Glenn Greenwald covered the Pentagon’s military analyst program today. The operative question remains the following: how would media coverage before and after the invasion of Iraq be any different if the media were directly state controlled? The insight the Pentagon’s military analyst program gives is a resounding: not much. The Pentagon was able to shape news coverage by controlling the media’s access to sources. The Pentagon informed a few military analysts who the Pentagon trusted to tow the chosen line. If one of the analysts stepped out of line then they were simply excluded from access thus risked falling into irrelevancy. Matters were further complicated by the fact that many of these military analysts stood to gain financially in an event of a war.
The success of this military analyst program represents a systemic failure in society. The founders believed a free press would act as a check on government power and prevent exactly this type of abuse. So the question becomes: why did it fail? The simple answer is that the press relies too much on government sources, didn’t properly vet the analysts it put on the air in these particular circumstances and didn’t do enough independent fact-checking. All these things are true, as far as they go. However, it is telling that this particular predicament is more pronounced in the mainstream/corporate owned media. It seems appropriate to look at the unique circumstances these institutions were placed under to better understand the failure that took place.
The first fact of the corporate owned media is that it is profit driven. From the very outset, the goal is to produce the news that will sell for the most while keeping production costs to a minimum. Filling a newspaper or air-time therefore becomes an externality. It is the very nature of the corporate-owned media to fill their newspaper with as much externally produced material that sells as possible. In this respect, the military analyst story is not an aberration in coverage, it is the expected outcome of the corporate owned media. The military analysts represented a gravy-train for these corporate entities, the analysts’ backgrounds were unexamined for the sole reason that the only possible result from asking such questions was to disrupt this favorable flow of government subsidized information.
What is the solution? Stop getting news from corporate sources. Try sources like Democracy Now! or The Real News. If the only meaningful competition for corporate media entities remains other corporate media entities, these problems will persist and very likely worsen. Effective change starts by supporting some of the alternatives.