Men of great integrity, like our founders, probably could have never seen this coming. It would have been counter-intuitive for them. It’s doubtful that the builders of our nation could have ever imagined so many journalists compromising their integrity and betraying those who put their trust in the press for their personal interests.
When the founders of our country wrote the First Amendment of the Constitution, they did so with the understanding that the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative branches of our government all needed to be watched over by an uninhibited free press. It was reasoned that with journalists scrutinizing the comings and goings in our political system, it would –among other things– guard against collusion amongst our elected officials, and protect legislators from themselves by applying consequences for giving into temptation. The philosophy was that with the threat of public exposure, the repercussions of corruption would outweigh the risk.
However with the advent of political lobbying on behalf of the media, the relationship between the free press, and our two major political parties has itself become collusive. Access to Washington has been exchanged for non neutrality. Both Republicans and Democrats now have editorialists feigning impartiality, and networks that act more like public relations firms, on their respective party’s payrolls.
But it gets even worse…
There was a time in the not too distant past when politics and entertainment were two totally separate media venues. There has –to some extent– always been an understanding that important socio/political issues needed to be regarded as such, and not be irresponsibly lumped in with Hollywood gossip and reality TV. But with our Twittering politicians showing themselves to be the socially autistic buffoons that they truly are, they’ve sadly obscured much of that distinction. Many of our legislators have become unwittingly comical caricatures of who they were trying to present themselves to be, and as such have exposed their jugulars to an opportunistic media. With up to the minute news available 24/7, we Americans are now barraged with political theater… be it comedy, tragedy, or in most cases, awe inspiring stupidity.
Which brings us to the present state of “News-ertainment”.
As a result of the collusive relationship between the nation’s top two parties and the networks that do their bidding, facts are often skewed — if not manufactured– in order to promote an agenda. This, of course, is not actual news reporting. But those doing the reporting, and their respective networks would have us believe otherwise. Rather than presenting unbiased facts with a professional, emotional detachment… News “personalities” now try to entertain with vapid, semi humorous, slanted observations, which in turn they hope will either amuse us or incite a vitriolic reaction. Cable news hosts rarely report on their own party’s verbal faux pas, platform inconsistencies, irrational hyperbole, or personal indiscretions nearly to the extent that they do their competition. The current trend is ratings via myopic indignation.
Unfortunately, we Americans have become desensitized to the corrupt alliance of government and media. We have become so cynical and jaded that we have come to accept that greed trumps integrity… so the original purpose of having a news media unencumbered by censorship has become bastardized by advertising revenue. Many of us feel powerless to do anything about it. Yet many more of us fail to recognize the problem at all.
However there has been an interesting dynamic introduced to the news media over the past few years which was born from the overt, and sometimes even purposely misleading bias of Cable News. Because many of those who were charged with protecting our political system via journalistic integrity have abandoned that task in favor of ego driven dogmatism and ratings inspired bombast, that job has been largely left unfilled. As such, those reporting on our political process are in need of third party scrutiny themselves.
The watchers are now being watched. The powerless have a voice.
Exposing political and news inaccuracies, comedians like John Stewart, and Stephen Colbert have stepped in to inject oxygen into the socio/political integrity vaccuum and expose the present state of cable news journalism for what it is… fraudulent editorializing worthy of ridicule. And unlike the talking meat puppets on cable news who fail miserably at their comical endeavors, Stewart and Colbert are as funny as they are astute. Although they both obviously have personal political leanings, unlike their counterparts who claim to be unbiased journalists, Stewart and Colbert are not shy to expose politicians from either party, or news anchors from any network for behaving like intellectually attenuated dolts.
Just as corrupt politicians once feared the news media…. the corrupt news media now fears Stewart and Colbert.
I was on the Washington Mall when Stewart and Colbert held their “Rally to Restore Sanity”. I witnessed roughly two hundred thousand people gather in front of stage near the Capitol building and extend all the way back to the Lincoln memorial. I was able to see firsthand how the void created by the news media was being filled by a uniquely American mechanism… reason given expression through satire.
…and while we’re watching, aand laughing at the expense of ignominious politicians, and less than credible journalists… let’s try to remember what gave birth to this medium in the first place.
Do we cut spending, or raise taxes? That is the question that every inept congressperson prattles an inane commentary about daily on cable news. The reactions to which, depending on any particular viewer’s political affiliation, can range from acclaim to outrage. Like rubes, we Americans find ourselves willing participants in the vitriolic theater which has become of our socio/political discourse, and encourage it through under-informed cheer leading, and our desire to not feel so helpless. However if one allows themselves to not be swayed by their own political leanings –let alone their personal biases– it becomes clear that the rehearsed, sound bite induced platitudes which our legislative representatives spew into our living rooms are more about campaigning than actual governing.
