The Free Press Needs to Be Responsible

You know, it’s a funny thing about Americans…

We are all aware that we have rights under the Constitution and many of us are hypersensitive about those whom we envision as usurping those rights. Unfortunately, a great many of us don’t understand how rights work. The Constitution only protects us from government action (or inaction, in some cases). In other words, while you have the right to free speech, Facebook has the right to delete a post you make, precisely because the Constitution doesn’t protect you from Facebook. You have no Constitutional right to post whatever nonsense you wish on Twitter and you don’t have a right to post pornography on Instagram or Snapchat. Your only recourse is to use your freedom of speech to protest Facebook’s actions and hope they will relent. You do not have an unlimited right to be a dick on social media. In fact, I wish social media companies would delete more of the dick-ish accounts.

In other words, while many people understand what their rights are, they don’t understand how they work. Another thing a lot of Americans don’t understand when it comes to rights is that with rights come responsibility. In other words, while you have the right to free speech, you also have a responsibility to use that right responsibly. You don’t have the right to threaten people and you don’t have the right to scream through a bullhorn at 3 a.m. and awaken everyone in the neighborhood. You don’t have the right to defame anyone. Just because someone hurt your feelings doesn’t mean you get to call them child molesters or thieves, unless you have proof that they’re child molesters or thieves. It’s the same with the right to keep and bear arms. The fact of the matter is, just because you have the right to buy and keep a gun for protection doesn’t mean you have the right to shoot anything or anyone you want. The fact that the law in many places requires that you be responsible for your gun ownership doesn’t impact your right to have a gun. Having the right to bear arms entails a measure of responsibility. This blog uses the term “gunloon” a lot. That doesn’t refer to all gun owners. Most gun owners are great people who treat their firearms responsibly and are responsible for keeping themselves and their families safe. Gunloons are people who think their right to bear arms is absolute and doesn’t entail any sort of responsibility.

It’s the responsibility aspect of the notion of rights that seems to throw a lot of Americans. Especially the press. This country put “freedom of the press” in the First Amendment for a reason. It is one of the most important rights in a free society and it is the most consequential of all rights in this country. It should be protected, no matter what, whether you’re talking about (consenting adult) pornography or you’re talking about the New York Times. However, as is the case with all rights, journalists also have a responsibility to use their rights in the right way. Should there be a law against “fake news”? Of course not; how the hell would you enforce that. However, if journalists and consumers of journalism were actually doing their jobs, “fake news” wouldn’t stand a chance. In fact, if real journalists cared about their profession, they would spend a lot more time exposing “fake news.”

We depend on the press to do its job all of the time, but especially when democracy is involved. And the press has been failing at its main mission for a while. Reporting that “Candidate A said X” is not news, especially nowadays. I mean, this is an era in which almost everyone has a video camera and we see everything. Reporting that Donald Trump said he’s a great business man is on a par with “the sun came up this morning.” It’s not news. A journalist’s job is to tell us what happened IN CONTEXT. It is the journalist’s responsibility to tell us what a statement means and to supply the context that gives meaning to what was said or done. In the 2016 election season, which lasted 18 months, they failed miserably at that task. They accept the right to print whatever they want. They accept the right to keep their “sources” confidential under any and all circumstances. But when it comes to taking their responsibility seriously, they really did not. There are exceptions, of course, but too many journalists have bought into the Glenn Greenwald model of “journalism,” wherein statements and documents are the story and no context is necessary. Either that, or they create “context” out of thin air, without talking to any experts, based on a mistaken belief that documents speak for themselves. If that seems like “fake news” to you, good call.

The evidence that the press failed is all around us. How the hell could anyone think Hillary Clinton is dishonest? If anything, one of her greatest flaws comes with her tendency to admit everything and to apologize for too much. There is nothing dishonest about Hillary Clinton. And yet, “the press” gave voters an overwhelming sense that she was dishonest or untrustworthy. When she left the State Department in 2013, she was the most admired woman in the world and she was an overwhelming favorite to win the White House. Every accusation made against her has been debunked and she has been cleared of everything. Benghazi? At least eight investigations and she was cleared in every one. And the emails? Who gives a shit, first of all, but there were multiple investigations and she was cleared in them. When she came into office in 2009, the State Department’s server was a pice of crap, and she was given the option of using her home server. There was no crime there, and after reviewing every single email, they found no real security breaches, which even the supremely incompetent James Comey had to admit was true.

So, here’s the question for you “journalists;” why was “There are questions about Hillary Clinton’s emails” NOT inclusive of context most of the time? Why was the story not accompanied by a statement that she was cleared of any wrongdoing? Why was Comey’s statement, in which he claimed there was “carelessness” given so much heft, when the actual FBI report said nothing of the kind? Also, given that the FBI’s mission is to investigate crime and “being careless” is not a crime, why was that mentioned at all? And yes, folks; it is not a crime to be “careless” with confidential information, unless there is nefarious intent. No one has ever been jailed for “leaking” such info unless they did so on purpose and with malice.

