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Beth Epstein 4 long Indonesian assault on East Timor way in which ideology \(together with an alshaped the coverage makes it the paradigm case for the propaganda model, and a shameful episode for American journalism. In domestic coverage, Herman’s look at the uses and abuses of science by corporations that want to dodge responsibility for damage to human health and the environment delivers a similar judgment on media performance. These case studies leave me with only one nagging concern about Herman’s presentation. He sometimes uses the term “bias” in critiquing journalists, which I think is a mistake, for strategic and theoretical reasons. Strategically, it is too easy for journalists to respond by saying, “Hey, the right-wingers think we are biased and the left-wingers think we are biased; we must be doing our job.” Instead of engaging the critique, journalists claim victory by taking refuge in the middle. What that reflexive defense mechanism misses, of course, is that the right-wing’s argument that the news media are liberal is unsupported by any systematic inquiry; dependent on the view that the personal biases of individual working journalists are more important than the structural factors based on definitions of liberal and conservative in which a centrist such as Bill Clinton is seen as left-wing. Left/progressive media criticism, on the other hand, is grounded in a significant body of research on how the news is routinely framed, understands the structure of institutions as more important in shaping the news than individual preferences of relatively powerless journalists, and points out that on most issues involving foreign policy and the economy, Republicans and Democrats liberals and conservatives are in general agreement. Using the term “bias” to describe this, however, too often leads people to ignore the structural critique and return to the focus on individual biases. But discussing the problems of journalism in terms of “bias” also is troubling in the way in which it reinforces the notion that neutrality and mythical notions of objectivity are possible. As I tell my journalism students, there is no neutral ground on which to stand in the world. Every position from which we might examine the world is a position, hence every assertion about the world is biased in some sense. The goal, therefore, is not neutrality but accountability. Instead of striving for an unattainable neutrality that can shield one from criticism, journalists should provide detailed evidence and a full account of the unstated assumptions and moral judgments on which their reporting is based. We all should strive for that standard, and that is, in fact, the kind of work Herman offers. But I think talking about it in terms of bias undercuts his case. Finally, a word about one of the honest concerns that I hear from professors who hesitate to make the propaganda model central in their teaching. Many students, already prone to cynicism and a belief that nothing can be done to improve the world, are quick to take the model as evidence that the news media are hopeless and that there’s no reason to read the news or struggle to make it better. Herman and Chomsky have always said they believe that resistance to the system, both from within the news media and from the outside, is crucial, and their work is testament to their convictions. But it’s easy, especially for young people, to be jaded or depressed when they figure out just how powerful are the forces against social justice. When I teach the propaganda model to journalism students, a number of them always come to me in private to seek advice. “I wanted to become a journalist to right the wrongs, to work for justice,” they say. “Now you tell me that journalism isn’t about that. Now what am I supposed to do?” I tell them that just because corporate journalism is not about social justice doesn’t mean that individual journalists can’t work for social justice in their jobs. I explain to them that people of conscience face similar choices no matter what the profession. They can go to work in mainstream institutions and try to bore from within, or they can break from that path and work to create alternatives. It’s not so simple as choosing between reform and revolution; it’s about seeing the openings the society offers and taking them, with one’s eyes wide open about the limits of the system. While I think we need to build strong alternative media outlets, I never discourage young people from going to work for corporate media, for two reasons. First, the skills one learns on the job can be taken elsewhere when one gets fed up with the corporate system, so long as one doesn’t become complacent. And second, it is important to have journalists of conscience working on the inside. The system can be frustrating, but it does on occasion provide openings that can be exploited. As Herman points out, there is no monolithic evil force directing the news media, and creative journalists can find ways to do good work. As someone who continues to work for a powerful institution that is hardly committed to social justice \(the University of my faculty position, I give up the platform from which I can speak. Yet by not leaving, I reduce the amount of time and energy I have for building alternative institutions, and I help to legitimize the institution. It’s a tough call, and there are no easy answers. People of conscience should fret a bit about the choices, but not be afraid to choose. Herman’s life as an economics professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, media critic, alternative journalist, and radical political activist is a fine example of how those choices can be made with integrity and commitment. Robert Jensen is an associate professor in the Department of Journalism at U.T.Austin. He can be reached at . 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 24, 1999