Distorting Light

Vice President Cheney is not the only one. In fact, rare is the official, particularly the elected one, who embraces unfettered media access to the way he or she conducts the public's business. Not so rare is the official who holds the media and its reporters in contempt.

It's not hard to understand. Having one's foot held to the fire by brilliant reporting like the current Washington Post series on Cheney or the Walter Reed exposés is an altogether unpleasant experience, and the knee-jerk reaction to such stories is to blame the messengers, meaning the media, for such exceptional journalism. 

But the bigger problem is that it IS exceptional. More often than not, many, if not most, outlets favor the ratings/circulation-boosting stories over the ones that would truly shed light on important issues. We gloss over essential substance, presenting sound bites as meaningful debate. Worse, many of us are downright careless with facts, to say nothing of context. It's frequently hard to find the story that doesn't distort reality to one degree or another.

While it is true many who hold office have cultivated friendly relations with the press, it's often so they can be successful in manipulating us. They spin stories their way simply by being available. They and their flacks toss self-serving tidbits to reporters in the guise of openness. And those tidbits can seem like a feast to us reporters, so hungry for success.

Many officials, who feel they have nothing to hide, simply believe they can operate more effectively behind the scenes. The problem is, so many more DO have something to hide, from incompetence to objectionable policies to contemptible personal conduct to corruption. Secrecy is the only way they can meet their objective, which is to keep their jobs and stay out of trouble.

We are the losers. The only way that our country can survive as a democracy is if it is governed by an informed electorate. That's us, folks, and we're not very well-informed these days. We should demand more: from those in power, in media, and from ourselves. This is not just about the public's right to know, it's the public's NEED to know.

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