It’s politics as pro wrestling.
But perhaps even more unfortunate, is that many more Americans have become overwhelmed by the enormity of the present fiscal disaster –as well as ongoing global strife — and have cashed out of the political process entirely. As if we are witnessing the adult equivalent of hiding under the covers, people’s instinct for self preservation has caused many to retreat into a dummied down fantasy world of reality TV and libidinous internet interaction. Having had enough of the banal bombast that they hear every day from those purporting themselves as our representatives, many have understandably lost faith in the political process. So they vote for American Idol instead.
Consequently, we are left with a populace that’s either unwilling, or unable to emotionally invest in the political system.
Which brings us to our news entertainers, our political televangelists and their so-called solutions to our economic woes. As Benjamin Disraeli once so astutely commented, “There are three kinds of lies, Lies, Damn lies, and Statistics.” Regarding the present fiscal crisis, politicians from both parties have reduced their economic platform to lyrical sound bites. Hoping to appeal to the average Americans senses of fairness and vengeance, both democrats and republicans convolute statistical information so as to create a false reality which makes their cause appear more righteous. While it’s true that we do need to “cut spending” and/or ” increase revenue,” virtually every politician has the ability to produce statistical information that will make their assertions appear valid, and to portray their opponents as special interest pawns . The reality is that neither party is truly interested in addressing the deficit, or has any desire to turn around the economy. If they did, they would concern themselves with facts over rhetoric.
But as John Adams once said, “Facts are Stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes or our inclinations, it cannot alter the state of facts, or evidence.” The facts are that neither reducing domestic spending and/or raising taxes are not going to have the effect on the deficit or the economy that either party claims. The facts are, that if less money filters to states and local municipalities, and if previously subsidized social programs become de-funded, that they’ll have to raise revenue imposing other types of financial burdens. The middle class is going to pay regardless. The facts are that no one is willing to defy their party and talk reason on where and how our tax dollars are already being spent. All of this over-simplified economic blather is simply theater, designed to petition our angst and curry favor.
Much of the present state of American politics –not to mention the public’s perception of it– is the result of “news” organizations having shifted their business models from fact based journalism to ratings driven editorializing. So where it concerns either party’s economic platform, the focus of our elected officials is no longer to represent those who elected them into office, rather it is to make their opponents appear less electable. It has all become entertainment, resulting in most Americans having developed a cynical understanding that regardless of who they vote for, the middle class is going to bear the burden.
So go ahead, my fellow Americans, and root on your party’s premiere entertainers and their economic platform. Sit in your economic kettle as the heat gets turned up. Should we cut spending or raise taxes? The truth is that unless someone on our political landscape has the courage to address the more significant portions of how our existing tax dollars are already being spent…we’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t.
It is human nature to gravitate towards venues which advocate our predispositions.
As Americans cultivate their views about morality, religion, politics and the social sciences, it becomes incumbent on the intellectually ill-equipped to seek out media that will support their uninformed suppositions. All but few Americans have relegated themselves to reciting inane platitudes, and regurgitating other people’s insipid blather so as to affirm an intellect they do not possess. As the sensibly susceptible align themselves with one political party or the other — not to mention the accompanying cable news networks — they’ll eventually learn “a few things about a few things”. And in their severely limited scopes they’ll feel as if they now have the solutions to the Nation’s problems locked away in their tragically under-developed frontal lobes. The payoff for this, is a simple rationalization that their collective bias’ is actually socially discerning politics, and feigned relevancy.
So we Americans venture forth into the intellectual abyss, clinging to misrepresentations which comfort us. We’ll adhere to the social dogma that our political affiliations mandate, while disregarding other — sometimes valid — interpretations which might refute their affirmations. We’ll wrap ourselves in the security blanket of denial… insulating ourselves from the cold, hard truth that most of us are simply too emotionally immature to be candidly introspective, let alone honest with ourselves. All too often, we’ll pick and choose our “truths” based –not on facts — but on what we *want* to be true.
The real truth is that we believe the lies we want to hear.
However, selective fact gathering can neither provide truth, nor wisdom. As John Adams so astutely affirmed, “Facts are stubborn things”… When seeking truth one cannot begin with a conclusion, and gather facts to support it. That is not how valid resolutions are made. We must go where facts lead us, and make our determinations thusly. Even if they are uncomfortable, or contradictory to what we’ve always been led to believe. We simply cannot choose what is true, and what is not. The only thing we can choose, is which side of the political aisle we want to affiliate ourselves with based on whether the Left, or the Right’s version of the truth best suits our own astigmatic — if not bigoted– presumptions.
