For those of a certain generation there was a golden time when morning brought the delivery of a robust daily newspaper and your TV set delivered unbiased information about the world in the form of news presented by serious men with thick black-rimmed eyeglasses who cared about their work. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. But alas, the days of living in that media sweet spot I just described have passed and may be gone forever.
The assault on health care reform illustrates how this loss of balanced information delivery leading to intelligent and thoughtful debate has created an America that is unable to dialogue with itself on things that matter. Is that dangerous? George Orwell predicted that by this time in history society would be controlled by means of fabricated “news,” surveillance, and widespread distribution of a tranquilizer. If you currently get most of your information about the outside world via CNN and you’re receiving junk mail and phone solicitations fine-tuned to your household by way of your personal data being sold and traded, then Orwell would only require that you start ingesting any of big pharma’s widely advertised anti-depressants so that his vision will be fulfilled.
But let’s be positive during this season of hope and instead look at what we might get for Christmas that could turn ugly realities like Joe Lieberman obstructionism and the theater of town hall shouting matches into the kind of public discourse and decision making a democracy needs. The following may be a few of the things that we all want for Christmas this year.
Reporting, Not Gathering
TV news channels now flaunt the fact that they perform a function of “news gathering.” We’ve come to accept that all they will do is transmit information generated by others. Reporting, especially with any level of investigation, is dying faster than your Christmas tree after December 26th. A society that passively waits for others to generate “news” gets the Sarah Palins it deserves. It gets marriage infidelities and balloon boys while millions are unable to safely insure their own health, and the corporations literally killing those people are controlling the message and the debate.
While there is still good work being done by many, the decay of news and information reporting should be viewed as a national literacy crisis. Believing that there’s a relationship between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq is on the same plane with having difficulty reading and writing. Selling spoken word entertainment and folk tales as news, Rupert Murdoch should not be allowed to systematically rob Americans of their ability to reason. What we want for Christmas is for CNN to reform itself while there’s still time or for a new entity to emerge; one that places its corporate goals alongside a democracy’s need to know truth and fact. If CN’s knowledgeable “reporters” would leave the building more often to track down new information, they wouldn’t be as available to sit in a studio adding more chewed cud to “stories” that often do not matter.
Debate as Process, Not Theater
Any product good or bad that presents itself over and over in commercials eventually attains brand status or credibility. Now that’s become the way of all things. Say “death panels” or “government run health care” often enough with lazy news gatherers passing the message forward, and soon those things exist and they’re something to fear. We may also make a mistake in dismissing too quickly the often grotesque expressions of those Americans who did not get on board the Obama Express Train for Change. Being left behind in the 21st century can’t feel good, and bad feelings lead to bad behaviors. Walking around with a placard that represents the president of the United States as Hitler? See “literacy crisis,” previous paragraph.
Reasoned debate, by sides armed with facts rather than histrionics and theatrics, has to be at the top of our Christmas wish list. In the way that the attacks on 9/11 were a wake-up call, so was the “ticket” offered as a sequel to Bush/Cheney and an alternative to Obama/Biden. In America, we read about the scoundrels that attempt to run governments in other lands and click our tongues. Yet our last national election clearly demonstrated that without intelligent reasoned debate and the pressure produced by real news reporting, corporations and those who serve them in Washington will offer up totally incompetent jerks as “leadership” for America.
So Santa, while I realize this is a lot of pressure to put on you at the last minute… can you please help us out here? We seem unable to correct the hideous appropriation and corruption of our channels of information. When pressed to fix a rigged system of insurance that threatens our domestic security, reasoned thought is upstaged by propaganda from those who are fattening themselves as families collapse. Years ago as a child I remember asking you for a radio. Now, if you will, I’m asking you to make all the radios and TV sets work they way they used to: With debate and discussion instead of shouting, backed with facts and reason instead of distraction and lies. Those gifts will be right on message for the season, for they will contribute to bringing hope and peace.