WHEN BILL MOYERS RESIGNED FROM political advising in 1967 in order to become the publisher of Newsday, he offered a frank admission: “When I left the White House I had to learn that what matters in journalism is not how close you are to power, but how near you are to truth.”
He arrived at this conclusion after taking a 13,000-mile bus trip around the country, armed with a notepad and tape recorder, and interviewing average people across the United States. What he discovered in that odyssey convinced him that politics and citizens were careening along ever-widening paths. He learned that citizens were quickly losing trust in politics to answer their most basic problems and that politics itself, as an institution, couldn’t really have cared.
Then he set about to interview many leaders of society who tacitly agreed with that assessment. “All these people share the conviction that news is what’s hidden. Everything else is publicity,” Moyers stated. Instinctively, we know this to be true. In fact, we’re almost 100% certain.
While traditional media largely continues its coverage of institutional spokespeople, non-traditional venues have sought another path, looking outside of established means to gain their story. Sadly, and in both cases, the real news gets suppressed amidst all the coverage.
Before she became an American senator, Elizabeth Warren had been placed in charge of a blue ribbon panel assigned with getting to the real truth about the financial bailouts given by the government to the largest lending institutions during the financial meltdown in 2008-09. She was already a seasoned pro at understanding the disappointment of modern politics, but even she wasn’t prepared for what she unearthed. She calls it the “BS Meter” and the title is suitable. In her book, A Fighting Chance, she tells of when her committee met with the second-in-command of the U.S. Treasury. When she asked him directly if the government was still bailing out the large banks with huge sums, he looked directly at her and said, “No, that has now ended.” Yet a few hours later her committee was shocked while watching the news to learn that a special government bill had just been announced that offered a further $800 billion bailout of the key banks. BS Meter indeed.
Meanwhile, from non-traditional media sources we have been hearing of a new economic order about to descend, in which each person will have their own start-up, their own brand, and control their own destiny through selling into digitally enabled markets. The problem is that we know already that it can’t be true, even for most people. We hear daily of how large companies have every intention of remaining profit-maximiers and that most consumers will play along. Unemployment will remain stubbornly high as a result, and government programs meant to help people transition through the emerging economy are being slashed.
Either way, the real truth behind the coverage is being ignored. And that truth is you … and me. Real people, despite all their creativity and resourcefulness, saw all their savings lost in the sub-prime mortgage scandal during Warren’s tenure on the committee. At one point, a family was going bankrupt on average of one every six minutes – 16 million families altogether in one year. And how did their government respond to this development? Simply by blaming such families for being poor savers and greedy consumers. The real reasons for bankruptcies were eclipsed by the blame game.
We all know the numbers. We are fully aware of the precarious nature of the middle-class. We know that significant numbers of Canadians are either unemployed or underemployed.
But it’s worse than that. Polls tell us that a large percentage of Canadians don’t feel that any political party will defy the moneyed interests enough to restore the equitable financial health of the country. An increasing number of citizens no longer rely on the promises of election campaigns because … well, let’s just say they’ve learned their lesson.
In such a setting, the comment by Moyers concerning truth and power carries a troubling fact: the closer one gets to power, the farther they can journey from the truth. We, average citizens, are that truth – not ultimate, but perceptive truth. We know of the rise in food bank numbers, the proposed procurement of sophisticated fighter jets that don’t work, the meteoric rise of the financial elite over the everyday working person, the politicians that seem increasingly isolated, the decline in our roads, sewers, and other infrastructure, the higher costs of post-secondary education, the catastrophic effects of climate change, and the fact that the savings from government program cuts will simply go to reduce taxes for the rich. We know it all, but have no way of getting out of our predicament.
We keep being told that the free market is benign and largely neutral on economic issues, yet our experience tells us that some individuals and large organizations have such powerful influence that the decisions that benefit them adversely affect the rest of us.
This is the news that remains hidden while we grow swamped with spurious advertising and self-serving publicity. It remains hidden because no one believes it will be dealt with under our present economic/political system. It won’t be fixed until we show up in sufficient numbers to demand truthful communication. And it will remain broken if we leave power untouched and unchallenged.