Media: What is it good for?

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Are government-funded “news” broadcasts legal? Are they propaganda? California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Bush administration have both come under quite a bit of fire regarding their use of pre-packaged “public releases,” which are basically government-produced video segments made to look like independent reporting. The General Accounting Office (GAO) called the segments “propaganda,” but that whip-cracking hardly seemed to faze the Bush administration, which has made it clear it will continue with its “news” production.

It would be easy to rant on about the evils of government propaganda, but an even more disturbing issue is at work here. The Bush administration has refused to stop producing these news videos, it seems, because they don’t see anything wrong with them, and don’t think that independent media serves any unique purpose. After all, White House Chief of Staff Andy Card said back in January that he didn’t think the press had a “check and balance function.” Likewise, the president himself once told a reporter, “You’re assuming that you represent the public. I don’t accept that.”

Unfortunately, the White House has more or less made these assertions true. The fact that the administration was able to buy off journalists like Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and Michael McManus nicely illustrates that many journalists really don’t represent the public. And with news networks failing to make amply clear that these “news” segments they broadcasted were funded by the government, the media’s function as a check-and-balance goes out the window too.

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Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

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