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A Healthy Democracy Needs Healthy Journalism

As the election year continues, the Bill Moyers and Company site provided this reminder and warning from the late reporter and editor Ben Bagdikian:

"In the United States, voters cast ballots for individual candidates who are not bound to any party program except rhetorically, and not always then…. No American citizen can vote intelligently without knowledge of the ideas, political background, and commitments of each individual candidate... No national paper or broadcast station can report adequately the issues and candidates in every one of the 65,000 local voting districts. Only locally based journalism can do it, and if it does not, voters become captives of the only alternative information, paid political propaganda, or no information at all.”

And:

"As regional daily newspapers have shuttered, as local newspapers have downsized, as local radio hosts have been replaced by syndicated “content,” and as old lines of distinction between broadcast and print and digital media ownership have been blurred (thanks to wrongheaded federal legislation, lax regulation, and greed), communities across this country have become information deserts. Voter turnout for local elections is often so dismal that it invites questioning about how cities, villages, and towns are governed — and how those in power are held to account."

The messages are from Bagdikian's book: "Media Monopoly." Yes, journalism must serve the people and not the (rich) few and corporations. A healthy democracy needs robust journalism and not a media monopoly that reports propaganda and entertainment masquerading as hard news.

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Chanson de Roland

I amplify and show my full assent to the Editor's comment, supra, with this quote from President Jefferson:

"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them." --Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787. ME 6:57

Yet today there is not one major news organization that I know of, and I know just about all of the major ones, from CNN, NPR, CPB, the New York Times, and Washington Post, as exemplars of the Left, to FOX News, the Washington Times, and Wall Street Journal, as exemplars of the Right, that does anything more on the controversial issues of their respective tribal identities than either reflect the biases and prejudices of their readers or more ambitiously and more perniciously attempt, with considerable success, to shape their readers ideas, opinions, values, and even what is regarded as the context of relevant facts for their readers. The result isn't news but is propaganda. Now, as in the case of the exemplars of the Left's news organizations that propagandizing and influencing can be refined and subtle, which is also true of many of the Right's establishment news organizations, such as the Wall Street Journal, or it can be as crude as Rush Limbaugh.

The reasons for this pseudo news are many. It can be a desire to maintain and enhance wealth and power, that is, maintain the establishment; it can be the desire to advance particular social agendas, such as homosexual marriage or legalization of the commercial pot industry; sometimes it is just the need for a paper, in this age of shrinking revenues, to develop and cater to the biases and prejudices of a group of readers in order to secure its revenues, and too rarely it can even be to advance a good and necessary cause, such as abating climate change, but, even there, it is more often a matter of tribal loyalty and identification than it is understanding of and true devotion to accomplishing a necessary good. But whatever the motive and the means, all of this pseudo news shares this: they either pander to their readers' biases and prejudices, and/or they create and reinforce those biases and prejudices and the context of either false or incomplete facts which supports those biases and prejudices.

To get any sense of what the news might actually be, I've had to resort to reading the reporting on the same stories of papers across the political spectrum in order to get a hint of the news by piecing together those various reports, and to that I add my own research into what scientific and other epistemologically sound knowledge shows to be true.

And so we arrived at the danger that President Jefferson warned against, supra: We have a press that doesn't help the people form true and wise opinions on the candidates and the issues by reporting the news, but a bunch or propagandists, who, though their propagandizing can be of the subtlest and most refined nature and powerful effect, pervert the people with bias, prejudice, folly, and/or perversion, with the resulting effect of corrupting people's opinions when it comes to choosing their representatives in government and their beliefs, ideas, values, and causes.

And so we have a country in turmoil that can't find its ways and where the people too frequently takes up folly and even absurdity as the vox populi.

The remedy to this is, as the late Mr. Bagdikian said, is to bust the media monopolies and replace them with strong local journalism on the local scale, and break the media monopolies on the national scale, so that everywhere there is at least a competition of ideas and reporting, with the hope that good news reporting will emerge from that competitions. But, as President Jefferson said, it must be that the people have the education and character to read and evaluate their papers; otherwise bad news reporting that appeals to and reinforces biases and prejudices will emerge, rather good reporting of the news that helps the people form wise and true opinions.

Yet where are our readers today who can read the papers? So we have not only lost good newspapers; we also have lost good readers too.

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