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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Should Government Investigate the MSM?

Veteran NBC foreign correspondent Ike Seamans is dismayed by what he argues has become the norm for international reporting. The core problem, he argues in an important opinion piece at NBC6.net, is not simply bias:

"Because almost none of the American television networks have a vast stable of experienced reporters any longer who understand the region, they employ the old 'parachute them in' philosophy, i.e. dispatching perfectly good - and frequently very young - journalists, few of whom have any experience in covering this story and don’t stand a snowball's chance in Gaza of getting it right initially.

"They engage in what I call 'nerve end journalism.' reporting what they think they see in one of the most confusing places on earth, with very little context. Their movements are also very restricted by both sides."

Seamans goes on to note the way terrorist groups like Hezbollah use fear to keep reporters from reporting anything that deviates from approved scripts and he quotes from a fascinating confession by a Time magazine free lancer. Definitely a must-read. Be sure and email Seamans and thank him for speaking out.

Picking up on the Seamans piece, Democracy Project's Bruce Kesler says things have gotten so bad with the mainstream media that it's time for a no-holds-barred investigation to expose the rot and force reforms upon an otherwise dying industry. Kesler doesn't explicitly call for a government probe but:

"This goes beyond the arguable undermining of our internal security by revealing secrets. It has gotten to the unarguable point where the very external security of not only the United States but of its allies is directly undermined and, indeed, future peace made more remote.

"Nothing less will do than an independent, wholesale, public, expert examination of major media reporting procedures, and thorough follow-through reforms. That may be much to ask for, but aside from the airwaves still being public property, and various tax and shield benefits specific to newspapers, it is in the business interests of the major media to be forthcoming and vigorous in this effort or speed their decline."

Kesler's piece also includes a solid roundup of fake news photos.

Should the MSM be the focus of a government probe of its reporting techniques? My view is that a government probe is the worst thing that could happen because it would be inevitably followed by government regulation - which means censorship and prior restraint - of the reporting process. That would be an unmitigated disaster for the public's ability to know the truth about public affairs.

But what do you think?

UPDATE: Kesler doesn't want government probe

Bruce emails link to his earlier post in which he makes absolutely clear that a government probe is not what he is calling for to deal with these issues. My apologies to Bruce for missing that post. You can read it here.