We Cannot End Political Divisiveness Without First Changing Our Media.

Following the era of so-called “Yellow Journalism” from the early 1900s during which newspapers wrapped themselves in shame by focusing on sensationalism to the point of creating false stories, journalists found their better selves. After the Great Depression and World War II, journalists focused on exposing and reporting the truth. Not coincidentally, during that time period, our nation thrived. For the most part, our politicians and leaders served their constituents’ needs because the media held them accountable.

The truth was more important than readership, ratings and sensationalism.

More recently, especially following the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, our media chose a different path. They became obsessed with profits. That meant they intentionally sought out controversy and sensationalism. “If it bleeds, it leads” became their operating mantra. Real issues – those of politics and governance – were pushed to the background to be replaced by reports of crime and corruption, both real and perceived.

No longer interested in truth, the media instead focused on “balance.” Conflicting views were each handed a microphone and the “journalists” merely sat back to watch the ensuing arguments. This philosophy has now reached its zenith as demonstrated by NBC’s Matt Lauer’s performance at the “Commander-In-Chief” forum. During Hillary Clinton’s interview, he pushed her on already discredited accusations related to Benghazi, her private email server and the Clinton Foundation. Not because he thought he could find anything new of substance, but because they were sensational. On the other hand, when it was Donald Trump’s turn, Lauer asked softball questions refusing even to challenge or expose any of Trump’s many lies.

Lauer was offering viewers balance. What he was denying them was truth.

Such an approach does NOT qualify as journalism. It is mere entertainment, and not very good entertainment at that. It denies viewers the information they need to make informed decisions at the polls. It allows a liar and a bully who has done absolutely nothing to serve our nation to galvanize support. And Matt Lauer is certainly not alone. There are many other faux journalists who either hide behind “balance” or ignore the tenets of objectivity and real journalism to take sides. Worse, it encourages candidates and leaders to lie…to tell people what they want to hear without regard to reality or the facts.

To relate this to a sporting contest, it’s like a football or basketball team that has decided to commit as many fouls as possible in order to win knowing that the officials can’t, or won’t, call them all.

And things are only getting worse. Mainstream media ownership is in the hands of a very few. Thanks to Citizens United, the wealthy and powerful are able to spend virtually unlimited amounts of money to purchase elections. And on-line media has fragmented to such an extent, it is easy for voters to get one-sided “news” that panders to their ideologies.

All of this begs the question, “What can we do?”

The answer is for our citizens to exert some degree of control over the media. To demand that mainstream media replace pundits with journalists and to, once again, focus on the facts and the truth; to hold the media accountable; to demand that any organization that calls itself a news organization to operate in the public interest as judged by a bipartisan commission that includes real journalists; to acknowledge that falsehoods and partisanship do not help our nation. Indeed, they do it great harm. As was the case under the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, those media outlets that do not meet the standards of the commission should be denied their ability to operate and to collect advertising dollars.

This is not about censorship. It’s about truthfulness. We should teach our children that truth matters then demonstrate it to them.

How The Party Of Lincoln Became The Party Of Trump.

When the Republican party replaced the Whigs with Abraham Lincoln at its helm, the party was determined to end slavery and hold the Union together through the strength of the federal government. Then, following the Civil War, the party committed itself to serving the interests of business. When workers began to fight for better pay and benefits, the party began to struggle. And when the stock market crashed leading to the Great Depression, Republican leadership was replaced by progressive Democrats who dictated policy for a generation through the New Deal and the Great Society.

When Democrats finally passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Republicans saw an opportunity. They reached out to the racist Dixiecrats of the South in hopes of turning them into Republicans. The strategy worked beyond their wildest dreams. By embracing the racists, the party turned the South a deep, deep red.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the issues of abortion and gay rights presented Republicans with another opportunity. They created the “Moral Majority” by reaching out to evangelicals. And, still harboring resentment from the Civil War, the southern coalition turned the federal government into the enemy claiming that the Constitution calls for limited government (it doesn’t). Ronald Reagan popularized the idea by stating, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”

Finally, the party engineered the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, which held the electronic media accountable for serving the public interest. That turned talk radio and cable TV new into little more than propaganda spewing extremist conservative ideologies.

The result is new coalition of pro-business, anti-government, anti-regulation, anti-abortion, racists who approach politics with a righteous zeal – certain that God is on their side. This is a group that is not only immune to scientific evidence, it is fact-free; a group of voters that have convinced themselves that any news stories that fail to fit with their strongly held beliefs are lies created by the “lamestream media.”

Enter Donald J. Trump, an ideologue who is willing to foment fear and pander to the worst aspects of human nature in order to get his way; a man who was able to manipulate the media to fulfill his every wish; a man who would have you believe that only he can solve your problems, and you have the GOP of today. His fate in the general election, as in the primaries, lies with the media. They helped create this monster. And only they can destroy it.

If not, I fear there may be no turning back.

How Can We Ever Hope To Bring Americans Together?

