Saturday, August 6, 2011

Truth versus Power

On Friday, August 5, MSNBC had this headline in its Business section:  “No double dip, but economy stuck in low gear.”  Right next to it was this headline, “NYT analysis:  We’re probably in a double dip recession.”  Directly under that was another headline: “Why recession fears are overblown.”   And, of course, at the very top of the site was the breaking news:  “US Loses Top Credit Rating.”

So, what did we learn from MSNBC on this particular day?  Not much, it appears.  Now, I am a big fan of MSNBC.  This website is my home page on my web browser.  However, we have to question the value of their reportage on this issue, this particular day.

In a recent Rolling Stone article, former Vice President Al Gore wrote, "After World War II, a philosopher studying the impact of organized propaganda on the quality of democratic debate wrote, 'The conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false'."  The task today, is to push our politicians to move past propaganda--the always evident "talking points" on each side--and to demand that they tell us what they think is true.   

The 24-hour news channels have given us a “talking-point versus talking-point” approach to the news, instead of reportage based on fact-finding and analysis.  In this radicalized political climate, it simply is not enough to invite to the table a liberal and a conservative and elicit their talking points on an issue.  Rather, we should expect the reporter to dig out the facts personally and present an analysis that they can support as the truth as they see it.   That is, we should ask journalists to pursue questions of truth rather than questions of power. Otherwise, propaganda will win out and, when that happens, a democratic society will always lose.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Jane Addams and the Tea Party

I am re-reading Jane Addams’ wonderful memoir, Twenty Years at Hull-House.  In explaining the spirit with which she founded her settlement house in 1890s Chicago, she wrote that it was driven, in part by “the conviction, in the words of Canon Barnett, that the things which make men alike are finer and better than the things that keep them apart, and that these basic likenesses, if they are properly accentuated, easily transcend the less essential differences of race, language, creed, and tradition.”  Addams, of course, was speaking about the importance of integrating into American life the millions of immigrants who had been attracted to the United States at the height of the Industrial Revolution.  However, her words also set an expectation for us today.

American-style democracy thrives on our ability to find a workable middle—a place where are “basic likenesses” outweigh the things that keep us apart enough for us to fulfill the purpose of our federal government as declared in the opening sentence of the Constitution: “. . . to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . .” I would like to think that I could identify some “basic likenesses” with the Tea Party members of Congress.  However, it does not come easily.

The Tea Party, which declared its purpose during the last election as being “to take back our country” (they did not say from whom), can be expected to become even more radical and less prone to compromise now that they have won a big victory.  These rightwing extremists have set themselves so arrogantly apart from the mainstream of our country, that, right now at least, I cannot find common ground with them.  They, in turn, seek no common ground with anyone who does not share their ideology.

I hope that our politicians are able to find a way to build a workable middle ground in this environment.