This dissertation examines the development of politics, journalism and the cultural industry in the United States from the onset of the Cold War to the 2004 presidential campaigns.
The inspiration for writing this piece came from the realization that I found much of the information from the evening news on the three major networks and Fox building up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 just as plausible as the points of view from conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones. News coverage that followed a few months after 9/11 had focused on our military activities in Afghanistan and the pursuit of al-Qaeda. Overnight, it seemed the entire media agenda had changed from the topic of capturing Osama bin Laden and focused on the new initiative to invade Iraq with no tangible explanation as to how we had gone from looking for bin Laden in Afghanistan to the immediate necessity to depose Saddam Hussein from Iraq. I often had the impression the evening news was reading government press releases verbatim.
I also found that my daily source of news, NPR, which I feel is typically reliable, seemed to fail in a major fashion at this time as well. While there was still mention on NPR of Colin Powell working to convince the United Nations Security Council of the immediate threat the Iraqi regime posed, discussion of Iraq was nearly monopolized by talk about the plans being made on what to do with the country once we had conquered it.
A previous event that had also severely shaken my trust of mainstream news and peaked my interest in alternative press was the 2000 presidential election. While evening news and newspapers did make mention of the questionability of predominantly black and Jewish counties, a traditionally Democratic demographic, in Florida voting for the Republican candidate, the focus seemed to be more on how to recount the votes or how to decide on which candidate to put in the White House while it glazed over what should have been a serious topic: Where was the criminal investigation into potential election tampering?
It was at this time that I began to supplement my news intake with the entertainment news program The Daily Show. I had watched the program infrequently before, but it was at this time I realized a greater value to this type of entertainment. Although the program’s objective was to make an audience laugh, it dealt strictly with real subjects and current events, had the ability to cast issues in a certain light the viewer might not consider and treat issues without the protocol necessary in the mainstream press. It was dumbfounding to hear a commentator, even if it was a political humorist, say, “You weren’t elected,” in response to George W. Bush’s inauguration.
I have long been inspired by political comedians as well for their ability to illustrate the ridiculousness of many policies and for the support and the supporters of them. Doug Stanhope, the comedian and host of Comedy Central’s The Man Show remarked in an interview that he feels political humor is largely ineffectual:
But I believe that if Stanhope’s argument was true in previous times, political humor has developed in the last two decades into a tool capable of making change. The phenomenal comedian Bill Hicks was one such person who changed comedy in a way to expand it to a wider audience and a deeper meaning. He was also extremely optimistic of our ability to change the country. As he said, “The world appears to us a certain way because we believe it to be that way. When we change our beliefs, the world will change as well.”(2) This statement alone could be part of a political movement’s manifesto, and is a profound idea to come from comedy.
While there are many cynical views among comedians as with journalists, the development of entertainment news on television and the internet offers a greater plurality of views that are capable of attracting people’s interest in various subjects by making them funny but also offers the audience outlets to further serious research. A perfect example is Whitehouse.org which provides satirical articles about various political leaders, but also provides direct links within the context of the articles to legitimate newspaper articles from sources such as USA Today and The Washington Post as well as official reports from sources such as the United States Department of Agriculture or to TheSmokingGun.com which provides copies of legal documents.
The articles in this dissertation are about censorship, but that is not the solitary focus. The articles examine how the right-wing in the United States has succeeded in eliminating truly liberal perspectives in the country’s national dialogue, maintained power through inciting fear, and are currently working to further impede freedom of expression through alternative forms of news such as entertainment and comedy. The use of censorship has aided the elimination of deliberative democracy and the ascension of neoconservatives to power since the fall of Communism, but the majority of censorship is self-censorship implemented by the media and cultural industry for fear of offending an audience, appearing un-American, receiving fines from the FCC or in some cases of being directly censored by the government. The articles collectively are about right-wing movements’ ascension to power, conquering of opponents, and encouraged self-censorship maintaining those in power’s position all through the use of fear.
The first article examines the history of the U.S. through the Cold War. It takes the case of the political opportunist Senator Joseph McCarthy as a case study of how powerful the use of Communist fears were during the second Red Scare and throughout the Cold War. It looks at how the country developed a manner of bifurcating every issue into black and white perspectives, as The Los Angeles Times columnist Patt Morrison explains:
The second article looks at the neoconservative movement’s genesis. It examines their principles and how they have retooled the Cold War to launch a culture war, a type of new civil war, where the un-Americans or the enemies of America are now ‘liberals’ internally and ‘terrorists’ abroad. In order to forward this perspective, journalism has been corrupted by the development of new conservative media outlets that created an echo chamber of weblogs, talk radio shows, smear campaigns in conservative magazines, and conservative television pundits, which the author Eric Alterman refers to as, “the conservative’s shock troops.”(4) Article two looks at how this echo chamber is effective to bait the mainstream media by harping on about an issue and then to accuse the press of ignoring it. The Republican noise machine is David Brock’s term for this media echo chamber.
As the safeguards for the traditional news media to act as a watchdog for democracy have been removed, the final article looks at infotainment’s and political humor’s ability to provide deliberative democracy. It uses as case studies the career of Bill Hicks and the conflict between Howard Stern, Clear Channel, and the FCC to observe the types of censorship used to silence these two men’s opposition to conservative leaders and organizations. It examines the steps and explanations for those steps being taken to more severely punish those that might broadcast an ‘indecency’ to draconian levels without solving the massive difficulty for broadcasters to know if they are in violation - which would be to clearly define ‘indecency’.
While the article does not forward the idea that infotainment or political humor are the most relevant swayers of public opinion in the U.S., it explains the increasing relevance of these information outlets with evidence from a recent study by the Pew Center for the People and the Press and the obvious eagerness to increase punishments and the ability to revoke broadcast licenses by the FCC.
The articles are analytical features of a style and subject that would appear in a magazine such as Vanity Fair or Gatopardo.
1. Stanhope 2004, interview, Appendix A: 49
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