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Review In The Atlantic Affairs

Guardians of Power: Journalists as liberal dupes or corporate worse?

By Adam Samuel Hamilton Smyth Posted: May 23, 2006

A journalist's first obligation is to the truth; or so the old adage goes. Journalists are also supposed to monitor power. But David Edwards and David Cromwell are not convinced that they all know this. Which probably wouldn't trouble the media too much, were it not that these two journalist-academics are the team behind Media Lens, the media-monitoring website, and the authors of a stridently vocal new book on media (ir)responsibility.

Contemptuous of the easy prey that dwells in the mainstream, the co-authors of Guardians of Power have set their sights on the finer target of the self-titled 'liberal media'. They argue that it is not the red- tops we should fear, but the middle-ground newspapers and broadcasters who blind us with claims of neutrality and independence, especially regarding the book's major topics: wars and climate change. Story by story, theme by theme, they lay siege to the lazy consensus that organisations like The Independent and the BBC propagate routinely.

In short, Guardians of Power is a reader on what you always feared you did not know (about the media, anyway). To help you fill those voids, the two Davids aim to reinstate the full context and excise the bullshit.

Some of their contentions should be evident to any switched-on consumer: the Hitlerisation of all enemies of the West/NATO; the careless use and abuse of buzz words like 'atrocity' and 'genocide'; every-day censorship by omission. But they work through darker and more complex stuff, too: the lengthy debacle of weapons inspection (and reporting on it) in Iraq; the (wrongly) comforting conception of humanitarian, 'good' or just wars; and the basic lack of pre-supposed freedom in the corporate media environment.

Many journalists - like those whom Media Lens have savaged in correspondence - might feel offended at being labelled corporate dupes or worse, and a few of them with just cause. Perhaps the book might have concluded with an appendix listing those journalists (if any) of whom Media Lens approve. Rebuking the middle-ground is all well and good; but if your key allies are John Pilger and Noam Chomsky you are open to some obvious retorts.

In some cases, I feel the Davids go too far. Every now and then the reader has an OJ Simpson moment - a nagging suspicion that just because the evidence used by the liberal media wasn't perfect doesn't mean the point they were making wasn't right. But if occasionally the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater, it is still absolutely right that someone is doing this work, and so tenaciously. If we are tempted to abandon all hope of a balanced corporate media, we can at least rest assured that there are balancing forces out there, Media Lens leading the charge.

Guardians of Power makes for uncomfortable reading, and left me feeling rather helpless: where on earth can we go for The Truth, if not to the liberal media? This is probably a much-needed slap in the face for over-comfortable Brits who have long been used to the fallacy that our liberal media are unbiased in their approach and untainted by human mischief. Our faith in liberal media and our belief that 'the truth will out' (without a bit of a push) are, it seems, misplaced. But thankfully the two Davids do not abandon us here. The book closes on an ultimately redemptive note, with chapters on how the media can better serve us, and on how we can come out of our complacent stupor and avoid the obvious pitfalls before us. As a readership we are partially congratulated for becoming more inquisitive, and quietly reminded that there is still a lot more for us to do.

Guardians of Power: The myth of the liberal media by David Edwards and David Cromwell Publisher: Pluto Press Contact: www.plutobooks.com

Adam Samuel Hamilton Smyth is a student of MA in Intelligence and International Security at King's College, London. He blogs at http://nonanglisedangeli.blogspot.com

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