Public broadcasting dodged a bullet – okay, a nuclear missile – when Congress, under pressure from who else, the public, decided not to cut 40 percent in federal funding to local PBS and NPR stations. At least Congress admitted its “about face,” unlike Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who apparently doesn’t think C-SPAN cameras and official transcripts apply to him.
The vote was a victory for public broadcasting, albeit a short-lived one. Nevertheless, it’s better to live to fight another day than have nothing left to fight for.
But this war is not about Sesame Street, Clifford the Big Red Dog or Barney – though don’t get me wrong, a war against Barney is a damn good idea. No, this was, is and will be about journalism. Congress and the Bush Administration want to keep Elmo but get rid of Ira Glass. They want “All Things Considered” changed to “All Things Vetted.” They want NPR to sound like Rush Limbaugh, albeit without the wheezing.
It sounds silly, but look at the facts – CBS, NBC and ABC News have become the reporting equivalent of Prozac. CNN is so watered down I have the urge to use the bathroom whenever I turn it on. And about the only news you can believe on Fox News are the sports scores.
Media control and censorship wasn’t invented by the neo-cons; they are just damn good at it. And with a perfect storm of executive, legislative and judicial branches preaching the same gospel, as well as a mollified electorate, the next three or so years could signal the death knell for real journalism.
Forget the talk about whether blogs and podcasts are the future of journalism, debates over who is a journalist, or tired polemics about the economics of public-powered news. None of this will matter if real journalism erodes or, like most American history, is forgotten.
To expand on some recent comments by Bill Moyers, real journalism scares those in power — Republican, Democrat or otherwise. Pseudo Journalism serves those in power and scares the public.
We need more real journalists – from citizen journalists to mainstream, small to large. Programs like I, Reporter and News University will train them, and online and offline news organizations will employ them.
Most of all, we will read, watch and listen to real journalism, because the truth is not a privilege – it is a right we all deserve. And if we are not careful, it is a right we will lose.