Which brings us to the recent shootings in Tucson, and how they have sparked passionate dialogue, and finger pointing around the country. It seems that anyone with a platform, and an opinion about any socio/political issues peripheral to these shootings has taken this opportunity to prattle on about “who” they believe is responsible for “what”. The vitriol between the Liberal Left, and the Conservative Right has been brought into the spotlight and portrayed as particularly villainous, even if not specifically about this particular set of circumstances. Still, the brainwashed constituents of both parties continue to laughably place blame on one another as being the source of this toxicity, and the reason that the political landscape now resembles “reality” television rather than the beacon of democracy that we’ve always been able to boast… The practice of the irresponsible, self serving leveling of accusations has become an American political institution, as has an utter lack of accountability… or tether to reason.
Similar to how America handles every other crisis, where is concerns the Tucson shootings, we are reactionary. As we did with the “underwear bomber”, we wait for something to happen, and then respond irrationally. In this instance, rather than fondling citizen’s genitals to ensure their safety, there are those both in politics and in the media who have capitalized on the National heartbreak over these senseless shootings… and who are actually suggesting that we legislate censoring symbols, metaphors, and the way we talk about one another.
They are responding to the problem of acerbic rhetoric, with politically correct rhetoric. While it might seem admirable to ask those in the national spotlight to choose their words more carefully, “dial back” the acrimony, or to avoid needlessly antagonistic contention, that is something that must occur organically if it ever hopes to last into the next news cycle. Even if they were to ban certain words from the National dialogue, that won’t change anyone’s true feelings, or the intent behind the words they *are* permitted to use. If history teaches us anything, it’s that it is impossible –not to mention prolifically stupid– to even try to legislate how people feel.
It would be like putting a coat of paint on a rusty car.
When we seek politically correct solutions — especially when it comes to language — it inherently motivated by political grandstanding, and it always comes at the expense of the truth. If there is legitimate animus between political rivals it needs to be expressed, and in their own chosen verbiage. If an emotional response is honest, and one feels it, they should be able to say it. That is how we can determine who we vote for, or even watch on television. But the operatives here are “legitimate, and “honest”… not “animus”.
Whenever I see high profile Liberals and Conservatives debate one another, it has always been my contention that as long as they critique the other, their arguments will remain substantially convincing. Indeed, there is so much perfidy within both Left and Right politics that there is a virtual bottomless pit of ideological assault points. But it is when the political apologists try to defend their own parties abhorrent disregard for both civility, and reason that the perfidiousness of their agendas become clear.
So the problem has become, “How do we manage ideological differences of opinion which will contribute to the Democratic process rather than hinder it, while not infringing on anyone’s First Amendment rights, let alone their honest expression?”
It is not altering language or symbols that we need… nor do we need to re-examine the First Amendment. It is not censorship we require, but rather journalistic, and political INTEGRITY. When the Founders wrote the First Amendment, they did so with an understanding of the necessity of having independent press in a free society. They recognized that even setting up three branches of government wasn’t enough to ensure that corruption wouldn’t find a way to creep back into men’s souls, and that we required a system whereby the citizenry would have credible advocates working on their behalf, and reporting on the activities of the politicians whom we elect.
That sacred trust has since been betrayed. Journalism is all but vanished from the American landscape, and what we have left are editorialists shilling for politicians, and their respective lobbies. This is what now passes for news… and the cerebrally bankrupt — albeit frightened — proletariat rush to choose sides, ignorant of the fact that the people they have put their trust in have no credibility.
The malicious bombast which has grinded our legislative process to a virtual halt exists because Left and the Right continue to police one another’s language, and speculate on how they perceive each other’s intentions. That can’t work, because of the source of the criticism. All that will accomplish is to further the divide between otherwise (potentially) conciliatory differences of opinion. In order to create a more civil public discourse, we need to require more from those who steer public opinion.
We must require that both Democrats and Republicans demonstrate integrity, and chastise the fringe elements of their own respective parties, not the others. Rather than placating incendiary, irrational, and purposely deceptive hyperbole when it comes from someone with whom they allegedly align, both pundits and politicians need to behave like the adults in the room, and not excuse the failings of *anyone’s* illogical ravings, regardless of party affiliation. This problem is much less about what we say of one another, but what we fail to admit about ourselves. The lunatic fringe would be far less powerful if their own parties called them out when they are behaving irrationally.
The more reasonable method of addressing the toxic political environment is not to seek censorship over what we say about one another, but rather to cease censoring ourselves when it comes to what we say about the extremists within our own respective parties. Perhaps then, we can go back to being Democrats and Republicans — and moreover, Americans — instead nation of the bitter, warring Liberals and Conservatives that we have become.
This article is dedicated to those who have the capacity to think critically… especially congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Please get better soon, Ms. Giffords.