“As journalism goes, so does democracy.” So says Bill Moyers, president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy and the host of Bill Moyers’ Journal on PBS. Nothing could be more true, especially after looking at recent news reports about ties between the corporate world and major media outlets.
In my lifetime, I have seen the demise of an objective media. Around the time I was born, Washington Post reporters like Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward were uncovering the Watergate Scandal and Sydney Schanberg of the New York Times wrote about the top secret U.S. bombing campaign of Cambodia — a campaign about which President Richard Nixon brazenly lied to the American people. Where is this kind of journalism today?
For the most part, journalists these days, for whatever reason, write for editors and publishers who cater to political agendas, political parties, what group becomes most angry, to moral agendas and to whoever has the most money. Reporters will take at face value almost any statement from politicians, and do little if any follow-up as to the truth of those statements.
Recently, we’ve seen in the news that corporate America has invested in the media. For example, GE has been tied in with MSNBC, and ACORN, so-called community reform advocates, is financially tied to “The Advance Group,” a media relations organization with hooks into what we now call “the mainstream media,” or “MSM.” ACORN also received $800,000 from the Obama campaign, has been embroiled in charges of voter registration fraud, and is currently involved in a spectacular scandal wherein some staffers have been giving advice on how to smuggle in underage girls for work in government-mortgaged houses of prostitution. Fox News and bloggers are covering this. Where are the other major media outlets?
In my short time as a reporter, I have seen many newspapers, including our own, endorse candidates and take positions on amendments and ballot issues.
With this kind of activity taking place how can a free press in the Jeffersonian tradition write objectively? How can the press keep public officials and corporations accountable when it is in bed with its subjects?
The media needs to wake up. Newspapers all around the country are failing, they say, because of the Internet. This is true, but I believe that they are also failing because they refuse to print the truth. Bloggers on the Internet have done the job that the media at large has failed to do: expose corruption at its core.
In 1733, a Colonial printer, John Peter Zenger, said, “The loss of liberty in general would soon follow the suppression of the liberty of the press; for it is an essential branch of liberty, so perhaps it is the best preservative of the whole.” This statement was written long before the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were conceived. If our forefathers understood this, why don’t we?
This quandry is not entirely the fault of the media. It is also the fault of the American people who have tolerated “press candy” for far too long. As a country, we have let the media shape our thinking through excessive viewing of mindless shows and news reports. We have let the media do our thinking for us rather than delving into the writings of the nation’s founders and learning to think for ourselves. Because of this, we have failed to keep the media accountable. During the August town hall meetings, we saw demonstrations and protests against the government’s arrogant effort to ram a frightfully expensive, and ill-thought health care bill down our throats without taking the time for debate and reasoned discussion. The American people have been called derrogative names because we dared to question these politicians. The press, the mainstream media, should have been doing the questioning, and should have called these politicians to account for behaving so poorly.
The media is failing us. We are Americans. We deserve a press that lives up to the ideas the Founders framed in that First Amendment to our Constitution. We deserve better than what we are getting.