Yellow journalism is back in full force in America. Originally coined to describe the coverage that helped promote the Spanish-American War of 1898, the term describes a type of journalism high on exaggeration and bias, purposely misguiding readers to achieve the financial and political purposes of particular publishers and editors.
During the turn of the 20th Century, it was driven by the competition between William Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. These days the yellow journalism comes primarily out of right-wing visions of an overwhelmingly world-dominant America - its national leadership and its "radia-tolahs" cry for war as their corporations capture market share.
Today, it is mostly electronic and it rides the airwaves and cables of America. Journalism is thus reduced to "talk" about the news. In the electronic fireplace that television and radio were supposed to become, we see mostly the representations of several dozen talking, and more often yelling, heads. Chickenhawks - pundits and policy-makers that never experienced combat - the vast majority jingoistic to a fault, cheer for the bombs to fly. The cry of "America: love it or leave it," and the straight-out willingness to insult the other side, are constant. From Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter to Rush Limbaugh to Shawn Hannity and Laura Ingraham, would-be GI Joe's and Jane's parade through the medium, clamoring for war as the only course of action for a determined America. Even though in these pages we have stated reasons for American Indians to participate in this war, the shrill bellicosity of many on the right is, nonetheless, disconcerting.
But the issue is about more than the likely war on Iraq. It's about a way of looking for accurate, truthful information that goes beyond the America of right and wrong, where everything is to be understood in terms of good and evil, right to left, conservative to liberal, Republican to Democrat. This Ping-Pong sense of truth that permeates American media (and increasingly, consciousness), we believe, unnecessarily limits the range of intelligence available to the American public. In media these days, you are expected to be either one or the other; and more and more commentators line up with one side against the other, rather than look for more comprehensive approaches.
These days, the radical conservatives appear to be dominant. The use of anger, insult and sarcasm is a favored tactic. Rush Limbaugh calling Indians "savages," the way he insultingly uses the term, "squaw," for example, are indicative of the slandering of the most marginalized sectors of society, and seems to have become fashionable. Information is brazenly manipulated to suit point of view, while the political "troops" are encouraged to see it all as "ammunition." In Limbaugh's case, it is meant to encourage the fight against what author Eric Alterman calls the "so-called liberal media." However, Limbaugh's approach (along with his numerous ditto-head pundits) is so one-sided and propagandistic that it recalls the darker days of Russia and Germany. It is one thing to have a strong point of view, it is another thing to shove it down everyone's throats as, "the American viewpoint." Some of these guys not only talk to God, but apparently He talks back to them. Of course, this is a God who talks to some and not to others. That's the problem with apocalyptic thinking in public life. It is unwaveringly selective.
In his recent book, "What Liberal Media: The Truth about BIAS and the News," Author Alterman dissects what he calls the myth of the supposed anti-conservative bias of the mainstream media. Grounded in comprehensive research that examines the time slots held by pundits, Alterman's book disproves the widespread perception drummed out to the public for the past decade, that the mainstream media slants the news toward liberal values. Alterman argues convincingly that there is an overwhelmingly radical conservative viewpoint in most media these days. So-called liberal journalists are in fact just that: liberal, which makes them moderates. The liberal media apparently not only seeks, consciously, a variety of perspectives in its programming; tripping backwards over itself, it is increasingly represented by commentators who are actually radical conservatives. By contrast, media outlets on the radical right are much more forthright in assuming that only their point of view is correct. Near to no liberal viewpoints are provided by that sector. The present-day bias, Alterman points out, exploding the purposely-created and propped-up myth, is actually on the conservative side.
Native peoples have long experienced the reality of misunderstanding, stereotype and even outright hostility from the mainstream media. The sense of being underrepresented and worse, misrepresented, is widespread. Only in recent years, with the advent of a Native-based journalism, the growth of Native newspapers and magazines, tribal Internet sites and even our own movie productions, has it been possible to begin to clear away the misconceptions of our tribal realities, our histories and our cultural self-representation. On the left, we have seen a level of romanticism and manipulation that has always bordered on the stereotypical; on the extreme right, the ideology that decries so-called "group rights" seems to paint widely over tribal peoples.
The confrontational, super-politicized approach to information and commentary, with the notion that one always has a superior view of the world, is pretty obviously manipulative. We advocate the widest possible viewpoint, one that considers culture, tribal values and histories, one that can integrate conflicting, equally valid perspectives, one that can afford to look from the local out, to the regional, national and international, from the viewpoints of tribal nations. Furthermore, we try to keep in mind that within our nations all points of view are represented and so our goal is not so much to convince as to deepen comprehension, analysis and intelligence.
In the current climate, for balance more than any other reason, we applaud that the liberal wing of America now moves to refuel the bases for more liberal analysis, radio and television commentary. America needs a big dose of this; the constant journalism by right-wing ideologues is in dire need of a strong challenge.
Again; not that the left will not be idiotic and perversely self-deceiving ("the proletariat will win," said one peace sign recently.) The left has at times been all-too-willing to pretend that huge societal crimes did not happen, for instance, because they were merely the "mistakes" of leftist regimes. As always, it remains to be seen who will prove to be the strongest allies of Indian people at this time in history. Demonizing the enemy before you kill him is an old strategy. Yellow journalism can emerge from many partisan sources.
We believe there is a better way. We believe there is a way to search for the truth that can emerge from a broader, non-partisan vision of the world. The trick is to look beyond the immediate antagonist to the task of long-term survival, stability, success and growth for the nations, all the nations. How is it felt at the community level? This is the one for journalists to always keep in mind. In striving to know the truth it is of utmost importance to talk to the people, to see what the best and the brightest, the elder and the fresh faces are thinking.
This is Red-road journalism.
Our advice to journalists, young and old: look for solutions; look for the best and most accurate information; seek wisdom. Do not skew the news toward strictly political viewpoints. Good politics, comprehensive decisions that can help our peoples, we believe, will follow.