Friday, December 19, 2008

Press Bias

When my sister Ouida died the day before Christmas Eve 2007, I became the executor of her estate. I filed a change of address in her name to have her mail forwarded to me and keep it from piling up at her condo in Decatur. Big mistake. I was not aware that she had been a regular donor to a list of charities and causes. Five dollars here, and five dollars there. The volume of her mail continues unabated, despite my requests to have her name removed from the lists. In addition to health associations such as cancer and diabetes, of which she had first-hand experience, she received solicitations from AARP, Planned Parenthood, NOW, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, ASPCA, Save the Polar Bears, and Native American Tribal Schools. My sister was outed posthumously as a closet Liberal. She also subscribed to magazines, including many with beautiful photographs of birds and other wildlife and nature scenes, consumer reports, and The Progressive, celebrating its 100th anniversary after the New Year.

The Progressive was founded by "Fighting Bob" La Follette, Congressman, Governor, and U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, an advocate of women's suffrage and Native American and African-American rights. In the early 1890s he believed that his own Republican Party had abandoned the ideals of its anti-slavery origins and had become a tool for corporate interests. As Governor, he promoted the idea of basing legislation on thorough research and consultation with experts. Who ever heard of such a thing? La Follette ran for President in 1924 as the Progressive Party nominee. He won Wisconsin, as well as 17% of the popular vote nationwide. Of the sinking of the Lusitania, La Follette declared “the small right of American citizens to ride on a ship carrying munitions and flying a foreign flag” did not justify U.S. entry into World War I. He fought against military conscription, the Espionage Act, and President Wilson's measures to finance the war. Many newspapers of La Follette’s day portrayed his anti-war positions as unpatriotic.

La Follette’s Magazine from Madison, Wisconsin, November 1920 (Price Ten Cents) said, “If the press were honest, if it printed the uncolored news, the real essential facts without bias, democracy would be safe.” However, La Follette wrote, “When truth is distorted, when lies pass current for facts, when white is made to look black, and black white by a press that poisons its readers day by day, then the public is drugged into apathy or befooled into a wholly false opinion.

“The people know the press is owned or controlled. They know that it is the servant of the combined groups which control Big Business….So potent is the psychological effect of the printed lie, when artfully and persistently repeated, so destructive of all soundness of judgment are the deadly half-truths, the ‘doctored’ news, the sly insinuations, the sensational falsehoods, retracted after they have served their purpose, and all the varied and multiple forms of spurious, deceptive fabrication, willfully and wickedly printed from day to day by the Kept Press, that however thoroughly it be discredited, it is still the most powerful influence for evil, which menaces American democracy today…. The sources of current news are poisoned, and editorial comment controlled by sordid and mercenary influences. That control need not be through open ownership of the newspaper or magazine, though in many instances it is. But it is more frequently achieved through that community of interests, that interdependence of investments and credits which ties the publisher up to the banks, the advertisers and the Special Interests.”

Nowadays, I pretty much avoid reading anything to the left of the New York Times. It only makes my blood boil. To no purpose. Like getting all dressed up with no place to go. You could find yourself like William Ayers, trying to explain things you can barely remember to people who were not there.

Copyright 2008 by William C. Cotter


Tina said...

Oh yes...I know, I know. My uncle Wally for whom I am P.O.A is on every charity mailing list one can readily think three alumni Democratic political holiday food & gift sellers...and, of course, there's all the bank and investment stuff. And subscriptions to Mayo Clinic's newsletter, an investors' newsletter, Smithsonian, National Georgrapic, Science, and some professional math and science journals. I have to sort his mail before taking it to the nursing home. I have saved the mailer from that wonderful place up in Northern Michigan that sells smoked fish in hopes that he will decide to order some and share it with me. As a part Swede I do love pickled herring and smoked fish !

tommy said...

La Follette's Magazine's rant from 1920 (and why and how you would be able to reference this obscure text, unless it has proved itself as a timeless classic), sounds like nothing more than sour grapes to me. The same kind of "I told you so" tone you would expect after bad events ocurred the writer may have claimed to have predicted. I don't argue with the writer's statements, it's just that the tone is more complaining than calling attention to a condition.


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