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Reporters and Prostitutes

By Jalexson

copyright 2004

     The only difference between prostitutes and many political reporters is that prostitutes understand what business they're in. Many American reporters differ little from the reporters with the former Soviet newspaper Pravda. American politicians from both parties frequently manipulate reporters to further their political careers and increase their power.

     The survival of democracy depends on citizens having access to sufficient information to make informed decisions. Understanding the inadequacies of political reporting will help us know how to evaluate what we read in newspapers and hear on television.

Some of us compensate for inadequate reporting on television news and in daily newspapers by reading between the lines or seeking other sources of information. Unfortunately, many don't have the time, or perhaps the willingness, to look beyond the mass media for news.

Some partisan reporters voluntarily serve as propagandists and attempt to influence events as well as report them. In other cases politicians take advantage of reporters' ignorance and naivete.

     Few reporters seem to have anything more than a superficial understanding of politicians, political systems, or political terms including labels for different groups and philosophies. Government officials and political activists can often use reporters to control debates because reporters are unwilling to look beyond the information such sources provide to discover alternative explanations of issues or solutions for problems.

       The business needs of newspapers and broadcasters could cause some biased reporting. For example, the broadcast networks conceivably could have pressured their reporters to favor the Democratic presidential ticket in 1992 because Senator Al Gore encouraged Congress to pass a cable tv regulation bill favoring the networks.

     Political reporters often err by dividing politicians into good guys and bad guys and portraying political conflicts as the good guys versus the bad guys. Professional wrestling matches and old westerns feature conflicts between those who are obviously good guys and others who are obviously bad guys, but political conflicts are seldom so simple.

     Most political conflicts reflect struggles involving people interested in increasing their political power or furthering some interest or cause. Frequently the individuals on each side believe they are the good guys and their opponents are the bad guys.

     In major political conflicts both sides often have a few bad guys. Our nation's World War II enemy Adolf Hitler certainly qualified as a bad guy, but our World War II ally Joseph Stalin hardly qualified as a good guy.

     Some people enter politics because they genuinely want to serve the public. However, people also enter politics because they want to pursue some political cause, desire power, or simply want the attention politicians receive.

     Reporters who lack the ability to read minds cannot conclusively determine which politicians entered the political arena with which motives. Nor can they always determine whether or not a politician has succumbed to the allure of political power.

     During the Civil War many southerners believed they were right because they were fighting for their right to control their institutions through their state governments. Many northerners believed they were right because slavery was morally wrong and inconsistent with the American system of government.

       Few people today would disagree with the northern view of slavery. However, many also resent attempts by the federal government to force state and local officials to ignore the wishes of state and local voters, particularly on minor issues like whether or not states should require motorcycle riders to wear helmets. Motorcycle riders would be wise to wear helmets, but the issue doesn't rate federal government action.

     Reporters compound the practice of dividing politicians into good guys and bad guys by adopting simplistic and often inaccurate labels for various political groups and philosophies. The common assumption that one side is always correct and the other always wrong ignores the possibilities that one side may be right on some issues and wrong on others and that both sides may be wrong on some issues.

       Reporters often misuse the terms "liberal" and "left" or "conservative" and "right" to describe the good guys and bad guys. Individual reporter's political preferences determine which side is the good guys and which side is the bad guys.

     The often misapplied terms left and right are irrelevant to modern politics. The term liberal also is irrelevant to American politics because the politicians who prefer to apply the term to themselves don't qualify as liberals under any logical definition of the word.

     The political terms "left" and "right" refer to the legislative seating arrangements during the French Revolution and are of no value for categorizing other political groups. The monarchists sat on the right and the Jacobins sat on the left.

       No American political groups advocate a monarchy and thus none of them can qualify as being on the extreme political right. The closest situation the United States has had to support for hereditary rule(an essential ingredient for a monarchy) involves the Kennedy family and the Camelot era of the early sixties.

     The Democrats continue to have a problem with viewing politicians as being larger than life as if they had magical powers to deal with national problems. However, journalists portray Democrats as being on the "left".

     The Jacobins sat on the extreme left and among other things preferred to rule through the guillotine. No major American political group advocates killing political opponents and thus no group qualifies as being on the extreme left.

