THE GOSH-AWFUL STATE OF NEWSPAPERS
In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to a young John Norvell, who would in subsequent years become a United States Senator from Michigan. Norvell had written Jefferson, expressing an interest in the newspaper business and asking how a tabloid should be run. The third President's response was, and still is, enlightening. It is set forth, in part, as follows:
"To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted . . . I should answer, 'by restraining it to true facts & sound principles only.' Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more compleatly deprive the nation of it's [sic] benefits, than is done by it's [sic] abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle."
After Jefferson left the Presidency and returned to Monticello, he refused to subscribe to multiple newspapers as some of his successors, like James Madison, would do. Jefferson continued to believe, as he emphasized to Norvell, that newspapers contribute to a "state of misinformation" and that one can "look with commiseration over the great body of . . . citizens who, reading newspapers, live & die in the belief, that they have known something of what has been passing in the world in their time. . . ."
Now, from Jefferson's letter to Norvell, fast forward several decades. A twenty-five year old Frenchman, named Alexis de Tocqueville, toured America in 1831-32, and was fascinated with the country's fledgling democracy. He made numerous observations about it in a book that would become a classic in American studies, Democracy in America. He noted many healthy associations among the American people and the manner in which these associations were reinforced by newspapers. He wrote, "[H]ardly any democratic association can carry on without a newspaper. . . . Newspapers make associations, and associations make newspapers. . . ." In Tocqueville's estimation, the small local newspapers in America had the role of giving voice to the people and of conveying information about their will. But does anyone really think this is the case today, when newspapers depend heavily upon powerful news-gathering organizations for stories, which come across the wire in all their "politically correct" glory?
On a personal note, I routinely read a smattering from the largest, most prestigious newspapers in the country, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as from some of the most parochial and lackluster tabloids on the face of the earth, including the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. I read them online, without paying for the privilege. Over the years I have learned that anyone who takes such news sources seriously, with the hope of becoming informed on local and world events, is bound to be disappointed. Most newspapers exhibit a distinct ideological bias, such that a perceptive reader can easily see where a "reporter" is leading him. "News" is managed from A to Z. Editorial decisions are made, at the get-go, regarding what is and is not "important" to print. The result is that the American people, thanks to a tabloid's philosophical bent, often hear nothing of enormously significant events. This fact is nothing new.
Let me give you a single example. In 1965, the United States Congress enacted the Immigration Reform Act of the same year. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Act into law on Liberty Island, in New York. The main purpose of the legislation was to loosen restrictions on non-European immigration to America. The new law was meant to be nothing more than a spectacular example of international window-dressing. It was a poster to the whole world that read, "Look at us; we respect and welcome everybody!" Yet, as those knowledgeable concerning immigration know, the Act ushered through "the golden door" of American citizenship virtually everyone except Europeans. The result is the cultural hodgepodge we have today. In a span of less than a half century, America went from being the most culturally homogeneous country on earth to the most pluralistic. This earthquake arrived without so much as a modicum of information provided to the American people! Where were the media? Better yet, where are they now?
You may ask, "Well, what's wrong with non-European immigration? Are you a racist and xenophobe?" I respond that nothing per se is wrong with any group of people. All should be treated kindly and well. Yet a drastic change in the culture of one's country is newsworthy. It may not be a matter that has ever caused you apoplexy, but the issue is most certainly one that should have received attention by newspapers. Millions of non-European immigrants entering the country every year, with a system of institutionalized multiculturalism firmly in place to welcome them as they are, without expectation of assimilation, is a big story! When many of them are entering the country illegally and also reaping the benefits of the Great Welfare State, this would also seem to deserve our concerted attention, wouldn't you say? The disregard of borders has admittedly received space in tabloids, but little of this coverage has been critical. Most is garbage, amounting to so many contemporary episodes of "Queen for a Day." It's "Geraldo-style" journalism, deluged with snot and tears in the absence of discerning intellect. This is but one example of the nonfeasance (and, yes, malfeasance!) of newspapers.
If you want to learn something about politics, culture, immigration, or morality, let the word go out here and now -- do not count on the whores of the newspaper industry to inform you. Find learned books on the subject in which you have an interest and read them. Moreover, converse on the subject with people who are knowledgeable about it. And, oh, yes, cancel your newspaper subscription, and invest the money elsewhere. American democracy, supported by an educated and enlightened public, will flourish. The world will be a better place. Newspapers will not lose out altogether, because dead fish will still have to be wrapped in something.
June 12, 2008