Regardless of which candidate wins this year’s presidential election, it’s all but certain that Americans will be more divided than ever. We’re divided by far more than politics. We’re divided by ideology; by media choices; by attitudes toward guns and violence; by attitudes toward the environment; by a woman’s right to decide what is right for her own body; by energy policy; by foreign policy and military intervention; by acceptance and tolerance for those who are different than ourselves; by faith.

As the US, like many other nations, lurches farther to the right, it seems that we cannot agree on anything. One side accepts science while the other relies almost exclusively on faith. One side believes in evolution while the other side believes in creationism. One side works to abate climate change while the other side calls it a hoax. One side embraces other cultures and ethnic groups while the other side chooses to discriminate against them. One side accepts authority and bullying while the other fights against it. One side supports corporatism (aka fascism) while the other supports individuals. One side celebrates wealth and power while the other side celebrates the working class. One side worships individualism while the other side worships community and collectivism. One side demands status quo while the other side demands expanded civil rights.

No matter which candidate wins in November, roughly half of the population will vehemently oppose the winner’s policies.

It would seem that the only thing that can possibly pull our nation together is a disaster – a military or terrorist strike against our nation or a financial calamity on the order of the Great Depression. Ironically, the burst of the housing bubble and the ensuing Great Recession were not enough to create unanimity. Ignoring the facts, each side simply blamed the other for their hardships.

In order to seek more palatable solutions, we must first look at how we arrived at this point. It began with the Nixon-Agnew strategy of divide and conquer. It continued with the GOP’s embrace of southern bigots and evangelicals along with Paul Wyerich’s strategy of voter suppression. It accelerated with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine which allowed electronic media to choose up sides and lie at will. And it was cemented by Newt Gingrich’s embrace of parliamentary-style politics which disdained any form of compromise.

So what can we do?

1. To begin, we should all demand more of our media by reinstating a Fairness Doctrine that would require all media, both electronic and print, to operate in the public interest. That means to tell the truth and hold politicians accountable.
2. We should overturn voter suppression laws and make voting easy, maybe even mandatory, for all American citizens.
3. We should bring transparency to campaign finance and overturn Citizens United.
4. We should, once again, make it illegal for corporations to contribute to political campaigns.
5. We should break the lobbyists’ hold on Congress by passing laws to end the revolving door from Congress to lobbying groups, and to limit lobbyist access to Congress.
6. We should end all forms of gerrymandering by passing laws to put control of congressional redistricting into the hands of independent commissions.
7. We should demand that the IRS reinstate restrictions that prevent non-profits from disguising their political focus, thus doing away with PACs and Super PACs.
8. We should institute term limits on all Senators and Congressional Representatives. If it makes sense to limit the president to two terms, it should make sense to do the same for Congress.
9. We should hold the individuals who manage political campaigns liable for lies and disinformation. That would prevent them from avoiding election fraud by simply dissolving the campaign entities following an election,
10. We should demand more of ourselves. We should each seek to inform ourselves about the candidates and the issues in order to meet the expectations of our Founding Fathers by becoming an enlightened and informed voting public.

Even if you don’t agree with these proposals, we must do something. And we must do it now. It may be our only hope for unifying our nation and moving it forward. Indeed, at the risk of being seen as hyperbolic, it may be the only way to avoid another Civil War.

The US Is No Longer A Democracy. Here’s How It Happened.

Last year, a study from Princeton and Northwestern universities, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens,” concluded that the US government no longer represents the interests of the majority of the nation’s citizens. Instead, it panders to the rich and powerful.

In other words, the US has become an oligarchy defined as a government by the few, a small group that exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.

More recently, President Jimmy Carter, commenting on how big money has subverted our elections, said, “It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations.”

The US didn’t become an oligarchy by accident. We got here as the result of a long list of political decisions designed to pander to the wealthy and the powerful. Here’s how:

During the 1800s, the US went from a largely agrarian society to a society based on the industrial revolution. This created some extremely wealthy individuals often referred to as the “Robber Barons,” who took advantage of cheap labor created by the influx of immigrants. They paid little and subjected their employees to horrific working conditions. During this so-called Gilded Age, the wealthy chose the candidates and ran the nation until the masses began to rebel.

In the early 1900s, the Gilded Age ended when workers began to unionize. The wealthy responded by hiring the police and ex-military (the American Legion) to break the labor strikes by bashing some heads. In reality, it was America’s second civil war.

When the Great Depression struck, the nation moved even further toward socialism which caused the wealthy to try to arrange the assassination of President Franklin Roosevelt. In fact, many of the industrialists wanted the nation’s government to reflect the fascist governments of Italy and Germany. Their agenda was interrupted with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, World War II and the revelations of the Nazi death camps. And they were forced to accept the will of the masses until the 1970s when President Richard Nixon and Vice-President Spiro Agnew attacked the new media in order to deflect criticism of their policies.

By raising questions about the objectivity of the media which were embraced by conservatives, it set the stage (intentionally or not) for the Reagan administration and its economic policy of “Trickle Down” theory. This was nothing more than a return to the “Horse and Sparrow” economics of the gilded age, during which government policies were carefully crafted to benefit the wealthy under the theory that if you feed enough oats (money) to the horses (the wealthy) enough will fall on the road to feed the sparrows (the masses).

