A Failed Fourth Estate

It is hardly news that the press in our democracy plays a pivotal role in the processes of government, and it is hardly news that the role becomes even more pivotal when the government is dominated by one party and the balance of power between the Executive and Congress is severely weakened.

Why then, I ask myself a thousand times a day, has the American news media stepped back from its role during the Bush Administration?

I am no guru.  I haven't got all the answers, but I do have the perspective of an educator, and it is through that prism that I have answered the question, at least for myself.

In the last 50 years, we have seen the dumbing down of American education.  We have also seen, as Jonathan Alter has written, the consolidation of the media into fewer and fewer corporate hands.  The confluence of these two factors has produced a public both less capable and less desirous of critical thinking and a media far less desirous of stimulating thought.

The result is that both information dissemination and fairness of presentation have suffered.  But more, that the public has become inured to real news and addicted to prurience and sensationalism instead.

If it relates to sex, it sells. If it shows the coffins coming back from Iraq, it doesn't sell.

I have attended five debates thus far as a candidate for Congress.  The Constitutional Party candidate has shown up at all of them.  Our Republican opponent, the incumbent, has shown up at none.  The media has shown up at none.
In fact the only debates which the Republican will do are two radio debates, both of which are being held on the Rush Limbaugh--Sean Hannity stations of the area.  The moderator of one of the radio debates is a gent who told me face-to-face in the last campaign that he had no obligation to be fair as a broadcaster.

As disturbing as that was to hear, it was not as disturbing as the political science college professor who said that he also had no obligation to be fair when commenting on the congressional race to the press.

For a teacher to hear  those things  is heartbreaking.  It reduces education to propaganda and makes the media complicit in the corruption.

I recently attended a forum on Iraq in which CIA analyst Ray McGovern informed us that the media has deliberately covered up the lies of the administration.  I attended another forum at which Col. Anne Wright informed us that the Bush Administration is hiring military mercenaries to fight in Iraq and paying them 3-to-5 times what our soldiers get--all in order to avoid a draft, the result of which would be a national protest of  monumental proportions.

Why has the media not covered these people and these stories?  How is it that in the hours and hours of TV news I have viewed since 9/11, I have not once seen the Carnegie Endowment Report about Bush's WMD-in-Iraq claims--a report which says that intelligence was "systematically misrepresented"?

Lincoln admonished us long ago that with any manipulation of truth, we could not "fool ALL of the people ALL of the time."  I wonder.  I wonder if the confluence of a mis-educated public and a corrupt press has not changed Mr. Lincoln's equation.

My only hope for sanity comes from a personal religious wellspring.  In my spiritual beliefs, I have come to trust in some universal laws which I believe carry a good deal of power.  One of these is the law of tension and release, for lack of better words to describe it.  I see it in the birth and death of stars, the rhythms of our own bodies, and the tides of social history.

No matter how pitiful the intellect, no matter how manipulative the government or irresponsible the media, when the pain of the war or the economy or the environment becomes too great to ignore, the public will press for change.  It may come in many forms--the ballot box or the streets--but it will come.

We are playing with fire, this nation of ours.  We are playing with lethal toys.  They are nuclear, ecological, biological.  It may very well be that the awakening of the American public will come too late--after an ecological tipping point or after a nuclear exchange or after a biological epidemic.

Or we may awake from our nonage and our neuroses in time.

It is with this latter hope that I run for Congress. But in all honesty, I wouldn't take any bets on our future.