Media

Manufacturing Dissent

The Independent Film Channel gets into the media bias game

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Before an unfortunate encounter with his television show on Tuesday night, I had never heard of Gideon Yago. According to Wikipedia, Yago is a former correspondent for MTV News, an occasional print journalist, and an aspiring screenwriter. He dresses the part too—hipster glasses, a wispy beard, low-cut Doc Martens boots. A Wisconsin native, Yago is the Midwesterner-as-refugee, keeping it real in New York; outraged by the "corporate media," yet with a minor corporate media pedigree. When asked by The New York Times if he is cynical about the American media, Yago told the Times, "That, my friend, is the understatement of the year."

Yago is the host of The IFC Media Project, a six-part documentary series on the Independent Film Channel (IFC) arguing the anti-media brief for the "change we can believe in" crowd. According to the show's creator and producer, Meghan O'Hara, Yago will look at the "influences shaping today's media coverage including journalistic integrity, biases, corporate influence, profits, ratings, propaganda, agendas, obsessions and more." It is also the intention of these brave souls to demonstrate "how the government uses propaganda in the media to sell policy decisions to the American public." In an apparent conflation of shows like Today with actual news programs, Yago told the Times that he was tired of "news stories that were super-relevant [that] get the kibosh because Purina had bought the first hour of the morning show and they wanted to do a profile on fat cats."

Case in point, according to the debut episode, is the media's treatment of the Israel-Palestine issue. American foreign policy, says segment host Mark LeVine, is in "lockstep" with Israel, a fact that is "difficult to discuss," the "third rail of journalism," something we Americans "don't debate," and speak of only in "hushed tones." There are critics, he concedes, but "the lobby monitors these people." It is unclear where these brave dissenters are airing their opinions, considering that the mainstream media doesn't allow them a voice, and just why "monitoring" (which, in this case, is a euphemism for criticism) is such a bad thing. In fact, isn't this what The IFC Media Project is doing?

Stressing that "the media"—which is never adequately defined—genuflects at the feet of pro-Israel hawks, Yago and Levine present a clip of Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol (an opinion journalist) on Fox News. In a 2006 interview with Neil Cavuto, conducted at the start of the Lebanon war, Kristol comments that, "It's unfortunate that Lebanese get killed in the cross fire, but at the end of the day, this is really much better for Lebanon…" Cut.

But hang on. Here is, according to the Fox transcript of the exchange, Kristol's unexpurgated quote:

"It's unfortunate that Lebanese get killed in the cross fire, but at the end of the day, this is really much better for Lebanon than them being forced to tolerate Hezbollah, as they were forced to tolerate Syria for all those years, occupying their territory."

As tempting as it might be, pay no attention to the substance of Kristol's argument—it is irrelevant to the point at hand. For a television show accusing the mainstream media of selectivity and dishonesty, Yago and Levine don't seem to mind taking some liberties in the editing booth themselves.

The other "pro-Israel" clips are even more bizarre. In an interview with Wolf Blitzer, former Secretary of State Alexander Haig proclaims that "we've got to stick with our ally" (though a comment about the Israel-U.S. relationship not actually being "down the line support" is excised), once again demonstrating that people with opinions are invited on television to express them. A brief clip of MSNBC's only conservative host, former Republican Florida Rep. Joe Scarborough, asking a question of his guest is also truncated. But on the receiving end of Scarborough's interrogation is—surprise!—the anti-Israel pundit Pat Buchanan, a frequent MSNBC guest who has managed to evade the omnipotent and omnipresent Israel lobby.

And so on.

It's hard to know what to make of all of this. One wonders if media criticism is—or has become—merely an expression of ideological frustration. If the deeply held views of the complainant are not represented on CNN's Situation Room, it's the result of a shadowy conspiracy. That IFC doesn't make a convincing case for a uniformly pro-Israel media didn't bother the Columbia Journalism Review, which enthusiastically wrote that "kudos are in order to any project that explores, as [host Gideon] Yago puts it, 'what the media gets right, what it gets wrong, and who calls the shots that influence what you actually see.'" [emphasis added]

This is, in a sense, the political version of Tipper Gore's Parents Music Respurce Center (PMRC), relying as it does on a reductionist argument that the plebians will uncritically swallow whatever the networks feed them (and like Gore, it vastly overstates the broadcast media's influence). But Yago considers himself a member of the resistance, a heroic figure to be celebrated for struggling mightily against the media "noise machine," for being a terribly clever person that watches the BBC. (Yago repeats the hipster cliché that "the foreign press [is] often far more sophisticated and far more nuanced, subtle" than the American media. Has he never heard of the Daily Mail, The Sun, or Bild?)

