Giving Up on TV News

Cable TV and Coronavirus: How Americans perceive the outbreak and view  media coverage differ by main news source | Pew Research Center

My entire career was with the newsrooms of the television broadcasting industry, but today, at age 75, I don’t watch a lick of TV News, and I want readers to understand the hows and whys of my decision. First of all, it’s just awful. Crime and bad behavior dominate the news, because those are easy topics to cover. The homogeneity of it all produces a subtle but dangerous undercurrent that life is dangerous all the time, and most of what’s presented is shallow, repetitive noise. 

Most of my life’s work was in newsroom management or consulting on digital matters for broadcasters, and I considered myself well-informed. So, let’s begin there, with being informed.

For the record, not watching television news of any sort doesn’t automatically qualify me as being uninformed today. All I need is a simple news aggregator to READ about the things that interest me, including politics, foreign policy, social policy, Congress, etc. This only requires an internet connection. I actually think I’m better informed today, because I can sample whatever I wish without some editor standing between me and what’s important. It takes a whole lot less time to read something than it does to watch the same thing on TV. Besides, maybe I don’t need to see the whole report anyways.

Back in the day, it was easy to be informed. Since newsrooms were governed by the “objectivity” hegemony, one could — and I think safely — understand most issues simply by paying attention. Both sides were presented — usually — and life in the USA was governed by a moral code based on the golden rule. It may still have seemed like a firehose to some, but it was at least digestible in large gulps. That’s not the case today, where a media-driven separation of peoples is the norm, one that comes with a fully loaded firehose for consumption. Each “side” has their own version of the golden rule, but the right’s is so filled with propaganda that they don’t even realize they’re being duped.

Fox News, for example, is referred to as “right-wing media,” which is patently absurd, for it assumes the existence of “left-wing media.” This is done deliberately to deceive viewers into a victim role, because Fox is “fighting” to provide a mouthpiece for two groups: the wealthy (the silk stockings) and fundamentalist Christians. Hence, the truth is that Fox, et al, serve a propaganda role in distributing right-wing messaging as if it were “news.” The wealthy, of course, don’t really give a crap, except as they’re able to present the source of their wealth as being free from restrictions and regulations. The fundamentalist Christians, however, believe Fox, et al, represent their faith, including their supposed ticket to Heaven in the afterlife. Think about that for a moment. Their minds will not be changed, and so we have a serious lack when it comes to news that is for everybody.

My book, The Gospel of Self, is based on what I knew behind-the-scenes as Executive Producer of The 700 Club in the 1980s. We used this attachment to eternity, among other things, to position The 700 Club (we wrote the playbook that Fox, et al, followed) as a voice for the unheard, the media company that represented Christians (right-wing Christians) in the country. That, too, was propaganda, and I knew it as an executive of the program. Just because we claimed to be “TV Journalism With A Different Spirit” didn’t mean that such a concoction existed and, moreover, that it could borrow the language and systems of the news industry to make itself into what we wanted, to use our facilities to basically overthrow the government on behalf of the rich and mighty, and, of course, the church.

We had a secret handshake that we used with viewers known as “the language of Zion” — the grammar of the Christian faith. It’s the language that you’ll hear Sunday mornings in any Christian church. These are shortcuts that by-pass reasoning, for they translate within the convicted soul. After Sunday School and decades of sermons, when this “language” is used, it signals that what’s being spoken of comes from — must come from — the gospel and the church. When people so predisposed actually hear these words coming from their television sets, they feel at home in paying attention. And as long as that framework can be maintained, any message — no matter how illogical — can be slid into place without discussion. In other words, faithfulness to the messaging of the right is tied to — in their minds — their salvation. Just put Jesus between you and the Covid vaccinations, and you’ll be fine.

When leaders of enormous, often suburban, churches began sprinkling the idea of changing the world “for” Christ into their sermons, the political connection for their members was set. They joined forces with those from rural, uneducated America, and the die was set for the anointing of one of the most public reprobates in our history for President of the United States. I’m afraid that I played a role in this development, which is why my book was written as an apology.

