Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was born into a family of news junkies. My parents used to order the I.F. Stone Weekly. so I knew that there was an official version of the news and that there was an alternative version, although I really didn’t pay much attention to their conversations. I became concerned about the loss of international news in the 1990’s when media consolidation closed down news bureaus all over the world and turned to sensational news models in order to become more profitable.
As our climate crisis has worsened, I became aware that it’s not only international news coverage that has been lost, but a persistent and ongoing suppression of climate related news, especially in regards to the former Director of NASA, Dr. James Hansen. In my talk at Princeton three years ago, I coined the phrase “inverse propaganda”. If propaganda is the repetition of false or misleading statements until they take on the appearance of truth – then inverse propaganda is the absence of information, so that citizens are rendered unknowing and impotent in the face of critical information being withheld – in this case the dire state of our planet.
I believe we are currently living through a fundamental shift in our political system, which I call a “demi-democracy”, where we have unlimited access to information on the internet, but our national press and our broadcast news suppresses climate data. Does a free press now mean that the press is free not to report the news? As the news has moved away from who, what , where & why to opinion, manipulation and demagoguery – shouldn’t we be concerned about the 2015 poll from St. Leo University that found that more people in this country trust Fox News regarding climate issues than President Obama?
I fear that the promise of the internet and cable TV, in marketing itself to the lowest common denominator, in a world where investigative journalism just doesn’t pay, lays the groundwork for the eventual demise of our democracy.
It is not an overstatement to say that American journalism is endangered. In the 1990’s it was simply a question of the insertion of entertainment news into the news hour. By 2012, the news hour has shrunk – on some stations – to 80 seconds around the world. Does market research really find that the average American citizen can maintain interest in world news for only 80 seconds?
With media consolidation, came the closing of news bureaus overseas, to increase profit margins. What if Osama Bin Laden’s articles, published in London, were publicized in 1998, instead of Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress stains? Would our national security apparatus been more focused? Probably. Where is the news that informs, instead of titillates? More recently, it is the under reporting of domestic news that should concern us. My artwork, No News Is Good News grew out of an inadvertent discovery of the omission of a critically important news story that was omitted from national news – namely, the signing of the NDAA, on New Year’s Eve, by the president in 2012. I was startled to discover on the internet, a week after the signing, that it had in fact taken place the prior week.
Why does this matter? A bill that even FBI Director, Robert Mueller objected to – gave the army the same power as the police – to arrest terrorism suspects. Since when did the army become an adjunct police force? This news caused barely a ripple in the national press. I couldn’t believe that I had missed this news, so I started to send away for national newspapers, for example, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Enquirer, the Los Angeles Times, the Dallas Free Press, the Detroit Free Press and the Tampa Bay Times. What I found was that it simply wasn’t reported – except for page 22 in the New York Times and the front page of the Dallas Free Press. How did it come to this?
As our fourth amendment protections slip away, against unreasonable search and seizure, under the cover of the war on terror…with warrantless access to our email and phone calls – allowing the gathering of data without encryption – we have to wonder why the press has acquiesced, without protest. As investigative journalism moves into the web of the internet, the American people are left in a state of unknowing. Not only do we not know what the government is doing on our behalf in the fight against terrorism – due to the absence of reporting, we don’t know that we don’t know what it is that we are missing.
In this bubble of mostly entertainment and crime news the public is fed on a daily basis, how can we make critical judgments on policy without any background in world affairs? Political contests become sound bites. Photogenic leaders are given scripts that play to designated interest groups. Perhaps the greatest deceit of our time is the obfuscation of the science behind global warming. As the level of greenhouse gas rises above 400 parts per million, will any politician take to the floor of Congress to demand action? How many newspapers and how many newscasts reported the implications of that number? When the greatest threat to our future has been suppressed for years – can we still say that America has a free press?