Norman Solomon's syndicated "Media Beat" column has offered a critical view of media and politics since 1992.
His upcoming book, War Made Easy, examines the long history of pro-war propaganda in the US.
PRWeek: What is one of the biggest misconceptions about the media today?
Norman Solomon: That quantity equals diversity. The notion that you can click the channels or go to the magazine rack, and you see a lot of choice - I think that's largely an illusion. A lot of this is niche marketing, and the gatekeepers are often the same institutions and individuals. From a PR vantage point, it's about volume and quantity. [PR is] mainly concerned about the propaganda effects of mass media reach.
PRWeek: What do you think of PR's relationship to the media?
Solomon: Mass media is inseparable from PR. The driving engine of media coverage is largely PR. And, of course, adept PR work leaves no fingerprints. I think that whole sleight of hand/ sleight of tongue vision of advertising, PR, and media work in the political sphere is about the stealth-bomber approach. To blend into the scenery is just the ultimate. So much of what is in the A section [of newspapers] is a result of PR that was consciously developed. PR often has little to do with democratic activity. Because money is such a big part of what PR can implement, I see it as an ominous trend.
PRWeek: What do you think of the coverage of the war in Iraq?
Solomon: The nicest thing we can say is that it's been spotty, and it's been routinely behind the available curve. You didn't have to be a genius before the Iraq invasion to discern and document that we were being taken for a ride, that the White House was scamming the public, including journalists. I think we have some good examples of very fine journalism by individual journalists that ran in some major outlets. But on the whole the major media outlets in this country, while they provided some forum for debate, basically helped the Rove/Cheney/Bush administration sell the invasion before it occurred.
PRWeek: Does the press deserve the bad rap it has gotten?
Solomon: Yes. But often the people who are hung high are not those who most deserve it. You think of names like Glass, Blair, and Dan Rather. Then you think of names like Judith Miller. You know, Judith Miller is still working at The New York Times. She helped get us into a war. I think the intensity of skepticism and criticism of the media is good, but often it's displaced.
PRWeek: How can media outlets change their image?
Solomon: It's a process of public discussion and open critique. One thing I really try to do is if I perceive something privately, I say it publicly. I think that's a process that offers some hope. The growth of media criticism offers some real possibilities. And it will make PR pros more honest because the more gross scams won't work so well. Many people who are experiencing cognitive dissonance within the industries of journalism and public relations will find their work more satisfying if media criticism becomes more acute. I'd like to get to a place where the most effective kind of media work is telling the truth. What a concept.
Name: Norman Solomon
Publication: Syndicated "Media Beat" column and books
Title: Author and media critic
Preferred contact method: firstname.lastname@example.org