Thursday, January 03, 2008

Indict the Media

If I could indict the Media, I would. They need to be brought up on charges. From lying to protect power, shying away from truth, manipulating elections, to corroding our minds with pointless trash, Big Media has a lot of answer for.

But don't take it from me. Take it from John Hockenberry, former Dateline NBC reporter. Here's a few nuggets:
Entertainment programs often took on issues that would never fly on Dateline. On a Thursday night, ER could do a story line on the medically uninsured, but a night later, such a "downer policy story" was a much harder sell. In the time I was at NBC, you were more likely to hear federal agriculture policy discussed on The West Wing, or even on Jon Stewart, than you were to see it reported in any depth on Dateline.
Yeah, hard news sure is a "downer", but you know what? Life sucks, get a fucking helmet. Put it on the goddamn news, NBC!

Hockenberry tackles GE's acquisition of NBC next, and the bizarre consequences of a company like GE trying to make news the same way it makes lightbulbs or turbines. Six Sigma is a form of quality control popular in the manufacturing sector:

While Six Sigma's goal-oriented blather and obsession with measuring everything was jarring, it was also weirdly familiar, inasmuch as it was strikingly reminiscent of my college Maoism I class. Mao seemed to be a good model for Jack Welch and his Six Sigma foot soldiers; Six Sigma's "Champions" and "Black Belts" were Mao's "Cadres" and "Squad Leaders."

Finding such comparisons was how I kept from slipping into a coma during dozens of NBC employee training sessions where we were told not to march in political demonstrations of any kind, not to take gifts from anyone, and not to give gifts to anyone. At mandatory, hours-long "ethics training" meetings we would watch in-house videos that brought all the drama and depth of a driver's-education film to stories of smiling, swaggering employees (bad) who bought cases of wine for business associates on their expense accounts, while the thoughtful, cautious employees (good) never picked up a check, but volunteered to stay at the Red Roof Inn in pursuit of "shareholder value."

To me, the term "shareholder value" sounded like Mao's "right path," although this was not something I shared at the employee re√ęducation meetings. As funny as it seemed to me, the idea that GE was a multinational corporate front for Maoism was not a very widespread or popular view around NBC. It was best if any theory that didn't come straight from the NBC employee manual (a Talmudic tome that largely contained rules for using the GE credit card, most of which boiled down to "Don't") remained private.

I did, however, point out to the corporate-integrity people unhelpful details about how NBC News was covering wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that our GE parent company stood to benefit from as a major defense contractor. I wondered aloud, in the presence of an integrity "team leader," how we were to reconcile this larger-scale conflict with the admonitions about free dinners. "You make an interesting point I had not thought of before," he told me. "But I don't know how GE being a defense contractor is really relevant to the way we do our jobs here at NBC news." Integrity, I guess, doesn't scale.

No, I guess it doesn't. That might be inconvenient. It might even be considered a defect.

Those "re√ęducation meetings" were for people like Hockenberry. Occasionally a reporter grows a brain or a spine and those "defects" have to be dealt with. Usually, the best way is to drum him out of the company using boredom and inanity. Chairman Mao would've simply had him shot, but murder is expensive and doesn't enhance shareholder value. Ah, how humanity has evolved!

Next, Hockenberry cleverly tries to use the octopus to strangle itself, but probably only managed to get a negative mark on his next performance evaluation.
But GE had long done business with the bin Ladens. In a misguided attempt at corporate synergy, I called GE headquarters in Fairfield, CT, from my hotel room in Riyadh. I inquired at the highest level to see whether, in the interest of bringing out all aspects of an important story for the American people, GE corporate officers might try to persuade the bin Ladens to speak with Dateline while we were in the kingdom. I didn't really know what to expect, but within a few hours I received a call in my hotel room from a senior corporate communications officer who would only read a statement over the phone. It said something to the effect that GE had an important, long-standing, and valuable business relationship with the Bin Laden Group and saw no connection between that relationship and what Dateline was trying to do in Saudi Arabia. He wished us well. We spoke with no bin Laden family member on that trip.
While, there's no proof that this stunt helped get Hockenberry fired, it probably didn't help.

So what's a guy who likes emerging media and a hard-hitting story supposed to do? Stay the fuck away from the MSM, that's what. So that's what he did.

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