The IFC Media Project isn't actually engaging in any real media criticism; it's merely signaling to those who are already on his team. No one who has spent significant amounts of time on a college campus in the past 30 years will find anything new or novel in this type of kvetching. But unlike those campus activists who knew how to complain but failed to offer solutions, Yago thinks that media freedom is the problem, not the solution, telling Mediabistro that news is "a public service and for the common wealth."

Perhaps, he continued, we need the government to intervene and force us—a sort of media dictatorship of the proletariat—to watch the correct programming: "I wonder if it has to come down to the federal government coming in and re-regulating what it is that's [on during] prime time, or the way [news] budgets can be allocated, or even creating some sort of government-trusted or government-bonded or government-subsidized media outlet that doesn't have to compete in the marketplace."

That way, the Purina Cat Chow executives and the Israel lobby can't monopolize the flow of information and obscure the truth about the Middle East.

Michael Moynihan is an associate editor of reason magazine

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  1. Gideon Yago is a major league twat-knocker. Seriously, who let that illiterate teeny-bopper near the means of (information) production?

  2. Let us marvel at the cognitive dissonance on display:

    Premise 1:
    It is also the intention of these brave souls to demonstrate “how the government uses propaganda in the media to sell policy decisions to the American public.”

    Premise 2:
    “I wonder if it has to come down to the federal government coming in and re-regulating what it is that’s [on during] prime time, or the way [news] budgets can be allocated, or even creating some sort of government-trusted or government-bonded or government-subsidized media outlet that doesn’t have to compete in the marketplace.”

    Conclusion: we need the government to subsidize or regulate the media, in order to stop the government from using the media to sell its policy decisions to the public.

  3. Michael, left unsaid in your piece is the perpetual problem with privatly owned news media: their ongoing conflicts of interest with advertisers and owners against their audiences. If you don’t think they done an effective job of presenting the Israeli viewpoint as the only rational one, ask yourself how many Americans are truly aware of the conditions Israel has imposed on Gaza with nonfunctioning water and wastewater systems and malnutrition of children caused by their blockade (and that’s just the beginning). The “marketplace of ideas” is just as rigged by corporate interests as the electoral system is in favour of the Democrats and Republicans against third parties.

  4. Shorter classwarrior: Teh corporashunz are trying to hide the truth!

  5. Jeebus, if you’re going to be a media guru guy, you shouldn’t run around in a vintage 1991 faux-hip PIB outfit.

  6. Why does Reason always rip on the kooks from wSconsin? There are enough kooks in LA to rip on in order to fill up your pages for years.

  7. So classwarrior, Americans don’t have the pathetic living conditions in Gaza adequately stamped on their brains because Purina doesn’t want it?

  8. I always get this weird feeling in reaction to media critics. I mean, yeah, sure, I can agree up to a point that the way things are presented aren’t necessarily the way things should be presented. But instead of just presenting what they think is being under- or misrepresented, media critics take on the media itself in such a way that A) implies a fundamental unfairness to the system and B) implies that they (the media critics) are pure in their intentions and vision of things and above all bias. Ha ha ha. Of course, we all think that, up to a point,I guess, but that’s the problem, it’s all rather infinitely recursive. As for A), the right’s more annoying about media bias because there’s no point to their whining except whining, but the left’s more scary, because, heh, there is a point to their whining!

  9. HERE ARE THE REASONS EVERY AMERICA SHOULD WANT TO INVESTIGATE about the MEDIA

    Instead of sitting around rambling on about Palin nude video or wardrobe–

    What is needful to be investigated is whyyyy the mainstream media suppressed the video from LA Sun see debbieschlussel.com for the info showing people being decapitated for sport to raise funds the charity was a FRONT for terriorists find out whom the terriorists were. However, the media didn’t want to disclose that in order to keep the public from finding out the “real” truth about obama.

    Also, the fact that the ACLU keeps attempting to usurp this nation’s soverieignty by attempting to claim we need to be “ruled” over by the UN instead of governed BY THE PEOPLE, OF THE PEOPLE AND FOR THE PEOPLE.

    As you will note the Republicans told these people whom want to take away the sovereignty of the US to stuff a sock in it because this Nations soverignty and the people’s RIGHT to govern themselves is NOT OPEN FOR DEBATE OR NEGOTIATION or infringement. Shall we wonder how many Americans missed that when it was even on tv?

