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By David Podvin
When Ted Koppel moderated the recent Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire, he imposed his own special format. Rather than emphasizing questions about public policy, the host of Nightline repeatedly insisted that the candidates who seek to replace George W. Bush attack the frontrunner of their own party. In abandoning any pretense of nonpartisanship and aggressively seeking to divide the Democrats, Koppel once again flaunted the ethical squalor that permeates mainstream journalism in this nation.
The response of the Fourth Estate during the early stages of the campaign has mirrored the reaction of Louis XVI’s courtiers to the French Revolution. America’s extremely well fed and zealous defenders of the crown have expressed horror at the emergence of Howard Dean as the leading Democratic candidate. They are offended by his lack of deference to the illicit leader they so admire and unsettled by his opposition to the status quo that serves them so well and appalled that his passion resonates with the peasants they so despise.
Koppel and the rest of the corporate media actually believed that a news blackout would eliminate the intense resentment that so many Americans feel about the stolen election – by not reporting the rage they would make it disappear. These elitists are now personally offended that their approach has failed miserably, which helps to explain why they tend to describe crowds of Dean supporters in terms usually reserved for motorcycle gangs.
America’s most influential journalists are extremely comfortable with Bush; he understands that this nation should be run for people just like them. He cuts their taxes and doesn’t arouse feelings of guilt by commiserating with the unsightly vermin at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. Unlike Bill Clinton and Al Gore, he doesn’t make the media gentry feel dumb, even though most of them are. For Koppel and his affluent peers who inhabit high society, George W. Bush is just about the perfect president. He is one of them, and he takes care of his own.
And they take care of him. They lavish him with unfounded praise and excuse him after each of his frequent pratfalls and when he lies, so do they. Bush lied about his tax cut for the rich being a tax cut for the middle class, and the media played right along with the scam. A little investigative reporting would have derailed the multi-trillion dollar transfer of wealth from the middle class to the monied elite, but the owners of the media are the monied elite, so their employees did not investigate or report.
When Bush lied about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction justifying the Iraq War, the media condemned dissidents as being traitors. When he lied about Saddam Hussein conspiring with Osama bin Laden, the media again excoriated critics for their sedition. Bush is Napoleon the pig in Animal Farm, and corporate reporters are the chanting sheep designated to drown out anyone who notices that his version of events bears absolutely no resemblance to reality.
Bush is their guy. More to the point, they are the tribunes of the corporations that rule America, and Bush is their guy. That is why Koppel and the other pretend journalists are so implacable in their contempt for Howard Dean and his supporters. Dean is a threat to the economic caste system, starting with the fact that he wants the rich to pay their fair share of taxes, which automatically makes him an enemy of the state.
Dean also happens to say what he thinks, a trait that invariably is offensive to those who don’t. Koppel makes several million dollars a year for lying through his teeth – he got his start at ABC News as the propagandist who told Americans that Henry Kissinger was out to democratize the world. Koppel is at ease with politicians like Bush who share his aristocratic values. He exhibits disdain for Dean and Al Gore, who in the bizarro universe of corporate reporting must be tarred as liars precisely because they tell the truth.
For all his deceit, Koppel is “highly respected” by the governing class. Even Dennis Kucinich, who got angry with Koppel for acting as Karl Rove’s hit man during the debate, said he “highly respects” the reporter. That is the oft-repeated and unchallenged consensus: Koppel is “highly respected”. It is a triumph of groupthink over substance – for what achievement is he highly respected? Edward R. Murrow took an intrepid stand against McCarthyism. Walter Cronkite challenged his employer by reporting the truth about Vietnam. And Koppel?
Just as Paris Hilton is famous for being famous, Ted Koppel is respected for being respected. So are Tim Russert and Brit Hume, two other world-class deceivers for whom masochistic Democratic politicians exude the utmost esteem. In the real world, respect is a function of honorable accomplishment. In politics and corporate journalism, it is accorded based on fear. Koppel is a media big shot whose station in life empowers him with the ability to damage political careers, so he is respected by high profile figures like Kucinich. Koppel is also an inveterate liar, so he is unworthy of being respected by low profile figures like you and me.
Koppel’s big break occurred when our embassy personnel were kidnapped in Iran, leading to the politically motivated program America Held Hostage. Of course, America was never held hostage, but Jimmy Carter was holding the initial phase of industrial deregulation hostage, and Ronald Reagan was industry’s fair-haired boy (that Teflon coating was not a natural phenomenon – it was carefully applied and maintained by his allies who owned the communications conglomerates).
Koppel was placed on the air nightly to inform viewers that America under Carter was weak and helpless, which – not coincidentally – just happened to be Reagan’s message verbatim. After Reagan entered the White House, America Held Hostage became Nightline, it’s mission changed from attacking the Democratic president to protecting the Republican president, and Koppel became rich and famous. He owes his prosperity to his willingness to promote the corporate party line.
If Ted Koppel were an honest journalist, he would have said, “Let’s maintain a rational perspective; America is not being held hostage. Fifty-two Americans out of two hundred fifty million are being held hostage.” However, such candor would have disqualified him from being host while Nightline soft-pedaled Reagan’s lies about tax cuts and his Iran Contra scandal and his genocidal war in Central America.
Lack of integrity was also a job requirement to be host while Nightline obsessed about President Clinton’s imaginary treasonous sale of military secrets to the Communist Red Chinese and the nonexistent scandal of Vice President Gore at the Buddhist Temple and the brutal (albeit fictional) murder committed by Gary Condit. The same moral rot was on display when the ostensibly objective host of Nightline demanded that participants at the Democratic debate vomit bile upon Dean. For Koppel, who places venal self-interest above honor and country, promoting the agenda of the privileged is always the priority.
This turpitude is reminiscent of the way things were in monarchal France, where conformist journalists routinely manipulated the public in order to remain in good standing with the aristocracy. The aristocracy in the United States consists of Corporate America and its subsidiaries, including the Republican Party and the mainstream media. The hapless Washington Democrats are aristocratic-wannabes, which is why they loathe a Jacobin like Dean: he doesn’t just say he wants to govern on behalf of the contemptible masses – the crazy bastard actually seems to mean it. The Democratic establishment wants the votes of the average slob without incurring the stigma associated with representing the interests of the average slob. As a result, the correlation of forces now consists of the Fortune 500 and the GOP and the media and Democratic Party regulars on one side, and Vermont’s version of Robespierre on the other.
The decadent upper crust of France eventually crumbled due to a popular uprising by outraged peasants who could no longer bear being exploited. The challenge for mainstream journalists is to convince the peasants in this country that being exploited by corporations is a good thing, and that anything else is un-American. It is a task that becomes increasingly difficult as the exploitation becomes increasingly brazen. Yet for Ted Koppel and the other courtiers in the media, the irresistible lure of all that money makes it worthwhile to lie for the brigands who are looting the United States of America.
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