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Pulling the Sheep's Clothing
Wizards of Media Oz: Behind the Curtain of Mainstream News
Reviewed by Kirsten Cowan
Wizards of Media Oz: Behind the Curtain of Mainstream News,
is spicy reading. Like all hot and fiery dishes, it is best served
up in small doses. The book is culled from the recent work of Norman
Solomon, author of a syndicated "Media Beat" column and
Jeff Cohen, founder of media watch-dog Fairness and Accuracy In
Reporting. The column format is both the strength and weakness of
the book. It leads to the sometimes laboured repetition of key phrases,
both condemnations of evil-doers such as Rush Limbaugh and accolades
for their heroes such as mid-century free-press advocate George
Seldes. However it also provides the perfect serving size for their
peppery, rapid fire prose denouncing the American journalistic landscape
of corporate and defence industry toadies.
Cohen and Solomon shine when they seek to uncover the powerful
interests at work behind the creation of media-saturating stories
or public features. Their skewering of America' s Gulf War knight
in shining armour, Colin Powell, is merciless - and horrifying.
Powell's protection of American soldiers suspected of human rights
abuses in Vietnam, his undisputed participation in the arms for
hostages Contra scandal and his vehement opposition to gay and lesbian
participation in the army are all neatly chronicled. As elsewhere,
the real story is not the unsurprising news that a career army man
supports interventionist military policies and opposes gay rights.
The real story is that a supposedly balanced media have failed to
bring any of these facts to the public's attention.
Moving through a series of columns written over a two year period
enables the reader to see just what obsesses these two authors,
and it's clearly the myth of the left-wing media. Although the debunking
of this notion is given its own section, it recurs throughout the
book. Anyone reading from the left will sympathize with their intense
frustration. Like the "big lie" of Jewish world domination,
the right uses the falsehood of a liberal media to deflect attention
from its literal ownership, through mega-media conglomerates such
as Time-Warner, of the mainstream media.
Cohen and Solomon's columns are not all equally successful. In
"As Lebanon Suffers, Israel Can Count on U.S. Media Tilt,"
they fall victim to another misconception about the American press,
the "myth of the pro-Israel media." They are outwitted
at their own game, seeing a slant to American journalism that is
hardly as simple as they have portrayed.
Cohen and Solomon manage to infuse many of their columns with a warm humanity, uncovering the hidden heroes and casualties lost in the mainstream coverage of major stories and celebrity non-news. In the end, the format simply does not allow for the kind of in-depth examination of issues that is most satisfying. By pulling the sheep's clothing off the wolves of the American public opinion machinery the authors have produced a chilling indictment of a leashed press. In Wizards of Media Oz, Solomon and Cohen have also produced a sustained call for an aware and informed readership.
Kirsten Cowan is Manager of Display Advertising and Sponsorships at Sources.
Published in Sources, Number 41, Winter 1998.