Friday, December 02, 2011

Corruption in the media (by Suzie)

People become journalists because they want to hang out with powerful people and get power themselves. This desire for power corrupts the editors of mainstream media, and they stop holding accountable powerful people in government, corporations and the media itself.
This is a paraphrase of the pot calling the kettle black what accused rapist Julian Assange said to a Hong Kong conference via Skype last week.

By all means, critique the mass media, but don't fall for the marketing ploy that the new is always improved. So, let's look at the paragraph above. Some people may go into journalism in hopes of hanging out with sports and entertainment figures, but I've never known anyone who became a journalist to get close to the Secretary of Agriculture. Instead, most mainstream reporters I know got into the business because they wanted to change the world and/or they thought they were good writers. That's not so different from people in indy media of various kinds.

I agree that power can corrupt people, but don't think it happens only to people in the mainstream media, or that the desire for power always translates into protection of powerful people.

When I worked for the mainstream media, my bosses were gleeful when a reporter could expose the wrongdoing of a powerful person. For myself, it fed my desire to do good in the world, and it made me feel like I had some power against systematic injustice. Others liked power a bit too much. Because he's dead, I can mention a former editor and publisher:
"He used to refer to me as 'the skirt,' " said Sandy Freedman, Tampa's mayor during Mr. Harvill's years as the Tribune's publisher. "He once told me that I would never get anything done in this city unless I had run it past him first."
Of course, some journalists do protect powerful people. They may admire the powerful, enjoy hanging out with them, make money or get jobs from their connections. But does anyone believe that people outside the mainstream media care nothing for power? Imagine a GEICO ad: "Is Assange a megalomaniac?"

Look at it another way: Would Assange reveal wrongdoing by one of his benefactors? If he fled Britain to a country that didn't extradite people to Sweden, do you think he would start attacking the government of that country?

Do you think bloggers never suck up to powerful people? I guarantee feminist bloggers think twice before lambasting another feminist blogger.

Gender enters into all of this because power is essential to traditional ideas of manhood, while power can be seen as unattractive in women. Thus, it's easier for men to be openly ambitious. There are more men in power, and male wannabes can try to buddy up to them. When a woman tries to get close to a powerful man, however, the man may assume sex plays some role. For example, if Assange did not assault two Swedish women who volunteered to help WikiLeaks, he, at least, had sex with them. For those who see nothing wrong with that: If the head of an organization has sex with less powerful women, other women may question what role they might have in the organization.

In mainstream media, protecting powerful people can be about protecting sources of information. It's similar in law enforcement. You let some things slide in hopes of getting more important information later. This has all sorts of complications, including the definition of "important" and "later." For instance, some men think the treatment of women is a personal matter, not an important issue, and thus, will keep quiet about the sexism of a powerful man in order to continue to have access to him. In the case of Assange, many supporters think sexism and rape are not important compared with the release of government secrets.

Assange was livid when the Guardian detailed the accusations of sexual assault against him. (He is expected to appeal an extradition order Monday to Britain's Supreme Court.) Because he knows so little about journalism, he didn't understand that newspapers will protect the anonymity of people who leak information to them, but will not protect a named source against accusations of wrongdoing.

Some journalists don't publish information on powerful figures because they fear for their safety or they don't want to be sued. The dangers are worse for reporters whose organizations can't protect them or don't have lawyers on retainer.

As in any revolution, continue to fight what's wrong with mainstream media, but don't be naive about whatever takes its place.