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This review is from: Government Control of News: A Constitutional Challenge (Paperback)
Someone should have told June and Ward Cleaver to beware.
Do you ever get an uneasy feeling that things aren't as they seem? You could often feel that the news on your Internet home page each morning looks as if the stories are highly slanted. You may think that the official earnings and unemployment numbers released by the government don't have the ring of truth. You might sometimes wonder if there's a news blackout regarding details about the war, but you dismiss those uncomfortable thoughts with the assumption that you merely missed something.
You couldn't be more mistaken.
According to Corydon B. Dunham, those ill at east thoughts that keep you awake at night are worth listening to. If you missed anything, that blank was more than likely the result of the government deploying all manner of methods to spin, shield, deflect, suppress, distort, and sometimes blatantly lie about the facts. Dunham says in his powerful new book that government regulation of the content of television news started with television broadcasting in 1949 with a regulation called the Fairness Doctrine and their theory that regulation of news content would provide "contrasting views about controversial issues."
Think Jack Nicholson in A FEW GOOD MEN shouting "You can't handle the truth!"
Media people finally woke up and rebelled. "In 1985," Dunham writes, "the FCC completed an exhaustive, official review of its almost forty years of regulating and editing the content of television news and speech under that doctrine. The commission found that contrary to the old theory, government management of broadcast news and speech had in fact distorted and suppressed the news, chilled speech, and enabled the use of government power to silence political views. The doctrine had, in practice, reduced the public's access to diverse sources of information and to political dissent."
Thus begins Dunham's remarkable new book, which spreads seven mesmerizing chapters over 282 pages along with four Appendices and an Index. Dunham traces the beginning of television news through the Cameron Swayze, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, and David Brinkley years through to 1959 and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a congressional regulatory agency, and their enforcement, control, and management of television news content. Content changes were routinely made "in the public interest," making the government the ultimate news editor. Unfortunately, Dunham points out, the FCC's standard was not truth.
Dunham discloses that news and speech were routinely suppressed by the FCC and penalties were sometimes levied against offending broadcast stations. The FCC sometimes intimidated broadcast journalists with the threat of the loss of their licenses. Even political views were occasionally silenced--all in the name of protecting mom, pop, and their 2.5 kids from something the government didn't want them to see or hear. How delicate are the average person's sensibilities? Apparently, according to Dunham, they were frail enough to warrant congressional investigators to subpoena broadcast television anchors, reporters, commentators, and television and newspaper organizations for their confidential news sources and material in their ongoing efforts to force all media into becoming a "pallid conduit for that propaganda which is palatable to the majority of Congress or the administration of the moment."
Dunham explores Executive Branch censorship in a fascinating, highly detailed reflection of Richard Nixon and his administration's searing and public campaign against print and news broadcast, a smelly series of confrontations that did not stop until the doomed president was forced to resign before he was done in by an impeachment proceeding.
This book encompasses more than reminisces about long-forgotten eras. The recent Obama years are also brought under Dunham's penetrating searchlight, including Obama's appointment in 2009 of Julius Genachowski as FCC chairman, a job that morphed into one of Obama's "czars" responsible for managing everything from revoking uncooperative station's licenses under a doctrine of "localism" to harassing conservative radio stations, slapping fines on stations that did not fall into line, and using the collected money to buoy public radio and enlarge its role in broadcasting. The scary part of this scenario is that all this subterfuge and unsavory behind the scenes shenanigans probably still goes on right now. Makes you want to think twice before ever listening again to all the soft fluffy news you hear on public radio.
Dunham's new book took the author years to research, compile, and compose. His monumental efforts stack up to a persuasive argument, and every point is meticulously detailed by an extensive Notes section that clearly annotates each source he used for the claims he makes. This well-documented work will please those who believe that overwhelming changes in media during the past twenty years have threatened our First Amendment values. Others may be so blinded by a broadcast, print, and web landscape characterized by insipid daytime talk shows, mind-numbing nightly talent shows, and feathery personality-driven trivia disguised as news that they will be stunned and turn away in disbelief.
In other words, the modern descendants of June and Ward Cleaver may be shocked.