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BLOG 4: Big Brother’s Not Watching, But the Media Should Be

Excuse me and not to be overly cliche and borderline-paranoid, but I think every good discussion on the role of the media deserves a quote from our friend, George Orwell.

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed-if all records told the same tale-then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past. (1984, Book 1, Chapter 3)
Call me paranoid, but Orwell has a point. Maybe it’s a little strong to say that the government is capable of imposing such authority over the past and present, but isn’t the core of the idea–that the absence of questioning the government leads to what is accepted as the absolute truth–chilling? What is the (American) government if not a body that must persuade us, its democratic citizens, that the decisions it’s making–both in times of peace and war, but mostly in times of war–are the correct decisions, guided by some almost otherworldly moral compass that isn’t quite divine if only because that would be a serious breach of the separation of Church and State?
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The point here is simple, but important–for the government to not have such unparalleled, unquestioned influence over the course of political events, it is absolutely essential for the press to not only be free, but to play an active, inquisitive role in society. This means more than simply publishing official resources or questioning Obama’s decision to appear on the Daily Show instead of reforming economic initiatives. What it means is that, yes, the media–especially the news media–have an almost moral obligation to not only report the news at its core, but to analyze it in such a way that is critical in nature, even if that might be perceived as accusatory.
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Here’s the thing. It’s true that the press, much like the rest of the United States, is almost charged with a moral obligation to be as patriotic as it is possible to be. We all like the Red, White, and Blue, we get it. However, it’s absolutely ridiculous to accuse the press of being unpatriotic or even treacherous for challenging the President or Congress for certain policies, statements, or actions–even if those policies, statements, and actions come during times of war or distress.
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The media’s role is to question the President, to challenge Congress, to report the facts and investigate the statements given beyond the obvious. It isn’t a job that begins and ends in times of peace. On the contrary, the media’s role is even more crucial during times of war and emergency because an objective, third party observer is almost necessary to ensure that no impulsive actions are taken needlessly.
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As normal citizens, we don’t have access to the kinds of links, resources, and evidence that those in the news media industry have. We’re reliant on what the media presents to us and what meager intellectual, intuitive capabilities that we have. In some of our cases, that isn’t much at all. If CNN and Fox News insist that Saddam Hussein has Weapons of Mass Destruction hidden under every building in Baghdad, then who are we to think otherwise? If MSNBC reports that Congress has passed legislation that singlehandedly cures the Middle East of its sectarian problems, then why would we deny this is the truth? CNN, Fox News, MSNBC have resources that we don’t have.
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This is a problem when those sources come directly from the government and aren’t analyzed, sifted through, or even questioned. That’s not our job, Olbermann. Isn’t that why we’re paying you? It’s the sad truth that most consumers of the media just want to be hand-fed information and even the synthesis of that information. If that synthesis falls short because the media are “in bed” with the government, then the average understanding will fall short as well.
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That is not to say blogs and the Internet aren’t changing that to some extent, but it’s going to be quite a while before most consumers of news media drift away from relying on the major networks and news media to play that critical watchdog position.
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Since that’s the case, I don’t really want to know how much Wolf Blitzer agrees with Obama’s decision to buy a Portuguese Water Dog or how much Glenn Beck thinks that Rahm Emanuel is the antichrist just because he might theoretically look like one.
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What I want to know is: what are the real reasons we went into Iraq, why did we not prevent 9/11 when we had previous intel that it might happen, why is the government so paranoid about the WikiLeaks, how could our democracy-toting Congress and President side not pull support from Mubarak during the Egyptian Revolution, and why is it okay to blacklist CIA whistleblowers?
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No, I don’t think challenging the government makes you unpatriotic or a terrible human being. I think it makes you someone Orwell would be relieved to know. xoxo!
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