By LESLIE GRIFFITH
Thank you Dan Rather. It’s balls to the wall time, and as a fellow Texan, you sure came through.
As an investigative journalist who worked as both a reporter and anchor for the San Francisco Bay Area’s highest rated newscast for 22 years, I can only say what happened to you nationally was also happening locally. You were told to conform to a Republican agenda or shut up. When you refused to march in step, you got Bush-whacked.
I read your brief and I know the drill. The erosion was slow and many of us barely noticed the small chiseling away of who and what we once were. Anchors and reporters depend on high ratings. If ratings fall in television, people get fired. In the months following 9/11, the President’s approval rating was 86 percent, and that’s when many in commercial journalism lost their way. To disagree or even ask a disagreeable question regarding the President and his decisions was interpreted as disloyal by many media corporations.
But now we have learned. Get the trashcan ready to catch the chips, because the chisel is swinging back the other way and we as journalists are about to regain our voices and America’s trust. Dan – the Man – as we call him in Texas is reminding the media conglomerates how it is supposed to work. News and those who report it are not supposed to be for sale. Dan remembers, and he’s about to explain it to us on a national scale, but first some explanations from my field of vision as to how we got here.
On January 2003, President Bush delivered his State of the Union address. Osama bin Laden turned into Saddam Hussein, and Afghanistan turned into Iraq. The press knew this was a bait and switch, but fearing reporters and anchors might appear unpatriotic, the corporate media made it clear that even if George W. Bush played twister in the nude while a few sheets to the wind instead of going to constitutional law classes at Yale, we were not allowed to talk about it.
Viacom and CBS, according to Dan, wanted to curry favor with the White House. There are very few media conglomerates that didn’t. Cox Broadcasting banned the Dixie Chicks from radio stations because their lead singer made a remark under her breath criticizing the president! Not wanting to appear unpatriotic, the town criers did not cry out. Many corporate media reporters became stenographers, not reporters on that State of the Union day. Those in television journalism, particularly those working for a Fox affiliate, were not allowed to ask questions that could be perceived as unpatriotic, and every question was seen as unpatriotic. Monarchs and dictators don’t allow questions. They also destroy those who speak ill of them. “Scooter – Valerie.” “Rove – Anyone.” Blackwater was running around in the name of the United States shooting first and asking questions later like third world rebels, and back at home, Fox became the fastest growing network with fearless leaders who believed in not only reporting the news but spinning it as well.
Just seven years ago, I looked up from my desk and saw my image on the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour as our staff of independent journalists was described as the best local news in the country. But war broke out and the Internet took off and all over the country local news ratings dropped as viewers turned to the national networks for news from the war fronts. Contrary to all logical thinking, local reporters looked at their retirement plans and their kids in college and promptly puckered their lips on the behinds of corporate media and smooched. If my kids were still in college I would not have the courage to write this now. In response to fewer viewers, local television panicked into a downward spiral and many a trusting viewer decided to go elsewhere. Corporate media was demanding reporters adapt to the point of our own extinction.
Morphed into propaganda machines – cheerleaders with pompoms – it was heartbreaking to watch the demise and media corporations always bass-akwards responses. With two wars on two fronts they decided to go “Local.” Only local news. The war and the profound implications of it were relegated to 30 second stories buried deep into the newscast. (they don’t need to know about that.–but there’s a grass fire up the road!) If that’s not manipulation, I don’t know what is.
Here are some other sad results of this corporate bullying toward some of the best journalist in the country:
Anchors and reporters stopped asking why. The corporate media demanded nationalism without skepticism, believing ratings would fall further if reporters did their jobs.
Anchors and reporters starting taking their stories from satellite feeds coming directly to their desks and then standing in front of a chroma key delivering a story they did not collect and sometimes did not write. If viewers think every newscast looks the same that’s why. It is.
Anchors and reporters allowed chroma key pictures of conflict areas to appear behind them giving viewers the false impression they were on the scene of the conflict instead of demanding to be sent there. Some could not even point out on the map behind them where the conflict was.
Anchors and reporters allowed management to hire entertainment reporters and producers. It’s cheaper to entertain than to inform because an informed public makes wakes from slumber and makes noise.
Anchors and reporters began allowing precious hours meant for journalism to be filled with helicopter shots of the latest grassfire, traffic jam, or car chase, ala O.J.
Anchors and reporters allowed news directors and sales people to dictate their “look.” Good journalism does not have a “look.”
Anchors and reporters did not fight back when their investigative pieces were dropped. Managers feared losing advertising dollars and reporters acquiesced.
Anchors and reporters and producers agreed to story counts. Tell the story no matter how complicated in thirty seconds – throwing random and massive amounts of information at viewers without context.
Anchors and reporters started wearing American flags on their lapels. Some of whom never voted in any election.
Anchors and reporters began using genetically altered language: “War on Terrorism,” without explaining that many people in the world think Americans are the terrorists.
Anchors and reporters started referring to the United States government as “We.”
Anchors and reporters were handed press releases regarding corporate “mishaps” and began reading them verbatim. Like so: “Blank Oil Company had an explosion today; shelter in place, close the doors and windows, and don’t go outside. However, the ‘You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me Oil Company’ says everything is fine.”
Anchors and reporters agreed to report news that was already reported in newspapers and radio. Doing their own stories or advancing others creates controversy and potential lawsuits, betraying the sacred oath of corporate cronyism.
Anchors and reporters agreed to be physically altered in photographs, and airbrushed with make-up like playboy bunnies, as the media corporations ignored the news and invested in High Definition – hoping a grassfire on HD might look like news.
Anchors and reporters started advertising. “If you liked that story there will be more at six.” “If you want to get more information go to www. you’re_an_idiot.com. Makes you just want to scream: I’m here now; tell me now!
Anchors and reporters allowed producers to lead with Annie Nicole Smith instead of the “Scooter” Libby trial – making it clear that all sense of proportion and good judgment had been lost.
Corporations in this country are always a reflection of those in the White House. This White House is the Wild West, and corporations, even those who are charged with helping the public gain knowledge, are mining for gold. But today, when we had almost given up, Dan put his holster on.
Leslie Griffith has been a journalist in newspaper, radio and television for 25 years. One of her first assignments was in Moscow during the cold war. Griffith has earned two Edward R. Murrow awards; nine Emmys; thirty-seven Emmy nominations; the Prestigious Casey Medal for helping to stop exploitation of the nation’s children; seven Radio and Television News Directors Association awards; the 2006 People’s Choice Award for Best Female Anchor in Oakland Magazine, and the 2005 Associated Press Anchor of the Year. Griffith received commendation from The Associated Press for being the first to confirm on September 11, 2001, that the passengers on Flight 93 fought back. Griffith won the National Genesis Award for exposing abuse at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 2005. Griffith is currently working on a book about corporate censorship of the media called “Shut-up and Read.” To reach Griffith, go to Lesliegriffithproductions.com.