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Media critic urges civic activism

Jeff Cohen believes the mass media is a ‘Weapon of Mass Distraction’

May 25, 2005

Media critic Jeff Cohen believes media broadcasters are trying to “numb” Americans into passivity.

He shared that concern with a 110-member audience on Friday at the Hood River Hotel ballroom. Once the people become apathetic, said Cohen, the for-profit conglomerates that owned the media are free to pursue a “right wing” political agenda. For example, he said the deaths of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan were censored from the evening news because those graphic images might turn people against the war on terrorism.

Cohen said if viewers settled for “mindless” entertainment instead of demanding coverage of the war and other major issues, then government leaders were not held in check.

“The media today, especially the television networks, are seen as ‘weapons of mass distraction,” said Cohen. “When you are so busy waving a flag and you’re a journalist, it seems like you are too busy to do your job — which is to ask the tough questions before a war gets underway.”

Cohen, a writer and lecturer, is the founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a watchdog group based in New York.

In 2003, he was communications director of the Dennis Kucinich for President campaign and has appeared regularly on national television and radio.

During the May 20 forum sponsored by Columbia River Fellowship for Peace, Cohen urged citizens to hold media outlets accountable to the truth.

“Most Americans today can’t identify members of Congress but they are experts on what the media wants them to focus on,” he said. “They sell us the president the same way that they sell us our clothes and cars. There is almost a drunken exuberance for the celebrity and crime story that is matched by a fear of upsetting the corporate structure.”

Cohen is the brother of Hood River resident and citizen activist Ron Cohen and makes his home in upstate New York.

While visiting the Gorge, he also took time to share his political ideologies with 125 students at Hood River Valley High School.

“In journalism school I hope they are teaching that you don’t give any president the benefit of the doubt because, if you do, you’ll be in war after war after war, he said on Friday evening. “The way journalists express their patriotism in a democracy is putting their loyalty in the people and not in the government.”

According to Cohen, as long as corporate sponsors paid for programming there would be a “white male, corporate conservative bias.” He said even public broadcast networks had become afraid of investigative reporting because that could endanger their funding.

For example, Cohen said there could hardly be a hard-hitting story on the destruction of natural resources when that program was being paid for by one of the worst polluters. Cohen said he and other true liberals were working to overcome the challenge of an informational “blackout.” In about 18 months, activists plan to launch the World Independent Network that will be funded globally by viewers, with no corporate advertising.

“An independent, aggressive and critical media is essential to an informed democracy,” said Cohen, who has co-authored four books on the subject.

He praised Michael Moore for producing Farenheit 9-11, which Cohen termed as “gripping and moving.” He said independent reporting was hard to find and liberals mourned the retirement of journalist Bill Moyers, who believed that “news is what people want to keep hidden and everything else is publicity.”

Although Cohen took aim primarily at conservatives and the Republican party on Friday evening, he was also highly critical of mainstream Democrats.

“What we need in this country is a progressive party to take power away from all of the corporate democrats who not only are corrupt but can’t win an election anyway,” said Cohen.

In fact, he said the Progressive Democratic Party of America was being formed to wage war on the conservative stronghold in Washington, D.C.

“A reconstituted Democratic Party could really address the issues that people care about,” said Cohen “What we have are a lot of voters who are more faith-based than fact-based and that’s by design.”

At the conclusion of his lecture, Cohen urged his audience to challenge any bias or exclusion they observed in media programming. And, more than anything else, he said all citizens had a responsibility to stay informed and should find a venue to educate themselves.

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