Why won’t the mainstream media report the truth about healthcare reform?

unwilling to speak

I used to be saddened by the idea that the mainstream media is dying. I have been a news junkie since I was a child, and newspapers, news magazines and the evening news were fixed points of reference for decades. But in the last few years I have canceled my daily newspaper subscription, almost never read popular news magazines, and have stopped watching the evening news altogether.

Partly this is because so-called news organizations have stopped reporting the actual news. The New York Times fills is Health pages with recipes, Time Magazine devotes more print to book and movie reviews than to international news, and the evening news has degenerated into a series of commercials for Viagra and antacids punctuated by brief interludes of celebrity newscasters pitching heartwarming stories and celebrity updates.

However, the primary reason why I consider the mainstream media essentially useless is because even (perhaps especially) when reporting hard news, the MSM routinely allows itself to be intimidated by the Conservative Right. News organizations like The New York Times and CBS News justify caving in to right wing intimidation by claiming “balance.” In the interests of “fairness” they must report “both sides.” But both sides are not necessarily equally worthy of print, particularly if one “side” is factually false.

Nothing illustrated this better than the media’s treatment of the right wing zealots who questioned the patriotism of presidential candidate John Kerry. The “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” (a truly Orwellian name) fabricated a story of John Kerrey’s service in Vietnam that had absolutely no basis in reality. Although their claims were immediately identified as falsehoods and acknowledged as such by the mainstream media, the “Swift Boat Veterans” continue to receive extensive media coverage in the interests of “balance.” In other words, the mainstream media were intimidated into giving widespread and continuous publicity to outright lies.

Exactly the same treatment is now being accorded to the Conservative Republican assault against meaningful healthcare reform. Most of the Republican attack is nothing more than outright lies. The mainstream media appears to be well aware of this. Sidebar articles analyzing the claims repeatedly and inevitably acknowledge them to be lies, yet the mainstream media continues to print them.

The mainstream media appears to be so intimidated by the Conservative Right Wing that it won’t describe intimidation for what it really is. Conservatives have vowed to defeat healthcare reform by disrupting efforts of Congressman and Senators to publicly explain the legislation to their constituents. They have made good on their threats to quash free speech and yet the mainstream media offer only the most lukewarm descriptions of their tactics of intimidation.

Today’s New York Times reports “dissent” and a town meeting filled with “rowdy” moments. But the “dissent” was manufactured by political operatives and bare knuckle attempts to intimidate Senators and voters is not “rowdy” behavior, it is a profound threat to the democratic process.

Today’s Washington Post, reporting on President Obama’s most recent efforts to rally support:

President Obama began a personal effort Tuesday to reclaim momentum for his health-care initiative with a direct rebuttal of what he called “scare tactics,” rumors and misrepresentations.

The writer employed scare quotes, as if the efforts to scare the American public had not already been advertised and acknowledged in advance. As to the rumors and misrepresentations of the Republican Right, they are rumors and misrepresentations. The reporters at the Post are well aware of this, yet they shrink from reporting the truth, for fear of offending the very people who are manufacturing the rumors and misrepresentations.

What is wrong with the mainstream media? Why do they accord lies the same status as the truth? Why won’t they acknowledge the concerted effort to derail discussion for what it is, intimidation? Why don’t they exercise judgment instead of channeling the PR representatives of the Republican Right Wing?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know this: when the mainstream media refuses to call a lie, when it is intimidated into ignoring intimidation, it has sounded its own death knell.

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