Our constitution gives the media a central and protected role in our democracy. Our founding fathers expected the media would help hold leaders accountable and also help educate voters (and legislators) about the pros and cons of various policy options. The media have never been especially polite in doing the job the founding fathers gave them: personal attacks on political leaders started early on. In the last many years, however, many media owners have directed their staff to set fires and then pour gasoline on them.
Media owners might believe pouring fuel on the fires of division is a harmless way to make a buck. After all, they might think, there are plenty of other media outlets who offer competing views, so what’s the harm? That kind of reasoning used to be correct – but no more. Now just six companies own most of our television and radio stations, many regions are now dominated by just one of these firms, the number of reporters has fallen steadily – and many people in rural areas can’t access media that compete through the internet. We voters are getting access to fewer and fewer genuinely competitive media with capacity to objectively and professionally cover stories that matter – these days there is very little out there to counter the divisive stuff coming from big media.
In this new situation, business as usual could become quite dangerous to freedom of the press. Stoking the fires of division could provoke a social firestorm in which real people choose sides and physically attack each other. Recent clashes in Virginia, California, and Oregon might seem isolated but what if they grew and spread? What if one side manages to beat down the other? Half of our media owners will find themselves and their outlets shut up, if not locked up. Short-sighted media owners are risking the very democracy that makes their existence possible.
It is not hard to write stories about someone insulting, punching, or murdering someone else. The stories make good money because they entertain us – except when they happen to us for real. So, aside from entertainment, what we actually need is help to avoid destructive fights. We also urgently need to start seeing value in each other again. We have many pressing problems that can only be solved by working together. Instead, most media owners and leaders are cynically telling us how divided we are, and how very wrong those other folks on the other side are.
What would it take for our media owners (mainstream and otherwise) to direct their news reporters to help us learn how to keep our property, enjoy our civil rights, and avoid getting sued, jailed, maimed, or murdered – and maybe even help get some problems solved?
The question is not impossible. There are all sorts of magazines that discuss tips, latest techniques and technologies, and relevant policy issues for business owners, hunters, vacationers, farmers, doctors, preppers, musicians, missionaries, sports fans, and so much more. These magazines are making money and have been for decades.
Couldn’t the television, radio, and newspaper teams buy good topical reporting from the magazines? The magazine owners and staff would surely appreciate the extra income and visibility. At the same time, couldn’t the television, radio, and newspaper teams use their capacity to connect the dots in ways the special purpose magazines cannot?
Couldn’t reporters make policy debates more interesting to follow? Even if it were something really boring like accounting standards, couldn’t we learn that the debate is vital for small business owners? Couldn’t we learn that the leader of the faction A and the leader of faction B found a way to solve the problem after banging their heads bloody in confrontational meetings by shifting to a series of backyard bar-b-q dinners? People need to learn that it is possible to have constructive, well-argued fights. People need to understand that all-out personal warfare or submission are not our only choices.
Which media owner wants to lead the way?
Photo credit: Inquisitr.