The FACT of the matter is, there was nothing to report, if you added context. Yet, journalists reported it incessantly, sans context. The same with constant statements about the fact that “voters” found her to be “dishonest.” At no point did the press point out the REASON why “many voters” considered her “dishonest” was because of the way the press portrayed her. You know, if you’re going to report on polls, you should be reporting whether or not the conclusions in the poll are actually valid. Just saying…

At the same time, the press virtually ignored Trump’s negatives. They seemed to be under the impression that there was no way the electorate could possibly vote for Trump, so they saw no reason to “harp on” the many disqualifying factors to the worst candidate in American history. What “disqualifying factors,” you ask? This is a billionaire who made most of his wealth selling snake oil. He has a lot of money himself, but he’s probably lost more for others than he’s made for himself. The list of failed business is so long, it probably wouldn’t fit on one page of a newspaper. He makes most of his money licensing his name these days, and there have been numerous cases in which a developer paid to license the Trump name on a development, took money from buyers and then backed out of the development.

And why has the press not featured his massive conflicts of interest more? There are thousands of articles about Hillary Clinton’s associates at the State Department perhaps speaking to someone who had business with the Clinton Foundation, even though they could not find any sort of quid pro quo. They couldn’t even find a “quo.” The context was actually simple to find, since the Clinton Foundation makes everything public, so you can fine everyone who gave money to the organization, what they spend money on and everyone they pay. The Clinton family has never received a dime for anything having to do with the Clinton Foundation. And yet, most of the press was obsessed with insinuating that Hillary Clinton “must have” done something wrong in an organization that has spent tens of millions of dollars and help millions of people get health care and support that they wouldn’t have, otherwise.

Meanwhile, you have the Trump Foundation, which featured quid pro quo up the ass. Trump used the money he was given for charity to pay for personal expenses and he is on record giving almost nothing to charity. Well, at least not his own money. Actually, given that he supposedly collected “$6 million” earlier this year “for the veterans” and had to be shamed into disbursing the money six months later, it’s not certain he gives away much of the money he’s given to support charity either.

Trump (No, the word “president” will not be used as a modifier on this blog, ever, unless it’s a direct quote from someone else) is not only the least qualified presidential candidate in history, he is severely unqualified. He doesn’t know what the job entails and his choices for his Cabinet are demonstrating once and for all that he intends to turn the government into a veritable honey pot for his rich cronies. This is the greatest crisis in the history of our democracy and I blame the press. It is a fact that voting for Hillary Clinton was an absolute necessity and that Donald Trump was too corrupt and incompetent to be elected president. Yes, there were some stories about Trump’s conflicts of interest and the potential danger of his dealings with foreign governments, but they were spotty and not picked up by most of the press. Instead, they demonstrated their irresponsibility by picking up incessant stories about Hillary Clinton and failing to provide the context that she had already been cleared on these accusations. Where were the stories about the issues?

This was the most issue-free campaign reporting I have ever seen. And I get it; one candidate was absolutely incapable of speaking on the issues competently, but that, too, should have been a story. Now, we may be stuck with a president who cant speak on the issues we care about. Everything about Trump is deal-making, yet, that is maybe 10% of the job of president. He’s also on record as saying the best way to make yourself successful is to surround yourself with people who are less-smart than you. Given his level of intelligence, that seems to be an impossibility, if we’re being honest, but it explains why he’s putting people in charge of agencies who want to dismantle those agencies.

It’s time for the press to do its job. I blame them for the fiasco we now face. Not only were they declaring Hillary Clinton a shoo-in, which was never the case, but they were intent on making sure the race was close. The end result was the press giving Trump billions of dollars of free publicity; more than was spent by all other candidates combined, and not making clear that Trump was, by far, a disaster in the making. Now, we may be stuck with a president who could quite possibly make George W. Bush look like FDR in comparison. All because journalists have been by and large irresponsible with the rights we protect as sacred under the law. The old admonition from George Bernard Shaw:

“Liberty means responsibility. That’s why most men dread it.”

Having a right deserving of protection means you have a responsibility to the people who are willing to fight (and even die) to protect it. Journalists, like most Americans these days, practically worship veterans because they fight for us and our freedoms. However, instead of blindly shouting your “patriotism” to anyone who will hear it, put your responsibility where your mouth is. True appreciation for the rights afforded you by this society means taking responsibility for using those rights in the best way possible. Do your jobs and stop repeating shit we already know. Your job is to provide context. If you can’t do that, then stop calling yourself a journalist because you’re not.


The Free Press Needs to Be Responsible — 3 Comments

  1. Where are the Democrats?

    I look around on the internets and I see Trumpsters gloating over their narrow victory and I see Greens & Bernietards shrieking with anger while blaming everyone but themselves.

    For me this sets up a post 9/11 vibe, when it was pretty dangerous to publicly identify as a Democrat and a Leftist – you could lose your job – the kind of environment in which the very first 2002 tranche of the Daily Kos was a Godsend.

    We need to find one another, to make contact, and to rebuild the machine: Stop the Republicans, Elect More Democrats, Elect Better Democrats.

    And learn from our mistakes, to be smarter about it this time than we were the last time, because once again we have years of work ahead of us.

    • Democrats are working to make sure this doesn’t happen again, which does not include massive histrionics. They’re demanding investigations and recounts and they’re setting up for 2018. All of this bullshit about having to retool is absurd. Dems showed up. “Independent” progressives didn’t.

      • I appear to have expressed myself unclearly, especially as I am one of those who – like Milt – keep telling people to settle down and we’ll get through this.

        Maybe the way to ask this is, are there any sites where a Democrat with a long history of online activism – long time leftist, but not one of these nihilist wannabe radicals – can go for a discussion without being assaulted by the drama queens? The Daily Kos and DemocraticUnderground, to give two prominent examples, are drowning in stupid.