“The tragedy of journalism now is that it’s demand-driven”

This is a fascinating video about modern American journalism and its role as propaganda.

Bill Moyers talks with Marty Kaplan of the Norman Lear Center on the obvious purpose of modern  journalism — to keep Americans “info-tained” and out of the mass-demonstration streets.


Thanks to Yves Smith and Naked Capitalism for the find. About this, Yves writes (my emphasis and paragraphing):

While the role of propaganda and the shaping of mass culture clearly plays a big factor in Americans’ learned helplessness, it’s important also to recognize that there are other factors at play.

The first obstacle is that mass protests don’t have strong roots here. They are the province of the disenfranchised and/or the young, and the current generation of young has been bred to be conformist (a generation plus of overly attentive parenting being the norm) plus the one-two punch of a lousy job market plus debt slavery (even the kids who have gumption know how much an arrest will hurt their job prospects).

But the second is the way Americans have had the right to assembly neutralized. Look at the way peaceful protestors are routinely roughed up and jailed. …

Yes, “learned helplessness,” which always means “taught helplessness.” Yves has more at the link. In the video, Moyers discusses the mass protests in Brazil because the equivalent of millions of dollars will be spent hosting the World Cup, while unemployment, infrastructure and mass transit are ignored.

Listen, and as you do, note the terrific production values. Moyers offers a quality product.

Marty Kaplan says he has “outrage envy.” He explains:

It’s my feeling that what happened in Brazil, which is so encouraging about citizens taking their destiny in their own hands, is not happening here. We [too] have unemployment and hunger and crumbling infrastructure and a tax system out of whack and a corrupt political system. Why are we not also taking to the streets, is the question.

We are paying attention to the wrong things. We’re paying attention to info-tainment, which is being spoon-fed to us, and sadly we are enabling, because we love the stuff. …

The tragedy of journalism now is that it’s demand-driven, and when you ask people what they want, we’re like one of those rats that have a lever to push and cocaine comes out. And once that happens one time, they’ll stay there till they die. …

The control of our democracy by money is shocking and deserving of the same kind of response to corruption that it got in Brazil, and instead we have become used to it. … we have been taught to feel helpless and jaded.

There’s a good mention of “climate change” — which really means “the pending worldwide catastrophe we might have only 5–10 years to avoid“— at the 5:07 mark. Note the terrific example of Kaplan’s point (plus video) in which all major networks cut away from the president’s climate speech to comment instead on the meta-news — how the news will affect … the news. (Our coverage of the climate story mentioned by Kaplan is here — “Atmospheric CO2 at highest levels in three million years”.)

Note also the smart discussion of the media’s reaction to Sandy Hook at the 8:40 mark. And don’t miss the phrase “the race, crime and porn axis” in today’s news at about 20:55.

Kaplan ends with the argument for being optimistic — the same argument that Richard Eskow calls “making a Pascal’s wager with the future.” Listen to the last few minutes of the Kaplan interview to see what that is. Eskow is right — his Pascal’s wager is the way out. Well analyzed by Kaplan, and as always, a nice interview by Moyers.

Taught helplessness. David “One Live Crew” Gregory and his ilk — whom Kaplan calls “the class that produces news” — have much to answer for.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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17 Responses to ““The tragedy of journalism now is that it’s demand-driven””

  1. DrDignity says:

    Wonderful exchange between Moyers & Kaplan. Learned helplessness is the reaction most come up with when discussion about climate change, surveillance, war crimes, torture come up. Most agree they cannot affect changes so it’s back to business as usual: controlling what each can control in one’s individual sphere & seeking a bit of contentment during one’s lifetime. Few even have the bravery to confront issues in totality as it’s not happy-clappy, optimistic or sexy subjects. Game is probably over for the US as few will even go there.

  2. billylost says:

    thanks for this – it’s excellent. so many of us are despairing and hopeless – as Kaplan recognizes, our “old” democracy suffers from arteriosclerosis – maybe it’s dying

  3. cole3244 says:


  4. Naja pallida says:

    A good example of this is Bob McDonnell in Virginia. His corruption has tainted every corner of Virginia politics, and his entire administration and every appointee he has made is in on the scam, and yet almost nobody is talking about it at the national level. There still haven’t been any resignations, because for Republican state-level politics, this is perfectly normal and acceptable. The scary part is, the guy was on the short list to be Mitt Romney’s Vice President pick. The only reason they shied away from him at the last moment was because that was the point when he was trying to ram the forced vaginal ultrasound probe bill through Virginia’s legislature, which did get some very minor national traction.

