- Paperback: 211 pages
- Publisher: The New Press (November 1, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1595581294
- ISBN-13: 978-1595581297
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,826,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, And Destroy Democracy Paperback – November 1, 2006
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"If we want a media that matters again, we have to build it from the ground up. Nichols and McChesney point the way. Let’s act." —Jim Hightower
"Good fuel for progressive responses to the Fox cabal." —Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Robert W. McChesney is the Gutgsell Endowed Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of some two dozen books on media and political economy, including Digital Disconnect, Communication Revolution, and the award-winning Rich Media, Poor Democracy; a co-author, with John Nichols, of Tragedy and Farce; and a co-editor, with Ben Scott, of Our Unfree Press, and, with Victor Pickard, of Will the Last Reporter Please Turn Out the Lights (all published by The New Press). McChesney and Nichols are also the co-authors of the award-winning Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America. McChesney’s work has been translated into thirty-one languages. He lives in Champaign, Illinois, and Madison, Wisconsin.
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If you dare to go there, check this out from the library. This drivel is not worth your hard earned money.
For most of the history of the American republic there has existed a vibrant and diversified press. Most major cities had multiple daily newspapers reflecting a wide variety of opinion. Likewise most radio and television stations were locally owned and operated. In this environment the vast majority of these outlets were committed to covering local news and issues. Sadly in just the past quarter century all of this has changed dramatically. And as the authors passionately argue, no matter what your political persuasion, this is at the very least an unfortunate and at worst a potentially dangerous situation. At the beginning of Chapter 1 Nichols and McChesney quote Founding Father and former President James Madison who opined that "A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both." It is the contention of the authors that this unprecedented consolidation of American media has resulted in a situation where the American people are not being given adequate information to make intelligent decisions at the polls. Some may argue that this is just sour grapes from Nichols and McChesney who make no attempt to hide their "liberal" point of view. But for my money the authors present an extremely well thought out and coherent case for their position. Their analysis of the pathetic media coverage of the events leading up to the Iraqui War is right on target. They go on to make the case that American media coverage of the 2004 Presidential election was really not much better. Perhaps the most persuasive argument they make involves the so-called "Downing Street memo". This memo, which many considered to be the "smoking gun" against the Bush administration, suggested that President Bush decided to overthrow Saddam Hussein in the summer of 2002 and intentionally manipulated American intelligence to support his case. At the very least, release of this information should have set off a vigorous debate about our involvement in Iraq and about the veracity of our Commander-In-Chief. It should have become a major campaign issue in 2004. But as Nichols and McChesney are quick to point out the American media decided that other events that were going on at the time were much more important. And so it was that the American people were treated to wall-to-wall coverage of the goings on surrounding the likes of Michael Jackson, Martha Stewart and Scott Peterson. The dumbing down of America continues.
Whatever your political persuasion, "Tragedy and Farce" is a book which should be read and carefully considered. Unfortunately due to the ill-advised policies of the last several administrations the genie is already out of the bottle. What we have now is a media that is for the most part in the hip pocket of both political parties and extremely reluctant to make waves. Our Founding Fathers would be appalled!
I have been hearing the lie about the "liberal bias" of the press for as long as I can remember. It is a lie told and retold, screamed and ranted about by the actual media powers that be, those who work for Sinclair Broadcasting, Clear Channel, Fox News--the entire Murdoch empire and more--the O'Reilly's, the Limbaugh's, the Ollie North's, the Scarborough's, the Beck's, the evangelical demagogues, the shrill shock jocks of AM radio, the editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal, and even some people working for the New York Times and the Washington Post. Behind these voices of deception are the conservative and controlling owners of our media and their corporate sponsors, people who merely want to massage and indoctrinate the populous into compliant couch potatoes who will buy their products and hail to the chief and not rock the boat.
Recently there have been a slew of books belatedly exposing this lie. Tragedy and Farce is yet another such tome, but in some ways it is among the best of the bunch. Nichols and McChesney take a historical perspective, showing how journalism has gone from 19th century Hearst jingoism to an eclectic array of publications in the heyday of the American press in the early 20th century to the docile and sycophantic reporters who work for today's mass media. An important and at times laugh out loud funny part of the book are the cartoons by Tom Tomorrow. His insightful satire and parody of our political elites and media mavens nicely complement the text.
But do Nichols and McChesney go far enough? They assert there is "a crisis in journalism" and they point to the recent consolidation of media, to the monopolistic franchises and subsidies that some media enjoy (p. 173) thanks to their financial, editorial, and news spin support of various politicians, especially those in the Bush Administration. They warn that "big media plays a well-marked role in defining the choices from which America's two major parties select their nominees for president." (p. 91) And they remind us that so tight is that media control that no third party candidate has more than a remote chance of ever becoming president. But what I would say is replace "big media" in the quote with "corporate America" and change "well-marked role" to "absolutely controlling role" and we are closer to the awful truth.
The plain fact is that we have a democracy by capitalism in this country, that there is no chance for any candidate to achieve the highest office who is not in the pocket of, and whose mind is not to some extent controlled by, the corporate structure that actually runs America. Big media is only one branch, albeit an essential one, of that structure. Until the mass media is non-commercial nothing will change. How could it? How can the average reporter go against the hand that feeds him or her? The authors note what happened to Phil Donahue at MSNBC when he "represented a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war." (p. 86) He was cancelled. If Donahue cannot go against his bosses how can we expect the reporter on the beat to write what he knows Murdoch or the corporate sponsors do not want to hear?
Apropos is this delicious quote from Theodore Dreiser: "The American press, with very few exceptions, is a kept press. Kept by the big corporations the way a whore is kept by a rich man." (p. 93)
The worst of all the big offenders of course is Fox News and their Orwellian "fair and balanced" slogan. Yes, ignorance really is strength (that is, the ignorance of the populous) and the bigger the lie the better. Noting that Fox News was "actually more gung-ho in its support of the war than US government entities like Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty" the authors quote Russ Baker as saying that the Fox News Channel is "a kind of Gong Show of propaganda." (p. 86) (Yeah, but not nearly as funny.)
The authors call "repugnant" the notion that "the great unwashed mass needs to be bathed in a cocktail of propaganda and lies, decontextualized half-truths, and jingoism..." (pp. 85-86) But what is even more insightful is to realize that in creating a compliant, ignorant, indoctrinated and sloganized electorate, the last thing you want is for them to be told the unpleasant truth, and so you have to lie. Having created the sheep, you don't want to apprise them of the wolves, the shearing, or the slaughterhouse.
One final quote: "The years of the Bush presidency will be remembered as a time when American media, for the most part, practiced stenography to power..." (p. 84)
Read this book, by all means, and work toward the de-commercialization of media because only when those who have the responsibility and privilege of addressing mass audiences are free to tell the truth will we as a people be free.
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