Nobody, I hope, would dispute the need for one; certainly not, members of the media industry. Sadly, though, most of them would say we already have one; and that is a very far cry from the truth. I'm including radio and TV here, for while the writers of Amendment 1 did not mention those media, I think it a fair inference from its context that had the electromagnetic spectrum been known at the time, they would have used "media" in place of "press". Equally, they would most certainly have included the Internet, and whatever marvellous inventions in communication may be brought us by free enterprise in the 21st Century. Why? - I mean, exactly why is it important that the media be free?
Answer: to prevent the possibility that government's will be the only voice that the population hears. To make sure that a rich diversity of views and interpretations is available. In fact, since we can be confident that the government of the day will be heard loud and clear with no press freedom whatever, we can say that freedom of the press exists precisely and mainly so that heterodox opinions are freely accessible to anyone who wishes to examine them. The Amendment exists primarily to protect speech (such as this column) that is NOT popular or conventional or approved!
The Conformity Virus
Notice the unspoken presupposition behind all this: it is that the people at large, when they hear a rich diversity of opinions, will have the intellectual capacity to sift through it all and reach a proper conclusion; that Reason, in other words, will Triumph. The Founders of this great country deliberately placed 100% of their trust in the peoples' good sense. As Franklin left the Constitutional Convention he said we'd been given "A Republic, if you can keep it." And when Madison commented on the purpose of the Second Amendment (which forbids any gun-control laws) he said it was to make sure the people were at least as well armed as the government they had created.
Those men were very well aware of the awful risk they were taking in setting up any government whatever, and time has, alas, proven that the risk was too big; the peoples' good sense has, little by little, failed them. And so today, you and I have to go miles out of our way to find any coherent viewpoint that has not been censored and sanitized by government Quislings and stooges.
The infection runs right through society; it does not start in the Editor's office. I'd say it starts in kindergarten, and if there is one villain above all others in bringing this disease to America, I'd name him as Horace Mann.
Mann above others was the person who successfully worked to bring government schools to this country. He and his gang saw how efficient Prussia had become by pioneering the idea, and worked for the first third of the 19th Century to sell the idea here too. He played on the prejudice of Protestants (implying that the Roman Catholicism of the many immigrants would fizzle out after one generation) and on the misplaced sympathy of all who wanted children of the poor to have an equal start in life (asserting in the teeth of massive evidence that those kids were not getting an elementary education.) And he sold it to the teachers, who saw the promise of unending employment and salaries safely set by laws and taxes; they surrendered their freedom to teach as they saw fit, in exchange for that alleged security. They've never gotten it back.
Then it was just a matter of time, of the passage of generations, before the entire population, more or less, would believe whatever garbage was handed down to them, via the vast indoctrination machine which Mann set working. Orthodoxy now predominates. Brilliant and unanswerable as most of the material in this column certainly is, for example, it goes clean over the heads of some readers; and the culprit was Horace Mann. The capacity to reason, to examine a wide variety of perceptions and select those that make the best sense - that resource which the Founders trusted so fully - has now been well-nigh lost.
Pummelled, now, by 12 years of pro-government propaganda (I refer to the whole institution of government, not to the particular party or people in power from time to time) graduates emerge brain-damaged and ready, if they have an interest in journalism, for further indoctrination in colleges specializing in those skills. If they carefully produce what the professors (similarly trained) expect of them, they are then loosed on the world to seek a job from media moguls who long ago learned that to sell their wares they must keep the tenor of their opinions carefully close to the alleged "center".
So the young journalist learns again to conform, so as to put bread on his table, and the better he is at conforming, the more rapid his promotion and the higher taxes he pays to fund the government school system to... and so the sick, devastating cycle begins all over again. The lesson is, CONFORMITY PAYS.
Sure, we have a Free Press. Anybody is free to step out of line, to ask the tough question the politician doesn't want to answer. But for all of his life, the reporter has learned that that his career is advanced by leaving it be. Conformity pays. Why should he think straight and lose his job? The last reporters to do that and succeed were Bernstein and Woodward, and they did so only because their target was a Republican in a strongly Democrat city. Clinton's alleged crimes today are far bloodier than Nixon's, but nobody in the mainstream media bothers investigating; why ever would they take the risk?
A small, recent example of what happens to unorthodox journalists: Pierre Salinger, now semi-retired after a highly successful career during which he was Press Secretary to the President (JFK), let it be known that he had very strong evidence that TW800 was shot down by a missile fired accidentally from a government ship. You probably saw him waving the paper; and if he's right, news of the cover-up would bring the government down as fast as that 747.
But, since then? - did anybody follow up on that? Was the paper brought before a hundred million viewers for close examination? You guessed it: ever since, we heard only silence or ridicule, by such as Andy Rooney. Salinger may now be too old and honored to care; but that's what happens, if you step out of line.
|© Copyright Jim Davies 1999|
Jim Davies lives in New Hampshire,
and enjoys contemplating which way is up.
The above is Edition # 254
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