Reading Big Media’s reporting of the past two weeks may have fooled you into thinking the nation was gripped in an ideological battle: Democrats vs. Republicans sparring to overcome another political disagreement. This is how corporate journalists across the country, in general, framed the historic government shutdown.
The reality is actually quiet different. Radical elements of the Republican Party held a gun to Uncle Sam’s head and threatened to shoot if they didn’t get their way. Is that the storyline you heard in corporate media? No. Instead, Big Media feared to blame. They cowered from pointing the finger directly at Republicans and assailing them for nearly causing a financial catastrophe. Yet again, our corporately owned Watchdogs of Democracy failed to live up to their role.
A review of the country’s major newspaper coverage during the 16-day government shutdown shows just how Big Media lied. On October 12, the Los Angeles Times reported: “The nation's ideological battle over healthcare and spending is hitting these workers in the pocketbook. They're falling behind on rent, car payments, credit card debt and other bills.”
The government shutdown was anything but a national “ideological battle.” In fact, it was radical ideology usurping democratic principles that brought the government to a standstill. The majority of Congress supported keeping the government open but extremists Republicans—a minority in Congress—prevented the majority from voting on bills that had widespread support. This type of hostage-taking is not democratic. When a tiny majority controls an entire county, it’s called tyranny.
But Big Media didn’t frame the government shutdown as tyrannical. Instead, they blamed both parities when the blame should have been directed at the boots of Texas Senator Ted Cruz and his radical followers. On October 14, the Washington Post reported: “The Park Service decisions have been a particular focus during the shutdown, which began Oct. 1, and shows little sign of letting up as Congress and President Obama spar over debt and fiscal year 2014 funding levels.” Again, the shutdown wasn’t a "spar." It was hostage-taking.
Instead of blaming Sen. Cruz for engaging in undemocratic maneuvers, journalists debated how this manufactured crisis could actually help Cruz’s future as a presidential contender. On October 17, USA Today called Cruz a “winner” for beginning the entire fiasco: “Cruz, the unyielding freshman who led the campaign against the Affordable Care Act, emerged as the clear standard-bearer for the (Tea Party), a boost to his possible bid for the presidential nomination in 2016.” They called him “unyielding” instead of tyrannical, dictatorial or undemocratic.
Getting caught up in the horse race of politics and ignoring the facts is now the hallmark of major media institutions in this country. Big Media has a history—sometimes a deadly history—of failing to accurately report major affairs. When George W. Bush claimed that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction, the claim went virtually unchallenged in the major networks and led to a decade-long war.
Why are most mainstream journalists scared to directly lay blame when blame is deserved? It’s a combination of complex factors. One of the main reasons is that journalists suffer from a conditioning of false consciousness. They have been trained—indoctrinated—to believe that every story must include arguments from “both sides,” despite the fact that one or both sides may actually be lying. Journalists fear calling politicians and other power holders liars because reporters need access to those people to feed the 24-hour news cycle, which leads to the second reason why they are failing to lay proper blame.
News outlets are crammed with political stories that focus on the horse race aspect of politics. Why? Because it’s cheaper and easier to produce these stories than hard-hitting journalism. Launching independent investigations into politicians and government entities costs news organizations a lot of money. Since corporate greed controls our media, news managers are forced to go after cheap stories. Political parties and their surrogates have armies full of public relation strategists eager to feed journalists exactly that kind of material.
Last and most importantly, news outlets depend on advertising from corporations and political parities to pay the bills. Oil and gas companies pump billions into national advertising. Political action committees (PACs) helped news organizations generate profits during the 2012 presidential race. Mainstream journalists can’t and won’t bite the dirty hands that feed them.
What we have witnessed the past two weeks was nothing short of another example of Big Media failing at their constitutionally protected roles. I fear that the next time our democracy falls into the hands of tyrannical individuals, our Watchdogs of Democracy may roll over and play the blame again, instead of exposing the truth.
Follow the author @zozobraio.