Ex-President Barack Obama let fly an interesting old cliché, asserting that every nation gets the government it deserves. Is that really true?
Did the Germans in the last century really deserve a government that left their nation – arguably the most advanced in Europe – in physical as well as moral ruin? And did our country and its peasant settlers really deserve this marvelous republic – truly a wonder of the political world?
Continuing pursuit of this flitting butterfly, did we really deserve eight years of Obama? I could answer, “Yes, because we wanted to seize the occasion to tell ourselves and the world that institutionalized racism had been conquered in America, and that was a stupid irrelevant liberal genuflection that was utterly uncalled-for, and serving eight years under Obama was getting off easy.” I could just as well answer, “No, we didn’t deserve the cruel and unusual punishment inflicted by eight years of Obama because we wanted to tell ourselves and the world that institutionalized racism had been conquered in America after centuries of slavery and segregation, and electing Obama twice was a noble deed, and survival, albeit battered and with prominent bruises, was our reward.”
Meanwhile let’s use Obama’s reminder of that “getting what we deserve” formulation as a steppingstone to a vastly more important lesson which is definitely palpably and painfully true. We surely get the media we deserve, and we’re paying dearly for that infirmity in our national character. Under totalitarian regimes, the media follow the orders of the state as assiduously as buck privates follow the orders of their commanding officer. All during the Soviet regime, a typical lead story in the foreign news section of Pravda might be, “Peace Train Arrives in Moscow From Helsinki.” If there were no great North Korean Communist military victories to report, they would just yawn and try to tighten their ownership on the idea of “peace.”
Although the American government doesn’t control the media, there’s a general notion that the media are sort of expected to be on our side, you know, allies, like the British and French. That’s now apparently outmoded, now that major media hate Trump more than they love America. What good is “press freedom” when the massive slaughter of innocents in Syria, of Christians from Ethiopia all the way up through the Middle East, and the shocking barbarism of ISIS all get elbowed aside while our heroic media watchdogs unflinchingly ask if Trump really asked Comey if he were “loyal”?
Today’s media, I fear, are exactly what we deserve. I’m reminded of my commanding officer in the Army, Capt. Morris. With half a million Chinese Communist troops preparing to storm down upon our GIs in Korea, our good captain would lecture us as we stood at attention, furiously assailing us for uniforms that were less than spotless. “If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s dirty brass!” was one of his favorite battle-cries. So what? At least Capt. Morris didn’t pretend to be a journalist.
And that’s where we, the American people, join our media in guilt. Those in the media compete with one another. Apparently, those entrusted to research such things have concluded that angry partisanship and hatred of the other side deliver more eyes and ears than reasoned treatments of conflicting points of view. Our print media are full of quality writing. Our radio and TV media offer cutting edge technology and appealing production techniques. But look what it is they’re dishing out! Maybe those in our media are geniuses at dishing out garbage! There are some standout media-types who grabbed a hold of high standards as younger journalists and now simply refuse to let go (I’m proud and happy to be writing for one right here, right now).
But there’s no denying we’re getting from media exactly what we deserve. Competition is supposed to improve things. There’s plenty of competition in media, but they seem to simply be in a mad dash downward to the lowest common denominator.
My hometown newspaper had no competition. The Greensboro Daily News came out in the morning and The Greensboro Record came out in the evening. They were both owned by the same company, and their starring characteristic was that the No. 1 story in the world that day made the top of Page 1. The No. 2 story came next. Then followed as many as a dozen, right there on Page 1. Then, in Section 2, you found the No. 1 local story, followed by story No. 2 and so on. That venerable technique left you well-informed.
The TV newscasts in Sweden offered that same dignified delivery. No gimmicks. No teasers or whiz-bang-hit-’em-in-the-head bedazzlement. Just a fairly attractive woman calmly reading the news of the moment, going from most important unswervingly down the line.
Mark Twain once observed, “Most writers regard the truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use.”
Sorry, Dear Countrymen. We get the media we deserve. That school teacher may have been flippant and high-handed, but that’s all we can accuse her of. One of her students approached her after class and complained, “I don’t think I deserve a zero on this test.”
“I don’t either,” replied the teacher, “but that’s the lowest grade I’m allowed to give!”
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