The press has been tricked into supporting this two ways. One, by its insistence that religion rightly belongs as part of the deviant sphere of public discourse. In his remarkable book about the Vietnam War, Daniel Hallin created a helpful diagram of concentric circles to show the three spheres of influence that determine what the press (the Washington Press) covers or doesn’t cover. There’s the Sphere of Consensus in the middle, the Sphere of Legitimate Controversy just outside the middle circle, and the Sphere of Deviance on the outside. By categorizing religion as deviant, it doesn’t require coverage, which is an argument against the myth, superstition, and interpretations routinely found in religious circles. As long as those exist, the thinking goes, religion doesn’t belong in discussions pertaining to political discourse. The right turns around and complains that they are not deviant but a part of the very fabric of America’s foundation no matter how much the establishment clause of the First Amendment is used to argue the opposite. The religion of the founders matters little in the running of our government, and if it did, it would certainly follow the dictates of the golden rule and not “to the rich go the spoils.”

Deep in the shadows of all of this, lurks the connecting of righteousness with politics, and this is where we must ALL draw the line. A great many of these Christians — perhaps all of them — connect the modern day appearance of success and happiness with a future in Heaven. If one sees another that is successful and happy, one can rightly assume that they are in God’s favor and therefore Heaven-bound. This has led to all sorts of mischief within the church, including the entire “freedom from vaccinations” embarrassment. They’re dying at every turn, but at least they’re in Heaven, right? Um….

And so, there is an enormous conflict in our culture today that exists as a divide between people, and television news plays a magnified role in all of it, because it just doesn’t (and can’t) truly understand what’s taking place. So, they give space to a fallacy by never challenging the use of the term “right-wing media” and actually embracing it. We will never get to the truth by justifying a marketing slogan in the name of fairness. By giving space to the voices from this fantasy, the mainstream press — especially TV, with its built-in biases of appearance, marketing, inflection, guest choices, and ad-libbing — has failed magnificently to protect us from the very real harm (think 1/6/21) that’s bubbling constantly beneath the surface today.

We cannot serve God and mammon.

When Journalists Accept Confusion

As regular readers here know, I have Palestinian in-laws and grandchildren, for my oldest daughter is Muslim (of which, I highly approve) and is married to a man who was born in Palestine but was forced to relocate to Jordan in the wake of the six-day “war” in his homeland. This has forced me to do my own study of the history of the conflict in the region, because my window to the world is likely quite different than yours. I’ve nothing to “sell” in this regard; I’m simply being the journalist I was trained to be and practiced for 45-plus years in the industry.

Image result for activist Alison Weir
Alison Weir

In viewing videos from California activist Alison Weir (and Executive Director of If Americans Knew) via YouTube, I’ve found a kindred spirit whom I wasn’t aware existed until now, thanks to my son-in-law. And, her explanation of the ignorance she once knew is very similar to my own. The timeframe for this quote is the mid-2000s:

“Five years ago, I guess it was, I knew almost nothing about Israel and Palestine. I skimmed the headlines on the topic. I accepted the confusion of what I read, and like most people, I just moved on. It seemed distant and really irrelevant to my daily life.”

After seeing images of children throwing rocks against Israeli tanks during the second infatata, Weir began to take it seriously and wonder what was really going on. Her research as a journalist lifted the veil of ignorance and opened her eyes to the truth, that American media provides only a HIGHLY propagandized — and therefore one-sided — version of reality in the Middle East.

I’ve had the same revelation, and I’ve come to believe that this is available to anyone who searches for it. It begins with this statement by Ms. Weir:

“I accepted the confusion of what I read.”

This is a remarkable admission for any journalist. What is it about confusion that favors our just giving up on it? Accepting confusion is a terrible habit, especially if that confusion is fed by somebody’s lies, but if I’m to be truthful, I must admit to the same acceptance prior to 2006. That’s when I visited my daughter’s family in Amman, Jordan, where my confusion was multiplied by stories of oppression and violence by the Israelis that bordered on the unbelievable. No wonder I was confused. Among these seemingly preposterous exclamations was the story of armed Israeli settlers who roamed the roads in the West Bank in automobiles, shooting and killing Palestinians at will. I simply couldn’t bring myself to accept what I was being told.

Confusion, it seems, is a balm given to those who look the other way in the face of evidence to the contrary. I’d rather be confused than accept that reality is really quite simple. I need it to be confusing, because I need to embrace Israel as the birthplace of my faith. Poor, innocent, lovable Israel.

