Saturday, December 17, 2011

"What Is Truth?" Said Jesting Pilate

Another fun tidbit: FAIR has a blog post by Peter Hart about Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes fussing over new polling data which showed that a majority even of Republicans believe that there is "too much power in the hands of a few rich people and large corporations." Fifty-three percent of Republicans believe this, compared to 91 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Independents, or 77 percent of all respondents. (I find it significant that 80 percent of Independents agree, since the Independents are the mythic Center that Democrats like Obama are always trying to placate by moving to the right.)

I've written about this before myself:
Now, the White House is obsessed with the opinion polls. It is not possible that Obama and his people don't know what most Americans think and want. For that matter, the Republicans must know it too. So, when Obama sold out a public option in his health-insurance bill, when he put the deficit rather than jobs front and center, when he put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block, when he extended and escalated US military adventures, he knew that if public opinion meant anything, he was chopping away at his chances of re-election with every budget cut. Yet he avowedly defied his base. Maybe he believes and hopes that he can spend his way into a second term; and maybe he can.
(To clarify: I know that although professional politicians watch the polls, they don't let them guide policy or practice. My point is that you can't claim they aren't aware of them.) The difference between me and those MSNBC stalwarts is that they thought that these poll results reflected a new development, even though (as FAIR showed) similarly large majorities of Americans have said the same thing for decades.
HAYES: What's amazing to me is how unresponsive Republican state level officials are and how much they're responsive to all of their ideological priors, all of the interests that they promised fealty to before they got into office, and how little trimming of the sails they've done.
True, but what about the Democrats, who, as I pointed out above, must have the same polling data? As the FAIR blogger pointed out, "the first question to ask is whether you really believe politicians are actually sensitive to public opinion at all--read about Thomas Ferguson's investment theory of politics for another take." The only connection between the Democrats and "populist" Americans came later, when Maddow said: "But I think right now, if they [Democratic politicians] were calculating the domestic political cost of ending the Afghanistan war, there would be none. I do not think that the Republican Party has either the credibility or the energy on foreign policy to resist Democratic White House if they wanted to end the Afghanistan war sooner." Of course, Obama has no intention of ending the war in Afghanistan until he's damn good and ready, political cost or no -- he has no Bush-era Status of Forces Agreement to push him, as he did in Iraq.

So anyway, another good commentary from FAIR. What prompted me to write this post was a comment below the post, from someone who wrote:
Perhaps if we demand that a requirement be made into law that news broadcasts and public political meet a minimum threshold of honesty we might see things change. They manage to do this in Canada and yet here Fox News was able to win a lawsuit by claiming they had no legal requirement to tell the truth. Demand Honesty.
He included a couple of links to online petitions which he had evidently started. (The one on Facebook has 4 likes so far!) I was disappointed, because I was looking for evidence that they "manage to do this in Canada." Judging by right-wing Canadian politicians' ability to be voted into office, I am skeptical.

But the real question is, what would a law look like which required "that news broadcasts and public political [sic] meet a minimum threshold of honesty"? Who would decide what is honest and what isn't? I wouldn't trust any government to make that decision. Much as I dislike Fox News, I'm glad they won the right to lie; "We Fought in Court for Our Right to Lie to You" should replace "Fair and Balanced" as their tagline. The alternative would be that the government can decide that any news outlet wasn't meeting "a minimum threshold of honesty" if it published information -- about the economy, say, or about American war crimes -- the government disliked. Before anyone advocates such a law, they should imagine it being enforced by the Bush administration, though I'm sure Obama would love it just as well. In the real world it would replace journalism with government and corporate propaganda. Indeed, the corporate media already "meet a minimum threshold of honesty," with the stress on "minimum."

The problem, as far as I can see, is that too many Americans don't "demand honesty." There are plenty of alternative media in the US. Nobody is required to listen to the corporate media; just about everybody complains about them; but they refuse to look at the alternatives. When I ask people about this, they say things like "Gee, I know I should, but I just don't have time ... Someday I'm really going to inform myself better ... Someday ..." Yet they do have time to watch reality TV shows and hour upon hours of professional or college sports; I think that reveals their real priorities.

Myself, I don't have time to watch the corporate media; most of my news-reading time is taken up with alternatives: FAIR, Democracy Now!, my community radio station, and a lot of places on the web, which I read critically. And I've noticed that once you begin to inform yourself, you can read behind what the corporate media say, so that even if you must watch CNN or read the New York Times, you can spot their distortions. That is your responsibility as a citizen: to think for yourself. If you want the media and the government to decide for you what is true, you might as well just listen to Rush Limbaugh; he at least openly claims to think (or something) for his audience. No free citizen should abdicate the responsibility of thinking to anyone, government, corporation, or individual, but that is what the commenter was advocating: let the government determine a "minimum threshold of honesty" — and come to think of it, we already have that, a minimum — so that we can just sit back and let ourselves be filled with government-approved truth. Yummy! Why, we could even have a Department of Truth! Then we could finally trust the media; they wouldn't dare step out of line.

A law like the one that commenter wants would make a difference, though: it would wipe out alternative media, or at best drive them underground. Right now you have alternatives to the corporate media, who distort the news in directions agreeable to their corporate owners. But if the government can require the media to tell the "truth" as determined by the government, who do you think would be shut down? Not the New York Times for dutifully passing along Obama's claims about Iran's nuclear weapons, you can be sure of that. More likely it would be little magazines and websites who shoot his claims full of holes. If the commenter doesn't like the First Amendment, which forbids government interference with the press, he can always move somewhere more to his liking, like Canada or France or -- what the hell, why not? -- Iran.