Lewis H. Lapham, the National Correspondent for Harper's Magazine and the editor of Lapham's Quarterly, has an article in the latest (September 2008) issue of Harper's titled "Elegy for a Rubber Stamp."
Lapham targets specifically the overblown media hype upon the untimely death of NBC's Tim Russert. Lapham had nothing against Russert personally, but 1) he was not the "standard bearer for serious journalism," as deemed by Mr. Obama, nor was he "a tough and hardworking newsman," as stated by George W. Bush. McCain also missed the mark by describing Russert as "hard" and "fair," though he may have been right by insisting "He loved the Buffalo Bills."
Lapham believes, rightly, that the mourning for Mr. Russert was garishly excessive and way over the top. "During the delays between bulletins, Brokaw and Olbermann introduced a procession of Washington media celebrities arriving with rush deliveries of op-ed-page solemnity and camera-ready grief. For two days and three nights, they paid tribute to the glory that was Tim and the grandeur that is themselves."
Following a memorial service staged by MSNBC at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, "Lo and behold, right there in the gray twilight, swinging low over the White House and the Washington Monument, right there in plain sight, there was a real rainbow in the sky. Later than night on MSNBC's rebroadcast of the proceedings, Olbermann reported the rainbow as no coincidence. 'I know that was Russert,' he said. 'I'd recognize him anywhere.'
"With Olbermann it's sometimes hard to know when or if he's attempting a joke, but if he was joking, at whom or at what was the joke directed? Certainly not a rainbows; probably not at God. Conceivably at the thought of MSNBC hunting high and low for the Easter eggs of truth, or at the idea of Tim as a knife-wielding journalist. Olbermann is an intelligent man, and how else could an intelligent man interpret the glorification of Russert if not as a joke, or as a ninety-six hour public-service announcement paid for by General Electric, the company that owns the NBC networks but depends for its profit margins on its patriotic dealings as one of the nation's primary weapons manufacturers."
Lapham, as I said, was not attacking Russert in any personal sense, but rather critiquing the solemnizing of Russert's TV persona as a pundit of heavenly consequence. Sam Donaldson said that Russert "understood as well as anyone, that the reason political reporters are there is not to speak truth to power ... but to make those who say we have the truth -- politicians -- explain it."
Lapham dissects that comment perfectly by noting that "Speaking truth to power doesn't make successful Sunday-morning television, leads to 'jealousy, upsets, persecution,' doesn't draw a salary of $5 million a year. ...
"Long ago in the day before journalists became celebrities, their enterprise was reviled and poorly paid, and it was understood by working newspapermen that the presence of two people at their funeral could be taken as a sign that they had disgraced the profession.
"On television the voices of dissent can't be counted upon to match the studio drapes or serve as tasteful lead-ins to the advertisements for Pantene Pro-V and the U.S. Marine Corps. What we now know as the 'news media' serve at the pleasure of the corporate sponsor, their purpose not to tell truth to the powerful but to transmit lies to the powerless."
Nowhere, of course, is this transmission of lies more obvious than the abomination known as Fox News. But pushing lies through the pipeline of corporate profits to attain access to power is the modus operandi of every media outlet in 2008 in America. The media is owned by corporate America. Corporate America is in bed with the political establishment. Any journalist who attempts to buck that system will immediately end upside down on the pavement dusting off his/her clothing, wondering where the next job will come from.
As Lapham concludes, "The Washington news media [I'd include almost all media] worship at the altars of divine celebrity." Thus, they've got a problem when "they begin to suspect that despite the promise of their ceaseless self-promotions they are not immortal, their market share hitting new lows, [and] their audiences [are] drifting away to Comedy Central and the blogs."
What to do? "How then to regain the favor of the god in whose image they believe themselves created?" They become "the ideal American journalist," a "basic old American patriot," and the "friend to millions of people," all of which were descriptions of Russert. "They no longer speak the truth to power, but they fall on their knees before power and transmit the lies of the powerful to the powerless as if it were truth.
And that is the sad state of the journalistic enterprise in America today.
For an excellent, if frightening story detailing how today's media is fully owned and controlled by the corporate machinery, read Mary Mapes book, Truth and Duty - The Press, The President, and the Privilege of Power (St. Martin's Press, New York, 2005).