"We insist on a broadcast environment that reinforces our corporate message."

-G.E. Communications Manager

Manufacturing deception through media

America's most trusted journalist says "That's the way it isn't"



ews reports that do not fill the exact needs of corporate advertisers are attacked, edited, and "corrected" before they reach the viewing audience. Corporations are growing less and less tolerant of alternative viewpoints, and seem to prefer a smattering of condescending words from the media over true, hard news. Big businesses have become proficient in removing injurious statements from the public eye - effectively censoring the news to suit their interests. Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House in the United States Congress, has suggested that advertisers boycott non-cooperative media outlets, and has approximated that the 20 largest advertising spenders can silence opposing views by withholding their much-needed funding (Hazen, 12).

With such vast amounts of corruption existing in the media, it is tormenting to ponder the fact that it has not ceased, or at least been the subject of public outcry. Who, however, can cry out? It is nearly impossible to criticize a corporation when the only outlets for the criticisms are controlled by the same corporation. "There was never any talk of censorship at my paper," said a veteran reporter for a midwestern daily. "But it was accepted practice that there were things you just didn't report, groups the owners would forbid you to criticize (Marsh, 17)."

Walter Cronkite was a structural necessity as an anchorman of "CBS Evening News" until he retired from the post in 1980. Based on the opinions of most Americans, one word could sufficiently sum up Cronkite: integrity. He was a well-known personality, and always ended the program with the words "And that's the way it is." Numerous institutions had awarded Cronkite honorary degrees, and one public opinion poll named him as the nation's most trusted public figure. On the eve of his retirement, Cronkite admitted that isn't the way it is: "My lips have been kind of buttoned for almost twenty years ... CBS News doesn't really believe in commentary (Parenti, 7)." CBS is a major corporation, and could not risk disapproval from its advertisers and stockholders. Capitalism, even when driving a force recognized for its "integrity," has no respect or loyalty for anything but itself. The process of capital accumulation is the primary objective of its mission (Parenti, 63).

This mystifying lack of integrity is becoming more and more common, but there are a few refreshing exceptions. CBS, although it did control Cronkite's commentary, has also stood up to the omnipotent corporate world in which it resides. In 1971, CBS aired a documentary entitled "The Selling of the Pentagon," showing graft and governmental waste in the Pentagon. While the Pentagon is not a de facto corporation, CBS was a significant defense contractor for the United States Government, and by airing the segment risked losing precious contracts with the government (Bagdikian, 4th ed., 218). CBS itself is a tremendous corporation, and was thus fighting fire with fire in the sense that it had the resources to back up its claims and the capital to recover lost assets should the government have withdrawn contracts due to the broadcast of the documentary. Many smaller media outlets have the means to present such a story, but not to recover from the devastating effects which it would yield. More times than not the option to expose such subjects is not available, as the almighty corporation reigning over it will not allow it to be shown. These escapades can be described as nothing more than corporate back-scratching and demonstrate a mutual corporate understanding obligating the elite to "look out for their own kind."

Examples exist everywhere to validate the previous insinuation. In 1979, author Mark Dowie was nearing the completion of his new book, tentatively titled Corporate Murder, an in-depth look at the corruption and wrongdoings in the corporate world. When he approached an editor to get her to approve the title, she replied that she did not think it would be acceptable, without identifying any justifiable rationale. Although it did not mention any corporations affiliated with publisher Simon & Shuster, the book was rejected on the premise that it made all corporations sound bad (92). This illustrated further the concept of indirect, or passive censorship. Although Dowie was not clearly accusing any specific corporations, he was questioning the corporate mentality. Rather than allow this to happen, Simon & Schuster chose instead to deny the publication of the entire book, forcing Dowie to present his wares to smaller, non-corporate media outlets without nearly as many available ways to publicize the book.

Although the few assaults against the corporate powers by the mass media are rejuvenating, they too can be persuaded. In 1973 and 1974 Congress was under siege by the automobile industry, which was trying to get Congress to repeal the seatbelt and air bag regulations. The auto safety issue, at face value, was covered objectively by the New York Times, but was in reality altered to take the side of the auto industry, which accounted for 18 percent of the Times' advertising revenue in 1973 and 1974. While the auto industry took no action to try to convince journalists at the Times to show them in a favorable light, Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger openly admitted to urging his workers to do so. The paper did take up the fight for the auto industry on questions such as safety and pollution because, as Sulzberger said, "it would affect the advertising." The end result was the Times running stories that were, as stated by one staffer, "more or less put together by the auto industry (48)."