Words from Our Revolutionary Sponsors
In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
—George Orwell (attributed)33
The purpose of the free press, as enunciated by key founders of America, was to keep the citizenry informed, engaged, and in dialogue with one another about the crucial issues of the day. The health of any democracy can be diagnosed by the degree to which information flows freely in the culture. Anything that interferes with that free flow of information is a form of censorship, which acts to derail, distort, and deny the efficacy of any true democratic experiment.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison supported a vigorous public arena of discourse, debate, and competing ideas. In short, they wanted to encourage the process of dialogue and free expression as vehicles to achieve the best of democratic possibilities. In his first inaugural address, Jefferson said, “If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”34 We need honest, open dialogue if democracy is to survive.
Madison warned, “A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”35 The free press is a centerpiece of knowledge; without it we are relegated to ignorance.
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are not just words on parchment. They are the very concepts that make us humane in the modern world. The media, the supposed free press, should be encouraging robust dialogues while fighting for the future of all Americans, not just for the insurance companies, banks, big pharma, and the military-industrial complex. In keeping with the founders’ notions of natural rights and intent in providing for the general welfare, we would do well to note that health care is a human right, workers have the right to the fruits of their labor, environmental degradation is a crime against humanity, and war is terrorism. These positions should all be part of national discourse in a truly free press. Where are these voices in the corporate media cacophony?
Instead, the privileged institutions of corporate media are daily miring the public in cynicism (reports of personal scandals, rumors of rampant corruption, and congressional stagnation), rationalizing the populace into deep denial (claiming the recession is over while key public indicators on unemployment, wage losses, and foreclosures refute this), and leaving taxpayers footing a multitrillion-dollar tab for Wall Street bailouts and illegal wars (TARP, Iraq, Afghanistan, but nothing left for the public at home). A truly free press would herald these vile decrees and deeds as those of charlatans and demagogues. We must be the change we wish to see and we must not rely on spoon-fed, top- down, corporate media propaganda. We must become the media in the process of sharing knowledge with each other on the road to a better world. Since the corporate media are not in the business of news and are not beholden to empirical truths—rather, only to shareholder profits and their own bottom line—they should not be trusted.
If a failing corporate media system ensconced in hyperreality creates an excited delirium of knowinglessness, that system must be declared incapable of accurately informing the citizenry. The public must turn to independent journalism based in muckraking traditions, with transparent, fact-based reporting that asks the tough and critical questions of itself and its leaders. An actual free press would provide factual knowledge and encourage us to engage with each other in our local communities on a daily basis in the quest to solve societal problems.36
This is possible with our collective efforts, so long as we simultaneously reject the projected imaginings of the corporate media profiteers and their industry of illusion. This must be the crucial focal point of media reform, which actually is more of a media revolution. The health and meaningfulness of our cultural dialogue, as well as the future of our republic, may well depend on how swiftly and significantly we address the current truth emergency and what we do about it.