Oh, the stress of it all! We fret. We fume. When comes the fun? Covid spiking locally, the highest in the nation for my own…
“… to our democracy,” goes the extremely ironic script mouthed by scores of hometown reporters on TV stations managed by Sinclair Broadcast Group. Sinclair is now owner-manager of both our local Rogue Valley newspapers, our only major news sources.
Sinclair manages all sorts of tv stations and newspapers. It both manages some Fox News and competes against them. Fox, while claiming to be “fair and balanced,” has been anything but that. But they aren’t extreme enough for Trump and those who support him. Having used Fox, Trump wants things more extreme and to declare Fox as too centrist. He and his want even more blatant riling lies.
Irony of ironies, check out how multiple Sinclair tv stations all simultaneously parroted the same amygdala-riling fear and hate circuits, scaring Americans into distrusting the media as if they were protecting and rescuing us from it. Video here; it’s a hoot and a shame. For those of you who don’t or can’t go this YouTube video, it shows multiple home-town Sinclair news outlets all saying exactly the same thing:
“Our greatest responsibility is to serve the (local-name-here) community, but we are concerned about a troubling trend of one-sided news stories plaguing our country. . . Unfortunately, some … push their own bias and agenda … which is all too common. This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
Indeed, it is!
Our poor world is suffering from the extreme ravages of drought and flood, of angry populism used by demagogic connivers, of blatant racist oppression and even murder, of covid-wearied governments and populations, yet systematic liars pull the strings on what most believe is local, reliable news. Their lie is this: “We’re protecting you from the liars,” which is akin to crying “fake news” as a way to replace it with faker news.
Orwell would recognize it as The Ministry of Truth. Machiavelli would approve, except if they were to get caught. Propaganda isn’t new. It was used by and on Gengis Khan. It is part of our culture. We would hope in a modern, enlightened democracy we could spot it and rout it out. But that’s unlikely to happen when the only news we get is slick, entertaining fakery.
The new editor of our local papers declared he would hire a person to edit reports from the Associated Press and the Washington Post and any others “that parade as unbiased news and information.” He also bemoaned that the papers were being tagged as “liberal-leaning” because of numerous letters to the editor. So he barred them, shunting them to the mostly unread online version. In other words, ‘Well tell you what we want you to know.’
The new owner of our papers touting itself as sensitive to local views – lives in Pennsylvania. Prior to this, he was a hedge fund manager for the Blackstone Group, the largest multinational private equity concern in the world. Just after buying our local papers, he was funded by Sinclair, which runs almost 200 tv stations in the U.S., reaching about 40% of our populace. It is owned mostly by David Smith, an outspoken, proactive ally of Donald Trump.
Just as rural and swing-state America was largely ignored by mainstream media and was quickly inundated with right-wing hate-talk radio after President Reagan ended the “fairness doctrine” for radio in 1987, so has Sinclair sought smaller markets where many people don’t access cable tv and instead trust their local broadcasters. They then peddle a similar sort of reactionary defensiveness and hype via tv and newspapers, only glitzier. No wonder there is a rural/urban divide when all the good rural folk hears is canned pap.
I see it as the same deliberate strategy as former Trump ally Steve Bannon advised around the world. He helped Bolsonaro own and use the media in Brazil, for instance, where 42 journalists have been killed since 1992. Did Saudi Arabia need advice to murder and hack up Kasogi in Turkey? Neither his murder nor of the mother/daughter team of investigative reporters critical of Syria’s Bashar al Assad was adequately investigated or reported here. Nor do we hear of the 86 journalists killed in the Philippines. Nor the many more in Afghanistan and Mexico. Nor the over 500 killed worldwide in the last decade alone. The war on the truth and journalists ranges from blatant and brutal to slick and skilled.
Democracy needs journalists we admire and trust, not those who slyly “cover the news.” We know there were all sorts of shenanigans related to the Panama Papers, but that it was revealed was the story, not the contents of those papers.
Many governments don’t like the truth or those who convey it.
Witness the utterly shameful imprisonment and torture of Julian Assange despite his never having been tried. His offense? He revealed how murderous our pilots could be in his “Collateral Murder” video from Baghdad in 2010. He has been hounded to near-death since. This, though a crucial witness has recently confessed he was pressured by prosecutors with a plea deal in order to create damaging testimony against Assange.
How quickly the painful truth of the news is replaced by attacks on the truth-speakers.
Alaska senator Mike Gravel cried while reading the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Vietnam had been a deliberate ongoing lie. Some 52,000 of our guys and a million of theirs died in that horrid waste – protecting our shores from falling dominos or something. Mike Gravel dared to stand alone against the madness with an actual filibuster that would have taken days. Fortunately, our own UU Beacon Press agreed to publish them, so they were read into the Congressional Record. No other publishers of note dared to buck the lie. They tried to make his sobbing an embarrassment; instead, it opened up our own country-wide grief and anger.
Mike Gravel, who recently died, was no saint. He had opened Alaska to a pipeline that promoted oil drilling. But he was also a gadfly, calling for a 50% reduction to our military, questioning our unquestioned support for Saudi Arabia and Israel, holding CEOs personally liable, instituting universal health coverage, abolishing the Electoral College, balancing an unfair Senate with a Legislature of the People, and called recently for supporting a Green New Deal.
He taught that love implements courage, and that courage is the basis of all virtues.
Robert McNamara, reviled for the war in Vietnam, showed a bit of courage in the documentary film “The Fog of War.” The film informs us of the horrid scope of mass annihilations via the bombing of civilians in cities even before the atomic bombs. He was able to admit regret. (I wrote of it and him along with Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” in “Passion’s Fog.”)
It takes some courage to stand for honesty, rationality, kindness, and justice in this lying, anti-rational, mean-minded, unjust world. Suspicion and cynicism worm their ways into our psyche, tending us to believe any wild conspiracy theory simply because we can imagine it possibly being true. Enter Q Anon and Sinclair. Enter the angry insurrectionists attacking our Congress with our flag, as if patriotic.
I compose this in 115 degrees (F) heat, part of the increasing droughts climate scientists long-ago warned us were coming. Just across the street, the Almeda Fire raced past us and into Talent and Phoenix to utterly incinerate over 2,000 homes and businesses. Drought and fires in the water-short west. Rain bombs and floods in the east. And though all of this was as predicted, rarely is it mentioned as the news becomes too politically risky because of those who adamantly insist global heating is a hoax. Instead, Sinclair papers advise we harvest more trees, mostly ignoring exciting electric vehicles, taxes on carbon at the source or at the pump, and a whole array of creative adaptations to slow and reverse this worldwide predicament.
How is all this religious? Isn’t religion about beliefs and rituals? And isn’t earthly an adverb, modifying a verb? If religion isn’t a static noun but the living relating we do, then earthly religion is praise, devotion, celebration, and stewardship of our precious and vulnerable planet – and our private and social relations with ourselves, each other, society, planet, and God. We need the love and courage that support all the virtues if we are to have lives, a society, and a planet needing those virtues.
We need to open our thinking to go beyond measurements such as the Gross Domestic Product (which increases because people get expensively sick and grants value to trees only if they are taken) and instead consider the metrics Denmark and Bhutan are using, Gross National Happiness (which measures how healthy and happy people are). Why don’t our news show charts tracking our GDH? What thoughts do they have us thinking instead?
We humans need to know the truth and deal with it as best we can. Journalists can live up to the challenge of telling the truth or they can pretend to while undermining it. Instead of the rampant cynicism scientists, politicians, and journalists receive, we’re remembering we need all these all the more.