Note: Sample below may appear distorted but all corresponding word document files contain proper formattingExcerpt from Book Report:
), [he knows] that media companies are responsive to pressure when it is sustained, sophisticated and well executed," he fails to offer any concrete examples of this kind of pressure or how it might actually be applied (Schechter, 2003, p. 242). He does propose "a Media and Democracy Act, an omnibus bill that could be a way of showing how all of these issues are connected," but he does not provide any details of what might actually be included in this all-encompassing piece of hypothetical legislation (p. 242). Rather, he simply asserts that this potential legislation (that, if it actually included regulations to effectively combat the problems with American journalism would almost certainly never have passed at the time of his writing and would still be extremely unlikely now) could magically "create one easy to market and explain package of proposals that can forge a coalition with many stakeholders and constituencies" (p. 242). Schechter ends his laughably vague call to action by suggesting that if readers really want to transform American journalism into the kind of critical, investigatory institution that serves to reveal and constrain the machinations of power, they should email him with some ideas (p. 242).
Writing in a vacuum
Schechter's book is invaluable for one attempting to understand the media blitz which facilitated the Iraq War, but it regards it topic in a kind of textual vacuum, without regard for supplementary works on the same issues that might have proved helpful in providing some context. For example, in Screened out: how the media control us and what we can do about it, Carla Johnston (2000) manages to sum up in one sentence what Schechter does not really point out in his entire book:
In an attempt to increase profits, media owners and advertisers all too often abandon democratic processes and principles in order to invoke techniques of both content selection and production that are designed to frighten the public, immobilizing rather than empowering it (p. 160).
In Embedded, Schechter attempts to discuss the collusion of media and the American government in the run-up to and execution of the Iraq war without really discussing what the media actually gains from this relationship. He takes as a given the notion that governments intentionally deceive the public as a means "to soften noxious aspects of their actions for a public audience," but he offers no real reason why media organizations would likewise benefit from this deception (Jacobsen, 2008, p. 337). While Schechter's discussion of embedded journalists suggested that "access" is the carrot that keeps media entities following the official line, and he does mention that these official histories are "sold" to the public, he stops short of discussing what reimbursement the media receives for this service, and instead focuses his attention solely on the benefits to the government and military.
Thus, when Schechter notes in the introduction to Embedded that "networks like war" because "the spectacle builds ratings and revenues," he does so in such a way as to suggest that this profit motive is entirely natural and thus implicitly unassailable (Schechter, 2003, p. 18). This critical lacuna leads to further gaps that ultimately serve to hinder a true understanding of the failure of American journalism in the context of the Iraq war. For instance, Schechter disregards the ominously named "Shared Values Initiative," one of the more overt combinations of journalism, advertising, and propaganda which aimed to sell American imperialism in the guise of cultural similarity, a project only made possible by the "abnormal craving for new objects of [media] consumption" engendered by television news' transformation into a 24-hour entertainment and advertising stream (Gaither, 2007, p. 843, Danesi (Ed.), 2000, p. 158).
This problem is pervasive throughout Embedded, because Schechter seems disinterested in describing the means by which news media were "manipulating a news-report reaction, while at the same time appearing to be objective" in favor of simply repeatedly claiming they were doing so (Irani, 2007). Thus, he does not even address some of the more blatant and long-running forms of media control, such as the nearly two-decade long ban on media coverage regarding the coffins of those Americans killed in the war, which served to hide "the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan" and "control public anger over the conflicts" (Jakarta Globe, 2009, & New York Times, 2009). While Schechter's target was ostensibly the means by which dissent and support are controlled by the government through the acquiescence of the media, Embedded apparently has little interest in uncovering the actual "role of communication processes in such expressions" (Schnell, 2010). Once again, it is worth pointing out that this does not mean that Embedded is not a worthwhile text, but rather that it only provides a portion of the discussion surrounding these issues.
Some of the context lacking in Embedded is further evidenced by the numerous and far more effective examples of the public's ability to influence media coverage provided by other critics who share Schechter's views but argue them with a far more robust attention to detail and context. For example, in their book Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back, Amy and David Goodman (2006) point towards the efforts of AIDS activists to secure greater coverage of the burgeoning epidemic in the 1980s as an example of effective direct action aimed at forcing the media to fulfill its informative role (p. 283-285). Similarly, in Framing terrorism: the news media, the government, and the public, Norris et al. (2003) discuss how "in the post-World War II era, national security risks have appeared in a number of guises" which serve to provide the government and media grist for inducing fear and thus maintaining control over an otherwise critical or suspicious public (p. 27).
Schechter's work lacks this same historicity throughout, and although one might argue that this is a result of the weblog format, which usually may forgo the usually necessary contextualizing due to the fact that a blog may include relevant hyperlinks and is usually written with the assumption that the reader has immediate access to other supplementary information on the internet, the choice to reproduce blog posts without any revision means that Schechter is unable to offer any relevant evidence or examples in support of his claims, predictions, or calls to action. Thus, Embedded only ever succeeds at hinting at the kind of misinformation disseminated via the U.S. news media, and as such fails to provide the kind of damning evidence that might effectively convince readers of the dangerous complicity of the news media, such as the fact that in February of 2003 Secretary of State Colin Powell refused to read the original draft of the Bush administration's evidence arguing in favor of the Iraq war to the UN, calling it "bullshit" and reducing "one 38-page list of allegations against Iraq [...] to six pages" (Mother Jones, 2011). The issue is not that the book is based on a blog, but rather that Schechter and his publishers did not adapt the blog with an eye to the particular strengths and weaknesses of either format (as opposed to the documentary version, which used the visual medium to great effect).
Communication and Media in Embedded
Thus far Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception has been discussed in terms of journalism, with any possible critiques of the book analyzed in the context of both the book's subject (American journalism and media in general) and comparable texts which engage in largely the same project as Schechter, and from the same journalistic paradigm. Viewed in this way, the book can be seen to contain certain gaps in terms of context, but one may also approach Embedded from the perspective of communication theory in order to determine how it implicitly functions as a theoretical text, advocating a particular critical methodology even if Schechter does not explicitly state as much. Thus, by considering Embedded in the context of preexisting theories of communication and mass media, one may see how the contextual gaps in the book ultimately stem from a particular theoretical perspective, because the unspoken theoretical assumptions which Schechter relies on serve to preclude Embedded from describing the communication processes which underlie its ostensible focus.
Schechter's misunderstanding McQuail's miscategorization
The first of Schechter's theoretical assumptions revealed when considering Embedded in the context of communication theory is the notion that mass media has a single, inherent purpose, which is to provide the public with the information necessary to make informed decisions regarding their governance, thus acting as a check on power. Admittedly, this assumption is likely held by a majority of the public, but this fact only serves to demonstrate the importance of realizing that this is merely an assumption, and is not born out by the actual reality of mass media. In reality, there is an important distinction between the idealized and ostensible purpose of media and the actual functioning of media,…[continue]
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