Hot Air: Politics & The People Who Keep Them Honest

Big Stuff

Did you miss my interview with Indiana University’s outspoken political scientist Jeff Isaac on Big Talk yesterday?

Part of the beauty of the chatfest was learning that Isaac playing stickball on the streets of Queens in New York City when he was a kid. That kid, sez he, would laugh in your face should you have suggested back then that he’d grow up to be a college professor.

That’s the kind of thing I love best about being able to produce and host Big Talk.

Just a reminder: tune in every Thursday at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM for Big Talk. If you miss it, come back here every Friday AM for the podcast link.

Oh — here’s the link to yesterday’s show.

Media Capture

And then, lo and behold, I ran into Isaac, almost at the very time the show was airing, at IU’s Global Studies building where we both, coincidentally, attended a conference featuring an array of international big shots talking about “media capture.” That, BTW, is the new bete noir word for what used to be referred to as censorship. The distinction being censorship always harkened to mind jackbooted gov’t thugs busting up newspaper offices or taking over TV and radio stations by armed force.

Things don’t work so brutally anymore. It’s not just governments trying to control the message now; it’s a combo of states, corporations, industry lobbyists, uber-wealthy individuals, and a host of off-screen players who stick their fingers into the media pie. And this development might be a tad scarier than the obsolescent image of censorship we carry around in our heads. Sure, a cancerous tumor that you can feel with your fingertips is terrifying, but a whole cluster of little malignant nodes doing their thing over a period of months or years, deep within, is a hell of a lot harder to 1st) find and 2nd) fight.

In any case, Global Studies Dean Lee Feinstein and his super-duper ass’t, Yael Ksander, put on a bang-up show. On the dais were luminaries from the international media and democracy world, including:

  • Mark Nelson, Senior Director for the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA)
  • Maxine Tanya Hamada of the World Movement for Democracy
  • Carl Gershman of the National Endowment for Democracy
  • Natalia Arno of the Free Russia Foundation
  • Aleksander Dardeli of the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX)
  • Marco Larizza of the World Bank

It was the last-named who caught the attention of both myself and the fellow I was sitting next to. Passionate leftist Joe Varga, prof. in IU’s Labor Studies dept., and I gave each other the side-eye as Larizza was intro’d. This, due to both Joe’s and my certainty that the root cause of media tainting — “capture,” if you will — is the effect of big dough on reporters, eyewitnesses, whistle-blowers, inside sources, and the rest of the cast of characters who make up the journalism infrasructure. Top-notch reporting is expensive and the sources for the money to support it, increasingly, are those who are standing on their heads to dismantle free inquiry and, well, democracy itself.

And the funny thing is, “fake news,” for instance, doesn’t really need huge influxes of capital. As Mark Nelson said, “Lies are cheap. They don’t cost anything to produce.” Good, responsible reporting, says he, “is costly.”

I’m not being overly-dramatic when I say the coming decade or so just may see a whirlwind of change — I’m not saying whether it’ll be good or bad at this early date — in the paradigm, the dance between journalism and democracy all around the world.



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