Democrats & Liberals Archives

Valued Criticism

A recent New York Times article recently caught my attention. The subject? Our government using millions of taxpayer dollars to propagandize on our newscasts.

Before you folks on the Red Column ask, I might as well anticipate your questions with an answer: Yes, I do think the government has some right to a polished presentation. It’s the manufactured, secret kind that bugs me.

Basic principles, really. We live in a democracy, and democracy is rule of the people, the masses, really. They intent is to keep power flowing all over the place, so that majorities of different demographic composition can satisfy their interests. The thing about a democracy that makes this work is that people can agree across different dividing lines of philosophy, find common ground between each other that might not be superficially obvious.

Two things create this:

1)The common experiences and human concerns of the population, with certain similarities in their reactions brought to bear.

2)Media that contains a professional press capable of giving people a trustworthy big picture, as well as containing a forum for the transmission of different opinions people might find valid, though they don't originally see things that way.

What happens otherwise is a kind of stagnation of views and policies. On point of fact, it's happening already.

Democrats are demonized as sympathizers to communism, sympathizers to terrorists, or whatever enemy the GOP needs a scapegoat for their inability to effect immediate defeat of. We're always holding them back, always belittling their heroic efforts.

It's easy to say we're at fault. We have little to do with the process by which the Republican party actually makes decisions. They can confirm Attorney Generals that okay torture and other illegalities, A UN Basher for UN ambassador, a Neoconservative architect of the Iraq War for the World Bank, and others without really having to mess all that much with us. They can pass what they want, put whoever they want on committee. And if something goes wrong? It's because the Republicans were held back by the weaklings and backbiters, the obstructionists out for their own political glorification.

The GOP has the Democratic Party where they want it. What about the American people, though? That's where things get complicated. More than anything, this is an administration afraid of what the American people might do if people got straight answers about what their government was doing. We can't call it Social Security Privatization. No, that would be wrong.

It's private accounts, now. It's not about the explicit meaning- both amount to the same thing. Privatization, though, is something that's done to large institution. Accounts is something done to you. Bush wants you to get two impressions from this: One, it's being done for your benefit by your permission, and two, it's not going to affect the institution as a whole.

What bothers me there, is that while the first is debatably true, the second is a vastly misleading impression to give. This is a privatization, one that opens the door for more of the same.

This is but one example. Do we run convoys in Iraq anymore? No, combat logistics patrols. Because of that, of course, fewer convoys are being attacked. We get more of the same spin with the junkyard armor question posed by that soldier to Donald Rumsfeld, where we are told that the unit is now fully armored, and not told that most of the Armor is the precise kind of compromised, junkyard born armor that the soldier in question complained about in the first case.

Worse yet, the spin becomes less about content, and more about the content providers. The soldier, who willingly asked the question, and was willingly cheered by his fellow soldiers gets dismissed because he gave a little help to a reporter who wanted the same question asked. Legitimate concerns about the president's wartime service, backed by damning documentary evidence are considered resolved merely because four pages out of the hundreds in concern were forged and a reporter they hate with irrational intensity is duped by that evidence. The person who confirms the forgeries confirms that the documents contained authentic information, and still all that matters is the cloud of suspicion, the dark whisperings of Liberal Bias.

Even then, people learn of the evidence, and make their own decisions. Even with his political organization going at full-steam, this president who once enjoyed a landslides worth of high opinion barely wins the presidency by a hundred thousand votes in one state. He won the popular vote by two percentage points.

But even then, relativism creeps in. The Bush administration declares that it has a mandate. If around sixty percent or more of the American voters had voted for Bush, that might have been a legitimate claim, but this last election was a landslide the way snow shaken from a branch is an avalanche.

And now it seems evident that an administration with such solid standards for evidence has been paying for news-style reports to bolster its public image, reports often indistinguishable from that of journalists working for private concerns.

One has to push aside a number of moral sentiments to get this far. First, you have to push aside that troubling legal notion that our government shouldn't be propagandizing to its own people. Second, you have to justify the secrecy under which these reports are given, coupled with their intentional resemblance to journalistic piece. Then you have to get past that notion that we should be getting straight answers from our government through the media by reporters and organizations that don't draw their paycheck from the government. The government should be a obligated primary source, a servant to American's right to know, not the ones determining what we see and hear of their activities.

Awareness is a fundamental necessity in democracy. To the extent that a democratic government enforces ignorance on its people, that government is democratic in name only. This president has done his best to keep us unaware of the full extent of his policies, the consequences of his policies, and the nature of events, conditions and issues that we are set to decide on. Despite his role as public servant, he has seen fit to keep himself invulnerable to public scrutiny and criticism, and to act as entirely as our boss, with all such privileges, when he is as much our employee as anything else.

Now, the question might be asked, by those wishing to play the games of moral relativism, of whether I would have the same response if the leaders were on my side. The answer would be an honest no. My response, though, would not be that which they would predict. I would not be so vocal in taking a Democrat to task, true enough. There is much incentive in tyranny resting on the other side of the aisle, especially when one is in the minority. I have a need to go after Bush that is intensified by my party being disadvantaged by him. But were the person in question one of my own party, I would not consider this something to be left alone, not considered at all.

I would not pull the kind of shameful performance that Zell Miller did, vilifying his own party, hamstringing them for all to see. One does not have to go after one's own party the way one would a rival or enemy. One can criticize in the name of friendship. There is no disloyalty in honest disagreement between friends, no disloyalty in taking a friend to task for shameful behavior. There's no need for public humiliation or rebuke. What can be done, can be done behind closed doors, the spin and doubletalk affording a graceful transition away from error rather than a desperate escape from responsibility.

I'm sure Republicans will ask, what do we have to gain from this? It should be obvious. With porkbarrel spending out of control, entitlements growing at a reckless pace, and waste being hidden behind secrecy and corruption, the GOP is more than ever in need of internal regulation. The last thing you want, in the end, is the American people ultimately feeling the need to correct your party by the means of the ballot box.

You know what else you don't want: The Democrats in control of a propaganda machine. The excesses of one party, unchallenged, can become the excesses of another after a change of fortune. In the end, it is in the best interests of the American people, regardless of party, to keep our government out of the media business.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at March 19, 2005 11:00 AM