by Lev Tsitrin
The New York Times' columnist Charles Blow has delivered himself of a litany of lamentations on the decline of the mainstream media: "As the Press Weakens, So Does Democracy." He paints the nostalgic picture of the pre-internet journalistic climate of the early 90es at the start of his career, when a "slight majority of Americans still had a great deal or fair amount of trust in the news media to report the news “fully, accurately and fairly,” contrasting it with today's dearth of trust in it, and concluding with the dire warning that due to newspaper closures "we are moving ever closer to a country where the corrupt can deal in the darkness with no fear of being exposed by the light."
The premise of his piece seems to be that it is the mainstream media like the New York Times that keeps the public informed and shines light on the corrupt, while what one finds on-line is, apparently, at best not conducive to that goal, and at worst is outright misinformation.
Mr. Blow should know better, for his central premise is factually wrong. Consider his own New York Times. I turned to it when I discovered in my first amendment litigation that federal judges routinely replace in their decisions parties' argument with the bogus argument of judges' own concoction so as to decide cases the way they want to, not the way they have to, ignoring any "due process" that, per Constitution should guide judicial decision-making, and openly and brazenly act as lawyers to the party they want to win (as is in fact obvious from the 4-to-5 decisions of the Supreme Court). When I sued judges for fraud, they defended themselves by arguing that in Pierson v. Ray they gave themselves the right to act from the bench "maliciously and corruptly," thus annulling the "due process" clause of the Constitution. Reasonably expecting that "federal judges entitled themselves to being 'corrupt and malicious'" would make a sensational, above-the-fold, front-page, Pulitzer-class headline, I contacted the New York Times -- over, and over, and over again. To my astonishment and surprise, they aren't interested. Corruption? What about it? Clearly, not unbeknown to Mr. Blow (since I contacted him, too), insofar as his New York Times is concerned, "corrupt can deal in the darkness with no fear of being exposed by the light" when the "corrupt" in question are federal judges. What Mr. Blow conveniently forgot to mention in his piece, is that the mainstream, legacy media has been freed by the court case Miami Herald v. Tornillo from covering what it does not want to cover, no matter how important it is (and one would argue that the full third of US government -- its judiciary -- being systemically corrupt, is important by any definition of the word), so lies by omission are just fine. And though mainstream media's lies by commission may not be considered de riegueur, the "paper of record" feels free to engage in those, too. When it comes, say, to coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the New York Times uses whatever tar it can find or imagine to smear Israel, and whitewashes the Palestinians. After all, another landmark court case, New York Times v. Sullivan, declared press' lies to be protected speech. It is fascinating to watch the New York Times lambast "misinformation" given that it made misinformation legal in the first place!
Very simply put, the real but unspoken purpose of the New York Times and of similar mass media outlets is not to inform, but to manipulate the public into thinking in a certain way -- feeding to us what the editors think we should know and think, and suppressing the information we shouldn't know. That's the game they've been playing all along: in 1930es, to be on the good side of Stalin, the New York Times covered-up the collectivization hunger in the Soviet Union in which several million starved to death. Nor did it cover the Holocaust while it was happening -- the publisher was afraid of looking parochially Jewish. Perhaps, it is the inertia of that old fear that explains the paper's animus towards Israel, New York Times feeling the need to bend all the way backwards to shill for Palestinians, even though the present Mr. Sulzberger is no longer Jewish, but is an Episcopalian; nor it its editor-in-chief, Dean Baquet, who is black.
Professional journalists are understandably frustrated to discover that they are no longer kings of the information mountain. It is equally understandable that they would fight, tooth and nail, to keep their privileges from being undermined by the technology which greatly widened the gates to the marketplace of ideas, making the previously-blocked information seep into the public debate despite the best efforts of the gatekeepers like the New York Times, and their MSM ilk. Whether popular participation destroys democracy, or whether democracy can only thrive when the people who for some reason think that they are the "elites" are guarding and guiding the information flow, the hillbillies and the rednecks standing in awed attention, is an open question. What we do know, is that under MSM monopoly "the corrupt can deal in the darkness with no fear of being exposed" all right, to quote yet again Mr. Blow's key passage, because MSM itself has been corrupted by court decisions in Miami Herald v Tornillo and New York Times v. Sullivan, cases that allowed journalists to lie by omission and by commission. Will public participation bring more light? Is more light better than less? Time will tell. But democracy is participation by many, rather than the few. Despite Mr. Blow's dire pronouncements, I for one am glad that there is no way back to the past of MSM monopoly for which Mr. Blow is so nostalgic, and the passing of which he so bitterly laments.
Lev Tsitrin is the founder of the Coalition Against Judicial Fraud, http://www.cajfr.org