By Jim Miller
In this final installment of Under the Perfect Sun media critique greatest hits, I apply the propaganda model to San Diego’s media scene. Interestingly, it should be noted that while the local press have largely continued the Filner as disruptive narrative cited here, articles in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times have recently presented a much prettier picture of Filner as a game changing mayor on multiple fronts. This is surely an embarrassing development in the House of Manchester, but don’t expect that to change the party line.
As the historic battle between Mayor Filner and San Diego’s big hoteliers over the tourism marketing deal unfolds, it’s clear where the lines are drawn.
On one side, you have a new strong mayor who is committed to ending business as usual in San Diego and on the other, you have folks like Terry Brown, chairman of the San Diego Tourism Marketing Association who, as Matt Potter at The San Diego Reader has pointed out, is a big time Republican funder as are the crew of business lobbyists, real estate developers, and San Diego Taxpayer Association types who have miraculously found they can love a tax after it has transubstantiated into a fee and serves as a giveaway to corporate interests.
Joining this merry band you also have City Councilman Todd Gloria who has sided with leaders of San Diego’s old private government rather than back his fellow Democrat in the mayor’s office. This should come as no surprise to anyone who watched Gloria’s profile in cowardice as he surrendered to Walmart’s threats, folded like a cheap tent, and joined the council majority to kill San Diego’s ill-fated big box ordinance during the tail end of the Sanders era.
This time he isn’t folding like a tent; he’s already hopped into the sleeping bag with moneyed interests and is feeling downright cozy. Surely his loyalty will not be forgotten when he needs campaign money to help further his future ambitions. It’s an unsavory marriage of inside game and political opportunism at its worst
As Doug Porter has written here at the San Diego Free Press, behind all of this drama is the old guard’s attempt to delegitimize San Diego’s first Democratic mayor in decades and its only progressive mayor ever before he has a chance.
The recall is already in the works and the campaign has begun in earnest with San Diego’s media landscape eating up the anti-Filner narrative portraying our new mayor as a divisive figure by focusing on style and personality while largely ignoring the historical, political, and/or economic context. We should not be surprised.
As bad as this national landscape is, our local media menu is even more skewed, dominated as it is by the House of Manchester, horrible TV news, and weeklies and online publications subject to the same ownership and advertising pressures along with similar sourcing and ideological filters. A thorough analysis of the local scene is a matter for another column but suffice it to say you are reading the only progressive source of news and analysis that is not subject to the pressures that Chomsky and Herman discuss. Hence, San Diego is home to a local Conservative Entertainment Complex on steroids, with some outlets doing very little to conceal that they are mere auxiliaries of the Republican Party and the Chamber of Commerce. What this means for our incoming progressive mayor is that he will have to continually negotiate a media minefield, ready to pounce on every misstep, real or perceived, or evidence of his nefarious alliance with labor or local progressive groups. Remember, business is never a “special interest.” Good luck Bob!
And here we are only a few months later, and the local media is hewing closely to this script. Indeed, if you apply Chomsky and Herman’s model to San Diego’s media landscape, it serves as a useful guide to our local doublethink machine. As I observed in the earlier column:
Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman delineated precisely how the corporate media serve to manufacture consent for an elite agenda. Their model outlines five filters that “news” has to sift through before it makes it to your newspaper, radio, or television set: the concentration and profit orientation of media ownership; advertising as the primary source of income; sourcing reliant on governmental and business “experts” frequently funded by or linked to powerful interests; flak as a means of disciplining the media; and anti-communism (or more recently “anti-terrorism”) as an ideological litmus test.
What does a quick gloss of our local media scene tell us about the forces that filter San Diego news? Nothing good.
We are only months into the Filner era and Manchester’s Union-Tribune and its right-wing allies the McKinnons at KUSI are predictably bashing away at Filner and not just in their editorial function, but also via their “news” operations which have so thoroughly blurred the line between editorial and news that the boundary no longer exists. And sadly, as a one-paper town, Manchester’s operation drives much of the rest of the news coverage in our city as San Diego’s de-facto paper of record.
