Thursday, May 13, 2010

Zieg Who???

I told some friends a story recently about how I was watching a news program as the anchor was telling a story about the "Octomom;" the California woman who has 14 children, 8 she gave birth to after fertility treatments. She became a short-term phenomenon on the news for months in 2009. This particular newscaster said, "I know you all say you don't want to hear about the Octomom, but I know that's not true because you are still watching." I nearly gave myself whiplash switching the channel. The media routinely twists the news, edits important details that change the meaning of the story, and just plain misreports facts. This has been covered in movies, and the media is regularly attacked by both politicians and comedians such as Jon Stewart. The media has a habit of picking our candidates for us by shining a light on those they like, and finding stories that mock politicians they dislike. The 2008 election gave evidence of this is the candidacies of Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich. How they are portrayed by the media is a frequent complaint of both failed and successful politicians, who, all the while use the media to invent and reinvent their personas. Some portray themselves as victims, some emphasize their points by suggesting how the media will play their actions. You know who you are! There was a time, according to my "History of News" course in college, that things were (yes, really) much worse. In the beginning, there were no big papers. News was spread by way of pamphlets that were published by merchants, always with the slant of helping to improve their business. Since there were no watchdog agencies such as Politifact or, there was no one to question the motives  or the veracity of ugly stories or false allegations against any particular candidate. The "papers" could say whatever they wanted to say about anyone. The mudslides in California would pale in comparison to the amount of mud that was splattered over candidates disliked by certain business men. Believe me, there would be a terrible outcry if the press were allowed to print the things today that it printed then.

I think it is a terrible shame when stories of terrible misdeeds are spread through the media, and they dominate a news cycle for months on end. I especially hate it when groups use the press to spread comparisons of politicians or political parties to Nazis or totalitarians of any stripe. It is unfair and unfounded to use such comparisons-they don't meet the most minimum requirements for truth, and people should not call anyone in politics Nazis, nor should the news media take those comments, make them public, and tar any group with that accusation. I loathed the presidency of Geroge W. Bush, but it bothered me when the term "Nazi" was thrown about in connection to him. It bothers me when it is used against our current president, or against anyone else. In no case does the glove fit.While I do believe that if we had not held elections in 2008, and the Bush/Cheney administration had stayed in power, many of our civil rights would have eroded even more, they had not taken actions that could (up to that point) be compared in any way, to any totalitarian regime that I know of. Whether Dick Cheney's political philosophy smacked of totalitarianism, and his responses, ("So?") to some opinions of the people support that theory of him is another question altogether.

Many of the people at rallies, who hold up signs with such accusations on them, don't have much of a sense of history. There seems to even be the suggestion that providing health care for all Americans is taking the first step toward Nazi-ism. Taking care of the health of the people is not a step that I have EVER heard of being used to cow the people into submission. My reading of history says that the first thing totalitarians do when they want to take over a country and suppress opposition, they limit the access of the people to information. They burn books; they take over newspapers, and radio and television stations. In more recent memory, they have blocked access to information sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In some cases, the internet has been shut down so that opposition can't get information out to the people, or so that an opposition can't even get started. This is the thing we need to fear. This is what happens when our freedoms are truly, truly threatened.

And so, with all the criticisms that can be cast at the media-and I think all of them are true to some extent, thankfully the media are still free. They are free to mess up, and the people are free to pick their news sources. We are free to peruse enough news sources to divine the truth for ourselves-which is really what the founding father thought we should do. They believed that an educated electorate could sift through the garbage and figure out the truth for themselves. And they tried to create a country in which it was our responsibility to do so.

So, if the news station you've been watching posts too many celebrity meltdown stories, write their producers. If the people let them know that we will not watch them until they fix this problem, they will change it. If your news anchors spend too much time bragging about their insider status with the pols, complain, and complain loudly. We don't need our information providers going to glamorous events with the president and congress-we need them reporting on the things that the government is trying to hide from the people.

I once had a professor who had worked for the Washington Post. I questioned him about the party life of Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn, and I said it gave the appearance that one could not expect objective journalism from the Post. He insisted that there has never been a time when the partying together of the wealthy and famous Post power couple with the government changed the content of exposition in the paper. But I was talking about the appearance that it COULD happen causing readers to mistrust the paper's reporting. And that appearance can not be denied. In journalism school, students are taught that the press is to be the 'watchdog' of government. If they are partying together, and taking their kids to the same exclusive private schools, how can watch-dogging be going on? But it is the responsibility of the readers to decide how much a paper can be trusted. The only way to do that is to expose oneself to many news sources, sift through the garbage that is surely there, and decide what to believe based on a surfeit of information. As long as there is a free press in this country, we are free to do that. But there can be no free country without a free press-no matter how lame the "lame stream media" may be at times.

So, shame on the press for the bad things it does. And shame on the people for allowing it. But worst of all, shame on the people who get their news from only one source. You are responsible for the lies that are daily propogated by whichever news source you choose, whether it be Fox or MSNBC. Shame on you for not being the kind of American the enlightened founding fathers envisioned; the kind who can look through a wealth of bad information, sift it through the pan of your intelligence, and find the gems among the rocks.

And do not accuse anyone of being a Nazi, a socialist, a communist, or any other bad name just for shock value. It diminishes your valid concerns, and gives your critics material to use in dismissing you as a crank.

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