  5. Ford Prefect says:

    If only that were true! The issue isn’t participation, it’s who is driving the problem and blaming the audience has it backwards. Corporate media has devolved into propaganda organs because that’s in their interests and no one else’s. If you look as news ratings over the last 20 years, you’ll see a steady decline which has only been made worse by outlets’ making worse and worse television. Ratings are still in decline to the point where network news is now a niche market, instead of a mass market. That decline will continue unabated, because it’s not about “news,” it’s about telling people what they’re supposed to think. They don’t care if it makes much money, since it has more to do with protecting their other interests than anything else. NBC promotes war because GE makes billions off of war. Ditto for the other conglomerates. Consumers cannot effect those interests.

    Six corporations control everything. That’s not a market. It’s an oligopoly. It’s not about choice or diversity. It’s about homogeneity. It’s not about news, it’s about propaganda. Ultimately, we’re just supposed to keep paying rents and that is all. Nowhere in that business model is there any room for what you are suggesting. You think this is capitalism. It’s not. It’s an oligopoly that has a large set of specific interests that a free and open society would never tolerate. They want us distracted, more than the other way around. Reality TV dehumanizes the audience at least as much as the participants (who are at least getting paid). The audience didn’t make this happen, the media conglomerates made it happen. They’re the ones driving all of it.

    All that “educated consumer” nonsense is just Neo-Liberal pablum they apply to every problem–since it lets those who create the problems off the hook. With six corporations, most of which have interlocking directorships as well, you don’t have “choice.” You will watch what they show you or you will unplug your television. That’s the only choice you have and they take that all the way to the bank.

    In terms of who’s driving what, you have it precisely backwards.

  6. cole3244 says:

    sorry i have to disagree, the consumer has participated in creating this problem. if there were more viewers watching the opposing agenda more ceo’s with that mindset would be willing to invest in that programming and give the (little people) more choices and create a more educated consumer able to make better decisions in the voting booth and elsewhere.

  7. Houndentenor says:

    Here’s how bad local news is today. Whenever a governor or senator runs for president, we find out about all kinds of scandals associated with them that have never been reported before. This is as true for Republicans as Democrats so it’s not about “media bias”. it’s about a lack of interest on the part of local news stations and newspapers in covering real news. yes, they cover all the big car crashes and crimes, but there’s no depth to any of the coverage. So your mayor, Congressman or senator may be crooked as the day is long and you’ll never find out unless he or she does something so outrageously stupid as to be arrested for it.

  8. emjayay says:

    My version of local news history:

    Back sometime in the olden days there was a long newspaper strike in San Francisco. The local PBS station decided to have a news discussion on every night with the actual unemployed local newspaper reporters. They were friends and associates not newsreaders of the period, so they acted like it. Local news noticed and decided their newsreaders should pretend to be buddies also. As time went on they added tons of makeup, women (attractive in a plasticy sort of way only please), unrealistically big and glossy hairdos, a million candlepower of lighting from every possible direction and as it became available video. Plus the winning the local lowest common denominator eyeballs competition to get higher local ad rates. Whether you are in NYC or Podunk it’s the same.

    This also spawned PBS’s Washington Week in review. It also left a big opening for local PBS evening news which other than the too boring half the time even for me PBS NewsHour is the only news on PBS stations. I guess doing actual news with all those reporters and trucks and crews and research (not done by local commercial channel news) is way too expensive without advertising, government support, or millions of dollars grants.

  9. Ford Prefect says:

    Being CEO in an oligopoly means being able to create precisely the environment one wishes to profit from. Power creates its own demand, as it were. They don’t mind losing a lot of money on things that benefit them politically, because they know that power will accrue to future profits.

    This is not driven by “consumers.” It’s a top-down hierarchy and “markets” have nothing to do with it. Six corporations own 90% of ALL media outlets in the US. Do you think they give a rat’s ass about what “consumers” think? Of course they don’t!

