“Tolerance is a fine thing, but it is only the beginning of democracy, not its destination. In our time, democracy is more seriously threatened by indifference rather than by intolerance or superstition.” — Christopher Lasch.
Not so long ago, in this galaxy and not some other, newspapers and other corporate forms of mediated reality weren’t bashful when it came to claims of political bias. In fact, many, if not most, proudly posted their allegiances on the front page, even incorporating them in the paper’s name on the masthead. A reader, then, knew what to expect when a dime or quarter was dropped for a perusal of what had been deemed the day’s news. Our current fetish for an objective rendering of the facts was nary a concern.
Many readers, it turned out, sought quick refuge in the op/ed section of the paper, believing it to be the appropriate prism by which a proper reading of the day’s scripture could be gleaned. For at the center of the paper, one sought the fittedness of events often too difficult to comprehend; where ideologies were buttressed; and what we post-modern sophisticates would term “talking points” found takers and eventual proclaimers.
Today’s marketplace will have none of this, of course. Bias of any kind is taboo, an enormous affront to journalistic integrity and all of the rest, AS IF a human being can somehow bracket being human, able to somehow jettison values and (God forbid) prejudices for the sake of maintaining a gray palette by which “truth” is not only uncovered, but unbound. The same values and prejudices, one might assume, that influenced an earlier decision to mediate professionally in the first place.
So, fearful of losing ever-dwindling advertising dollars, newspapers and other popular forms of mediation are reduced to being mere purveyors of information, albeit very sophisticated and prolific ones. But is the garnering of yet more information what our denuded public square and twilighting democracy requires? Has attaining (arguably) more knowledge translated into greater citizen engagement? Anyone care to recall what voter turn-out was for the last election?
What’s been sorely lacking is a genuine reason for more of the public to care. When people care, they get involved. The outpouring of goodwill, crisis after crisis, be they real or invented, highlights this. No need for more fact-checking or stalling to receive better information. People simply take action. In the political arena, debate has been the historical common denominator of generating interest, not some antecedent of relentless Google searches. Controversy — something the papers of yore were once particularly well-suited and apt to traffic in — is side-stepped, ignored or neglected — for the sake of the bottom line and to please investors. At democracy’s expense.
John P. Jankowski
From the Oct. 19-25, 2011, issue