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SATURDAY OCTOBER 18, 2003
MSNBC-TV
JESSE VENTURA’S AMERICA

INTERVIEW WITH DR. PAUL LEVINSON

PROFESSOR AND CHAIR, DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATION & MEDIA STUDIES

FORDHAM UNIVERSITY

NEW YORK CITY



VENTURA: Welcome to JESSE VENTURA’S AMERICA. First I want to say that it is a privilege to bring you this show each week. I know this is only our third show, but already you are showing us that you like what you see. Thanks to all the people who tuned in last week and gave us a huge, big boost in the ratings.

While we have a ways to go, we are right on track, and I want you to know that we appreciate your loyalty, and I want MSNBC to know we appreciate their support in the tremendous promotion they’ve given our show. OK. Let’s get going here and see if we can make some trouble this week.

First, our audience tonight is made up of people from all walks of life. They’re not pundits. They’re real people. They’re not politicians, they’re common, ordinary citizens. They are citizens that rely on a free press to inform them, but are they being informed? Or are they being indoctrinated? We’ll ask our question-our audience, excuse me, that question and a lot more later.

But first, let’s welcome Dr. Paul Levinson to JESSE VENTURA’S AMERICA. Dr. Levinson is a professor and department chair of communication and media studies at Fordham University. Dr. Levinson, welcome to the show.

DR. PAUL LEVINSON, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: Good to be here, governor.

VENTURA: First of all, and before we do it, the doctor has written a couple of books, too. We want to make sure to get those on the air. ‘The Pixel Eye.’ What is that about?

LEVINSON: It’s about a New York City forensic detective who is investigating squirrels that are spying on people. See, I teach very serious things in my life.

VENTURA: All right. That’s a good one. Squirrels spying on people.

OK. Doctor, you’re an expert on the media. Are we truly getting good stories today? I mean, when the media sells us and you pick up, you watch the evening news and all you see are Kobe Bryant-and the thing that I dislike about it is, it is all speculation. Nobody’s under oath. They’re trying the cases before the court does. Is that a good policy for the media to do?

LEVINSON: Well, it’s not a good policy but that’s the way it’s always been. The media have always presented a mixture of good stories and bad stories. The media are really not much better than any other institutions and the people who work...

VENTURA: But shouldn’t they be?

LEVINSON: Well, ideally they should, but the important thing is that they be as aggressive as possible, try to cover as many stories as possible. And the price that we pay for that being on the case and uncovering things like Watergate and very important stories is that, yeah, lots of the time, the media do unimportant things and make a big deal out of things that aren’t that significant.

But who is the person or institution to say, well, the media can cover that story but not the other story. If we leave it to the government to do that, then what will happen is the government will say, well, don’t cover any stories that make us look bad. And that was the way of the media in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

VENTURA: Sure. Isn’t it true, though, that most so-called news today is created by the media, a lot of it’?

LEVINSON: Well, again, that was always the case. The media, the problem is they’re on 24 hours, seven days a week in terms of cable shows. Newspapers always had to put out at least one edition a day; years ago, sometimes two or three editions. So you need material to fill up that space and to fill up those pages. And so again, sometimes they tend to stoke stories along.

But it’s still good that we have those avenues, because then when a real story comes along, the media are raring to go. They’re like a watchdog, and we want the watchdog barking or ready to bark all the time.

VENTURA: Yeah, but isn’t it dangerous when the media is creating news, not reporting it? I mean, my point is this: For years and years, especially the television media, they wrote off the news. They didn’t worry about it. They didn’t worry if it lost money, because they felt it was their obligation to report facts to the public. And that if it lost money, oh, well, that’s a risk we take. We’ll make it up in other places.

But now, it seems that they’ve learned, you know, that reporting the news can be a profit maker. So now it’s clear to me that they’re looking at the bottom line. They’re looking at how much profit the news can make us, rather than simply giving us what may be drab stories that don’t sell real well. Now it’s the opposite. Who cares about the drab stories that affect everyone? Let’s get the story that really affects nobody but titillates or fascinates us.

LEVINSON: Well, the key is what we think of the American people. Now, Thomas Jefferson had great faith in the rationality of human beings in general and Americans in particular. And he said most of the news in newspapers of his day was fit to wrap fish in the day that the stuff was published, not even the next day. But he said he wasn’t concerned about that, because he believed that people could separate truth from falsity, people could see when things were being distorted, when the media of his day were making a big deal...

VENTURA: But what about the Jayson Blair case? This is ‘The New York Times’ where a guy gets caught fabricating. If you can’t trust ‘The New York Times,’ who can you?

LEVINSON: Well, you shouldn’t trust ‘The New York Times.’ And frankly, ‘The New York Times’ has always been too arrogant. You know, their motto is ‘all the news that’s fit to print.’ A more honest motto would be ‘all the news that a few editors deem fit to print.’

