Monday, November 13, 2006

NewU: Media Critic Speaks at UCI

I blogged about this previously here

Link to article

Media Critic Speaks at UCI
MEDIA: Journalist, filmmaker and former television producer Danny Schechter speaks UC Irvine
By Eugenia Wong
Staff Writer

Today it’s easy to just blame the Bush Administration for the wrongs that have come out of the war on terror. Danny Schechter’s lecture and documentary screened on Nov. 6 revealed another culprit: the American media.

Schechter spoke at UC Irvine as the Associated Students of UC Irivine’s Academic Affairs Speaker, delivering his lecture to a crowded audience at the Engineering Lecture Hall.

Out of 800 news experts since the war began, only six opposed the war. A little biased? Schechter sure seems to think so. As a Cornell graduate, filmmaker and former producer for an array of major news networks, Schechter sees himself as an insider turned outsider. Schechter argued that the media dumbs down the news. “‘The more you watch, the less you know,’ basically sums up my time with ABC and CNN,” Schechter said.

Schechter claimed that America is a “media-ocracy”—a country whose dominant institution is the media. Trillions of dollars are poured into something that is an extremely effective way of teaching values to the American people.

“People must understand this as a communication system with a shared sense of making money and serving the status quo,” Schechter said. “When war comes along this puts [the media] to the test. Will they become patriotically correct and salute the flag?”

Schechter also noted how history tends to repeat itself with regards to the media. He cited the Spanish-American War in 1898 as a parallel of how powerful and crooked the media can be. “Remember the Maine,” was a slogan used throughout this period to prepare the population for war, which Schechter viewed as similar to what has been happening today with the war on terror.

In the Spanish-American War the USS Maine in Havana Harbor had been sunk. “Give me the photographs and I’ll give you a war,” said journalist William Randolph Hearst. Hearst’s paper in New York began exaggerating the atrocities in Cuba, and claimed that Cubans sank the ship. The American public was outraged and support for the Spanish-American War grew.

National Geographic sent a submarine to go into Havana harbor 50 years later and had scientists poke around the Maine. The scientists came to the conclusion that nobody blew up the Maine; it was an accident in the engine room that made the ship sink. “This was the reason why Americans went to war: because of a lie. This pattern is nothing new,” Schechter said.

As a self-proclaimed media critic, Schechter’s job is to dissect the news. The first 20 minutes of Schechter’s film documents him sitting for months studying various news programs and finding similar patterns. Protests against the war on terror had little to no coverage in the United States or abroad, news anchors lovingly described military weapons as though they were toys and when countries such as France, openly opposed the war, the American media simply scoffed at them by labeling them as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”

He also gave examples of various news reporters such as Ted Koppel of Nightline, Yousef Ibrahim for the New York Times and David Marr of Australia’s Media Watch who had all been fired from their jobs after questioning the war.

In his film, Schecter gives proof to how even the media acknowledges that it has problems, such as when the New York Times admitted to “coddling sources.”

“Covering the war was not the Time's best,” Schecther said.

Schrechter ended his lecture by stressing that the issue with the American media is not an individual problem but rather an institutional problem.

“Media is central to the understanding of our democracy. It is at the heart of political debate. You can’t have a democracy if the people aren’t informed,” Schechter said. “It’s about us. Are we going to participate and be citizen journalists? Our challenge: seek out alternative sources to better educate ourselves.”

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