America's Soviet-style TV

I downloaded the app for Al Jazeera on my Android phone and it works fine. Just now there was an intelligent discussion comparing the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

When I was a kid and TV was just coming to our little town, there was an ad showing a Soviet soldier smash a radio with an axe. "Radio Free Europe compels them to admit the truth!" a voice loudly proclaimed.

Something about the contrast between Al Jazeera and the US network and cable news reminds me of that spot. "TV Al Jazeera compels them to admit there's a world beyond Washington and Hollywood gossip!"

The extent of decline in U.S. television coverage of world events is, by now, absolutely shocking. The idea that the networks can quickly parachute in news anchors like Brian Williams to tell us what's happening is just another symptom of a deep disorientation in American mass media.

Then again, what does Al Jazeera have to say about Lindsay Lohan's latest troubles?

- Langdon

Bogus news for an increasingly fake medium

The Independent reports (evidently you have to read the press in the UK to learn these things) that the Bush Administration has been using "legitimate" television stations (cough, cough) to run its propaganda.

" Federal authorities are actively investigating dozens of American television stations for broadcasting items produced by the Bush administration and major corporations, and passing them off as normal news. Some of the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or promoted the companies' products.

Investigators from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are seeking information about stations across the country after a report produced by a campaign group detailed the extraordinary extent of the use of such items.

The report, by the non-profit group Centre for Media and Democracy, found that over a 10-month period at least 77 television stations were making use of the faux news broadcasts, known as Video News Releases (VNRs). Not one told viewers who had produced the items.

"We know we only had partial access to these VNRs and yet we found 77 stations using them," said Diana Farsetta, one of the group's researchers. "I would say it's pretty extraordinary. The picture we found was much worse than we expected going into the investigation in terms of just how widely these get played and how frequently these pre-packaged segments are put on the air."

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During a speaking visit to an America journalism school recently I talked with students and faculty about the kinds of jobs graduates of the school expected to find. The strong consensus was that most of them would find work in public relations firms, not in traditional news reporting. Perhaps this is one of the ways that the boundaries between news and propaganda are being erased. Even the professionals can't tell the difference.