V is for Vermin

Aug 10, 2011 at 5:00 am

Lately I’ve found that the distance between us and our British cousins across the pond has made the task of visualizing the filthy dalliances between autocratic states and corporate mass media propagandists a little simpler to understand.

The News of the World scandal has mercifully shone the spotlight on what anyone who has ever owned more than 10 comic books at the same time understands as gospel truth: The bad guys are working together and using mass media to alternately placate you, agitate you, coerce you, lie to you, make you stupider (sic) and also rob you.

Tah-dah! You’re welcome.

The phone hacking scandal has exposed the hand-in-glove relationship at the top of the heap between lawmakers and the more indecorous elements of for-profit corporate media, in this case Rupert Murdoch, whose position on the ramparts of the Fourth Estate allows him to alternately trumpet the agendas of the ruling class and, as it turns out, sometimes guide that agenda by means of intimidation. Big damn surprise.

The oddity of the situation was initially hard for me to understand. In this country, publications that print centerfold pictures of naked woman are not generally thought to have a whole lot of political leverage (alt-weeklies funded in part by stripper ads are a different story). But The Sun and her now-defunct sister paper News of the World achieved such clout using the insidious Frankenstein brand of highly abstracted attack “journalism” that oozes with malicious, editorialized agenda that has made Murdoch’s empire such a powerful force. British politicians who weren’t extravagantly wined, dined and mollycoddled were pummeled into abject fear of criticizing Murdoch’s News Corp. until recently when the public (remember the public?) decided they’d had enough and demanded retribution, and Parliament was given the opportunity to bite with something more substantial than a set of novelty teeth.

The problems inherent in for-profit news organizations are myriad and well established. Almost no newsroom is completely immune to the threat that shareholder expectations of profit have on good journalism. But the enormously visible coverage this story has garnered from more reliable news outlets is nothing short of a gift to those who have long been alarmed by the overwhelming consolidation of power in mass media. Take your pick of frightening statistics regarding the miniscule number of corporations that own print, television, film and radio media in the world.

The bottom line is that the richest power brokers on the planet are dictating the public agenda to us, and our participation in it is all but compulsory. Some amount of inference is required to achieve this understanding, and luckily I’m not an actual journalist and can infer with impunity, and the recent developments about News Corp. make those inferences more comfortable. It’s OK to talk about the bogeyman now. He is real, his name is Rupert, and he’s eating people.

The power of well-funded insanity to skew public discourse is finally becoming readily apparent and easy to point a finger at. The price paid for this clarity is debilitating in and of itself, and the ship is likely too late in arriving to save us all from drowning.

Recently, a good friend told me about an email he sent to Terry Gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air.” He had been alarmed at the toothless tone and benevolent language used in discussing those who were responsible for the economic meltdown. The suggestion was that NPR’s mandate to act as a voice of reason has become totally skewed and knocked off course by the right-swinging radicalization of other popular media to such a degree that they are unwilling to call a spade a spade.

Gross’ guest, a New York Times journalist, repeatedly uttered a familiar refrain about how complicated the whole affair of credit default swaps was. My friend’s suggestion was that while the nuances of global economics are undoubtedly complicated, one doesn’t need a degree from the University of Chicago School of Economics to be able to say, out loud, in front of God and everybody, that the people who robbed us blind, who were subsequently bailed out and given carte blanche to continue robbing us blind committed high crimes and are thus fucking criminals.

That is not complicated, and it makes me sick that the public discourse, rustled like stolen cattle on a moonless prairie night, seems to be headed for the bloody abattoir.

Reading: “V for Vendetta” by Alan Moore and David Lloyd.