In a disturbing turn of events for an administration already plagued by sagging poll numbers and waning support for the Iraq war, Friday’s revelation that the Bush Administration issued direct guidelines for programming to media outlets is troubling even die-hard conservatives.
Late Friday a series of memos between senior Bush Administration officials and management at Viacom, Inc. were leaked calling for the media giant to focus on stories and programming choices that “reinforce the Administration’s positions” and to “ignore and/or discredit points of view in opposition to the Bush Administration’s foreign policy objectives for the purposes of National Security.”
Democrats and key civil rights figures were quick to comment on this latest chapter of alleged government malfeasance. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer issued a statement calling for a congressional inquiry. “This is it. This is a smoking gun. For years we’ve been saying that liberal and moderate points of view aren’t being accurately reflected in the media and this proves our point. The Bush Administration is clearly out of touch with the American people, and Viacom should be ashamed.”
Other prominent figures were less forgiving. Rev. Al Sharpton called the memos “treasonous” and “genocidal” and reiterated his desire for impeachment proceedings to commence. “What we have here is a complete disregard for the law, for what is morally correct and for the will of the people. It’s been no secret to anyone with a brain that the majority of programming that we are exposed to by certain companies is negative, but now it’s out in the open. Look at BET. Look at the exclusion of voices that accurately represent communities of color. It’s insidious.”
Media companies have come under increasing fire as of late for their portrayal of minorities and for inaccuracies in reporting stories of interest to activist communities.
Most recently, estimates in the participation numbers of protesters at anti-immigration legislation rallies were hotly disputed.
The media’s alleged embracing of artists and stories depicting people of color in a derogatory manner has become a hot-topic issue with media watchdog groups and prominent entertainment commentators alike.
Davey D, a San Francisco-based music writer and hip-hop historian, echoed the sentiment. “It’s true, there is no balance in the media, especially in hip-hop, where the negativity is most prevalent. All we hear of on a commercial level is pimps, players and gangsters. That’s not all us. What about the revolutionary voices? What about artists like The Coup? Like Public Enemy and Paris? They have a new album out together that speaks on exactly what’s going on right now, but they don’t get played on commercial radio. We’ve always argued that our voices are systematically suppressed. Well, here’s the proof.”
Not all agree, however. Senate Majority Leader; Bill Frist took a more defensive stance. “Of course it raises some concerns, but we can’t let this issue be blown out of proportion. Of course there have to be media guidelines. Hell, if we want to plant I.D. chips in people and torture their loved ones until they break, we will. I know the idea of governmental control over what the media can or cannot say during wartime may be an uncomfortable topic for some to digest, but it is a necessary fact of life when our enemies are trying to kill us.”
Debra L. Lee, president and CEO of Viacom’s Black Entertainment Television, agrees. “Even though our moniker is BET, our allegiance lies with our government and its directives, not the African-American community. Anyone who believes that we will endorse messages in contrast to our government’s wishes, or that express dissent, is sorely mistaken.”
Some entertainment industry insiders are becoming increasingly concerned, however. One longtime employee of Interscope Records, a leading record label and home to rap superstars 50 Cent and Eminem, stated recently under the condition of anonymity that the company “has a unique relationship with Viacom” and that it “deliberately focuses on marketing campaigns that depict black people in the worst possible light.” When told of Rev. Sharpton’s likening of the practice to ‘genocide’ on African-Americans, he agreed wholeheartedly, but expressed fears of reprisal should he publicly address his concerns.
“It’s beyond national security. That was the reason given at first, but now they just tell us what we have to endorse, and what we have to avoid.” He added, “these kids eat it up. They don’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s fake.”
An Interscope company spokesperson was unavailable for comment.
“We will get to the bottom of this,” Sharpton continued, “and heads will roll. Now that their practices of propaganda are common knowledge even Americans with limited political awareness will demand change.”