     The most absurd use of the terms "left" and "right" involves the claim that "fascism" is on the "right" and "communism" is on the "left". Any logical evaluation of the two systems would place them in the category called "tyranny".

     The only difference between the two involves the degree of control each group desires and how the group obtains power. Both require total obedience to the government and both routinely kill political opponents like the French Jacobins did.

     Both can demonstrate racism. Hitler wanted to establish a German run empire. The Soviet Union was a Russian run empire.

     Each may attempt to create a false dichotomy in the public mind that the only choices available are between communism and fascism and that failure to support one will mean government by the other.

     Communists are more likely to claim the current government is fascist and people should overthrow it and create a communist state. Fascists are more likely to claim that the government must adopt a fascist system to prevent a communist takeover.

     Communists normally gain power by overthrowing the existing government with force and attempt to control all aspects of society. Fascists tend to subvert the existing government by persuading its various national leaders to support their effort. Fascists may allow those existing leaders(especially industrial and military leaders) who continue to support the government to retain their positions.

     Those who place fascism on the right ignore the fact that Adolf Hitler headed Germany's National Socialist Party. Hitler's racism often obscures the fact that he portrayed his attacks on the Jewish people(rich and poor) as being against an oppressive economic class. This approach allowed Hitler to convince lower income Germans he was attacking "capitalist oppressors" while actually working with the industrial leaders communists traditionally label as "oppressors".

     A tyrant is a tyrant is a tyrant regardless of whether he calls himself president or chairman or Fuehrer. Political philosophers sometimes theorize about "enlightened despots" who always act in the best interests of their subjects.

     In reality most despots treat their subjects like slaves. Some despots, like some 19th Century American slave owners, might be concerned about the welfare of their subjects, but the subjects still lack the freedom to control their own lives. The modern despot's need to use a government bureaucracy to implement his policies usually insures some subjects will receive unfair treatment regardless of his intentions.

     Serious students of political systems from the ancient Greeks to modern political scientists realize that political systems operate through a circle that varies from anarchy to participatory democracy to tyranny and back to anarchy. A nation may gradually move from any one stage to another or simply cycle through all three stages.

     The political label "communism" has provided the most trouble for naive reporters who don't understand that the term is simply a euphemism for the political and economic system used in Nineteenth Century imperial Russia.

     For example, the communal farm existed in Russia until the late 19th Century. Lenin reestablished it. Russian emperors also controlled the nation's economy, and operated a secret police unit to limit political dissent. Communism is nothing more than a new name for an old political system that can be traced back at least as far as the Greek city-state of Sparta.

     Democracy in the modern form dates from ancient Athens.

     We usually think of anarchy as a somewhat chaotic situation, but Israel before King Saul could be considered an anarchy because it essentially had no formal government. Israel had leaders, or judges, but they relied on their leadership ability rather than a formal government structure to take actions such as raising armies to deal with external military threats.

     Politicians and reporters use the term "liberal" so inaccurately that it has become virtually meaningless. The word once referred to someone who was flexible and willing to consider alternate opinions and approaches to problems. Liberals should encourage flexibility and diversity and discourage attempts at forced uniformity.

     A true liberal could never support the concept of "political correctness" that many who falsely claim to be liberals support. The politicians who most closely support the ideals of liberalism today prefer to call themselves "conservatives".

     The politicians(primarily Democrats) who call themselves liberals(but complain if their opponents refer to them as liberals) are often true believers who believe that they are RIGHT and anyone who disagrees with them is WRONG.

     These politicians often favor heavy government regulation of behavior and a uniform national approach to problems. President Bill Clinton's proposal to force everyone into a government controlled health care system exemplifies this idea of forced uniformity.

     Ultraconservative would be a more accurate description of the approach these Democrats favor for solving social problems and responding to dissident views. They may claim to support "change", but the "change" they support is a change to systems that discourage or even prevent further change. Their strong opposition to anyone who disagrees with them implies an ultraconservative mindset.

     A true liberal should support systems that encourage flexibility and change. Liberals should favor systems that emphasize responding to individual needs instead of forcing people to respond as directed by the state.

