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The Mass Media System is King. At least in America where reality is strained through a distorting image-making information machine. Bowing before this King are politicians, financiers, advertisers, athletes, musicians and actors, book authors, lawyers, academicians, assorted criminals-even presidents and elite leaders from every social sphere.

The "military-industrial complex," as Eisenhower warned, is a significant and growing danger to America. He could have said the same of the "Master Media complex," a corrupted version of Nietzsche's Overmen writ large. The unrestrained, self-important, media take refuge in their Constitutional freedom to be insignificant, and feed the public what is comfortable and non-catalytic. Mencken's "boobocracy" remains intact and the Big Media enjoys their sovereignty.

A substantial minority of Americans-especially those needing public attention-drool and genuflect before the Media.

Seldom, if ever, does a person dare to disagree with a media interviewer or insist on logic or lucidity from a media personality. Even print journalists, appearing before the TV cameras, tend to ask bland questions and give trite answers. Don't antagonize the King: This seems to be the public mantra.

How often do you read a letter from a minister, rabbi, or priest condemning the overemphasis on sex, nudity, sensationalism, and vile language that permeates the media?

Of course, such persons are hardly representatives of the "public." And where are the working people, the non-intellectuals, the non-sophisticated speakers and writers? Silence. Or for that matter, where are the rich businessmen who set up their tax-privileged foundations? Or the academics who presume to preserve the high culture of the country but say little or nothing about the vulgarization of public information?

Very little media criticism comes from the great masses. Maybe because they are quite satisfied with the paucity of serious news and analysis provided by the media. Maybe because the often insubstantial and distorted language of the media is compatible with their everyday rhetoric. Maybe because they hardly ever thoughtfully seek out incisive information that will help them be better citizens. Maybe because all they want are the headlines along with a few entertaining pictures. Maybe because they are attitudinally and culturally illiterate and don't care about changing. Maybe, maybe.

So most of American society sits silently by, saying little or nothing about the antics of the media. It is, indeed, a spectator society, a democracy mainly in name only. Its citizens are permissive, generally content to keep silent, inactive, unconcerned, and neutral on most issues. It's okay; it's okay. Don't rock the proverbial boat! It is the ethics of permissiveness, of lethargy, of ignorance, of silence, of only occasional sign of concern or indignation.

The national leadership loves it this way. What politician, for example, would want a critical, involved, concerned, well-informed citizenry? They thrive on the status quo, the silent citizenry, the mystified public. And the media go along with this elite concept of "democracy." What media mogul would want to alienate advertisers or get on the black list of governmental leaders? After all, the Media King is rich and comfortable. He is a Constitutional Monarch, concerned less about ethics and national probity than about profits and uncritical acceptance of the status quo. And the subjects are permissive, recognizing their inability to change the King even if they wanted to. Cyberspace opens up some new opportunity-but it must be the will of the people, not the advance in technology, that finally brings the people into the picture.

John C. Merrill, prolific author and professor emeritus in the University of Missouri-Columbia, has published several polemics in Media Ethics. This one was written at the height of the Anna Nicole Smith media feeding frenzy. His E-mail address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The above article was published in Media Ethics, Spring 2007 (18:2), p.5.