Thursday, May 8, 2008

Bill Moyers is a smart person

Bill Moyers, in an interview yesterday with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! had some intelligent things to say about the media. Here's a slice of fried gold:
...the media doesn’t allow complicated thought to be articulated in ways that enlighten instead of misinform people.

...Politics often exposes us to the corroding acid of the politics of personal destruction, but I’ve never seen anything like this, this wrenching break between pastor and parishioner. Both men, no doubt, will carry the grief to their graves. All the rest of us should hang our heads in shame for letting it come to this in America, where the gluttony of the nonstop media grinder consumes us all and prevents an honest conversation on race. It is the price we are paying for failing to heed the great historian Jacob Burckhardt, who said, "Beware the terrible simplifiers."
More of this, please. You can read the transcript or listen (or watch) the entire interview through the link to Democracy Now!, above.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., "Rarely do we find men who engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think."

Moyers has always been both willing to think and unwilling to simplify, which I suppose is why he wound up in public broadcasting. There is little of commercial value in considered exposition, as the booksellers will tell you. It's past cliche to say that the media caters to the lowest common denominator. This has always been true--just think of the Spanish-American War and cries of "Remember the Maine!" Sensational or yellow or whatever you'd like to call it, American media has rarely upheld the ideals of the freedom under which it operates.

Like Novak, however, it is never beneath extolling those ideals to protect its pursuit of profit -- never so eloquent nor so subtle as when there is a threat to the golden tap.
Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact,--very momentous to us in these times.
--Thomas Carlyle, "On Heroes and Hero Worship"
It has been "very momentous to us in these times" since freedom of the press was enshrined. And even though self-abasement by the media is not new, I would argue that never in American history has the media so clearly abandoned its role as the fourth estate. And where once that failure doomed only our country and the foe of the moment, in these days of hegemony, our illness of ethics and money threaten to catch the world on fire. In a moment when we must be at our best--for we are never as before a city on a hill--we have been at our worst. We have followed Dick Cheney into the shadows. You may recall:
We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.
That quote is from a Meet the Press interview on September 16, 2001. Fittingly, it is the press that has provided the Emperor with the clothes he needed to do this "work in the shadows." Now, far too late (though we should well have seen its inevitability), we have followed the strings of torture back to the hands of the puppeteer.

What we can be sure the press will never report is that between the puppeteers and their audience, holding up the curtain to maintain the fiction, stands the press. And here we sit, like fools at a show, and believe it's all for our benefit.

The fact: The fact is that there is really only one thing that separates the good guys from the bad guys: There are things that bad guys do, which good guys will not.

It is their "will" not to do -- or to do -- that makes the difference.

I'm glad there are people like Bill Moyers to remind us that we were supposed to have been the white hats in this drama. But we've helped ourselves to a black 10 gallon Stetson and a bandanna to hide our features. In the confusing cross-fire of like against like we've used the Constitution to plug the bullet holes. It was never made for that.

And we enshrined freedom of the press, because the people should always know what the government is doing in their name.

No comments: