Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Men Without Honor

Politicians shade the truth. Sometimes they even lie. They make a point of blame-shifting whenever possible, particularly incumbent politicians. And their "people"--whether actual employees in the government or managers/workers in campaigns--follow suit as a matter of course. The citizenry accepts this reality for the most part. Only hard-core ideologues imagine that government could actually be peopled with forthright, scrupulously honest elected officials, who would sooner cut out their own tongue than tell a fib or even stretch the truth. And only partisan fools believe in the complete innocence of their side and the absolute guilt of the other side, when it comes to issues of truth and fact.

We--as citizens--get to sift through what we hear, what we are told, and what we see, hopefully with a mind towards recognizing who is more truthful--if not only more believable--in a given moment. And since the founding of this nation, indeed since well before that moment, citizens have had--as an asset to this endeavor--the Fourth Estate, the Press.

There is some debate over who actually coined the term--the Fourth Estate--first. Many attribute it to Michel de Montaigne, though not in reference to the Press, proper. Edmund Burke supposedly used the term in reference to the Press sometime during his career in Parliament. But regardless, the idea that the Press constituted a sort bulwark against the rise of tyranny had become standard fare in political theory by the mid eighteenth century. It's worth repeating the words of Philip Dormer Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, spoken before Parliament in 1737:
The stage, my lords, and the press, are two of our out-sentries; if we remove them, if we hoodwink them, if we throw them in fetters, the enemy may surprise us.
Stanhope spoke these words in opposition to a proposal before Parliament to license to the Stage (public theater) and the Press, to have the government assert a measure of control over what could and could not be said in both arenas. Politically, Stanhope was a Whig, given to a worldview not unlike that of Edmund Burke. Like Burke--and true conservatives--Stanhope recognized the need for some institutions, even if the State lacked control over them. In this regard, the Press should--in the view of both Stanhope and Burke--be allowed to do what it does, to dig truth and dirt, to occasionally incite.

To limit such institutions is to negate their purpose, with regard to the survival of a properly functioning government, one that promotes and protects liberty. A state-run press or media is, as matter of definition, an oxymoron, something that would serve no useful purpose, with regard to the maintenance of liberty.

Both were, of course, wise enough to see the limits here: there are lines that--if crossed--require action. Libel and slander, intentional fabrication, giving aid and comfort to real enemies of the state, all of these things could be and should be frowned upon, possibly punished, or at least called out. But Burke, Stanhope, and others of a similar mindset supposed that the press would still be more beneficial than detrimental, not because it was actually a neutral party--it never really was or is--but because individuals within could only survive for as along as they served the public conscious, as long as some part of the public accepted them, wanted what they were serving or selling.

Which brings us to today and the current state of affairs in the media. First, note that the media of today is not what it was in the time of Burke or Stanhope. Indeed, it is not what it was in the time of Reagan or Carter. From the internet to the 24-hour cable news cycle, the actual size of the press--in terms of both members and output--is orders of magnitude larger than it was even twenty-five years ago, to say nothing of two hundred years ago.

But...the very common assumption of new levels of bias in the press being present today is not quite true. In the days of Stanhope, of Burke, of Washington even, and of Lincoln, the press was--for the most part--no less biased. And that's fine. Really, it is. Just as is the case with politicians, citizens get to sift through what is presented to them by the press. And in that regard, they form opinions about sources, both with regard to specific websites, TV shows, and printed materials and with regard to actual individuals in the press. We all know who we are given to trust, who we require less from in the way of proof and verification, when it comes to what is written or spoken by members of the Fourth Estate.

That said, there is something going on today in our Fourth Estate, something that is not new by any stretch of the imagination, but something that does need to be dealt with and stamped out: the intentional and habitual misrepresentation of fact, in service to a particular political leader. Not a particular side, nor even a particular political party, but an actual individual. Because such a course is exactly in contrast to what Stanhope correctly describes as the role of the Press, accidental though that role may ultimately be.

For it reflects a profound and dangerous arrogance on the part of those who take this path and, even more significantly, it is the first step into the co-opting and control of the press--or portions of it--by political leaders as a means of holding on to power, i.e. it's a step towards tyranny.

Over the weekend, former Democratic strategist Pat Caddell summed up the problem, in reference to much of the media and the Benghazi situation:
The worst thing is the very people who are supposed to protect the American people with the truth - the leading mainstream media...they have become a threat, a fundamental threat to American democracy and the enemies of the American people... these people have no honor...
Strong words, yet very much spot on. Not because this rather large swath of the media is so overtly biased for the left, but because their actions serve to benefit an individual politician, Barack Obama, above all else. And in the regard, Obama and his Administration present such reporting as the only real reporting, willingly and blissfully ignoring all else at all costs.

This problem runs deep, with so many entrenched "journalists" so in the tank for Obama that their ability--or should I say willingness--to separate fact form fantasy has completely disappeared. Witness this piece by Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast, published just today. A blatant hit piece on Romney, to be sure, but that's not the problem, for there are certainly hit pieces out there on Obama, written by members of the media with a bias to the right. No, the problem is the creation of a false narrative of history in service to the current Prince of the nation, as it were.

In speaking of a recent ad from the Romney Campaign that presents the common line of a candidate being willing to "reach across the aisle," Tomasky says this"
With this, Romney makes the full leap into Orwell-land, but with signs that some folks actually buy or at the very least want very much to believe this, it’s important to point out to those voters the precise nature of this con game.
Tomasky is very clearly implying that the ad is lying, that it is ignoring history. Thus, we must expect that Tomasky will actually offer up some evidence in this regard. But he fails to do so. He doesn't even make the attempt. There's no "real history" of Romney to contrast with this claim, but only a rehashing of an already disproved narrative about Bush, Obama, and "across the aisle" support. And in doing so, he offers the following (my boldface):
While Obama and I were believing—on Inauguration Day 2009, say—that things would be different, key Republicans were meeting in a restaurant not far from the very mall where the celebrations had taken place that day. They agreed, wrote Robert Draper in his book Do Not Ask What Good We Do, that very night to oppose Obama with all they had. Within the month, the Tea Party movement was born, and compromise with Obama became the moral equivalent of shaking hands with the devil.
Get that? According to Tomasky, the Tea Party movement was a secret creation of "key Republicans," apparently thought up over a dinner at Denny's. And Tomasky has the brass cubas to cite Orwell, with regard to what's in a Romney ad? Here he is, openly recreating history--the Tea Party was not a product of Republican leaders and originated during the end of the Bush years--in service to the campaign of the President. Indeed, he doubles down on the Orwell reference:
And the final note that takes us into full surrealism. Republicans know very well that Obama can’t say any of this during election time because he’d sound “whiny” and will be admitting “failure” at the task of uniting the country. This is really the Ministry of Reality Suppression at work, and why I wish Mr. Orwell were around to see it.
And with that, Tomasky crosses the line from simple shill, from partisan hack, into an actual employee of the real Ministry of Truth. Like Lizza in the linked-to piece, Tomasky is offering what he knows is a fabrication to protect his Supreme Leader. But Tomasky goes even farther, by suggesting his deception is somehow correcting what is only a political talking point in an ad: Romney claims he's willing to "reach across the aisle," Tomasky responds by "correcting" this non-fact with an absolute lie presented as a fact.

It's is beyond slimy, in my opinion. It is yet another instance of acting without any honor, whatsoever. By forging such a phony background for the Tea Party movement, Tomasky openly insults the American Public at large; he puts the needs of a single politician ahead of the truth. And it should not be tolerated.

Cheers, all.

No comments:

Post a Comment