Monday, March 07, 2011

A Eulogy for the News Media

It's not easy for me to stand up here today before all of you, my fellow friends of the First Amendment, the American flag, hot dogs, apple pie and picnics in the park on the Fourth of July. It's not because I don't want to share my thoughts --- it's more about being in denial that we've lost our friend, the News Media.
After all, when I turn on the TV, I still see the deceptive remnants of NBC, CBS, ABC, as well as the skeletal remains of programs such as "60 Minutes," "20/20" and "Dateline NBC." It's when I tune in and watch hour-long remakes of real, live murder mysteries that I remember that the days of hard-hitting investigative reports are gone.
And to think that, for so many years, my dream was to work, full time, as a segment producer for one of these programs. And why not? They were doing what our founding fathers intended them to do --- they were wearing the uniforms of watchdogs. They were doing their part to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." They were there to function as the Fourth Estate --- to provide the proper balance when the balance of powers tip too far in any direction.
Our founding fathers knew very well about the dangers of despots, about religious zealots whose enthusiasm sometimes bleeds over into the desire to inflict their beliefs on the unwilling, about power-hungry representatives who fall prey to bribes and influence-peddlers.
Our founding fathers, however, had not an inkling of a dream about the power that businessmen and their corporations would, one day, wield. They could never have dreamed that the greatest threat to the democratic republic they created would be the very commerce they encouraged.
And despite their concerns over the rights of people to gather peacefully and to say and believe what they desire, they never anticipated that the greedy businessmen would, one day, execute a 30-year plan to muzzle the watchdog.
But as you, who have gathered here today, very well know, the watchdog is dead. With nobody there to check their forward motion, the corporations have come very close to wrestling the government away from We the People.
So we're here today to remember our friend, the News Media, as it existed before its demise. We're here to remember its determination to report the events and situations that all citizens needed so that they could make intelligent decisions about how we should run our government. We're here to remember their goal of reporting --- in a fair and balanced manner --- the points of view of ALL of the parties involved in disputes. And we're here to remember their goal of building a strong wall between the news gatherers of their organizations and the advertisers, the folks who sell the papers and the owners, who were once able to express their opinions in one place --- the editorial page.
Our founding fathers never anticipated that the greedy business people could buy up and control the once-free press and begin to feed their unwitting customers exactly what they wanted --- not exactly what they needed.
Oh, I was an unwitting part of the deception and now I regret it. When I broke the story of the police investigation into singer Michael Jackson, I contributed to the rush to make entertainment stories more important than stories about how our representatives are running our country.
And for those of you who feel guilty here today --- guilty for not educating yourselves in spite of the ever-growing incompetence of the failing News Media --- it's not your fault. You were seduced.
Admit it. You were seduced.
The greedy business people who stole your First Amendment-empowered News Media from you replaced the important stuff with things that touched you on more emotional and prurient levels. They diverted your attention by filling your TV screens with swim suits, high-speed chases and, worst of all, stories about people who, in no way, deserve your attention --- people such as Paris Hilton and Charlie Sheen. They filled your soul with fear --- fear that your kids will be kidnapped if they simply walk to school, fear that someone who prays to a different version of God than you worship are really trying to take over the world, and fear that anyone who cares about the rights and needs of the poor or the elderly or the workers must somehow be part of a communist takeover.
No, please don't blame yourselves. You were seduced.
While you weren't paying attention, the messages put out by the ailing News Media have sent you down a self-destructive road. And you won't realize it until you step back and look at the map with a critical eye and a wide-angle view. Unless you check it out yourself, you won't realize that many of us have been supporting points of view that, in the long run, keep us from advancing toward the so-called American Dream.
You have to give them credit. The clever folks who finally succeeded in stealing from you the vibrant News Media of the past worked for more than 30 years to, little by little, take control.
I know that some of your are still unwilling to believe that you have been deceived. I was there once. It was in 1984 that I had my awakening. It was just in time to watch what was happening and to begin to feel the frustrating, helpless anger.
I posted a photograph of myself here today from when I was about eight years old. It was about that time that I witnessed something --- and even participated in something --- that was as remarkable now as it was then. You make think that this is silly. OK.
I was on the playground of Joaquin Miller Elementary School in Burbank, California, and I noticed one of my classmates walking around the inside perimeter of two connected playgrounds. It was when he passed by me the third time, that I walked up to him and said, "What are you doing?"
"I'm walking around the playgrounds," he said. "Do you want to join me?"
I did.
I walked behind him. After about two more times around the playgrounds, another kid got in line behind me. Then another and another and another. Nobody ever explained to anyone why were all walking in a long line around the playground's inside perimeter --- we just did it.
When the ringing bell ordered us all back to our respective classrooms, every student was in this line.
Every single student.
I was reminded of this phenomenon when I learned what was really happening in Madison, Wisconsin. I came to realize that, even more than before, my friend , the News Media, was dead. If it were alive, it would have reported the truth. It didn't lie --- it just didn't tell the whole story.
And, to me, that's when my friend breathed its last breath.
Whether or not it comes back to life --- or if something else emerges to rival its glorious past --- well, as they say "remains to be seen."
For now, we must all look, on our own, for the truth, the balance and the complete stories on our own. We can no longer count on NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox or even CNN to feed us these things. They've all been corrupted. They're all serving up the Koolaid.
There are some uncorrupted, unafraid voices out there. If you're interested, I'll share them with you.
In the meantime, I was thinking about starting to walk around the inside perimeter of our society. Maybe if I walk long enough and far enough, others will join me. Maybe if thousands of us are peacefully walking and gathering more walkers, more people will notice and we can put a stop to the decay of our democratic republic.
It requires nobody's permission. It's legal. There's still enough of the First Amendment in place to empower us all.
Do you think I'm crazy to want to start walking? Please let me know.