  10. woodroad34 says:

    Already, the extreme right media (Greta VanSustern, Rush Limbaugh, Investors.com) is taking a Judicial Watch “expose” (Judicial Watch, a “non-partisan” conservative group) on Eric Holder and the Trayvon Martin trial and how he’s helping to foment riots over the not guilty verdict–the conservative media is running with it. Wing-nuts are taking this “expose” as fact rather than it being an interpreation of loosely strung together innuendo (line item expenses and an audio bit purporting to show Eric Holder inciting to riot). The expose’s effect is to enrage and not supply information. That’s what “journalism” means to emotionally unfit people.

  11. cole3244 says:

    the ceo’s go where the money is & ratings are money, get the (little people) to watch quality programming and it will be there, the elites may push an agenda but green is their fav color and they can’t resist the bottom line no matter how much it repulses them.

  12. Ford Prefect says:

    Six corporations own 90% of all media outlets in the country. It’s an oligopoly.

    You want to change the media? Then become CEO of Disney or NewsCorp. That is the only path to change. The expectations of “little people” has nothing to do with it.

  13. Ford Prefect says:

    While I typically enjoy Kaplan’s work, he’s dipping his toes into an elitist cop-out with this royal “we” bullshit:

    We are paying attention to the wrong things. We’re paying attention to info-tainment, which is being spoon-fed to us, and sadly we are enabling, because we love the stuff. …

    He should speak for himself only on that point. Blaming the audience for the content created by our various propaganda organs is bullshit and always has been. If that’s all there is on the telly, it’s because corporate and government executives like it that way, not the audience. It’s not like people are given much choice in the matter, are they?

    Two points occur: 1) Mass Distraction is a technique of propaganda, not “infotainment.” 2) Propaganda has its limitations and when it fails, it fails in a big way. Did propaganda prevent the failure of any totalitarian regime? No? So too, it won’t preserve this regime either, even though it can extend its life for some time.

    Anyone who thinks Americans are immune from social strife is kidding herself. It will happen here, just as it does elsewhere, when people feel they have no choice anymore. And given “our” (to use Kaplan’s usage) collective love of violence (not to mention the means of mass violence), I’m not looking forward to it. When the strife does arrive, it will not be pretty.

    Blaming the voter/consumer/viewer is a cop out. Little People didn’t create this environment, we merely live in it.

  14. cole3244 says:

    do you hear that. its edward r rolling over wherever he is.

  15. Hue-Man says:

    I watched this on PBS on the weekend and was struck by the Catch-22 – if you don’t “info-tain” your audience, you lose market share to your competitor who will info-tain, and your advertising revenues will go down. The Catch-22 is that your audience is so ignorant of any issues that you can’t keep them entertained with real news. In our globalized world, the collapse of a clothing factory in Bangladesh has real impact on U.S. consumers. The widespread flooding in Thailand led to a global shortage of Japanese automobiles. etc. etc. If a viewer will only watch YouTube videos of dogs riding scooters, s/he will never learn where Bangladesh is located and why it’s important. And don’t even mention climate change…

    Meanwhile, public broadcasting is being increasingly corporatized as government funding is slashed. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/07/12/1223137/-PBS-And-NPR-Subsidiaries-Of-Koch-Industries

    BTW, the second half of Bill Moyers Journal – “Historian Gary May puts the 2013 Supreme Court decision gutting the Voting Rights Act into historical perspective.” – was made even more interesting with Moyers’ personal involvement with LBJ’s White House at the time of the VRA. Video: http://billmoyers.com/segment/gary-may-on-the-long-assault-on-our-voting-rights/

  16. nicho says:

    Journalism has suffered the same fate as healthcare, education, our food supply, etc. It was corporatized. Once that happened, everything went to hell.

  17. cole3244 says:

    a society gets the media & journalism it demands and america is getting what it deserves, until we expect better from our news entities we will continue to receive the garbage that we get because the outlets are giving us what we will watch, an uninformed and apathetic society gets exactly what america is getting because america is both, since the media are now part of the 1% it has no reason to do the work of real journalism and inform the 99% who are now the opposition.

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