As the drumbeat of scary, disturbing, upsetting, anger-inducing, even deadly events greet me after a week away in the Arizona Mountains, it becomes harder to think of pleasant subjects appropriate for a blog about the best time of life. Somehow writing about vacations, finding a fun hobby, or a new book seems almost flippant. So, I am going to vent a bit in this post, and then likely go back to what you came here for: retirement lifestyle advice.
I began my radio career as a newsman at the ripe old age of 15. My expose to news gathering and being careful in what I covered started at a very tender age.
College included a few journalism classes, as well as a major in International Relations. I spent 4 years learning about diplomacy, history of wars and conflicts, the role of geography in shaping politics, and in using strength for positive purposes.
During that time, many of our country's leading diplomats had graduated from the same school I attended. I could see firsthand the proper use of words, policy and compromise in helping shape the world. Of course, I also saw the disasters of things like the Vietnam War or the Civil Rights horrors, too. People are people and really bad things will happen.
I give you this background to help you understand my dismay at the current state of affairs. With the shooting at a Maryland newspaper and death threats against at least one Congresswoman as just the most recent events, it seems obvious that the rhetoric of the past 18 months is turning more deadly. Certain people feel emboldened to turn political slogans and dangerous talk into horrific actions.
Let's admit that there has always been biases in some of the media. After all, people are charged with viewing or interpreting an event or the words of a speech into a concise recap. Each of us has a way of seeing things that can color what we think, say, and do. Our response is filtered through our world view.
Yet, as someone who is a bit more of an insider in this field, with some training and exposure, I belive that the vast majority of people involved in the media approach their responsibility to be honest and accurate very, very seriously. Credibility is hard to earn and nearly impossible to regain once the truth is given short shift.
In today's hyper-politicized environment, some media outlets have determined that being opinionated and driven by one ideology or another increases profits and influence. Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left have abandoned much of the "truth and moderation" premise of legitimate journalism.
Some newspapers, magazines, radio networks or individual commentators chose their "side." The idea that used to dominate most of journalism: being centrist, moderate, and restricting opinions to the Editorial page, is slipping away. Economically, journalism has become a business that understands niche marketing: picking a target audience and super-serving it.
What is most dangerous is the recent decision by many of us that something we disagree with, or find goes against our beliefs, must be "fake." That word means the information presented is not real, it is fiction. Anything that doesn't support what we believe to be true is to be ignored and dismissed. By declaring information we disagree with as fake, we are declaring that we know the ultimate truth, with no margin for error.
There is no chance that what we think might need to be reexamined. There no possibility that we can be wrong about something. There is no possibility that a leader's statements are not true, but are made to stimulate a violent, non-thinking, unquestioning response of "the base" whether that is on the left or right. Anyone who suggests otherwise is the enemy and is open to an angry, maybe even violent reaction.
As a society, when we get to the point where anyone who disagrees with us is the enemy, in a very real and physical sense, I suggest we have drawn a line that will be very hard to erase.
If the only response to a different opinion, interpretation, or the truth of a matter is one of violent rejection and vilification, we are no longer experiencing a democracy. If one story, or one point of view is unquestioned and treated as words from the Oracle, with death to those who see something differently, what have we lost?
When the rhetoric, on the right or left leaves no room for anything other than ostracizing, degeneration, suspension of rights, silence of dissent, even killing in the name of what is correct, where are we?
If someone argues that it is about time one side of the argument stopped being put down and marginalized, turn-about is fair play, and it is their time to promote "truth," I think we are close to losing this experiment we began 243 years ago. If truth becomes open to interpretation, if facts are either real or alternative, much more than the media is under attack. One loud voice from Washington recently said that we are headed to a civil war. He left no doubt as to which point of view should "win."
I find Fox News to be pandering and immoral in their dismissal of anything that doesn't support their political and profit positioning. I find nasty attacks and biases from MSNBC and CNN just as wrong. Importantly, I fully support their right to do what they are doing. That is called democracy.
But, never in my worst nightmare, did I think we would be debating what is true and what is fake. And, never did I think that certain misguided citizens would vent their frustration against what they disagree with politically with a gun or bomb.
Are those who attack the media or resort to violence against others not terrorists? Do we find attacks against citizens in another country a crime that deserves the ultimate punishment, but find inciting violence with words and deeds against fellow citizens in our country simply our right to express our anger?
I will most likely be dead in 20 years or so. My fear is not for me. It is for my children, my grandchildren, and their children. It is for the unborn who may find themselves in a world where one way is the only way or where their ability to think and debate and reason is a crime.
What have we lost? I am afraid the answer is becoming clearer. Some will argue that we have been through periods in our history worse than this and have rebounded. Sorry, but this feels fundamentally different and much deeper.
By the way, I picked the July 4th holiday period to write this post, on purpose. What we celebrate on this day is what may be slipping away: Independence.
OK, rant over. Back in a few days, on target and calmer.