Reagan portrayed the government and its regulation of industry as the enemy. He attacked labor unions. He lowered taxes for the wealthy. He increased the amount of money exempted from estate taxes. He deregulated the media by eliminating the Fairness Doctrine which held media accountable to serve in the public interest. And he lowered capital gains taxes, which allowed the wealthy to keep more of their primary sources of income – interest and dividends from investments.

With the wealthy allowed to accumulate more money, labor unions on the defensive and an emasculated press, the table was set for the oligarchs. All of this was made worse by Grover Norquist, Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed who showed the Republican National Committee that it could thrive by eliminating compromises from our political discussions and treating politics as war – a blood sport. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took congressional dysfunction a step further by transforming the GOP into a parliamentary-style party in which the entire Party is unified on every vote. If you dare to break ranks with Party, you are punished in the next primary and election.

Add to all of this the more than $28 billion lobbying industry, which is financed almost exclusively by the rich and the powerful, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which writes laws on behalf of its corporate sponsors then hands them to its conservative members to sponsor in their state legislatures where the bills are often passed with little discussion or examination, and the George W. Bush administration which cut income taxes for the rich by 4.6 percent and all but eliminated the estate tax.

The last major player is the conservative majority on the US Supreme Court, which by 3 decisions (Buckley v Valeo, Citizens United v FEC and McCutcheon v FEC) unleashed a torrent of money in campaign donations from the oligarchs. So much so, that candidates should have to wear NASCAR-style uniforms with labels of their sponsors. Indeed, of the nearly $400 million donated to presidential candidates so far this year, nearly half has come from fewer than 400 families!

Given all of this, no election in our history has been as critical as next year’s. We can either continue further down the road of oligarchy by electing candidates who try to divide us over social issues while pandering to the wealthy. Or we can elect candidates of change – real change. Candidates who will put the power of the government back in the hands of the people.

That’s why I support Bernie Sanders.

Journalism: A Eulogy.

Last week’s admission by Chuck Todd, the host of Meet The Press, was a recognition that he no longer makes any pretense that his show is about journalism. For those who missed it, Todd stated that he dared not challenge a Teapublican guest by challenging a false statement or by asking a difficult question. For, if he did, they would never again appear on the program. In other words, Todd is admitting that he is not a journalist and that his show no longer makes any attempt to follow journalistic standards. This is especially troubling since Politifact.com found that Teapublicans lie far more than Democrats.

And Todd is not alone. The Sunday morning shows have long been the megaphone for Teapublican leaders who can say whatever they want without being challenged. Indeed, studies have shown that the number of Teapublican guests on these shows dramatically outnumber the Democrats who are invited to appear. So rather than being news, with the exception of Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square, the Sunday morning shows are little more than propaganda tools for the Republican Party.

Such is the fate of most so-called news outlets.

One independent study of Fox News Channel found that those who rely upon the channel for news actually knew less about national and world events than those who watched, listened to, or read no news at all. Though it fared significantly better in the study, MSNBC is slanted toward the Democratic Party. And the American-based news organization cited as the most reliable? It’s none other than National Public Radio, which is constantly under attack from both Teapublicans and Democrats for being biased toward one side or the other.

So what happened? How did we go from the reporting of legendary journalists such as Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley to Chuck Todd? You can blame the Federal Communications Commission which caved to conservatives by eliminating the long-standing Fairness Doctrine. Within a year of the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, 92 percent of talk radio was conservative. A few years later, so-called “news radio” had degenerated to non-stop right-wing hate with no pretense of fairness. Things were further complicated by cable TV’s “news” channels who have a need to fill 24 hours of programming 7 days a week. They have an insatiable need for guests willing to contribute opinions and no desire to get at the truth.

The cable channels also increased the urgency of reporting events. Immediacy replaced accuracy as the primary goal of journalism.

By the time Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel hit the wires with the false claim of “fair and balanced,” conservatives had the ability to lie and propagandize 24/7. So why not threaten to boycott news media such as Meet The Press if they don’t like the questions? The Teapublicans have nothing to lose. If their lies are challenged, they can simply retreat to the media known to support their viewpoints and still reach a very large portion of the population who believe they are getting the news.

Of course, the blogosphere has further contributed to the death of journalism. It is now possible to confine your “news” exposure to only those sources with whom you agree. For conservatives, that means all conservative viewpoints all the time…on the Web, on Fox News Channel, on hate radio.

For all intents and purposes, journalism is a moribund profession. Conservatives have become a large group of ditto heads uninterested in other viewpoints. Many independents have given up on politics or they’re too busy to be bothered with anything outside their own personal lives. And, though many liberals are still exposed to other viewpoints through NPR and PBS, they are largely influenced by liberal-leaning media.

So RIP, Journalism. You had a long and important run as the 4th Estate. You made a difference while it lasted. Unfortunately, our national lack of curiosity and fairness led to your untimely death. Sadly, it was left to a political hack to unintentionally read your eulogy. Ironically, his admission on Meet The Press may have been the only time Chuck Todd ever resorted to actual journalism.