Save Freedom of the Press: Quash the whackjob media

wrecked-newsstand

By Uberto from Pavia, Italia (edicola esplosa foto 2°) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A few months ago I wrote a post about my fears for the marketplace of ideas and what that could mean to today’s free press (There’s Something Rotten in the Marketplace of Ideas). I’m not insensible to the fact that this has been going on for a long time. Somehow we’ve allowed conspiracy theorists out of their carefully marked “whackjob” corner and into mainstream consciousness.

Today I read an article in The Washington Post (Want to Save the Republican Party? Drain the Right-Wing Media Swamp.) The author calls out many ideas that should be whackjob conspiracy theories and instead are actually believed by many in the Republican party. Things like voter fraud, that global warming is a myth perpetrated by scientists looking to make money, and the crowning achievement of the right-wing media: Birtherism.

What is so frightening about these ideas is that it is almost impossible to quash them unless you actually do purge the sources or—as the author of the Post article calls it—drain the swamp. Yet that goes against the very tenet that we must all protect above all else: Freedom of the Press. For once our press falls under government regulation, all freedoms may go along with it.

Freedom of the Press is based on the idea that misinformation will not gain footing in an enlightened society. An enlightened society will reject what is not true, thereby allowing the truth to shine through. But the conspiracy theories and misinformation are spreading, helped along by politicians who use them for political gain simply by refusing to disavow them. This sickness isn’t confined to the right wing anymore, either. Liberal websites that spread propaganda and outright lies are popping up, too.

BuzzFeed (yes, BuzzFeed, which is becoming a news service to rival AP) conducted a study of misinformation presented on Facebook as fact (Hyperpartisan Facebook Pages are Publishing False and Misleading Information at an Alarming Rate). The study found that right-wing Facebook pages were far more likely to spread rumors and lies as fact than mainstream media, but liberal, left-wing Facebook pages were not far behind.

So what does this mean? In a world where information is free and independent of government regulation, can we believe anything we read/see/hear in our Marketplace of Ideas? Thomas Jefferson said, “…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.” I believe he meant that every man who reads the news must be capable of distinguishing fact from fiction. In other words, we must demand the truth from our media and be willing to turn our backs on those who do not back up their information with facts. In a world where our politicians are unwilling to tell us when we’re being fed lies, we must search out the truth ourselves.

And if Thomas Jefferson thought we could do that, then for the love our country, we need to try harder. We must put the whackjobs back into the corner or risk losing the right to a free and independent media—and the truth.

Whose eyes do YOU see the world through?

I’ve been thinking a lot about filters for the past few weeks. When I was a teenager, I thought I wanted to be a photographer. Somehow I got a pretty good 35mm camera. (Remember those? The ones you loaded the film in and when it hit the end of the 36 exposures, the film would rewind with a whirring noise?) I experimented a lot with this camera, putting different filters over the lens to get different effects in the final prints. One would make everything look kind of rosy, another would create sparkles wherever there was light, and there were others, but I can’t remember them because those two were my favorites.

I think we all see the world through filters of our own choosing. These filters are created by outside sources. The news comes to mind. Depending on which news you watch on television or which newspaper you read or where you go on the internet, you may see the world in a different light. Is the Confederate flag an emblem of racism or Southern pride? Is gay marriage the best thing to happen to our world since the end of World War II? Or the beginning of the apocalypse? Are pro-lifers evil or is it the mother who gets the abortion?

I can’t help but come back to the filters I used to put on my old Nikon. I chose to see the world as sparkly and rose-colored, and I probably still do in many ways. I don’t watch news programs very often or read the Wall Street Journal. I know what ISIS is, but when I hear the word, I still think of the Egyptian Goddess Isis (who was a superhero with her own show in the 70s) and not the terrorist group, which, if I think too much about their evil, will cause me to cower in a corner for the better part of the day.

Poets and writers and news media color everyone’s impression of the world and have for centuries. The best example I can think of for poetry filters are Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”, a rose-tinted painting of love in the countryside, and Sir Walter Raleigh’s “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”, a stark response based in reality that rips the romance right off Marlowe’s filter.

No matter who you are and what happens to you in your life, you see the world through your own chosen filter. But you can choose to try on a different one every now and then. Turn on FOX News from time to time. Switch to CNN for half an hour. Turn the television off and pick up a book of poetry. See the world from the other side, or at least try to.