The very first sentence of this column
by Michael Harris of the Ottowa Sun ought to give you the "oh shits!"
According to a new book by Paul Rutherford, Weapons of Mass Persuasion, there are 20,000 more public relations experts in the United States doctoring the news than there are journalists trying to write it.
But wait--it gets worse.
In his book, just released by University of Toronto Press, Rutherford notes that up to 40% of what appears in American newspapers consists of items produced by press agents and public relations firms, which is then regurgitated by the "objective" news organs. News conferences which were once a mere clue to the real story are the story.
Events are dutifully reported verbatim even when the party giving the press conference refuses to take questions -- as President Bush did this week when he portrayed himself as a person anxious to have his national security adviser testify before the 9/11 commission. The man who had spent months stonewalling his own commission came off as a leader with a deep commitment to a public search for the truth about that awful September day. The new objectivity.
Now I have ranted before, not so very long ago
about the despicable state of the mass media that poses as news in this country, but there really does have to come a time when we collectively give the traditional media outlets the finger and demand better for ourselves. Harris thinks that time may be approaching. He writes"
But there is a hint at least that the public may be fed up. According to the latest Nielsen ratings, CNN has lost 52% of its viewing audience for the first quarter of 2004. In fact, only one of CNN's news shows made the Top 12 cable broadcasts in the U.S. Over the same period, viewership of the Fox News Channel fell by 36%.
So at least some people are starting to see through the miasma, but are they turning elsewhere for their news or are they simply giving up on it altogether? I don't know, and I'm scared to try to find out.