The Press Oughta...

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From the sound of talking heads on TV and political candidates, one would think that living in the USA is something for which we should all be ashamed. We ignore the poor, we push other countries around militarily, we pollute like there is no tomorrow, we consume beyond our entitlement, and our middle class is a flimsy profit center (or, an inflated corporate expense that is easily replaced "offshore.")

Oh, if only Bill Clinton were still President!

Hardly. And I'm in no way suggesting that "W" is anything close to Presidential material. The way I see it, Presidents come and go, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Some may make you feel better, and some may make you feel worse depending on your own priorities and experience during their tenure. We bring our biases to the measurement of such things.

Still, ask the world, and the majority would want to live here. This isn't based on who is or who is not President. It turns out that our founding fathers did some things right, providing the foundation for things we now take for granted - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Behind the framing of the government was a sense of "oughtness" derived from the successes and failures of political structures elsewhere. There was a vision of America that protected people from governmental abuse and formed an efficient, balanced governmental system to meet the citizens' needs.

"What ought to be" can change over time, and 232 years can age a nation. Not only can expectations change regarding the purpose of government, but the original foundations that were assumed to always remain may themselves be proven false. At issue is that from the start, an assumption existed that certain qualified citizens, aspiring to serve for the nation's benefit, would serve for a short time in governmental leadership then return to their careers.

In retrospect, it seems our founding fathers were naive. No issue is taken with the system of checks and balances between the three branches of government. But a government "by the people and for the people" has suffered from all the people who participate in the process. This is opinion, obviously, but I doubt that Hancock, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams et al anticipated the de-evolution of American leadership from "statesman" to "career politician." Each of our founding fathers had their own issues and political differences, but a review of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution indicates a common, unifying understanding of a noble "oughtness" that superceded their own interests.

To focus where I'm going, let me quote the oft-quoted words of Alexis de Toqueville: "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money." (1835 or 1840, I couldn't determine which, but quite a while ago!)

It's fairly easy to point a finger at the voting public for "the mess" that we're in. Even given sufficient voter "wrath" at the political party in office, any sweeping change made, such as the Republican Congressional rise in 1994, in hindsight, results in only more of the same disappointment, only with a different cast of characters.

Rather quickly, it appears, all of the well-intended public servants become corrupted by special interests, voting blocks, power for power's sake, and bringing home enough federal cash to their voting district to warrant another term. And it's not like local government participants are somehow immune. People are flawed; therefore people in government are flawed.

But the biggest failing, is my opinion, is the media. The freedom of the press is specifically granted in the Bill of Rights, but one has to wonder why. It's not to fill the 7:00 p.m. void with "Entertainment Tonight." The freedom of the Press was essential to help maintain accountability in the government.

Today, it seems politicians and the press work hand in hand to deliver "sound bites," generally in a cooperative effort that if not clearly biased, is certainly not objective. The day after the second Obama-McCain debate, CNN was digging "deep" into the heart of the discussion, and the correspondent replied to an open-ended question about what was learned with... two sound bites. 30 seconds is all you need to know, folks. Score the basket and let's see what's new in the world of health and beauty.

There is an absence of critical thought by the media; a failure to research and challenge statements made by politicians. This is , at best, superficial, and, at worst, enabling. Our leaders seem to rely upon the opportunity to score 15 second points without a challenge. An example is Dick Gephart's rousing stab at the Republican Congress in the 1990's, where he claimed that Republicans wanted to starve America's children (said while surrounded by elementary school children for the accompanying photo-op). Certainly it was a frequently played sound bite (15 seconds or less!), but moving funding for subsidized lunches from Federal control to State is hardly equivalent to depriving kids of meals. Was this politically charged nonsense challenged by the press? Not once.

The major "ought" that is missing from American governance is a Press Corps that loves the Constitution and holds all three branches of government accountable to it. The Constitution should be held above all, the veritable benchmark by which all proceedings should be held and judged. The press, it seems, find more fulfillment in being part of a movement than keeping a movement honest by that Standard.

This has cost them tremendously in terms of respect by readers and viewers, as attested by the popular response not to correct itself, but to tailor opinions for many of the disparate factions in society. At some level, almost everyone recognizes that the Press has abandoned its privileged position as the expositor of truth and falsehood. Rather than test our public officials to the Constituionality of every action (a factual exercise where they could recover public respect), they find "oughtness" in their own leanings towards the political party of their choice, as if we can trust them because they know better than the rest of us. For those that think I'm criticising the "liberal media," I am. And the conservative media is just as guilty.

Over the past couple of weeks, we hear of the $700B bailout of America's financial sector. The need for such can be debated. Elsewhere. But the problem, primarily linked to inadequately regulated greed in the lending industry, is fact. Bush is the President, so he gets the blame, right? Well, he can certainly share in the blame, but the majority of the failing was with Congress itself, and principally, in this case, the Democrats.

But why isn't the press holding Barney Frank (and others) accountable for this inaction 4 years ago? Congressman Frank now stands wounded by the lack of the White House's control over this area. Sheesh. But we best not delve into the facts and judging where the root cause lies, because it's politically inconvenient with a forthcoming election.

They're called the "drive-by media" because they're just looking for the superficial sound bite that fits their spin, not for ultimate truth and accountability. Some years later, they'll reassess the issue and point fingers more appropriately, when it is no longer meaningful in the course of events. And to think that the Russian newspaper's name, "Pravda" ("truth") was a running joke when the USSR was around...

Back to the bailout. The first attempt failed. The second attempt, with a few tweaks, and a lot of PORK, (go ahead, read it and ruin your appetite), somehow persuades enough Congressman that it's an okay solution. The clear implication is that, yes, many of our "Statesmen" are influenced directly by the goodies they can take home rather than the merit of the core issue.

Does the press descend on this? No. They comment that there is pork and that it seems unpopular with many, but they never press the point. How about asking a Congressman if the tax benefits for the wooden arrow manufacturer in their state resulted in their support for the Bill? Noooooo, that might embarrass the Congressman and reduce access in case superficial comments are needed later. The fact is that Congress is ripping the American public off even as they save the day from the results of their own neglected duty.

Interestingly, the only mainstream consistent expositor of governmental wastefulness is "Reader's Digest." Articles may appear here in Georgia about a mountain of pork in WV by Senator Byrd or the "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska, but, not surprisingly, there never seems to be any criticism of the local congressmen who bring tax dollars back to our own State. One person's pork is another's filet, I guess.

In these days when there is no longer a line drawn between reporting the news (fact) and opinion (bias), it's disappointing that the Press has abandoned their proper role in preserving this democracy. Their elitist attitudes that their own sense of "oughtness" outweighs truth fails both our government and the voting public.

At its core, the Federal government should provide for the common defense and establish a system of justice. Everything else falls into a category of 300+ million people crying for their favorite dessert. De Toqueville had it right.

Hey, don't worry, I'll get funny again. And even offer a Presidential prediction. But as for my faith in politicians of any party to work steadfastly in the public's interest... No. I don't think so. We've been sold out by ourselves.

1 comment :

  1. I completely agree with you. The worst part is, you can't even get both sides of the story by reading the same story in both the liberal and conservative media. I have been thinking back trying to pin point exactly when the change happened and am scared of the answer. Has it been going on all along, and it's just in this age of instant news and the over saturation of political and satirical blogs from around the world that we are just realizing it? I have taken to reading reports from Japan, England and even Australia over our news. They at least seem to make an attempt at being honest and unbiased. And exactly how sad is that??