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Consortium News: How the US Press Corps Lost Its Way

By FZ - Posted on 12 March 2011

The eulogies for Washington Post columnist David Broder and the chaos surrounding National Public Radio have coincided as an unintended commentary on what went wrong with the U.S. news media.

March 11, 2011- For different reasons, Broder, who died Wednesday at the age of 81, and NPR, which is scrambling to save its federal funding, came to reflect the timidity of American mainstream journalism, unwilling or unable to challenge the corruption of the status quo.

Broder personified the cult of centrism, a faith in "The System" that ignored how hollowed out its institutions had become, at least in terms of any moral or democratic values.

NPR, with its endless attempts to mollify conservatives, demonstrated how slippery the slope can be when a price tag is put on journalism. As NPR slides ever downward in its frantic attempts to appease the Republican House majority -- most recently with a cascade of resignations -- it’s hard not to conclude that the radio network may not be worth saving.

After all, the concept of news within the framework of government support only works if there is a genuine barrier between the professional journalists and the political partisans. In the U.S. system, that barrier was supposed to be the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

However, once that barrier breaks down – and it has been under Republican assault for more than three decades – then two things happen: the news bureaucrats cravenly reposition themselves to protect the money and the journalism is watered down and eventually sold out.

Since the 1980s, the Republicans have worked hard to transform the CPB from the institutional protector of honest journalism into the opposite. Mostly, that was done by placing political ideologues on CPB where they could pressure the Public Broadcasting Service and NPR.

The Republican attack line, of course, is that PBS and NPR have a “liberal bias.” So, to prove otherwise, PBS and NPR scuttle pretty much any programming that might offend the Republicans. And, once the networks crossed that line, an institutionalized self-censorship took over.


Mark Crispin Miller
Progressive Democrats of America