Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Next Time Someone Asks Rhetorically ...

"What happened to the fiercely independent, adversary, speaking-truth-to-power news media we used to have?"

Show them this:
After successfully completing the flight that would make him the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn gave a speech at his hometown high school. His old teachers, the astronaut joked, would be "very surprised" to learn, as news accounts had it, that he had "received straight A's all through school." His football teammates would be similarly shocked to learn that even while Glenn had sat on the bench, they had sought guidance from him about gaining "a few more yards." The people who knew John Glenn, The Guy before he became John Glenn, The Astronaut, the newly minted hero suggested, must be amazed to read all the gushing accounts of their classmate's various "prowesses."
Glenn was poking fun at the inevitable trajectories of heroism: the wide-eyed exaggerations, the casual polishings, the careful erosions of inconvenient facts. But he was poking fun, more specifically, at a legal document: a contract between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Life magazine. One that sold the Mercury astronauts' life stories to the media outlet, exclusively. In exchange for this, Life agreed to obtain NASA's approval before publishing images of and/or writings about the astronauts. And it agreed to pay for the privilege -- a sum that reportedly amounted to, in 1959 currency, some $25,000 per astronaut, per year. That's hundreds of thousands of dollars in today's money.
Another bit that would be worth remembering:
So while "there was no explicit editorial direction" for the stories, one of the Life ghost writers noted, "the deal Life made with NASA and the seven individuals created a strong bias toward the 'Boy Scout' image, because all pieces under the astronauts' bylines had to be approved by them as individuals, as a group, and by [NASA publicity head] Shorty Powers and whomever happened to be in charge at the moment in Washington."
This fits with the Chomsky-Herman propaganda model of media, and with George Orwell's critique of the English Left Press in the 1930s: no "explicit editorial direction" is needed, because everyone involved knows what "it wouldn't do" to mention.  The more it changes, the more it stays the same.