    Also, needful to be investigated is that a man who built his career on illegal amicable associations with terriorist groups wants to deprive decent law abiding citizens of their rights to free speech and lawful bearing arms.

    Also, needful to be investigated is the fact that in 2006 the violence in kenya was pre-planned. There was also violence pre-planned here in the US towards the US officially reported by the press thru a statement to the press, if obama didn’t make the elections.

    How many American’s MISSED that info because the Mainstream media wanted to sit around talking about palin’s naked video and wardrobe rather than the fact the LA SUN video showed was at a charity affair whom is a front for terriorist groups. wait till you read whaaat was on that video and there are pictures.

    I don’t suscribe to violence. I think that we as a Nation need to continue to investigate and LEGALLY and LEGISLATIVELY make tracks to protect our flag our allegience and our Soveriegnty and our seal and our freedoms from being infringed on any further.

    All this talk of Racism however, the DEMOCRATS don’t love our flag, our allegience, or our seal originally created to represent the beloved blacks and whites and every shade in between of this Nation.

    All this talk of violence towards Democrats only attempts to give more fuel to the fire for those whom want to
    infringe” on USA and take our guns away and infringe on our FREE SPEECH RIGHTS and rights to petition thru lobby.

    Since election we have heard–that obama wants an army of HIS OWN FINANCED PRIVATELY and whom ANSWERS TO HIM instead of WE THE PEOPLE, OF THE PEOPLE AND BY THE PEOPLE.

    Now they claim that Bush wanted it too. Well, Bush was someone who was/is 100 percent FOR THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE AND OF THE PEOPLE and our constition. There is a difference.

    For the record Bush didn’t get the army either because the military of this country are FOR THE PEOPLE, OF THE PEOPLE, AND BY THE PEOPLE and NOT to do someone else’s bidding.

    So, we need to make sure what is needful to be investigated is this–

    the ACLU says quote American’s will never “knowingly” accept socialism, but under the name of “liberalism” they will accept every fragment of the socialist party; and one day wake up in a Nation that is Socialist and “wonder” how it all happened”. unquote. by Norman Thomas whom is one of the founders of the ACLU.

    What American’s need to investigate is how groups like this think they can count on Americans being BLIND to their COUNTING on America’s stupidity to further their communistic,marxist,socialistic agenda.

    not to mention how many times a lot of these blogs won’t post my posts because my posts are NOT PRO-OBAMA so much we had to file a complaint with Justice dept for violation of our first amendment rights.

    feel free to refute, rebuttal, cut, paste, print and just plain comment

  10. Oh crap! FloppyFeet with his (her?) ALL CAPS TWADDLE.

    YOU KEEP FORGETTING THE BOLD AND ITALICS TAGS!!!

    AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! LOTS AND LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!

  11. Yago’s a poor man’s Loder.

  12. I had classmates in graduate school who argued that corporate media spun corporate propaganda. They followed by suggesting that we needed government run media to we would be forced to watch the correct programming (you know shows about Darfur).

    When I asked about government propaganda they said nothing…

    Lesson 1, don’t attend a qualitative political science graduate school?especially if feminist theory, constructivism, and postmodernism are the dominant theories.

  13. If the people at IFC really think important stories are going untold, maybe instead of whining that they are untold, they could use the resources they spent on this media criticism show to make documentaries actually telling those stories.

  14. Great article!

    I used to like Henry Rollins’ show on IFC until I saw a clip of him lapping up the ramblings of gore vidale with adoring puppydog eyes. not punk rock

  15. Michael, left unsaid in your piece is the perpetual problem with privatly owned news media: their ongoing conflicts of interest with advertisers and owners against their audiences.

    Classwarrior, left unsaid in your piece is the perpetual problem with publicy [sic] owned news media: their ongoing conflicts of interest with bureaucrats and politicians against their audiences.

    If you don’t think they done an effective job of presenting the Israeli viewpoint as the only rational one, ask yourself how many Americans are truly aware of the conditions Israel has imposed on Gaza with nonfunctioning water and wastewater systems and malnutrition of children caused by their blockade (and that’s just the beginning). The “marketplace of ideas” is just as rigged by corporate interests as the electoral system is in favour of the Democrats and Republicans against third parties.

    And yet somehow you discovered this anyway… through the psychic network, I assume?

