It popped up on Facebook last week – another troubling testament to our times. “Looking forward to appearing on this morning’s roundtable on (a local radio program) – talking about the criminals at Queens Park and Pierre ‘The Draft Dodger’ Trudeau’s son Justin ‘The Dauphin’ Trudeau running for the Liberal Leadership. Going to be a great show …”
It was written by a young Conservative, hoping to get into politics one day. The radio program itself, moving ever more in the direction of the salacious, was giving him his platform. One of the sad ironies of the moment was that Justin Trudeau, should he decide to run, would have as one of his main planks the need for the younger generation, regardless of party stripe, to enter public service. But on this particular occasion the program wouldn’t be about that, or any of the faults of the federal Conservative government. It was all about Liberal-bashing – ideological warfare.
But were these statements truth? Were they even objective or balanced? We know the answer: they were propaganda masquerading as “news and information.” One teacher of media and journalism told me that day that he had to turn the program off part way in because he couldn’t bear what was happening in modern media – and he is a Conservative. The reality is that he wasn’t alone. It’s why people are increasingly turning off of politics (as is perhaps the plan). To approach the younger generation by either tossing them partisan diatribes or by turning them off from politics altogether is an option no modern democracy should encourage, and someday a price will be paid for it.
Such programs claim they are merely attempting to “inform the public.” But of what? They can’t even claim to be aiming for objectivity or balance. In reality, most of the “public” turned off such fare years previously. The critical mass of citizens is merely trying to get on with the struggles of their lives in a difficult economic time. Sure, they enjoy entertainment as well, but not this kind. They know it for what it is – a rather cheap way of getting them angry so that they can be recruited to a certain political point of view. Most of the newer generation shy away from such extremes, opting to find their own more independent and integral path.
“Better a good journalist than a poor assassin.” So said Jean-Paul Sartre. Too often these days we have poor journalists masquerading as good shooters. It all adds up to the turning off of the public in an effort to get a shrinking piece of the competition pie – just like politics itself. Or, as Oscar Wilde put it: “By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”
But there is much intelligence – fair, informed, non-ideological – in any community that remains turned off by such diffusion. Fortunately, many within mainstream media, along with some bloggers, seek to tap into that resource, in the process growing citizen capacity in the process. Such journalists believe that there are messages out there that must be discovered and they are willing to unveil them. They comprehend that there are plenty of people with hidden messages and they seek to uncover them. But they refuse to make up the message, or purposefully omit balancing factors. Sure they have biases, even strong leanings that show up in their work (to benefit the community it is not required that they be impartial but accurate) but they remain careful in their craft, knowledgeable that citizens require not just opinion but clarity. Some even express a welcome (and rare) sense of fair play.
Those modern journalists, reporters and bloggers who attempt to manipulate the news as opposed to reporting it are in so many ways like the crass politics they appear to love. The noted journalist and writer Walter Lippmann saw this coming and wondered:
“Is the public now so deeply uninformed and divorced from the inner workings of power and diplomacy so as to make it a clean slate on which our armies of skilled propagandists can, often through the media, leave a message?”
Citizens must clearly accept much of the blame for permitting themselves to be so easily manipulated. But they had help – purposeful and well-resourced – from a modern stream of journalism who would rather make them angry than smart. It cuts across the political spectrum, but the end is the same: just like the political parties themselves, they are more interested in keeping your loyalty through anger than freeing your mind through justice and empathy. The result? A divided and distracted citizenry just at the time we need their united efforts to confront our greatest problems.
So what are we to do? In many ways we are already doing it. We are turning away from such propaganda and seeking out media voices that can better inform us in how to deal with our present pressures – just as we are learning to do with partisan politics. In our acknowledgement that we have been distracted for too long, we are now willing to play a more active part in our future. But for that we need knowledge, not pabulum, and enlightenment, not heat. Rather than liberating us, modern media has often trapped us within its own narrowness. We’re now ready for something better. The question is: will the saner voices within the media provide it for us.