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FINALLY, A HUGE MEDIA SPECTACLE THAT REALLY MATTERS?


Norman Solomon

After

a decade filled with round-the-clock media sensations, we finally ended up with

one that’s truly portentous. The post-election battle for the White House has

stood in sharp contrast to countless ersatz stories that gained enormous

coverage during the 1990s. The warfare between Al Gore and George W. Bush is

certainly historic — but this partisan version of a demolition derby may not be

as profound as we think.

The

sizzling media fixations of yesteryear now seem notably trivial. In retrospect,

how would you rank the conflict between skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan?

All the obsessive and protracted O.J.-mania? The cable-TV-driven frenzy over

little Elian?

After

such breathless stories, the network anchors have been proud to report on the

truly weighty spectacle of Gore and Bush operatives going all-out. But

ironically, the "better" this story got — the more that Democrats and

Republicans clashed, litigated and spun at a frenetic pace — the farther it

moved from the essence of political leverage in America.

Nearly

3,000 years ago, the Greek poet Homer was serving as a darn good media critic

when he lamented: "We mortals hear only the news, and know nothing at

all."

A

few centuries after Homer, another poet — an English guy named Francis Quarles

– offered some advice that still resonates with wisdom. "Let the greatest

part of the news thou hearest be the least part of what thou believest, lest the

greater part of what thou believest be the least part of what is true."

Fast

forward to 1920, when the great writer and hell-raiser Upton Sinclair observed,

"Journalism in America is the business and practice of presenting the news

of the day in the interest of economic privilege."

In

the waning weeks of 2000, journalists and many of the rest of us have been

transfixed with the slugfest in Florida. Each twist and turn of the story took

us further away from the strongest muscle behind American politics — big money.

If

we’re attentive to breaking news, we’re apt to know a lot of isolated facts. But

truth is another matter.

Sure,

there’s been plenty of dramatic entertainment. For instance, on the night of

Nov. 21, when the Florida Supreme Court announced its decision about manual

recounts, the partisan theater was superb. Gore read from another solemn and

carefully calibrated script. Minutes later, Bush strategist James Baker stepped

in front of cameras to drawl invective through clenched teeth.

But

in many respects, the Gore-Bush contest during the final weeks of November has

been a colossal sideshow. Yes, it’s important. But is it profoundly important?

On

the surface, in news coverage of historic events, what we see is what we get.

But what about what we don’t see?

"In

the American republic," journalist Walter Karp wrote in 1989, "the

fact of oligarchy is the most dreaded knowledge of all, and our news keeps that

knowledge from us." His words, first appearing in Harper’s magazine, are

even more acutely relevant today. "By their subjugation of the press, the

political powers in America have conferred on themselves the greatest of

political blessings — Gyges’ ring of invisibility."

If

a wealthy few have inordinate power to dominate government decision-making, and

most of their manipulations occur behind Oz-like curtains, then what are we to

make of the feverish media spectacle now unfolding in Florida?

Initially,

Democrats claimed that their opponents were trying to "steal the

election." Especially after the state Supreme Court’s Nov. 21 ruling,

Republicans have made similar assertions. As usual, the most vitriolic charges

flooded into the news media on condition of anonymity — a timeworn way of

making ugly accusations without standing behind them.

A

convincing case could be made — but you won’t hear it on network television –

that the 2000 presidential election was stolen a long time ago by both of the

two major parties as they ran campaigns fueled with hundreds of millions of

dollars from wealthy individuals and large corporations. No matter who the next

president turns out to be, those benefiting from the fact of oligarchy have

already won. Most Americans have good reasons to count themselves among the

losers.

___

Norman

Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits of Highly

Deceptive Media."

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