David Simon, the renowned television producer and writer, has warned in The Huffington Post that the squalid condition of the press is a danger to the republic. I have posted similar warnings here. Simon knows what he`s talking about. He`s a former reporter who watched the once grand Baltimore Sun become a pale shadow of itself. In fact, he`s told that story in The Wire, his justly famous series about Baltimore cops and perps.
The press is the creature of its advertisers, wholly beholden to them. That`s why we doggedly pursue a pharmaceutical medical model instead of being open to alternative medicine. That`s why the press refuses to peg alcoholism as a major cause of skyrocketing health care costs. That`s why the surgeon general`s shocking report on tobacco`s dangers in January 1964 put the media between a rock and their advertisers. And it`s why the subprime mortgage scandal took us unawares.
The press can`t be counted on to tell the whole truth, and it certainly can`t be counted on to pursue it. The press perceives the truth in many instances to be a danger to its vested interests. You can argue the economics of this conundrum up and down and sideways, but you can`t argue with the truth of it. And yet that`s exactly what the media try to do by entertaining us to death, by insisting that its anchors be cute and trivial, by pursuing non-news and dolling it up with adjectives. The media are not the attractive people you see on a screen or the good writers you see on paper, the media are the corporations that define the news by working the purse strings.
The real news is that government at every level has been corrupted by greed. The news is that the economic bailout will turn into a massive scandal without forensic reporting, particularly by reporters who understand accounting. Where are they? And even if we had such reporters, would their bottom-line bosses give them the time and resources to follow the money trail? Not on your life, because the once-vaunted barrier between newsroom and business office is broken. It was never very solid. It always depended on the integrity and even the financial sacrifice of owners, and there`s very little of that in today`s journalistic environment. Indeed there`s very little newsroom left, because its resources have been stripped away for falling profits and replaced with cheap entertainment.
Day after day we hear about concessions from the working class, but where are the concessions from the corporate elite? Why are their labors, often directed towards swindling us, more valuable than everybody else`s? Because they make the big decisions? Did they make them honestly? Did they make them patriotically? Did they give a damn for anybody but themselves?
And when we answer those questions, assuming they will be asked by a media press corps that is the sick creature of this very same elite, let us ask ourselves about the nature of a moral profit margin. Is there such a thing? Should we insist as a society that there must be such a thing? In the 1950s the newspapers of the country were largely in the hands of conservative families who deemed that they had a responsibility to society. Not merely to shareholders, not merely to themselves and their kind, but to everyone, to the republic. Their editorial pages "in spite of the juicy lie Republicans have been telling for decades about a liberal bias in the press "were overwhelmingly conservative. Editorial pages still are largely conservative. But most of these families could not have imagined pocketing the whopping profit margins that the media corporados have been taking to expand their empires and enrich their shareholders. Most of these families took modest profits and returned the rest to their businesses.
The republic was better off for that mind-set, no matter how paternalistic and stingy those long-ago newspapers might have been: Better off because those families had a sense of responsibility handed down generation after generation. Their newspapers weren`t just properties, they were family heirlooms, family duties. Those days are gone and with them decent local journalism.
Greed has played as much a role in the decline of news organizations as changing economic conditions. But those days were far from halcyon. Owners didn`t permit their newspapers then or now to raise the issue of a fair, moral and socially responsible profit margin. Such a question would have been regarded as entertaining an underlying socialist agenda, as if socialism were an idea more terrible than torturing prisoners or curtailing civil liberties or waging war without a congressional declaration.
There`s much talk of a populist uprising in the face of bailing out the banks and their overpaid executives instead of bailing out the people whose money has been swindled, but popular resentment has yet to cohere into the question: what is our future without social responsibility for one another?
Republicans are holding mock tea parties around the country, trying to milk every last drop out of their hypocritical campaign against taxes when they know damned well that wherever they`ve governed they`ve failed to address the causes of high taxation: bloated patronage, soaring health costs due to corporate greed and corruption (and yes, alcoholism), redundancy in levels of government, and a host of other sins of governance of which they`re every bit as guilty as the Democrats.
They`d have us believe they`re the sole legitimate heirs of the Boston Tea Party, and yet across the nation they`ve gerrymandered voting districts to tilt elections in their favor.
The substitution of slogans for ideas, of code talk for racism has gone hand in glove with the abandonment of social responsibility in favor of a feckless individualism that verges on piracy. It`s one thing to be an individualist, it`s another thing to be a snake oil salesman, but somehow Republicans, under a conservative banner that doesn`t truly reflect their mentality, have convinced large segments of the population that snake oil and screw-you individualism are exactly what our forefathers had in mind. The men and women who have engaged in this class warfare aren`t conservatives, they`re me-first elitists.
The conduct of the Iraq war showed us that. Who benefited? Arab tribes pining away for democracy or cronies of George Bush and Dick Cheney? And how many sons and daughters of those cronies died in Iraq?
This is why the American masses are seething. They see in stark outline that their money and their future have been hijacked and put in the pockets of people who`ve brought the rest of us nothing but misery. And they`ve seen it with precious little help from our so-called free press.