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When infotainment rules

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Do not attempt to adjust your radio. Do not attempt to change your television channel. Do not attempt to search frantically through the pages of your daily newspaper. There is nowhere to hide. Infotainment has taken control. Thanks to the assistance of corporate dollars and corporate mergers, combined with the toss-me-my-little-green-bone mentality of many news organizations today, what appears to be news and information ain't necessarily news and information. These days fluff carries the weight of a bull elephant while critical thought and analysis drift wearily into the ether. The breakdown of the new-and-approved corporate mindset that has been fostered upon the neutered news industry today, according to "We the Media," a new paperback edited by Don Hazen and Julie Winokur, is essentially: If the reader (or the reporter) utilizes brain cells for thought, then said individual is most likely an elitist in need of re-education and noncritical thought programming. Such individuals are threats to corporate oneness and must either be assimilated or erased. What happens when so few corporations control so much information? All thought-provoking material is altered beyond recognition or diluted until it resembles tapioca pudding. (This is news. This is your brain on news. Any questions?) This probably sounds like a great idea for a science-fiction novel. But truth is stranger than fiction. This paperback full of articles and mini-essays on the growing media empires assembles a wide variety of opinions from an equally wide variety of sources who agree on the severity of the problem. In the introduction, Hazen, director of the Institute for Alternative Journalism, says, "Today, instead of a communication system that enlightens the public and speaks truth to power, we have a media system that has become all-powerful itself and threatens to overwhelm democracy in the process. ... Simultaneously, we need to create a different -- and renewed -- independent media system that will celebrate public-interest journalism and provide a stimulating and powerful alternative." "We the Media" is far from objective. The editors and contributors are all on the same page. Little or no effort is made to "tell the other (corporate) side." The absence of balance can be viewed as the book's primary weakness. Perhaps more balance might have provided stronger appeal to the wider audience that needs to hear the message. Still, there are more than a few surprises. For example, did you know that GE, Westinghouse, Disney and Time Warner control the major TV news divisions in the United States? That's two defense contractors and two entertainment conglomerates telling us what's news. In Canada? A man named Conrad Black owns 58 of the country's 104 daily newspapers. You do the math. "We the Media: A Citizens' Guide to Fighting for Media Democracy," $15.95. Available from The New Press; phone (212) 629-8081 or fax (212) 629-8617.

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