"There are a lot of people on the inside that are conscientious. The better the [media reform] movement is on the outside, the better it is for journalists on the inside."
Jeff Cohen, in remarks at the 2005 Media Reform conference in St. Louis
“I was not disillusioned about how bad journalism was getting inside these big corporate outlets because I was never illusioned. I went in with my eyes wide open, but it was still totally disheartening.”
Photo Linked From: http://www.bethemedia.com/jeffcohen.jpg
Jeff Cohen has spent time on all sides of the media spectrum. As founder of nonprofit media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), he's researched and written at length about instances of bias within various media outlets. He's also been an employee at many major TV news stations, experiencing the very censorship that he had been criticizing at FAIR. Recently, he founded the Park Center for Independent Media, a research center at Ithaca College. From all of this experience Cohen has gained a 360 degree view of the ins and outs of the mainstream media world.
Cohen founded the New York based FAIR in 1986 when big corporations were absorbing the biggest media in the country " especially TV. Expressing his frustration with the way journalists were covering the Reagan administration, he notes that he wanted to set up solid research and document stories about missed bias and to be pro-working journalists and critical of corporation structures that were then taking over.
While moving from California to New York was extremely difficult for Cohen, friends and colleagues gave him the advice that the transition to the East Coast would make his organization more credible. Prior to his creation of FAIR, Cohen freelanced for many independent magazines and also worked as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
After setting up his office in NYC, Cohen began finding funding for FAIR, describing the starting of a non-profit as a constant struggle.
You work 12 to 14 hours a day hoping someone will notice you, said Cohen. You fight and you scrape and you holler until you get noticed.
Eventually, Cohen was able to turn FAIR into an extremely successful media watchdog group, along with a magazine called Extra! The magazine subscriptions were used to fund the organization.
In 2002, after 16 years with FAIR, Cohen left the nonprofit to become a daily contributor for MSNBC. He had previously spent time on other cable news stations, as a panelist for Fox News Channel and a guest host on CNNs Crossfire. Cohen eventually worked as a senior producer for Phil Donahue on MSNBC through the events leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Much of his current (and past) views of corporate media were confirmed by his experiences at MSNBC and working with seasoned media personality, Phil Donahue.
It was quite amazing to get an inside view and to be on the inside of corporate mainstream journalism at time of this crisis, said Cohen. It will go down in history of one of worst episodes in mainstream journalism and I was able to document from the inside.
Cohen continued to describe his feelings on the failings of mainstream medias coverage of the events prior to the Iraq War.
Most major outlets were complicit in wrong headed invasion in war " aggressive independents may have been able to prevent it, explained Cohen. Sometimes it was an out of body experience. Everything weve ever said about media is true, but its even worse then we thought. Corporate censorship is worse then we thought, self censorship is worse then we thought.
He also explained what it was like to be one of the few media outlets that were asking the tough questions among a pool of other shows who were doing the opposite. Cohen was ultimately terminated about three weeks before the United States finally invaded Iraq and maintains that it was due to his and his shows criticism of the imminent war. He wrote about his experiences at MSNBC and other cable TV networks in his 2006 book, Corporate News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.
I describe in personal detail what it felt like to have some power, and to slowly lose that power because of corporate structures that cared nothing about journalism. Step by step I was muffled replaced as a pundit, I lost power as a senior producer, and the whole staff was dictated to by management, said Cohen. They slowly strangled a show to death at a time when independent voices were most needed.
In the end, Cohen may have been forced to move to a new job, but he was able to better understand the media that he had been critiquing for years.
I was not disillusioned about how bad journalism was getting inside these big corporate outlets because I was never illusioned. I went in with my eyes wide open, but it was still totally disheartening, said Cohen. It took me a while to figure out what I was doing.
Despite his misadventures in corporate media, Cohen still remains optimistic about the future of independent journalism, all the while maintaining his distrust of corporate media. As he said, you cant trust NBC when GE is the owner and making a profit off the war.
Cohen has recently worked as Communications Director for Dennis Kucinich's presidential campaign. He also goes on book tours, (Cable News Confidential is his 5th book), lectures, and writes online. In 2008 he founded the Park Center for Independent Media, a research center based in Ithaca College, where he is associate professor of journalism at the Roy H. Park School of Communications.
He said he hopes to see "the continued growth of independent media – and I hope to be a major part of it."
November 2008 - Jeff Cohen is no longer with FAIR, but is instead serving as founding Director of the Park Center for Independent Media and Endowed Chair / Associate Professor at Ithica College in New York._________________
From the Park School for Communications website:
Park Center for Independent Media holds "Growth and Power of Independent Media" symposium. September 15-16, 2008.
Launched in 2008, the Park Center for Independent Media is a national center for the study of media outlets that create and distribute content outside traditional corporate systems and news organizations. Located within Ithaca College's Roy H. Park School of Communications, the center's mission is to study the growing independent media sector, encourage career paths inside independent outlets and examine the impact that maverick, entrepreneurial and independent institutions are having on journalism, politics and culture.
Feb. 9, 2006:
The group wrote: "FAIR was founded on the belief that journalism matters -- that getting out the truth can improve the world, while news that distorts or denies reality can have terrible consequences.
"To illustrate this conviction, we've compiled a list of 20 news stories published since FAIR's 1986 debut that had a major impact on society -- for good or for ill. The list is not meant to be a comprehensive collection of the most momentous stories of the past 20 years, but rather to be illustrative of the power of media. Stories that should have led to serious changes, but were underplayed by corporate media, would be an entirely different list, of course.
His columns have been published in dozens of dailies, including USA Today, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Newsday and Atlanta Constitution. He was a regular columnist at Brill's Content. In the mid-1990s, he co-wrote the nationally syndicated "Media Beat" column (with Norman Solomon). In 2003, he was the communications director of the Kucinich for President campaign.
Cohen describes three forms of media activism: