Americans are very fortunate. Our rights, privileges and entitlements are massive in comparison to what citizens of other countries enjoy. We may not be able to afford it, but we are very happy to have it. Just imagine a life without something you maybe never think about; the freedom of information.
No one now living in America can comprehend living life without such a basic right. But citizens who reside in many 1st world countries are living such an existence every day. Life and government in places like Italy, China or Russia are oh so different. Government corruption is so pervasive in those places that I’m not sure it can be stopped, and the citizens there have no rights to know of the details.
Does government corruption exist in America? Absolutely. There is and there always will be some level of corruption in American government for at least one very good reason…power. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton 1887). But the biggest difference here is that with our Freedom of Information Act, we have the ability to uncover most if not all of what occurs in our government so long as we know the right questions to ask.
Couple our right to all non-privileged information with the advent and widespread use of pocket communications devices with video/audio recording capabilities, social media mania, mass media and the occasional whistle blower and you end up with a place which presents big problems for people who tend to abuse power for illegal or unauthorized purposes. Just ask Edward Snowden, he’d be happy to let you listen to an NSA wiretap and show you surveillance photos of you stealing a box of crayons from Lucy May’s lunchbox in 1973 then later bragging about it to your brother on your Midland hand held walkie-talkies while playing army in the back yard.
If you are able to expose corruption, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people will listen, nor does it mean that people will care. It just means that the information is usually available for anyone who wants to know. Mass media, in particular, news and political journalism, presents its own set of problems.
Blogging, what I am doing right now, essentially rose in popularity out of two things…access and popularity of social media together with a desire to present both unfiltered or alternatively biased news and information. Much of the motivation to blog was brought about by the widespread abuse of bias in mass media. When we read something in a newspaper or watch it on the Nightly News broadcast, we once assumed we were learning facts. But in reality, Walter Cronkite is dead and so is non-biased news reporting.
As a child, we had three television channels to watch. Of the three, each were competing for the attention of children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. The programming and the news had to appeal to every demographic and people on both sides of the isle. When cable television launched, and people started paying for the programming that most appealed to them, so it also went with news.
Suddenly, news could just as easily be painted to suite the palette of the person paying for it. When social media became popular, the technology evolved which allowed the media sites to study your habits and interests in order to push relevant information to you. If you searched for black shoe polish, soon you’d be receiving ads for shoe polish and wondering if you were psychic.
That technology evolved further to allow politicians and interested paying parties to develop a type of digital echo chamber. The echo chamber technology refers to situations in which your own beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a close system and insulated from any rebuttal. This results in a type of confirmation bias, increasing social and political polarization and extremism.
The result is multifaceted. On one hand we have a large demographic of people who only watch or listen to liberal media, a large demographic who only watch and listen to conservative media, a large demographic who are repulsed by both, and a large demographic who couldn’t care less because it is ALL seen to have no credibility.
The country has always been divided politically, that’s natural. But never before have I witnessed such polarization. When I was young, the average American had political views that found themselves somewhere just right or just left of center. Today, you have left, and you have right, and both wings are extremist. People can no longer have political discourse without creating anger and resentment. People are losing long-time friends and family members over politics.
The problem is that Joe was a lot smarter than was expected and Joe’s political perspectives, if they were naturally opposite from those propagated by media bias, became much more serious and perhaps a bit extreme. But Jane, in reaction to Joe’s spirited contempt for opposing political views, became more protective of her own political views in order to promote her own agenda.
Now, instead of having a broad centrist political ideology in America as we once did, we have two teams fighting for their lives for a collective of ideas in which we may only agree with half. The few remaining centrists are so hamstrung by focused ideological positions that they have little influence and no voice. Probably half or more of the die-hard conservatives or die-hard liberals really subscribe to ALL of the platform of either party. The rest of them only support the party vigorously because they want their party to win, regardless of their more centrist leanings.
Journalists in general can be divided into a few small groups: the independents and bloggers (few, heroic and frequently marginalized), the slaves (numerous, exploited and paid per article to have a particular opinion), and the great mouthpieces of the system hired or appointed to important positions by the parties and the lobbies (newspaper editors, editors in chief, famous names, or academics who are well-known in their field).
Although we have this wonderful power over our government, The Freedom of Information Act, how that information is framed and presented to us is determined by whether that actor/hero/offender is a friend or foe of the media giant who is providing the information. As consumers, we absolutely NEVER get the whole story, giving us the ability to decide for ourselves if it is good or bad. We get only bits and pieces of the story that appear to be either wholesome, moronic or demonic, depending upon how the media wants us to view it.
Who decides whether we will get the CNN version of Hillary Clinton or the FOX News version? I ask this because the two versions are rife with differences and anomalies you wouldn’t otherwise hear about from the other source. It is, of course, we ourselves who decide what we listen to but it’s the decision itself that bothers me. Why are we forced to watch biased news?
We as Americans are forced to make a deliberate decision to have our news filtered to our own ideological standards. If news were not so biased, then we wouldn’t have to watch the version which most appeals to our sense of right and wrong. If this weren’t happening, would we really be so disagreeable in the political spectrum? Could we then expect our politicians to actually accomplish things in Washington as we once did? Instead, we are force fed our “information” in order to bring about an intentional homogenization of our stances and viewpoints. Instead of independent beings, we’ve become culturally tribalistic.
Our un-governed and unlimited 1st Amendment has worked to completely eradicate the role of “statesmen” from the American vernacular. George Washington himself could not have survived the onslaught of media bias in today’s political environment. Abe Lincoln would likely have been pinned a radical tea-party wacko and closeted girly-man for his rumored sleepovers with his BFF.
Perhaps the brilliant statesman known the world over would never have emerged at all because he’d have been too busy poling voters and defending his awkward man-scaping. How many would-be statesmen have we sent to Washington that will never realize their potential – our potential – because of sleazy political correspondents whose sole purpose in life is to ruin the career of a candidate who represents a certain political party? It’s a sad reality when we would so quickly deny ourselves of a great leader just because he liked to wear onesies and wake up next to a bearded assistant.
Americans are being manipulated by the parties, the banks and by industry and these all use the media to distort reality. America has become one enormous reality show of three hundred million people that listen to fairy stories, and fantastic tales in such massive doses and for so long that they have transformed the country into a gigantic “Truman Show” in which truth is a lie and a lie is the truth. The more the system decomposes, the more the media becomes the last ferocious rampart (in fact, there is no further line of defense) losing every scrap of restraint and shame.
We witness the in-fighting and feigned hate in political dialogue, especially at election time, and I say to myself that it is incredible that anyone could accomplish a single goal. The ferocity with which the disagreements are carried can only result in a complete inability to listen to anyone who disagrees.
And the worst part is that most of it is staged anyway. The majority of those guys who are beating each other up on stage are having dinner together to discuss strategy afterwards. They’re just pandering to the vocal majority of each of their particular groups. In reality, they just want to keep you entertained long enough to get another 4 years. In Washington, you’re either at the table or being served up on the table. Strong public support gets you a seat at the table so you can feast on the carcasses of the once principled and incorruptible.
The moral of my blog today is that America has many items which should be on a to-do list. But in order to check them off that list, our system of collaboration (House of Representatives and Senate) requires that we hold the hands of others as we grasp the pencil to write. If one is left hand dominant and the other is right hand dominant, the pencil remains unmoved or scratches an illegible mess on the paper.
Both hands must find balance, and each must allow the other to have its moments. The incredible system we have never allows for an all-out win…never. Such a feat is impossible and for good reasons. You must accept each win with some concessions for the opposing force or you must accept abject failure. The American system of government, as I understand it, does not allow for tyrannical dominance, even if the views of the tyrant are pure or even best.
But that system can be changed – and there are plenty of people who want to change it. I’m one of them. I think we need to push very hard for term limits. No single politician should ever serve so long in power that the party members are beholden to his/her power. Each elected person should be able to bring about bills and ideas independent from his/her party and based in what’s best for his own state.
More for my to-do list, close behind term limits, should be the creation of some 1st Amendment don’ts for mass media and some sweeping election reform. There are some limits to free speech…you can’t yell “fire” in a movie theater unless there is a fire. So, let’s also make political comments free from annotation. Until we can erase media bias as a go-to lexicon for American political commentary, we will continue to propagate divisiveness and political radicalism. The term “spin” should be a dirty word. Both sides do it and both sides are wrong. Its manipulation plain and simple and it should be illegal for media because the fabric of a strong government rests on an educated public, not bamboozled bobble-head dolls.
Am I crazy or did our American forefathers study thousands of years of civilized society and politics in order to invent something original, lasting and as close to perfect as could be possible only to allow modern politicians, in an attempt to make it more perfect, try to change it into quasi-versions of other failed political and economic systems from fallen or bankrupt governments all over the industrialized world? I mean, what part of “almost perfect” don’t you get? Nothing is perfect except one thing and I promise you He/She/It will not have anything to do with running our government.
So everyone please forget the idea of sweeping change, it is an impossibility in the democratic system of government. Expectation is everything. Instead, look for a scaled and reciprocal approach which will have the ability to be hung and flown on a pole. Then democratically choose the pole. Otherwise, we can begin creating bronze plaques that read, “On this the 14th day of October in the year of our Lord 2014, NOTHING HAPPENED”.