It’s the Media, Stupid

A local anti-fur rally I participated in years ago was attended by about 100 animal activists and a clique of 10 or so fur supporters, recruited by the fur show we were picketing. The local paper, which carried ads for all the local furriers, juxtaposed news photos of the two groups, giving the impression they were of equal size—and making sure to focus on the most unkempt individuals in the anti-fur crowd.

1103eword© Jerry Russell

I noted the same media tendency years later when I marched in Washington against the U.S.-backed Contra war in Nicaragua. There were zillions more protestors than there were flag-waving "patriots," but many papers played that down, quoting the low estimates for the numbers of protestors, and running photos that misrepresented the relative attendance numbers.

Things haven’t changed—and are arguably much worse. Watching Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS—even the supposedly liberal CNN—you’d never guess that there’s overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is indeed happening, and that irresponsible human behavior is partly to blame. Instead, a parade of conservative news and talk show hosts, along with their hand-picked commentators, throws up an endless array of smoke and mirrors calculated to muddle the issue with the illusion that the "jury is still out."

I was delighted at comedian Al Franken’s recent victory against Fox, which sued him for using their supposedly trademarked phrase, "Fair and Balanced," in his book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun" might pass for a trademark. "Fair and Balanced?" Hardly. These conservative commentators are some of the lyingest liars in the media profession.

The truly unbalanced media coverage that Americans now numbly accept (remember the "embedded journalists" in Iraq?) has everything to do with why most people are still not sure what to make of climate change—or, for that matter, a whole host of important issues. Progressive voices are either not invited to—or are shouted down in—those form-over-substance programs like Hardball with Chris Matthews and The O"Reilly Factor. Between that, and the gargantuan coverage given to J-Lo and Ben, the environment gets very short shrift in the mainstream media.

Even though the airwaves are a public trust, the demise of the Fairness Doctrine and the recent FCC ruling allowing even greater corporate media ownership have ensured that only a few privileged voices are heard. Blatant unfairness—like giving Arnold Schwarzenegger but not his rivals a Time cover and access to Oprah—rules the day. Journalism has lost its soul as media has increasingly consolidated under the umbrella of large corporations that put the interests of their investors and advertisers above all else, while also following Washington’s official line.

So, here’s a form of environmental activism, though it may not seem one: Join the efforts of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Free Press and others in mobilizing a movement for media reform. A great place to start is at the National Conference on Media Reform, in Madison, Wisconsin November 7 to 9. For more information, go to