After I returned stateside, I began investigating the particular claim I’d heard. I found that the NBC News Bureau in Israel was run by a former coworker of mine during my years in Milwaukee, so I called him one day. To my utter amazement, he confirmed completely the story I’d been told in Amman, that cars filled with armed Israeli “settlers” regularly drove around the West Bank killing Palestinians with impunity. How, I asked him, was it that I’d never heard of, much less seen, such a story? Why, I asked, didn’t he do stories on such things? “We do them all the time,” he responded, “but they get spiked in New York.”

So there it was, right in front of me, and I still had trouble believing such atrocities. I began to look deeper and seek out sources of information beyond the mainstream. My family was a great help, for the entirety of the Arab press wrote about such. I found Mondoweiss, an online publication specializing in stories about the Palestinian crisis but told from the perspective of non-Israelis. It is quite an eye-opening experience to subscribe to the daily Mondoweiss newsletter. There’s little attempt at balance here, but reading it helps me realize that there still is a remarkable “other side” to the story we are fed by Netanyahu, the Israelis, and the American press.

The confusion lifted, and my view became clearer and clearer the more I investigated via the web. One thing that had colored my view was my history working with Pat Robertson and The 700 Club. We owned a radio station in Lebanon and gave aid to the Marjayoun Hospital (of which the IRS was concerned). We were “with” the Israelis every step of the way, but not because we were in the least concerned about the conflict involving Palestinians. Rather, we were in for a pound, because we preached (as did other evangelicals) that 1948 was a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy regarding the return of Jesus Christ for his 1,000 year reign (depending on your view of the Rapture). Israel had to return to Jewish Nation status before this would happen, so we preached that the end was near. Moreover, his return has to be in Jerusalem, which is why Christians are so happy with Donald Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol.

Zionism, the political movement, and Judaism, the religion of the Jews, are not the same thing, no matter how the Netanyahu government presents it in discussions of antisemitism, the expressions of those who “hate” the Jews. Israel is not a theocracy, and its government is certainly of man. It’s okay to criticize Zionism without being automatically labeled anti-Semitic, although Netanyahu wants the two connected for propaganda purposes.

The defense of Zionism begins with the Holocaust, and Israel’s right wing is quick to reference it and to do so with regularity. Zionists need the connection to maintain any semblance of moral high ground in denying Palestinians any rights whatsoever. Consider the IDF celebrity Elor Azarya, who served just nine months in prison for the extrajudicial execution (a.k.a. murder) of Palestinian teenager Abdel Fattah al-Sharif. He was convicted of manslaughter, but the people of Israel refused to accept it. Here’s a part of what I wrote in December of 2017:

The people of Israel — not just the government, the people — want Azarya released, because they view him as a hero and his extrajudicial execution of a Palestinian teenager in the streets of Hebron last year as completely justified. I’m serious. Azarya was 19‐years old when he blew the brains out of an incapacitated and bleeding Palestinian who was lying prone on his stomach in a pool of blood. Azarya pulled his rifle, walked a few steps to get close to his victim and shot him in the head. All of this was caught on videotape. This blatant murder was reduced to manslaughter with Azarya sentenced to 18 months in prison, four months of which was immediately suspended. The people of Israel want him released, and the latest news is that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin might just pardon him. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called Azarya, “Everyone’s son” in calling for his release. You should also know that there are questions about the belief that Azarya’s victim was, in fact, the man who attacked an Israeli soldier with a knife on the day he was executed. The whole mess stinks, and yet Azarya’s smiling face is plastered all over the country as a symbol of the fine young men who defend Israel and her government.

Forensics revealed that it was Azarya’s bullet that killed al-Sharif, but it didn’t matter. This is a blatant example of Israeli treatment of Palestinians but by no means unique. Many of these murders have been captured on videotape, but no one in the West is moved whatsoever. It’s just too darned confusing.

Americans ARE confused by events, because everything we read is driven by the Israelis and their propaganda practice, hasbara. Although Zionism has been around since the 19th Century, it was the 20th Century and the German Holocaust that energized it in such a way as to bring about the modern nation of Israel. For Israel to be justified, it must continue to lean on the Holocaust in such a way as to present itself as a lamb surrounded by wolves.

It is hardly that. Israel has nukes. Israel has a powerful military with cutting edge technology and weaponry that’s the envy of the world. It also receives from the U.S. $10 million each and every day (weekends included) to sustain its edge in controlling its corner of the world.

And, so, the question that needs to be asked most is “what do we get out of this?” It’s a fair question and one that journalists shouldn’t be prohibited from asking. And, perhaps if that happened, we wouldn’t be nearly so confused as we are.