  16. “It’s unfortunate that Lebanese get killed in the cross fire, but at the end of the day, this is really much better for Lebanon…” Cut.

    “[I]f I write an article and I quote somebody and for space reasons put in an ellipsis like this (…), I swear on my children that I am not leaving out anything that, if quoted in full, would alter the original meaning or its significance. Those who violate this pact with readers or viewers are to be despised.” –Christopher Hitchens

  17. If you don’t think they done an effective job of presenting the Israeli viewpoint as the only rational one, ask yourself how many Americans are truly aware of the conditions Israel has imposed on Gaza with nonfunctioning water and wastewater systems and malnutrition of children caused by their blockade (and that’s just the beginning).

    I hear this constantly, Classwarrior. Constantly. So where is this message not getting out?

  18. Before an unfortunate encounter with his television show on Tuesday night….

    (No, the ellipsis here don’t change the meaning.)

    Michael, what sort of encounter did you have? Were you on the show, or did you just see it?

  19. So, we need to make sure what is needful to be investigated is this–

    the ACLU says quote American’s will never “knowingly” accept socialism, but under the name of “liberalism” they will accept every fragment of the socialist party; and one day wake up in a Nation that is Socialist and “wonder” how it all happened”. unquote. by Norman Thomas whom is one of the founders of the ACLU.

    FloppyFeet, I doubt you actually care to engage in reasoned argument, but doesn’t the fact that this quote came from the fellow you say said it tell you that ACLU types might see this as a warning, rather than a goal? If he’s warning about it, it seems unlikely he’s trying to accomplish it. So your damning quote really tells us only about you lack of critical reading skills and ability to process the worst agitprop from Red State, not anything about the ACLU itself.

  20. Hmm. If only there was someplace we could go, someplace with vast amounts of information, someplace that represented all the views and news not fit to print…

    Nah, that’ll never work. People just want to know what they see on the teevee.

  21. “I hear this constantly, Classwarrior. Constantly. So where is this message not getting out?”
    Classwarrior’s real problem is that this isn’t the only the thing they put on the news. Of course, I think major media ownership is a moot point, because I never watch the news.

  22. That’s all well and good, Yago, but where will Snow Patrol be touring next month? And whatever happened to Downtown Julie Brown? And why won’t the media report on it?

  23. I’m sure American citizens who support our alliance with Israel, make phone calls or write letters to the media to get their point accross. But let’s also look at how Israel’s antagonists operate. I recall FOX News Reporter, Steve Centani, and his Camera man kidnapped in Gaza and forced at gunpoint to publicly convert to Islam.

    I’m sure that’s a lesson they won’t forget, so if we want to truly evaluate the direction of media coverage on Israel, we should be able compare and ask – which method is more persuasive?

  24. for being a terribly clever person that watches the BBC. (Yago repeats the hipster clich? that “the foreign press [is] often far more sophisticated and far more nuanced, subtle” than the American media.

    His opinion of the BBC proves that he doesn’t watch the BBC. At least not the BBC that I watch.

    @Patrick,
    I feel your pain.

  25. Fuck, now I feel bad for buying that “Whitest Kids u Know” dvd.

  26. I have been reading and listening to complaints of media bias (or as the complainers would have it Media Bias) since I first became interested in politics as a spectator sport some thirty years ago. In that time I have come to a few conclusions.

    1) The people who maintain that there is no media bias are fooling themselves. Reporting is done by human beings, and so is editing (for the most part). The points of view of these human beings must necessarily color what stories they pursue and how they approach them, if only because they aren’t going to report on everything that happens – nobody really wants to know how long the grass is on the statehouse lawn. Pretending that there is no bias is foolish.

    2) The people who complain about bias are just as foolish. They need to stop whining and start buying newspapers and TV stations. There were no “good old days” when the news wasn’t biased, there were better days when you could count on multiple points of view.

    3) There is something particularly twisted about PBS – as if PRAVDA in its heyday had had a persistent anti-Russian bias. Even the concept (as I remember it being explained to me when I was in grade school) is twisted; the (then) three networks cannot be trusted to present the news unbiased, so let’s start a network paid for by the State – THAT won’t have any bias!

    And of course that makes the Bias PBS actually displays all the more twisted.

  27. I guess the name was the dead giveaway ” Gideon Yago ” … add in the MTV problem, and flavor it with the modern hippy wannabe – and it spells disaster and stupidity, and covert communism, likely unbeknownst to it’s purveyor.

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