The Media’s Views on War and Torture Aren’t Fixed

As a person who has had his brain physically removed once, mentally transferred twice (not to mention controlled, rebooted and sped up) I think a lot about what influences, controls and re-configures our brains and how we use those methods on others.

I’ve been working on a series of posts on media based on Aaron Sorkin’s HBO show, The Newsroom at Crooks and Liars and talking about torture at Hullabaloo, Firedoglake and here.

Besides just analyzing what is happening, I keep thinking, “What is to be done?”

The Newsroom, a fantasy, has shown the external and internal pressures today’s media (esp. TV news) are under. Financial, political, professional, ethical and personal.

In the real world the news media has gone from a public trust to a profit center. They are now part of a “portfolio of companies” dedicated to maximizing shareholder value.

This last week, with the release of the Senate Torture Report, I was remind of what started me on my path to push back on the sickness I saw in right wing media.

We have have tremulous success in de-funding the right wing media using reason, politeness and an understanding of what pressures the right wing media responds to.

I was accused recently of having “delusions of grandeur” when I wrote about changing the way mainstream TV news operates. I also have those same “delusions” when it comes to how they talk about torture.  But change is possible.

Between 2006 and 2014 the funding picture for right wing radio has changed radically because of the efforts of myself and hundreds of others who understood how to use the right’s own sick violent rhetoric, bigotry, homophobia and sexism against them.

At the time it was important to show people this isn’t about censorship. I didn’t want to trigger an ACLU response, “I don’t like what they say, but I’ll fight to the death for their right to say it!”  Yes, they can say what want, but they don’t have to get rich doing it. Even then, the advertisers have a choice. We pointed out where their own stated values didn’t match with the program.

Giving people a method, process and rational for contacting the sponsors kept us away from using the Government so there were not 1st Amendment fears. Focusing on advertisers who support them put us in the “market forces” category.

Today ideologically it appears that nothing changed on the RW media shows. If anything the loss of sponsors made them, “double down” on their rhetoric. Which was fine, we used it to our advantage when contacting other sponsors.

They have adapted by turning to other sources for funding. More dark money, less customer facing sponsors and cash funneled through RW think tanks. But a LOT of money the distributors were counting on was lost. 100’s of millions of dollars. (It would have been nice if those millions went to me and my friends, but a big win is that those companies, and their brands, got the message that it is NOT okay to publicly associate with these radical RW ideas.)

Corporations today care about their brand to an almost obsessive degree. By understanding that it is possible to convince them to detach from morally repugnant people, groups and actions.

News Networks Have Brands Too

In The Newsroom, Charlie, the president of the news network ACN, tries to explain to two big shareholders that owning a news network is different. That the 1st Amendment gives them rights, but also duties. That they have a constitutional responsibility that a “content producer” with a fiscal bottom line doesn’t.

The news network also employs humans who have a mix of personal, professional, ethical and moral responsibilities which drive their acts or failures to act.

One point that Sorkin makes is, Journalism Matters. How something is reported and talked about on the news can be a life or death difference.

I’ve been asking people for years, “What is powerful enough to make you change your mind after you have already decided on something?” It’s almost always a person. Someone who either gives them new information, a different way of looking at something, or reminds them of what is really important.

The individuals in a corporation often need an excuse or reason to do the right thing. When external pressure for change matches internal pressure, things happen.

The people in the corporations that we convinced to leave RW radio aren’t sending us thank you notes for protecting their brand from the taint of RW hosts, although they should.  We do it because it’s for US. Own good, the public good.

If coming up this year we pressure the network news people to disclose who is paying the pro-war generals and to give equal time for anti-war guests, they should be thanking us for getting them back in-line with their brand image.

Instead they will get angry and attack us, especially if we use financial pressure. It’s hard for them to see that it’s for the good of their brand.  It has been hammered into them, “Short term shareholder value” trumps all–except when they decide it doesn’t and cancel the money making Phil Donahue show.

Years after certain incidents (cough *Iraq War* cough) some individuals in the news media look back and say, “I could have, should have, done better, but…” and they use whatever excuse is acceptable at the time.  It often boils down to, “We were afraid.” But what they are afraid of changes. That is why multiple strategies via multiple methods using multiple groups is necessary.

I envision all the pressures lining up. Public, regulatory, financial, market, internal brand and internal ethical in order to take advantage of whichever one is hottest.  Here’s my fantasy statement from the news division of a network doing the right thing.

“From now on, during the news and Sunday commentary shows, we will be disclosing who is paying our guests.  This meets our FCC and FTC requirements for disclosure but we went a step further to better serve the public. Therefore we will be providing more detailed info on each of our guests on our website.

This is part of  delivering on our promise to do what’s right for our customers, investors, employees and communities.

In the end the decision to be more transparent was really a no-brainer.”

Maybe I’m deluded, but wouldn’t that be grand?

Cross posted at Firedoglake

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