Okay, I promise I'll get back to my snarky, sarcastic self really soon (Watch This Space!!!). I just have to get one more serious post out of my system.
Frank Rich of The New York Times has done a column on essentially the same subject as Friday's post "Not Funny" http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/21/opinion/21rich.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
While Rich’s column takes the lies and distortions of the presidential race as its main thrust, starting out with “truthiness” versus outright lying, he segues into the Keating S&L scandal and mentions (although briefly and not by name) both the Commodity Futures Modernization Act and Glass-Steagall.
Frank Rich’s column will certainly reach more people than any post I ever write and rightly so: Rich is a professional journalist with years of experience, and I’m just someone with a keyboard. His columns have to be vetted through an editor, they get proofread, questioned, and polished; mine come off the top of my head, sometimes when I’m hopping mad, and the spell-checking function on my computer does the best it can.
Frank Rich is a journalist; I’m a citizen.
But, I suggest that just as a well-formed militia made of citizens is essential for the defense of the country, a cadre of citizen-journalists is equally vital, especially in an age when the media’s concern for “balance” gives equal time to distortion and absurdity. This “balanced” style of reportage dominates reasonable news outlets and pure partisanship, on both sides, dominates the rest. (As The New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman once wrote, “Even when reporters do know the difference, the conventions of he-said-she-said journalism get in the way of conveying that knowledge to readers. I once joked that if President Bush said that the Earth was flat, the headlines of news articles would read, ‘Opinions Differ on Shape of the Earth.’ “)
Nieman Watchdog is an electronic forum by journalists for journalists http://www.niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=about.Mission_Statement
Due to the sheer beauty of the Internet (one of the greatest things to ever happen to democracy) this journalistic site is open to anyone and everyone. One of the best parts of Nieman Watchdog is the “Ask This” section http://www.niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=ask_this.welcome
Yet, the “Ask This” ethos is far too important to be left to those who are paid by media conglomerates. The “Ask This” questions should be in the mind of every voter listening to a speech, watching a political ad, reading a news article or even discussing a subject with a friend or acquaintance.
“The price of democracy is eternal vigilance” said Thomas Jefferson.
We can not outsource vigilance to the media, we can not pay someone else to do it for us; it is your responsibility, it is my responsibility, it is our responsibility.
Below is a list of questions Nieman Watchdog editor Dan Froomkin posed back prior to the 2006 election, when sabers were rattling against Iran.
Add to these 2006 questions some 2008 questions about the economy
1. (Questions for McCain and Obama on the economic carnage) http://www.niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=ask_this.view&askthisid=00369
2. (What’s the impact of the meltdown in your state?) http://www.niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=ask_this.view&askthisid=00370
3. (Long-term national economic effects:How much will the Paulson package cost, and where’s the money coming from?) http://www.niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=ask_this.view&askthisid=00371
then let these combined questions be your mental template when reading, watching or listening to the news. Have the journalists presenting the material you are receiving asked these questions? Are you getting the answers that you need? If not, why not? You need to know these answers, whether you get them from the media, your elected representatives or ferret them out on your own.
Post/link these questions on your blogs, send them in your e-mails, include them in your conversations, hang them up at work (they are non-partisan) and in your home. (A bumper sticker on your car is great, but consider posting a simple question on the rear side window of your car where anyone parking next to you may see it.)
We are all journalists in search of the truth.
Some points to remember for ALL issues at the local, county, state and national level:
#1. You Can’t Be Too Skeptical of Authority
*Don’t assume anything administration officials tell you is true. In fact, you are probably better off assuming anything they tell you is a lie.
*Demand proof for their every assertion. Assume the proof is a lie. Demand that they prove that their proof is accurate.
*Just because they say it, doesn’t mean it should make the headlines. The absence of supporting evidence for their assertion -- or a preponderance of evidence that contradicts the assertion -- may be more newsworthy than the assertion itself.
*Don’t print anonymous assertions. Demand that sources make themselves accountable for what they insist is true.
#2. Be Particularly Skeptical of Secrecy
*Don’t assume that these officials, with their access to secret intelligence, know more than you do.
*Alternately, assume that they do indeed know more than you do – and are trying to keep intelligence that would undermine their arguments secret.
#3. Don’t Just Give Voice to the Administration Officials
*Give voice to the skeptics; don’t marginalize and mock them.
*Listen to and quote the people who got it right last time: The intelligence officials, state department officials, war-college instructors and many others who predicted the problem we are now facing, but who were largely ignored.
*Offer the greatest and most guaranteed degree of confidentiality to whisteblowers offering information that contradicts the official government position. (By contrast, don’t offer any confidentiality to administration spinners.)
#4. Look Outside Our Borders
*Pay attention to international opinion.
*Raise the question: What do people in other countries think? Keep an eye out for how the international press is covering this story. Why should we be so different?
#5. Provocation Alone Does Not Justify War
*War is so serious that even proving the existence of a casus belli isn’t enough. Make officials prove to the public that going to war will make things better.
*Demand to know what happens if the war (or tactical strike) doesn’t go as planned?
*Demand to know what happens if it does? What happens after “victory”?
*Ask them: Isn’t it possible this will make things worse, rather than better?
#6. Watch for Rhetorical Traps
*Keep an eye on how advocates of war frame the arguments. Don’t buy into those frames unless you think they’re fair. *Keep a particular eye out for the no-lose construction. For example: If we can’t find evidence of WMD, that proves Saddam is hiding them. *Watch out for false denials. In the case of Iran, when administration officials say “nobody is talking about invading Iran,” point out that the much more likely scenario is bombing Iran, and that their answer is therefore a dodge.
#7. Understand the Enemy
*Listen to people on the other side, and report their position.
*Send more reporters into the country we are about to attack and learn about their views, their politics and their culture.
*Don’t allow the population of any country to be demonized. All humans deserve to be humanized.
*Demand to know why the administration won’t open a dialogue with the enemy. Refusing to talk to someone you are threatening to attack should be considered inherently suspect behavior.
#8. Encourage Public Debate
*The nation is not well served when issues of war and peace are not fully debated in public. It’s reasonable for the press to demand that Congress engage in a full, substantial debate.
*Cover the debate exhaustively and substantively.
#9. Write about Motives
*Historically, the real motives for wars have often not been the public motives. Try to report on the motivations of the key advocates for war.
*Don’t assume that the administration is being forthright about its motives.
*If no one in the inner circle will openly discuss their motives, then encourage reasonable speculation about their motives.
#10. Talk to the Military
*Find out what the military is being told to prepare for.
Some links that provide useful info:
National Security Archives http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/
Sunlight Foundation: http://www.sunlightfoundation.com/
Open Secrets: http://www.opensecrets.org/about/index.php
Congressional Record http://www.gpoaccess.gov/crecord/index.html
Investigative Journalism: http://www.publicintegrity.org/
International English Language News Sites http://www.thebigproject.co.uk/news/
Register/find polling place/get customized ballot for issues for your district http://smartvoter.org/