Gooze Views

Peter Galuszka


Plato's Cave 

Some may rejoice at the decline of the "Mainstream Media" but cuts in news staffs threaten to leave us ill informed about what's happening around the world. No number of blogs can make up for it.


What’s happening to the news media in this country is truly disturbing, but not for the reasons that typically pepper the Bacon's Rebellion blog. At a time when global connections matter as they never have before, we are receiving less information from around the world. For all of its promise, the Web isn’t helping much.


Reasons vary for the shortcomings. Bloodless executives at corporatized media companies are dumbing down their products as they slash costs. Small wonder that newspapers are losing readers, even though (dirty little secret) they are suffering only moderate cuts in their still-plump profit margins. Entertainment trumps serious analysis. Editors aim at reinforcing prejudices rather than informing. Thus, we are left with a constant stream of obnoxious opinionators such as Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly who rudely shout down guests who don’t buy their jingoism.


So, it’s refreshing, if a little sad, to read Mort Rosenblum’s latest book. The author, a foreign correspondent from The Associated Press who has reported from 200 countries over 40 years, makes a passionate plea for renaissance in foreign correspondence. In "Escaping Plato’s Cave. How America’s Blindness to the Rest of the World Threatens Our Survival,” (St. Martin’s Press), Rosenblum provides a penetrating vision of a professional outsider who nonetheless understands the core of what is America.


As newspapers, magazines and television networks -– called with no small arrogance the “Mainstream Media” by some on Bacons Rebellion and elsewhere -– respond to challenges wrought by the Internet and demands for cost cutting, thousands of seasoned foreign correspondents have been let go. At least 2,500 lost their jobs over the past two years, but my guess is that the numbers are much larger. (Full disclosure: I was a foreign correspondent and editor for 10 out of my 34 years in journalism).


“For all the words and images we call ‘media,’” writes Rosenblum, “precious few trained eyes see distant reality up close and these grow fewer by the year. When reporters do warn us of a crisis, we pay scant attention. We react to the effect and ignore the causes.”


For a short list of worries, consider that a good bit of the terrorism that confronts the U.S. was actually bred by actions taken years ago by the U.S. government, rather than rabid emotions of radical Muslim terrorists. George Bush may pontificate about spreading American-style “democracy” in the Middle East. Somehow, he and the media forget that popularly elected Mohammed Mossadeq once headed Iran. In 1953, he was deposed in a CIA-led coup and replaced with the repressive Shah because Mossadeq was considered harmful to Britain’s oil interests. Average Americans may not know this, but many Iranians still remember, some 54 years later.


Rosenblum also chafes that the sense of fair play and opportunity that used to bring so much foreign admiration for the U.S. has been turned on its head by post-9/11 security overreactions. Thousands of scientists, students, journalists and other foreigners can’t get visas to visit the U.S. anymore. Hundreds of foreigners have been abducted by U.S. security goons and herded, without due process, into camps such as Guantanamo. The round-up might have nailed some terrorists, but it nabbed many more innocents. One was a Pakistani chicken farmer named Abdur Sayed Rahman. A victim of mistaken identity, he was incarcerated for months at Guantanamo. Authorities meant to get Abdur Zahid Rahman, the deputy foreign minister of the Taliban.


Rosenblum notes that the anti-Americanism among Washington’s traditional Western European allies is palpable, although the media never seems to note it. Germany, France and the U.K. have all recoiled from the Bush Administration’s strong-arm act, even though they have actually supported the anti-terrorism efforts.


Personally, I get annoyed when Bacon’s Rebellion, buying the Bush world view, coyly dismisses Europeans as “Euro-Weenies.” My, how precious. The list goes on. Worries that don’t usually register with the U.S. media. These include the failure to follow Kyoto Protocols, famine and disaster in poor countries, the unbridled rise of global capitalism (interesting, though, that both Germany and Japan have kicked Wal-Mart out, saying its cheap, aggressive style is not for them).


So what can be done? Readers and viewers can start telling media executives that the dumbing down is insulting and demanding that foreign correspondents be restored.


“To start off with,” writes Rosenblum, “we must realize that a steady flow of trustworthy information can only come at a tangible cost. Our fancy new technology is useless if we do not have real reporters watching, and listening, as events take shape.”


New outlets can be backed. But bootstrap blogs, such as Bacon's Rebellion, have serious limits since they can be exercises in solipsism rather than efforts to inform.


“The Web can tell us about distant events that shape our lives. Or it can simply comfort our prejudices,” Rosenblum says. He adds: “With a cheap computer at his mother’s kitchen table, anyone can be 'media' by relaying headlines from Yahoo! and adding uninformed commentary to fuel a particular prejudice.


"Citizen journalists” can call attention to unreported stories, but few have the expertise or the wherewithal to check facts and fill them into context. With so much at stake, a “reporter” must be a skilled worker, with education, on-the-job training and a professional code. We have no ‘citizen’ orthopedic surgeons.”


-- October 15, 2007

















Peter Galuszka is a veteran journalist living in Chesterfield County.


(Photo credit: Maria Galuszka.)