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Friday, 18 August 2006 04:54

Danny Schechter: Study Chess as a Guide to Watching Media

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A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by Danny Schechter, Mediachannel.org

New York, New York August 16: When you play chess, you think ahead. What will your next move be, and how is it likely to be countered? Ultimately it is a game of strategy.

And so is politics where what's achieved today can be undone tomorrow. Sometime, it's the role of the courts to roll back laws and policies that are unconstitutional. That's what happened this week with The Bush Administration's warrantless wiretaps. Appeals are likely to be filed to undo what has just been undone.

As Casey Stengel once put it famously, "it ain't over till its over."

That's why Israel poured its troops into Lebanon just before the cease fire took effect. They tried to change the growing perception that they had lost the war.

Back home, Joe Lieberman has set out to circumvent a decision by Connecticut's voters. There is no doubt that he had this Plan B in mind in the event of a primary loss. He also knew he could count on the Bush Administration to try to insure his re-election this fall. In the "favor bank" that is politics, he knows that they "owed him" for all his services rendered in backing the war and other Bushevik policies.

In the media, we have an army of pundits there to offer up endless "What-if" speculations. It is their trade and craft and many are capable of turning around on a dime to revise their view points depending on which way the wind -- and their party line leads them.

You have seen the game being played endlessly with some news name passionately defending a position one minute and then, just as passionately, abandoning the posture when the Administration changes its message points.

The term opportunism doesn't begin to do justice to the parade of motor mouths who often argue two sides of any and all issues. Sometimes, as in the case of Ann Coulter and some flak-catchers, the gambit is to define an extreme and even absurd position, not because it contributes to a discussion or honestly represents a legitimate viewpoint, but its very outrageousness sparks controversy and ink. That, in turn leads to more media invitations enhancing book sales and lecture fees.

On the right, ranting and raving as a way of pushing the envelope can be lucrative.

Increasingly what we see on the tube is not real discussion but an engineered performance where politicians only answer the questions they want and ignore the ones they don't. They are helped along in this charade by TV "journalists" who forget how to ask follow up questions or insure that all sides are represented with any type of fairness.

Impressions are cultivated but rarely is opinion informed. It's often in one ear and out the other with little accountability to the public or alleged journalism standards. TIME coined a word for it: "electotainent."

The hard-core partisan operatives take this game one nasty step further, linking some negative in the news to the person or issue they want to demonize. The idea of ethical debate has long disappeared as show biz techniques dominates news biz.

Here are two examples reported by Media Matters for America.

"On the August 17 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, executive producer Bernard McGuirk said that John Mark Karr, the man who reportedly admitted to killing 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey in 1996, 'looks like Ned Lamont, actually.' McGuirk then asked: 'Is that who you want representing you, Connecticut?'

"McGuirk's remarks were just the latest attack against Lamont, the Democratic nominee for a Connecticut Senate seat. As the weblog Think Progress noted, on the August 16 edition of Fox News Live, former Weekly Standard deputy publisher David Bass said that a woman who caused a plane to be diverted after suffering a panic attack was "probably not a terrorist; could just be a Ned Lamont supporter."

Sometimes, when called on their sloppiness and lack of professionalism, TV hotshots will admit they blew it. My colleague Judy Newman was outraged by the "terror baiting" of Ned Lamont, the cable news "red meat" target of the week. A reader protest prompted a response and "apology" to Ned Lamont from Chuck Roberts:

"You know, I owe you an apology. Last week, I led into an interview with a guest analyst and really botched the set-up. The guest had wanted to discuss the Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman statements suggesting that terror group -- Al Qaed types, to use Cheney's words -- would be buoyed by your win, but I posed it badly, stupidly ad-libbing about 'some saying Lamont is the Al-Qaeda candidate.'

"No one, in fact, used that construction. Anyway, I wanted to correct the record, and I'm glad we had this chance to do it. Now, let's get to the insinuations that were lobbed..."

There you have it: an actual admission of on-air stupidity of a kind you rarely see. Note the reference to "the record." Sadly, in the 24 hour news environment in which I have worked, there are occasionally transcripts but no real record. People rarely remember what they said or heard or even where they saw it. It all tends to sound the same, with look-alike and think-alike formats.

Does this insulting behavior happen by accident or "stupid ad-libbing? Or is it encouraged by the whole irresponsible and shameful political/media climate fed by arrogance, ignorance and the influence of savvy professional media advisors and "perception managers"?

These practices are becoming far too common to be mistakes. They are now often the norm, not the exception to it. For every TV host who takes media work seriously, there are ten that don't. This is why our media has gone from a guardian of democracy, to a threat to it.

Countering this assault on truth is no longer just about correcting facts. We have to be vigilant about illegitimate media practices that are now acceptable. Like chess players we have to anticipate their next move so we can ultimately check and checkmate them.

A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION 

News Dissector Danny Schechter is the daily "blogger in chief" of Mediachannel.org. His latest film is "In Debt We Trust" (InDebtWeTrust.com). Your comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .