media homogenization and caused grave harm to democratic practice.

This reality has had disastrous consequences. We are now embroiled in a war sold to Americans by war profiteers with the aid of media “gatekeepers.”

The America people rate journalism as one of the least trustworthy professions. Who can blame them?


Benjamin is a member of The Black Star News's Editorial Board.

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