Indeed, the SDUT’s editorial page and news operation have become so transparently in the tank for local Republican and business interests that San Diego’s only newspaper is less a source of reportage on the news than a relentless bludgeon used to discipline the enemies of planet Manchester—unions, progressives, activists, the public sector, etc. Like Mr. Burns in The Simpsons, Doug Manchester has released the hounds on the unwelcome guests in the mayor’s office.
Thus as the only game in town, the mouthpiece of Manchester serves as a threat to the public interest as it disguises disinformation as news and continues to shape much of the local coverage in other outlets. The SDUT may be a joke, but it is a dangerous one if you believe that democracy depends on an educated populace.
And if the naked influence of the ownership’s agenda on the San Diego media landscape was not enough, the advertising filter ensures that the primary aim of most of our commercial news, even those outlets that are not owned by conservative power players, is to sell advertising to companies who seek to appeal to affluent consumers with the most money to buy their products.
Thus, the economics of San Diego TV news, like that of local news elsewhere, pushes it toward a kind of least objectionable programming that focuses on live action shots of car crashes or crime scenes, schmaltzy sports and weather coverage that lasts longer than the other news segments, and a relentless effort to keep the mood light.
This sad situation combined with the inherently empty 30 second sound byte that brings us the news of the day, means that we are guaranteed to get contextless infotainment on the TV broadcasts that serve as the alternative to KUSI’s Republican Pravda and the SDUT’s party line. Hence, the petty and personal dominate local political coverage and deeper analysis is nearly non-existent. The bottom line is that shallow boosterism promotes the buying mood; boring historical, political, or economic analysis does not.
If national news stations have a revolving door of official experts that shape the news, San Diego’s media landscape is even more limited with the local news media frequently relying solely on quick and easy official sources with little or no effort to question them. It’s either that or they don’t do much background work at all, period. Larger context? Forget about it.
And the flak that comes to bear on the national stage is even more effective at the local level with a deeply entrenched, entitled power elite and those in their service ready to pounce when a story isn’t framed the way they like it–not that it’s been necessary very often.
Finally, if there is no demonized foreign “other” to fear on the streets of San Diego, there is always labor. Unions have come to serve as San Diego’s post McCarthy era replacement for the red menace. Union density may be lower in San Diego than in other major cities and the labor movement might be in stark decline nationally, but nonetheless, in America’s Finest City, it’s never wrong to blame labor. If there is a civic religion, union-bashing is close to it.
What’s the alternative to the corporate news? In San Diego, the weeklies struggle to pay the bills and while they offer moderate to liberal alternatives to the Union-Tribune, the economic pressures they face limit what staff and resources they can bring to bear in their reporting and whether they can hire and keep good journalists. Economic necessity also makes it bad business for them to alienate current or potential advertisers.
While online sources have fewer restraints they also have even scarcer resources and some are driven by their own ideological agendas depending on their funding sources, perceived mission, or worldviews. Consequently, much of the alternative media in San Diego isn’t that alternative.
On the airwaves, once you’ve waded through the cesspool of right wing ranting, KPBS stands out as the single best news source in the city, but even they rely more on the frame created by the SDUT than they should. More non-commercial options are sorely needed.
So when the average San Diegan gets the news about their new mayor, it’s most likely they’ll hear a story that is part of an orchestrated attack on Filner by moneyed interests or a sound byte of meaningless tabloid-ready fluff. If they are intrepid, they’ll go to public radio or the weeklies or even yours truly here at the Free Press, but the odds are more likely they won’t get the whole story and wonder why Bob just doesn’t play well with others.
Business as usual dies hard.
Eds. Note: Originally Posted March 3, 2013. We’re re-running some of the best of his columns while Jim takes this ‘vacation’ thing we keep hearing about.