Friday, November 2, 2012

Beware the News

Eighteenth century politics was remarkably like present politics, in ways more accessible than my oft repeated assertion that all politics is always and essentially mere violence. The Constitutional Convention which gave America the framework for its current form of government was arguably more contentious even than the present political climate. Unsurprisingly, the press entered the fray wholeheartedly and with a clear agenda. Noted patriot David Humphreys sent a letter to soon-to-be-president George Washington the day the Convention adjourned boasting that the press had done its part in preparing the people to accept the judgments of their leaders unquestioningly:

Judicious and well-timed publications have great efficacy in ripening the judgment of men in this quarter of the Continent.

It is crucial to remember, that "freedom of the press" in America never meant the freedom of the press to objectively report the news. It always simply meant freedom of the press to push an agenda different than the state's agenda. Then, as well as now, it is striking how often even this freedom is not exercised. Certainly beware of the somewhat obvious fallacy that "news" and "facts" are in any sense synonymous, but be even more wary of the "judicious and well-timed" stories that align too nearly with the interests of the government, whoever might be running it. In other words, good citizenship--from a secular standpoint--ought to involve having an unripened mind.

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