Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

US Ranks 53rd in Press Freedom

In a recent report from Reporters Without Borders, the United States was ranked 53rd in terms of its freedom of the press. Just prior to the '04 elections, we were languishing at 23 or 24 (also nothing to brag about in a democracy). How could we have fallen so precipitously in barely two years? As W might say, “It was hard work.”

The cowing of the mainstream media did not happen overnight, nor did it start with this administration. But after 9/11, there was a marked increase in the number of news outlets willing to shut up in the face of Presidential abuses of power.

And shut up they did. To be sure, even the most liberal pundits withheld criticism of the President for the first few months after those attacks. Whomever was in charge, we needed to stand behind him and recover as a nation.

But since then, here's a brief list, certainly not comprehensive, of what the government has perpetrated—and the mainstream media has allowed to slide—in the name of protecting us, and most poignantly, in the name of fear.

  • The PATRIOT Act. This was supposed to be temporary, giving the government expedited means of locating terrorists involved in the planning or execution of the then-recent attacks. Five years and two extensions later, the government can dig into medical records, bookstore receipts and other personal information to determine if you represent a threat to this country. Hear that? It's Orwell, giggling.

  • NSA wiretapping. W assured us this “requires a court order.” What he didn't say was that he had no intention of getting one, should he decide to listen to your phone calls. Mainstream media let this story die.

  • Oh yeah, that Iraq thing. We all saw Colin Powell's “presentation” of “definitive proof” that Iraq was still making chemical weapons in mobile labs, still had stockpiles of the stuff all over the place, and here's the aluminum tube that could be used as a centrifuge for making an atomic bomb. Lies. Every last bit of it. But no journalistic investigation convinced anybody otherwise, or even raised the issue.

  • Yellow cake uranium. This cost an undercover CIA agent her career as she was outed by her own government. Dick Armitage has been the face of blame for this event, but the matter is not closed, though the media clearly thinks it is.

  • Goodbye, habeas corpus. You (yes, you) can be declared an enemy combatant and jailed at the discretion of the President, just like any reputable South American junta. News? We heard more about Brad and Angelina's marriage/baby/insert obscure detail here.

Media consolidation, in combination with an administration that questions any sort of dissent as unpatriotic or terrorist-abetting, has had a chilling effect on the mainstream media in this country. There are fewer corporations owning more news outlets, which means more control over what you see and hear. News has become a product to sell, not information citizens have a right to know.

If a corporation that owns a news outlet sees reporting that is unfavorable to either the corporation or the government that allowed them that position, what are the odds that story will ever see the light of day?

When there is a one-party system in place, when checks and balances are not exercised in the internal workings of government as designed by our founders, it is the duty of the Fourth Estate to show the public what's going on. There are signs lately that this might be happening; Keith Olbermann comes to mind. Let's make sure he's not stranded out there.

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