Media Distorts Democratic Dialogue

Hypercompetitive American media, led by Fox, have distorted our journalistic standards. It's a dangerous turn.

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The Dominique Strauss-Kahn controversy has been an opportunity for French intellectuals like Bernard-Henri Lévy to take potshots at American justice. The real target should be the news media, says the Columbia University law professor in her column for the Nation.

It's because of the media that we find our democratic processes foundering in increasingly debased public discussion: Strauss-Kahn's accuser is driven to suing the New York Post for its unsubstantiated claims that she is a prostitute. Pundits mock the very principled prosecutor, Cyrus Vance Jr., as a sucker for having dutifully and appropriately revealed potentially exculpatory information. Radio jocks spend hours dumping on those who believe the accuser's history of lying has anything to do with Strauss-Kahn's "obvious" guilt. When HLN opinionator Nancy Grace's howling impersonation of blind Fury wins her more respect than the deliberation of an actual jury, as in the Casey Anthony murder trial, we worry for the safety of judges, defendants, accusers and jurors. We forget that the case against Anthony was circumstantial; as much as she lied to law enforcement -- a crime for which she has been convicted -- her child's body was so decomposed there was no way to prove either how she died or who did it.

We are swimming in a gloop of scuttlebutt and tittle-tattle, driven by "unnamed sources" who always represent themselves as "close to the investigation" yet who speak only "on condition of anonymity." Those deceptively anodyne descriptors have moved us down an ethical spectrum from transparent reporting to stories that are "underwritten," bribed, extorted or outright lies.

Consider, for example, the insidious model of Rupert Murdoch's media empire. Fox News Channel is a subsidiary of the Fox Entertainment Group, which in turn is a subsidiary of Murdoch's conglomerate News Corporation. It's a perfect circle, a consciously structured looping between news and entertainment, a business model premised on positing the amorality of "anything goes" as the civic equivalent of "freedom of the press."


Read the rest of Wlliams' column, "Diary of a Mad Law Professor," in the Nation.

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