Commentary - #9 January 14, 2005

It's the media, moron!

Remember Bill Clinton's winning line: "It's the economy, stupid!"? What's today's counterpart--the line that hits at the heart of the political problem we all face, now and for the foreseeable future? It's the media, moron! -- yes, the media. Were being flimflammed and jerked around constantly by a 4th estate that has too much power and too little responsibility. In a democracy, if there's any significant disconnect between power and responsibility in any significant sector, then that democratic system is in trouble. Our republic is in trouble, no matter how much of the hoopla in and around the January 22nd presidential inaugural celebrations may gloss over the trouble we feel.

Look at some recent examples, though one could recite countless others from the past. Oh, I'm not worrying over Dan Rather or Jason Blair or Mike Barnacle, or the mini-scandals around any of the media stars. They can take care of themselves, and do. I'm worried about the fact that the media fail us, time and time again. They fail to honor their responsibility to inform us so that we know What's really going on, so that we can form informed opinions and vote or act accordingly. Look at the Tsunami coverage. We get the usual tear-jerk treatments of people who have suffered, but little on why warnings didn't get through, on why governments can't help protect their own people (It took the 9/11 Commission to inform us on the deficiencies of our own in this regard), on how aid shipments wait on docks or can't get through to those in need, on how much of aid is being diverted to line the pockets of the powerful via corruption (as the UN-Iraq Oil for Food program did), on how families and communities are helping each other without waiting for the professional do-gooders to do their thing, etc., etc. Recall Iraq coverage. How much have you seen of the good work and progress being made there? What do you know of Iraqi election board workers, who demonstrate, as if we needed to be shown again and again, just what it means to be involved to make sure a democratic election process work? We've so forgotten what it takes to maintain our own democracy, we have practically no idea what it takes to introduce democracy anywhere else.

Look at how the media have played on the Iraqi Sunni groups who choose to boycott the election, without recognizing the simple fact that voting with their feet is a simple right that many millions of Americans, including some organized groups, exercise every election season. As the punchline of a political cartoon in my book, WE, THE PEOPLE, says: If you don't participate, you're not invited to the party. Instead, the media indicts the withdrawal of some Sunnis as dangerous, without comment. Dangerous for whom? Obviously, dangerous for Sunnis, who wont be adequately represented in the new Iraqi parliament. Then the media editorialize, implicitly or explicitly, in support of those who call for the elections to be postponed. Who does this attitude favor? the merchants of death and dictatorship, the enemies of democracy.

James Taranto, writer for the Wall St. Journals Opinion Journal, had some interesting observations on the media to make as part of his online commentary of Jan. 13th:

A hilarious take on the subject of media bias comes from Hugh Downs, formerly of ABC's "20/20," in an exchange on the CBS scandal with host Joe Scarborough of MSNBC's "Scarborough Country":

Scarborough: Is there a liberal bias in the media or is the bias towards getting the story first and getting the highest ratings, therefore, making the most money?

Downs: Well, I think the latter, by far. And, of course, when the word liberal came to be a pejorative word, you began to wonder, you have to say that the press doesn't want to be thought of as merely liberal.

But people tend to be more liberated in their thought when they are closer to events and know a little more about what the background of what's happening. So, I suppose, in that respect, there is a liberal, if you want to call it a bias. The press is a little more in touch with what's happening.

So you see, it's not that journalists are biased, it's just that they know more than everyone else and thus are "more liberated in their thought"! Don't you feel silly for thinking they were arrogant elitists?

Reader Tom Davis offers some interesting amplification of our item yesterday about what journalist Howard Fineman calls the American Mainstream Media Party or AMMP:

The descent of the U.S. media into liberal advocacy has been to the detriment of the country, notwithstanding the service done by it to the country during Watergate and--partiallyVietnam.The biggest loss to the country has been the emasculation of the Democratic Party.

In large part due to the ideological congruence between the AMMP and the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party's main function has been subsumed by the AMMP. It is the AMMP that sets the liberal agenda, and the Democrats follow. It is the AMMP that makes the most effective challenges to conservatives, and the Democrats merely echo them. The AMMP is a much more effective shadow government than the Democrats are. As a result the Democrats have become vain, intellectually lazy and self-righteous. This dynamic is also visible in your item on Jill Lawrence's article the previous day.

And the AMMP still doesn't get it. When Dan Rather states that the media's role is to "speak truth to power," he overlooks the fact that the AMMP is a power. Cloaked in its mantle of pretend objectivity, the AMMP desires to influence governance for the common good as it alone sees it, and it really does. Voters like me not only repudiated the AMMP in 2004, but we consciously did so because a proper balance of power within government demands that the Republican Party be strengthened against the AMMP so that the two are roughly equal in influence. As long as the Democratic Party is favored by the AMMP, it must be relegated to the backbench, to be brought into play only when we face Republican incompetence or corruption.

This sounds mostly right to us, though we'd add that liberals' reliance on the courts to impose their agenda has also contributed to the degeneration of their skills at democratic persuasion. In any case, the decline of the liberal media may turn out to be a necessary condition for an eventual revival of the Democratic Party.

So, why should anyone be surprised that the media have become our major problem? They're not in business to inform us; They're in business to sell ad space, airtime and other advertising. They need to get your attention to do this. To get your attention, they'll focus on the outrageous, on tear jerk cases, on violence and on negativity. And since you give them so much of your attention, as if they deserve it because They're on TV and you're not, they then turn to play the power game. Instead of focusing on informing you so that you can be the power, they aim to influence you so they can be the power. That's wrong. When will you and others get wise? Turn off the TV, listen to public radio, pick and read a good newspaper without an ax to grind (like the Christian Science Monitor), form your own opinions and ignore the political pundits, commentators, editorial writers and others who think their judgment or opinion counts for more than your own. That's what it takes if we are to maintain our own, precious, uniquely American democracy as the source of a vital Republic and the light of the world.

Peter Bearse, 592 Essex Avenue, Gloucester, MA, 978-457-4411.

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