Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jackals of Freedom

In her resignation speech, Former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin took a predictable swipe at the media:
"Some straight talk for some - just some in the media - because another right protected for us is freedom of the press, and you have such important jobs reporting facts and informing the electorate and exerting power to influence. You represent what could and should be a respected, honest profession that could and should be a cornerstone of our democracy. Democracy depends on you and that is why our troops are willing to die for you. So, how about in honor of the American soldier, you quit makin’ things up?"

The audience cheered approvingly, before Palin released another barb:
“One other thing for the media, our new governor has a very nice family too, so leave his kids alone.”
I’d like to think that last zinger was for David Letterman, whose ill-conceived joke about Palin’s daughter provoked outrage by critics from across the political spectrum.
But Palin’s main criticism of the media is old hat for politicians upset with the scrutiny they receive, and an effort to turn the public against the messenger.
When John McCain introduced Palin to the America public during the 2008 presidential election as his running mate, the media clamored for more information about the Alaskan governor. Were they being too nosy, inquisitive or unfair? Probably not, since McCain’s vetting process took about as long as ordering lunch through the Wendy’s drive-through, and people wanted to know more about this woman who was thrust upon the political stage at the Republican National Convention.
While the media focused on Palin’s personal and political history and executive record, some plumbed the depths about her family and her pregnant teenage daughter. This became grist for the late night comedy mill and for pundits. It also began Palin’s public loathing for the news media.
She views the media as jackals, picking ravenously on carrion, ripping apart the rotted sinew and bloodied flesh of a media feeding frenzy, a gruesome American spectacle that turns the political circus into an abattoir of carnage and horrors.
Like a Kodiak bear defending her cubs, Palin swiped at the media with razor-sharp claws, hoping to draw blood and do what politicians have done in the past – impale an arrogant news media on their own sword.
One of the best books I’ve read about journalism and the media is “Attack the Messenger” by Craig Crawford. The book’s subtitle, “How Politicians Turn You Against the Media” is something I’ve espoused for years, that the political parties want to maintain control and the only way they can achieve this is by discrediting the press.
Here’s what Crawford says about objectivity and reporting:
"Just as it is for politicians, trying to be all things to all people is a slippery slope for the news media. Sometimes, fair and balanced reporting calls for an honest conclusion that might offend a political player.
So what. If it is an honestly drawn conclusion, well proven with the facts, let the offended side wail as much as they like.
At the end of the day, it is not the job of politicians to protect truth. They have an agenda. Often that agenda is a good thing for the country. And sometimes they deceive the public to protect opponents from undermining that agenda…Reporters who lay off the truth or intend to deceive the public in any way no longer deserve the franchise. They should go into politics."

I’ve known a few reporters who left newspapers to work for politicians, writing press releases and handling the media as spokespersons. One reporter even ran for office and became a councilman.
Crawford’s book lists several instances when the press is cajoled, bullied and threatened by those in power. Reading this book made me angry, but by the time I finished, I was completely numb. I understood this whole thing is a game, a grand masquerade of pretend and bullshit, where the seekers of truth are the enemies of the state. Where watchdogs and scrutinizers, who labor to inform the public, are purposefully taunted, ridiculed and even jailed.
Politicians rail against the “liberal media elite”. I think it’s ironic that a millionaire politician with several years of public service who is well-connected socially should call anyone an elitist and make it an insult.
However, there are elites in the media. From the metrosexual latte-slurping urban reporters to the corporate media owners who attend retreats at the Bohemian Grove with their political pals, the media elites tout their wares with superficiality, hooking the country on a steady diet of celebrity drek and political diatribes.
Crawford touches on this:
"Without a free press, there is no freedom. Politicians everywhere – and throughout history – want to control the press and thereby control what the public knows about their deeds.
Thanks to the world’s most protective constitution, the press in America is technically as free as it gets.
But politicians have found a way to limit the public benefits of our free press. They turned Americans against the news media, aided and abetted by the arrogance of elites in the news media who didn’t know what hit them."

Crawford lambastes old media for being arrogant, and writes their demise paved the way for alternative media of the cable news networks, blogs and the Internet news sites. Yet while alternative outlets are part of the evolution of media, Crawford spends a sizable chunk of the book exposing politicians for trying to cajole the media for their own gain. He explores the nature of “objective” reporting and insists reporters reveal their biases to avoid any accusations from critics.
He also writes that the news media should ask the tough questions and to not do so is a dereliction of responsibility:
"Biased reporting happens, and it is a problem. But submissive reporting is the greater danger. The public should be more worried about reporters who wimp out than the reporters who promote an agenda."

I don’t enjoy being vilified by partisan whores for using my writing talent to inform the public, who are already brainwashed into thinking any criticism or questioning of authority is unpatriotic. Holding a public official accountable is patriotic. Besides dying for your country, it’s the most patriotic thing a citizen can do.
At a recent political event, I spoke to a Republican leader who bemoaned that there wasn’t any outlet that produced objective journalism.
I told him that I would rather have a newspaper that was openly biased instead of one that didn’t ask tough questions or had no backbone to take on the politicians. The GOP leader said he’d rather have no newspapers than ones that were openly biased.
“They’re supposed to tell the truth, not blatantly lie,” he said.
“Lying is what politicians do,” I retorted. “Afraid of the competition?”
“Politicians shouldn’t lie. They should tell the truth,” he snapped, then stated that the liberal media masters in New York and Washington DC set the agenda for what is news in this country.
The fact that he would rather have no newspapers proves his utter disdain for the news business and sheer love of propaganda. Without a free press, society suffers. I wouldn’t have expected the political lackey to think any differently.
Some history: before the move for utter objectivity, the press was biased as hell. Newspapers pushed political agendas, unabashedly writing in purple prose and sensationalizing stories. It was the golden age of muckraking and of yellow journalism, when fistfights broke out in the streets between reporters and the political atmosphere was charged with lightening. Newspapers brazenly had “Democrat”, “Republican” and “Independent” in their names and peddled candidates who supported those views.
In Warren Ellis’ comic “Transmetropolitan,” rebel journalist Spider Jerusalem (who incidentally resembles a mad, futuristic Hunter S. Thompson) has this to say about his craft: “Journalism is just a gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that’s all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world.”
I’ve tried steadying my aim throughout my career, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes I strike the target and sometimes it ricochets or misfires. Always I’m aiming carefully, hoping it would hit and shower the world in flesh and bone, and allow the truth to change everything.

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