Originally posted 2/16/11 on Examiner.com
An interesting article by Devin Dwyer appeared yesterday on ABC.com. In it, he examines the increasing role that social media outlets are playing in the United States government. It is widely known, of course that throughout the campaign and into his administration, Obama and his camp have favored alternative media sources to the exclusion of more established journalistic organizations.
The question Dwyer raises (along with Ann Compton of the White House Press Corps) is whether or not this bypassing of the mainstream media signals the rise of a new form of state run press, one with a more user friendly exterior, familiar to and trusted by the vast majority of the youth in this country.
It may be a legitimate concern. The Obama campaign garnered worldwide attention for the use it made of sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter during the run up to the 2008 Presidential election. The administration has continued to utilize the aforementioned sites to speak directly to the people, bypassing the “filter” of the mainstream press.
The White House Press Office currently maintains a Facebook page with 900,000 fans, a live Twitter account featuring “behind the scenes” moments with the President, a YouTube channel full of ostensibly candid footage captured by White House staffers on hand held video cameras, and several weekly mock news broadcasts hosted on WhiteHouse.gov. The Office also makes use of pre-packaged question and answer sessions, where young people from around the country have their queries addressed by White House officials, including the President himself.
The administration sees all forms of new media as a direct line to the public, and has begun to exclude members of the White House Press Corp from events of varying levels of importance, relying instead upon paid White House staffers to film, photograph or blog about the events, to edit the material according to the wishes of the administration, and to post it online.
According to White House spokesperson Josh Earnest: “What you’re seeing on the Internet is transparency at its finest. We are giving citizens across the country direct access to decision makers in the government.”
But others aren’t so certain. Senior White House Press Corps member Ann Compton put it bluntly: “The administration has narrowed access by the mainstream media to an unprecedented extent. Access here has shriveled.”
In the opinion of many, this represents a clear continuation of the widely deplored policies of George W. Bush, who expressed his desire to “go over the heads of the filter and speak directly to the people.”
Speaking today on the John Gambling Morning Show, Compton made it clear that there have been instances of demonstrably creative editing on the part of the White House Press Office, and that there is no way of knowing what else has been or will be omitted or otherwise altered to suit the government narrative.
Compton’s point was clear: the Obama administration is using alternative media to create the illusion of transparency, while censoring that information which runs counter to its political agenda. It’s a disturbing turn of events to say the least, especially considering the current administration’s continuation of Bush era policy choices that Obama roundly condemned during the ’08 campaign. One can imagine the public outcry had Dick Cheney supplanted any aspect of the mainstream media with his own weekly news broadcast.
Some, I’m sure, would suggest that this is only sour grapes from members of the mainstream media machine that’s fallen on hard times, of late. This is partly true. There is a growing public perception that establishment media is not to be trusted. It is too corporate, too biased, and too entertainment-based. Consequently, many in this country and around the world have chosen to get their news from alternative sites like Facebook and Twitter. As such, most members of the public (young people in particular) feel no obligation to defend journalistic institutions as corrupt as the government on which they report. Perhaps the possibility of a government takeover of alternative news outlets will inspire a wave of reform within the presently mistrusted mainstream media. But probably not.
That being said, a democracy (which is contingent upon an informed citizenry) simply cannot afford to allow its government to completely disenfranchise the 4th branch, no matter how ineffective that branch has become in recent years. The value of honest journalism is overlooked these days, but it must be remembered that the press was originally intended as the guard dog of the people, not the tamed pet of well-financed special interests. The mark of a journalist is factual reporting; the journalistic “filter” that Bush and Obama are seeking to circumvent is meant to divest facts of emotional and political “spin” in the interest of honest, civil discourse. A free society requires a public check of governmental power, and journalism (ideally) represents said check. If the Obama administration is allowed to continue its restrictive approach to the White House Press Corps, we may (soon) see the rise of state-run media within the United States.
As Edward R. Murrow once famously said: “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”