VENTURA: Stay with us, Paul. We’ll be right back, right after these words, to JESSE VENTURA’S AMERICA.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VENTURA:What a great song to come back with. Huh’ Johnny Lang’s ‘Lie to Me’ when you’re talking about the media. ‘Lie to Me.’ Welcome back. This is JESSE VENTURA’S AMERICA, where we believe, believe it or not, in the truth. We’re talking with Dr. Paul Levinson, who is chair of communications and media studies at Fordham University. You know, doctor, we’ve talked earlier about the media. I have my perspective of it. You certainly study it to a great degree. You have a doctor-doctor, you’re a doctor.

LEVINSON: I make the stuff up.

VENTURA: Do you?

LEVINSON:Yeah.

VENTURA:Well, then you’d fit right in with the media. No wonder you can study it. But again, I find it extremely dangerous what they’re doing today, because when they interject their opinion in a front page story, they’re being leading then. They’re being deceptive. Isn’t it correct procedure to just simply write the facts and allow the reader to then form their opinion based on the facts? But we’re not getting that today.

LEVINSON: That was never the case. Because first of all...

VENTURA: Then why are we taught that? I went to high school journalism. They taught me that. Why did they lie to me then in journalism class? Why did they teach me that the real world, you go out and you write what you want, but here in journalism class, in order to pass and get an A, you have got to write what we want to you say.

LEVINSON: Well, first of all, universities aren’t the real world.

VENTURA: This was high school.

LEVINSON:I know. But even high school, we try to present the way things should be.

VENTURA: OK.

LEVINSON: But in reality, they’re not usually that way, certainly not entirely. The thing about the media, from the very beginning, whatever a person wrote in a newspaper, an editor decided how much space that story would take up. Whether it would go on page one or page 40. Whether it would be top of the fold, beneath the fold. Walter Cronkite, who so many Americans admired, used to end every newscast saying ‘and that’s the way it was,’ but that wasn’t true either. That was really a lie, as much as I love Walter, because the real truth is that’s the way editors at CBS News decided that the American people should think it was.

So there’s really not much we can do about this, except for really one thing, and that’s diversity. As long as we have enough newspapers and enough television stations and enough outlets on the Internet and radio and programs such as this, and other talk shows, then sooner or later, no matter how much one medium lies, the truth will come out.

VENTURA:But how do you know when?

LEVINSON: You don’t know beforehand when. I mean, life isn’t perfect. I mean, science is imperfect, too. Science, you know, once upon a time, everyone thought Newton was absolute truth.

VENTURA: But you equate science to just blatant manipulation, which some of the media does.

LEVINSON: That’s because...

VENTURA:Let me ask this. Why then do you see, do they have a separate headline writer? Because sometimes you’ll read the headline and be deceived so much by the headline, and then when you get into the story, you go, wait a minute. The story doesn’t match the headline. How many people have looked at the paper-I’m getting a lot of nods from the crowd. Why is that?

LEVINSON: Because the headline is like the cover of a book. I once had a book, a science fiction novel, and the cover had nothing to do with my book. And I asked my editor, what’s this?

VENTURA: But shouldn’t the news be different?

LEVINSON: No...

VENTURA: Why should the news fall into every other trap that a novel writer, a fiction writer or whatever-you’re writing fiction. The news isn’t supposed to be fiction, doctor.

LEVINSON: But the problem is this, for the news to survive, it does operate on money, as you said at the beginning of the show. The only alternative...

VENTURA: But you can take some of the money from friends. They can take some of the money from the other big shows that make huge amounts of money. Give us facts. Give us truth.

LEVINSON: Everyone wants that, but would you prefer that the government be the one...

VENTURA: No!

LEVINSON: Then who would do it, then?

VENTURA: They should have the integrity themselves. They should have the integrity themselves. Somebody there to say, you know what? We’re going to be the one that’s not going to be concerned with the bottom line. We’re not going to be concerned with making the money. We’re going to be concerned with putting the truth out and doing news the way it should be done.

Professor, does it bother that you five major corporations now really control our entire news?

LEVINSON: Actually, I’m very happy about that.

VENTURA: Really?

LEVINSON: Yes, because in 1963, the time when John F. Kennedy was killed, there were a total of three major television networks. Now there are five. I wish there were 15, but five is still more diverse than three.

VENTURA: The Internet is about as reliable as-I’ll get to that. I’ll tell you a story about the Internet a little later.

LEVINSON: Yeah, well, but the key is that there is still independent reporting on the Internet. And it gets back again to people. If Americans want to log on and search for the truth on the Internet, they have a vehicle of doing that that no one had in any previous time.

So that’s why I’m not so upset about media conglomeration. And I’m not that upset about the profit motive, either, because any other alternative leads to the path of censorship, government control. I don’t even like the FCC, whatever its decisions is.

VENTURA: I don’t even know who they are.

LEVINSON: Exactly.

VENTURA: No, I remember when I did radio, you always said the FCC, this thing up there that you had to mail in all your tapes, or hold them in case the FCC wanted to review them. Who are these people? Anyway, thank you, Paul, for joining us today. We’ll be right back to talk to the audience. You and you and you.


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click here for transcripts of some of Paul Levinson's recent major tv appearances
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