In an interview with The Sentinel this week incoming U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen said one of the greatest concerns facing the country is the “Fake News” currently spreading virally like a pestilence across the land – aided and abetted by a President-elect who acts like Typhoid Mary by tweeting factually inaccurate information gobbled up by the electorate as a sugar-freak gobbles twinkies.
On this, Van Hollen has a firm grasp of reality. When the President-elect tweeted out he actually won the popular vote because millions of illegal aliens voted – it was a lie swallowed wholesale by those who voted for him – and this paper found itself having to check voting results in the county as some claimed certain precincts in Montgomery County had more people voting than were registered. It wasn’t true, of course, but we were accused of being part of the conspiracy against the President-elect.
Facts be damned. Sure, one member of the transition team helped spread false news which created a very public situation involving guns and standoffs as someone decided to “self investigate” the child pornography ring that didn’t exist – but hey what are facts compared to “feelings?”
When the President-elect is conspiring to spread false news while undermining the institution which tries – for better or worse – to provide vetted facts it is, as Van Hollen said, “A sign of weakness.”
Governments suppressing and undermining the press while promoting their own propaganda are not the strongest – they are the weakest. As the philosopher Albert Camus said, “A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.”
Those, including our President-elect who believe the press to be corrupt and evil, should also heed the warnings of history and in particular those from our third President – Thomas Jefferson who said, “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”
The sentiments of Camus and Jefferson, when combined, are part of the backbone of our First Amendment – but today we are far from fulfilling those ideals.
When false news is so easily spread and the President-elect himself is working to dismantle trust and faith in the media we are in perilous waters.
Those who scream the media have done their best to undermine themselves are unaware of the true extent of the problem. Due to federal government action, a mere handful of companies own most of the print, television and Internet access to news.
Reporters have very little cover when they produce hard-hitting news. Jail is a real possibility should something disturbing be uncovered.
In addition, there’s very little incentive for media companies to cover hard-hitting news. The viewing public, while griping about government, apparently would much rather see, read or listen to mental pabulum.
Faced with a responsibility to share-holders, a need to turn a profit, the government’s indifference to having investigative news produced about itself and the public’s prurient interest in all things salacious and scandalous – those companies generating content must donate their time and efforts into generating news which turns the greatest profit – that’s called capitalism.
Reporters turnover frequently in this paradigm as the cheaper the reporter, the more profit is available for the shareholder. Experience is lost as reporters abandon news gathering for other ways to feed their families.
Meanwhile, “false news” proliferates as a confused electorate grasps for straws to find easy answers to complex problems in between news about our favorite sports teams and newest celebrities.
There is an answer – Break up the media monopolies to induce greater competition. Limit the number of media properties each company can own. Reconsider something akin to the “fairness doctrine,” to insure controversy is met with logic. Introduce and pass a national “Shield Law” to protect all reporters from government retribution when they develop sources. Finally, introduce tax credits and other stimuli for media companies that invest time and effort in covering local, state and federal government issues.
That is where we start if we want to end up with the government proposed by our founding fathers. Or we can just listen to President-elect Donald Trump tell us what’s real.
Me? I don’t like Big Brothers.