I’m rarely at a loss for words. I’ve typed millions of them. And it terrifies me that I am unable to express my full horror, dread, an emptiness inside really, at what I see happening in this country.
I was a newspaperman, one of the type old black and white movies were about, scruffy local guys who pursue stories below the radar of the national press. Hell, most of my stuff was below any radar accept that of the hometown folks — who really care about whether the high school opens this year with 20 portables or just ten.
But I can tell you something from the heart, we had guts, we had determination and most of all, we had integrity. From our fearless Columbia School of Journalism grad managing editor down to the most junior beat, all of us felt a great camaraderie, because we felt we were part of something great, that our work had a dimension to it our friends didn’t.
We were the protectors of the people, from government overreach, from consumer fraud, from corporate cover-ups, pollution, tax cheating and bribery to police abuse and corruption. We not only believed this, we all secretly kept Thomas Jefferson’s warning that a free press was an essential ingredient in a successful democracy, very close to heart.
We were underpaid, despised, reviled, openly attacked from every angle. I was sued so many times, I have lost count of the total. One guy alone sued me like 50 times. All of this and more, lousy pay, lousy hours, broken relationships, alcoholism, these and more were the hall mark of a profession that is now, almost totally gone. But it was a profession with a respectable history. We’d brought the world to the people, and we were proud of it. My grandfather, Malcolm Williams, was with the Washington press corps and traveled with every President from Herbert Hoover to John F. Kennedy. I did 20 years at every job from circulation driver to publisher of 6 daily papers and it was the greatest job anybody could ever have.
It was something that just got in your blood, and wouldn’t get out. I used to go down to the pressroom at night and stand next to the folder while the press ran. It shook the floor when you stood that close, and you could stand there and yell at the top of your lungs, just screaming for joy at the beauty of it, at the speed, at the raw power of this machine that shook the ground all night and then shook the whole town the next day.
It would be O.K. if newspapers disappeared, I was never under the illusion that hundreds of people all over the world would continue to chop down forest after forest, so we could grind it up for newsprint. An electronic version of this communication system was inevitable. But, something else happened in this country at the same time the newspaper bulb was finally burning out, that I am not O.K with, in fact, that scares the shit out of me.
With a speed I find breath taking, the entire U.S. population seems to have forgotten, collectively, what the principles of good journalism are — and how important maintaining them — is to the health of democracy. Newspapers, TV shows, talk radio shows, entire networks, everything comes from a point of view today and that is a big problem.
Neither side believes anything the other side puts out over their internal communication system (the party organs) and the so-called “official” media is almost as bad. Both of these competing camps talk to their readership/viewership ONLY in the language they want to hear. They spew out the same tired facts to the same audiences, night after night, week after week. It’s like the whole country is engaged in some war of reciprocal stupidity, each side exaggerating more and more to please the base, while facts, objective reporting, reporting which has both sides represented fairly, has literally disappeared from every news organ available.
If that wasn’t crisis enough, the entire U.S. government, choose this moment to photograph every letter cover (front and back), collect a wide range of information about me from my phone meta-data, up to who knows what about my banking, credit card and other on-line activities. I predict the government is also monitoring, storing, collating and layering all this into a fully relational database with fuzzy logic programs swooping through it.
Web sites, which offered encrypted services, are shutting down, citing government requests they may not legally disclose but cannot submit to honorably. The Guardian announced the government in Britain confiscated the Snowden materials. Secretary of State Kerry, a man that once ran for President, has spent days on the phone, attempting to coerce one government after another to cooperate with our massive effort to stop one tiny little man who was clearly, just trying to warn us of danger ahead, Edward Snowden. It’s humiliating beyond description. Didn’t the Pentagon Papers mean anything? What about no prior restraint? Anonymous sources? Forget about it.
Not one single reporter in this country can protect a source right now. Think about it, reporters phone meta-data allows the NSA to identify every source, every reporter has. Top that off with a willingness to dig through this stuff since they are now willing to classify literally anything as a terrorist threat (James Rosen!), and you have the backdrop for serious abuses of power.
Meanwhile the administration has been left free to downplay the significance of these programs, obfuscate the extent to which they violate the Constitution, and allow these agencies they control to lie to Congress and the American people about what is going on. All in the name of fighting terrorism. What a complete load of nonsense and the American people better wake up before it’s too late.
These terrorists are a real live threat along the same lines of automobile accidents. They are a problem and they hurt but we haven’t decided to bankrupt the country, trash our Constitution and toss away our hard fought for civil liberties just because car accidents kill people. In fact, they kill a lot more in 1 year (!) than terrorists ever have and reasonably could. That’s right, the death toll for Iraq and Afghanistan TOTAL, all years together, is still less than drunks kill on U.S. highways and roads in one year. Pass a law requiring every person ever arrested for DUI or DWI to have a breathalyzer lock-out device installed and we would save more lives in one year than terrorists can or will kill — even with a couple of reoccurring 9-11 type events — in twenty years. That is a fact. Michael Crichton wrote about this, how we collectively zone in on and spend money on threats, which are statistically insignificant, meanwhile ignoring the big ones we have denial about.
President Obama terrifies me on this issue. He talks about the dangers of terrorism and the need to do this like he has no idea how great the risk is on the other side. Terrorism has never, even on 9/11, posed the danger that these programs do – coupled with the complete lack on interest by anybody in the media to stop this nonsense; we could actually face a national crisis here.
This meta-data can’t be kept, it can’t be copied, it can’t be compiled and if it is, you can kiss investigative journalism, democracy, transparency, responsive government, even power sharing by the people with the government – goodbye. This is not an exaggeration, this is what’s at stake. I saw it at very level, every single level, the politicians try to lie, hide, sneak, and manipulate their way through each and every coming vote and election.
The businesses attempt to steal, profiteer, and manipulate their customers and the government, literally everyday. The only hope people have, is the truth. That’s it folks. You can’t fix the product, school, road, or bad government practice if you don’t know it’s broke, who broke it, and how much money they stole while breaking it.
Ask yourself; where are you getting that data now? Who is enterprising those stories? Who is showing you both sides so you can decide? If your answer is any major network news show, any of the major dailies still published in the U.S., or any radio or TV program on the ideological cheer team like Fox on the right or MSNBC (and some others) on the left, you are kidding yourself.
We need a new business model that supports enterprise journalism at every level. We need a new electronic format for a newspaper that incorporates some of the old ideals into it’s very format, so the public can get a shot at hearing the truth. Before it’s too late.