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MEDIA
Taking on the electronic war profiteers
BY DAN KENNEDY

If only Dwight Eisenhower could see us now. The general-turned-president — whose warning about the creeping influence of the " military-industrial complex " helped set the stage for the ideological battles of the 1960s — would not recognize what we have become. Today, writes " News Dissector " Danny Schechter, we submit passively to the infinitely greater power of a " media-ocracy, a land in which media, the military and politics fuse. "

Schechter, the executive editor of Mediachannel.org, a media-watch Web site, cruises over the brave new cultural landscape in what may be the first book on the war in Iraq since hostilities ended — Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception (Cold Type, 222 pages, $15.99), subtitled How the Media Failed To Cover the War on Iraq. About 60 percent of the book is taken from his voluminous daily weblog (self-serving disclosure: check out page 176), with the rest consisting of original material and a few essays from other contributors.

With the war hardly over — indeed, the quagmire appears to be just now getting under way — one might question the value of an insta-book. Wouldn’t it make more sense to wait until we’ve all gained a bit more perspective?

" We live in a culture where everything is immediately covered and immediately forgotten, " Schechter replies. " We lurch from crisis to crisis, sensation to sensation, and the idea of ‘let’s move on’ is part of the cultural matrix. The Florida elections? That was last week. The increasingly rapid news cycle leads to a process of making it more and more difficult for an audience to absorb context and background and put it into any kind of framework. "

Schechter borrows a word coined by Time magazine’s James Poniewozik — " militainment " — to describe how the war was covered by the broadcast networks and the cable news channels. News executives didn’t have to be intimidated or coerced into taking the government line, Schechter writes, because they already knew that skepticism would have been bad for ratings — and, thus, bad for business. Perversely, he notes that our media moguls actually cited the expense of war coverage in their recent pleas to the Federal Communications Commission for even more deregulation and monopolization: only enormous corporations, they argued, could afford such costs. As though all that high-tech desert gadgetry actually helped any of us understand what was going on.

You can get whiplash from skimming through the daily entries in Embedded, but there are some moments of real prescience and insight. Take this, from April 10: " The continuing resistance proves how un-over this war is. Yes, a statue was pulled down as we saw over and over again on television as some Iraqis danced for the cameras, a scene that could not have been more perfect had it been scripted. Having shed no tears for Saddam myself, I am sure much of the joy is genuine. His ouster is overdue. But there is a sense of foreboding about what happens next. "

Because of the need for speed, Embedded is being sold strictly over the Internet as a PDF file. (Schechter still hopes to bring out Embedded as a non-virtual book.) It even has a soundtrack: " Media Wars, " a hip-hoppy pastiche by polarity/1, a politically oriented group that’s affiliated with Mediachannel.org.

And take note: George W. Bush absolutely kicks ass on the chorus.

To purchase Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception online via PayPal, go to www.mediachannel.org . All proceeds will benefit Mediachannel.org. To listen to and download " Media Wars " and other tracks by polarity/1, go to www.polarity1.com

Issue Date: June 27 - July 3, 2003
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