Distributed Mind

August 01, 2004

Errors in American Democracy, Part 2

by ben

(I think the following is perhaps a little harsh, but I think on the whole it is close to what reality is - despite my penchant for hyperbole. I was tempted to sit on it longer, but I wanted to post it. Perhaps I will revise it to be more coherent and repost it later.)

While the world has grown greatly in complexity since the founding of the United States, not all of our institutions have responded equally well. The press may be the most representative of these.

Although the news today is a booming business - witness CNN, MSNBC, FOX News on the visual side, for example - it shows some distinct immaturity. It has not grown up, but merely grown fat.

I listened tonight to a rebroadcast of a panel of anchors from the major news shows. It was amazing in general how uncritical they wanted to remain toward government and toward politicians. Although they made it clear they had doubted arguments the Bush administration had presented for the invasion of Iraq, at the same time they showed a remarkable amount of trust in the President's and government's word (see my previous post for more thoughts on that). This time, however, it is not the rank naivete that shows, but rather the laziness and weakness it shows. There is no real reason, perhaps other than economic, why the news media should ever be at the mercy of the word of the United States government. The press has largely parrotted the government's take on just about everything in the Middle East except perhaps in Israel and Palestine and even then. There has on occasion been some good investigation performed after the fact on some events in Iraq and elsewhere, but before the fact the press has fairly consistently been caught off guard, playing catch up.

There is no reason why the press should not be anticipating events and currents around the world not just in the Middle East, or at the very minimum ready immediately to provide the information needed by the American public in response to world events or the announcements of our government. How so? In the senate hearings on the September 11 Commission report on July 30, the vice-chair of the 9/11 Commission pointed out the importance of "open sources" - which is the intelligence community's term for sources which are, of course, "open," for example foreign news sources, publications by radical organizations - whatever sources can be acquired without actually lying, stealing, or breaking any laws. The point is, if even the United States government (and to a lesser extent the intelligence community, which has done a fairly poor job of using these sources if reports are to be believed) sees the value of this type of information - it has been suggested that the largest part of intelligence work could be done through effective processing of these sources. No one has claimed that all intelligence could be replaces by the largely passive open source intelligence, but if it is even the largest part, that must be something. But the press need not stop there. But the media is harldy at the mercy of foreign journalists and rumors published by others. Many large news organizations have correspondants all over the world gathering this very kind of information themselves.

Regardless of the practicalities, and comprehensive, on-going, anticipatory research - journalistic intelligence - is not likely to be cheap, it is, I believe, what the press should aspire to. Real news does not come from our government, it should be read by our government. A press that waits for crises to arise or, worse, waits for the government's opinions on the world is not really providing any value. We could all just watch the White House's press conferences and spend our time wondering what went wrong that led up to the September 11th attack - which, you might notice, sounds suspiciously like what we do now. What can we do to avert future terrorist events? The press has been silent, except some rather vapid and sensationalistic "fear mongering," lots of talk about dirty bombs and biological attacks by al Qaeda and mentions of "homeland security" - all topics chosen by, and terminology invented by, the United States government. Certainly we must respond to what comes out of our government, but should we really be merely following their docket? Where is the independent thought on these topics?

I am not acquainted with the details of the budgets of large news and media organizations, but I conjecture that the resources are available to make the changes I propose here. Even if they are not available, they should be made available to the greatest extent possible.

11:35:12 - Politics - ben - No comments

Errors in American Democracy, Part 1

by ben

Americans are not stupid, they are naive. How many times have you heard people who should know better - Senators, reporters, etc. - say that they supported the war because they trusted the President. This is not criticism of the President, rather those who should have known better but decided that the fallacy of relying on authority did not apply in the tweny-first century.

I am too young to remember the Watergate incident. But none of these people are.

There were some subtleties, but in general, there was plenty of room for doubt. I know because the only time I wavered (or anyway as I recall 18 months later) was after Colin Powell's speech to the UN. And even that was a mistake on my part. Perhaps, as part of the new, young, cynical generation I am programmed to doubt. But again, I point out I missed the Watergate incident. (I do remember some well-known shenanigans involving the truth from the last President though... surely the media should remember that as well.) We need to rethink the idea that just because it came from someone important, it is true.

And by the way, I have an even greater fear that Americans, bitten too many times, may become bitter and disillusioned and hence reactionary, and swing back the other way. Disillusionment has a way of leading to a sort of nihilism, which can be very dangerous. But, in this case, there is no reason for there to be any more disillusionment, if we are just willing to apply some reasonable skepticism.

02:02:01 - Politics - ben - No comments