In Defense of MEF
I see that the March/April 2006 issue of Extra! has a letter to the editor from Mike Males in response to my piece on FAIR and media reform published in the January/February 2006 Extra!. Males’ letter has nothing to do with my article, and tees off on a passing reference I made to the Media Education Foundation in which I praised the quality of MEF’s work. As Males acknowledges, MEF does tremendous work. It is one of the truly great progressive institutions in our society, much like FAIR. But Males uses my passing reference to make a decontextualized and misleading criticism of MEF. That is extremely unfair to MEF, and because Males uses my article as the basis for this attack, I feel obliged to exercise my author’s prerogative and respond.
For some time now Males has been criticizing MEF’s excellent videos for not promoting his particular view of youth as an oppressed and demonized group in our society. As Males puts it, MEF’s crime is that its videos “manufacture the impression that cultural and advertising images are corrupting young people en masse.” The key term Males employs is “en masse,” which suggests the MEF videos are depicting a generation brainwashed into passive idiocy and dangerous sociopathic behavior without exception. Whether intended or not, Males’ letter also leaves the bogus and offensive impression that MEF is somehow connected to a right-wing political agenda.
Males is a serious writer and his overall argument (as I have seen it laid out elsewhere) has attractive elements, but he has misstated MEF’s position in a grotesque manner, for reasons I fail to comprehend. The work of MEF is outstanding, nuanced and progressive to the core.
It seems ironic to see his attack in Extra!, a publication premised on the notion that corporate-controlled, propagandistic journalism has a very negative effect on people, on our political system, and on the quality of our lives. FAIR does not believe that people mindlessly accept what the corporate media spew out, but what the corporate media spew out (and what corporate media fail to cover) certainly has a dramatic effect. It is why those in power are so obsessed with controlling media institutions and content.
Does Males expect us to believe propaganda and corporate media affect adults but not children? That is an interesting flip-flop of the standard formulation. Or is Males suggesting corporate media and commercialism affect no one, so we should not give a damn who controls the media system and the nature of media content? Let Fox News, Nickelodeon, McDonald’s and Madison Avenue rule the world. Who cares! It doesn’t matter! It has no effect! That is a peculiar argument for a person of the left to be making. Why change anything, then?
The truth is propaganda works on all of us to varying degrees, and the corporate marketing aimed at children today makes all political propaganda throughout history look ineffectual and clumsy by comparison. Taking that seriously does not presume youth are robots without the ability to be critical actors and change the world, nor does it demonize them. It recognizes the situation we are in so we can organize to change this terrible system. MEF is on the right side of those barricades, and it has done immense good raising these issues with hundreds of thousands of young people nationwide. I urge Extra! readers to view MEF videos and judge for themselves.
Institute of Communications Research
University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign
Thanks for all you do. I wanted to add a personal note to the excellent article “Wrong on Iraq? Not Everyone” (3-4/06).
In the piece on Scott Ritter, you mentioned that he was hardly heard from for a year around the time of the invasion. Mr. Ritter came to Spokane a few months ago and spoke to a sellout crowd. I had a few minutes to meet and speak with him privately both before and after his talk. I asked him exactly the issue you raised: Why did he disappear from the media at that crucial time?
He said that he had signed an exclusive contract with Fox News as their “expert” on Iraq. His idea was that he would be a regular feature, and being on Fox would allow him to reach the conservative audience that he hoped for. But he was “outfoxed” (his words). After signing an exclusive contract with Fox News, they simply refused to let him appear on any of their programs. By contract, he couldn’t appear on any other programs either, effectively taking him out of the media during that crucial time period leading up to and after the invasion.
I’d recommend you talk with Mr. Ritter yourselves to verify this story. It is one of the most vivid examples of how Fox News is anything but “Fair and Balanced.” “Censored and Deceptive” would be a more fitting description for Fox News.
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Good Role Models
I’ve been a dedicated subscriber to Extra! for several years. I find your stories to be informative, but they have also taught me the essentials of what to look for in distinguishing truth from fiction, opinion from slant. This has helped me to develop my own writing skills as a freelance feature writer.
If there is a criticism I have about Extra!, it is this: While directing us to what is wrong with mainstream American media, it rarely shows us what is right. While heavily, and justifiably, critical of mainstream American media, it rarely gives credit to those journalists and publications that are working with integrity and in the interests of the public good. I know they exist—I read them all the time. I think they are worthy of attention in Extra!. They are good role models.
Without sacrificing any of the good work now extant in Extra!, would you consider adding a page every issue, similar to the press squibs in the front of the book, that zeros in on what media are doing correctly?
The article “Now It’s a Chemical Weapon, Now It’s Not” (Extra!, 3-4/06), reporting on the limited U.S. media coverage of the Italian broadcaster RAI’s allegations of white phosphorus use against Fallujah civilians, should have specified that it was referring to mainstream media coverage. Among alternative outlets, Democracy Now! was particularly notable, covering the RAI report the same day it aired (11/8/05), and continuing to highlight developments in the story (11/17/05, 11/22/05).