To Live in Interesting Times

By David L. Brown

The Chinese culture is enriched by a wealth of sayings about the vagaries of life. One such is in the form of a witty curse: May you live in interesting times.

Well, we are certainly living in such times today. The vision we’ve had of ourselves, we Americans, has been torn to shreds. What was thought of as a more or less unified society of people leading so-called normal lives, a Leave It to Beaver world, has become infected by a patchwork of toxic special interests, battles between warring tribes, and competing subsets of cultural anomalies and ideologies.

Our nation is in danger of total collapse in the face of the greatest danger our people have ever faced. No, it’s not the North Koreans, the Russians, China or Iran, for this most ominous of  threats comes from within. The battlegrounds are our schools, our churches, our universities, our corporations and our governmental agencies. It is a danger that goes like rot to the very core of our civilized society.

In this essay I will discuss just one facet of these interesting times, the fact that the rot and destruction of our society is promoted and gleefully shouted from the rooftops 24/7 by the very organs of information that should be a bulwark against such a deadly menace: Our news media. No longer content to report unbiased news and offer objective opinion, it has turned to manufacturing verbal and written garbage and spreading it wholesale to the entire world. Holding high the banner of truth, it has made itself a purveyor of lies.

I was trained and worked as a journalist in the days before the press and media became weaponized against the people. I earned a degree from the top-ranked journalism school in the nation and perhaps the world. In that time, more than five decades ago, journalism was struggling to rise out of its past, a past sullied by the practice of so-called Yellow Journalism.

For many years the press had taken sides in the public debate and acted as a kingmaker, a molder of opinion rather than a reporter of it. It had acted as a source of propaganda rather than a trusted and neutral source of information from which citizens could make sound decisions. It acted counter to its role as a free and valuable force for good as defined and protected along with other basic human rights by the First Amendment of our Constitution. Thus had William Randolph Hearst been able to brag that his newspapers had caused the United States to enter into war with Spain based on fake news about the sinking of the battleship Maine.

In that era of the 1950s and early 1960s when I entered upon the scene, journalism sought to earn respect as a profession, akin to the esteem in which medicine, the law and engineering were held. Standards of ethics were created and held out as models. Academic standards were enforced in J-Schools. Journalism at last seemed to be taking its place as a valuable and positive force in society.

And then came Watergate when the Washington Post took it upon itself to bring down a presidency in collusion with a disgruntled FBI agent named Mark Felt. Suddenly everyone in the field wanted to be an “investigative reporter” like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The news business turned back on its path toward respectability and entered a new era of Yellow Journalism.

And boy, if you thought it was bad before just look at it now. Thanks to television, cable, the Internet and an unending 24 hour news cycle, what was once a kind of quaint background noise to the affairs of our nation became a raucous cacophony of manufactured “news” that became a dominant force in our society. Add in the cancer of so-called social media and such vampire-like entities as Google and you have a recipe for a Frankenstein monster that is eating our society from the inside out. No, that monster from the Victorian age is inadequate to describe the situation. Let’s think in terms of thousands of Godzillas, giants trampling our society beneath their horny feet and threatening ruin to our precious republic, all for the love of money.

And these new forces of evil are not just dominant but destructive, because media entities are engaged in a vicious competition to capture the attention of the public in ways never previously possible. The trouble with journalism is that what attracts attention also draws advertisers, and advertisers are the life blood of any media business. With literally hundreds if not thousands of media outlets vying for our attention, they could never succeed through calm, impartial reporting of the facts. Indeed, the rule in journalism today has become “If it bleeds, it leads,” and the practice is for media darlings to run around with their hair on fire shouting that the sky is falling. It is a practice of ruling through fear, and all too many Americans have fallen into the trap of believing all the hype. Because of manufactured fear children are no longer allowed to be children, adults cower behind locked doors, and evil prowls our streets by day and night encouraged by the thought that fear and danger comprise a natural state.

As always when the pendulum swings too far in one direction there is an eventual reversal and we may be seeing a counter trend to the destructive forces at work in our world today. Each day more people are seeing the scales lift from their eyes as it becomes clear that the media are not sources of fair and balanced reportage. As outlets reach increasingly extreme levels of hand wringing and fear mongering, their credibility is waning. Most people today have lost trust in the press and electronic media, as reflected in this 2017 report by the Gallup polling organization:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans’ perceptions of news media bias have increased significantly over the past generation. Thirty-two percent believe the news media are careful to separate fact from opinion, well below the 58% who held this view in 1984. Meanwhile, 66% currently agree that most news media do not do a good job of letting people know what is fact and what is opinion, up from 42%.

As with a fish, rot starts at the head. It is the major media oligarchs who count the beat for media empires engaged in mass deception and bias. While many journalists are on board with the practice of manufacturing fake news, some few are not. Small, local newspapers and broadcast stations are the last hold-out of simply honestly reporting the news. And yet, and yet, sadly more and more of these are joining the parade of deceit and abuse of their First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, multi-billion dollar media corporations are buying up once independent local outlets and stamping them with the brand of their fake news model.

Enough on this. In future essays I will examine other aspects of this subject, for the causes of the problems we face as a free society are not limited to the media, not by a long sight. In fact, as we will discover, the rot has spread to every corner of our once-great civilized nation.

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