     The most obvious misuse of the term "liberal" occurs in environmental matters. Reporters often ignore the fact that the words "conservative" and "conservationist" have the same root word.

     A conservationist cannot logically be a "liberal" in environmental matters. Many worry about potential environmental disasters caused by technological changes and the spread of technology to undeveloped countries.

     Many of those who express the most concern about environmental changes are actually reactionaries. They demonstrate the typical reactionary approach when they claim we have to return the environment to the way it used to be when it was much better than it is today. In their view modern technology is bad and should be abandoned to varying degrees.

     Those who oppose environmental changes are conservatives, or even reactionaries, regardless of whether or not their concerns are scientifically valid. Environmental changes, like social or economic changes, aren't inherently good or bad.

     Reporters overreliance on political actors to define political issues extends beyond the labels used by political groups. Interest groups and government officials often mislead reporters about government actions, the definition of issues and the viability of possible solutions.

     Bill Clinton's handling of the draft issue in the 1992 presidential election demonstrates how partisan journalists will support their party's candidate even when he repeatedly and deliberately lies. Clinton even managed to persuade opponent George Bush to accept one of his lies.

     Clinton repeatedly changed his account of how he avoided military service, beginning with the ridiculous claim about failing the physical because of a hearing deficiency, as facts disproved his statements. Even Clinton's last statement that he received a "I-C" draft "deferment" after enrolling in ROTC was a lie because this classification wasn't a deferment.

     The Selective Service System assigned the "I-C" classification to members of the military reserve forces as well as to ROTC students and aviation cadets. The men in this classification were no longer available for the draft because they were in the process of fulfilling their military obligation.

       Thus the Selective Service System considered Clinton to be in the army rather than being deferred from the draft. Various other military training programs, such as those for clerical positions, allowed men to begin fulfilling their military obligations by enlisting several months before actual training began.

     Lying by politicians isn't unusual, but most politicians attempt to avoid lies that reporters are likely to disprove. Reporters should always be suspicious of statements by politicians who lie as readily as Clinton did during the presidential campaign.

     A politician who will lie about an action from his distant past such as how he avoided the draft will also lie about current matters including his political philosophy and goals. Journalists who attempt to minimize the importance of such lies encourage politicians to continue to lie about other matters.

     Many of us who served in Vietnam would have viewed Clinton more favorably if he had explained his actions with a statement beginning with something like: "I really pulled a fast one on my draft board...." Such a statement would have implied that he found a loophole that others of us would like to have found.

     Reporters often make the mistake of trying to determine ahead of time who they think can win and then emphasizing the "favored" candidates. This practice limits who can run for office and creates a bias in favor of candidates who generate the most publicity and have the most recognizable names. Bill Clinton may have won the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination because the negative stories about alleged sexual affairs made his name more recognizable than the names of his opponents.

     In 1978, Kansas reporters decided that the probable Democratic Senate candidate Dr. Bill Roy would easily defeat any of the potential Republican challengers, especially Nancy
Kassebaum whose only claim to fame was that she was the daughter of former Kansas governor Alf Landon.

     Kassebaum's ability to bride the media for coverage(i.e., purchase advertising) during the primary helped her "upset" her Republican rivals. She easily defeated Roy in the general election.   Kassebaum subsequently became one of the most respected members of the U.S. Senate. How many candidates with similar ability, but ignored by reporters because "they didn't have a chance to win", have been unable to win because they couldn't afford the necessary advertising to put their names before the public?

     The public opinion polls reporters often rely on to decide which candidates to cover only reflect public opinion about candidates the respondents have heard of. Limiting campaign
coverage to candidates who rate highly in the polls provides an advantage to candidates with access to large campaign funds.

     Journalists seldom cover minor, or third party, candidates unless they are as prominent as Ross Perot or George Wallace. Third parties often provide an outlet for people who feel the
major parties are ignoring them.

     Many of these people decide that elections don't offer them anything because no candidate supports their positions. Such people are potentially vulnerable to the appeals of would be tyrants who don't have the commitment to democratic government of a Perot or Wallace.

     A century ago third parties helped change the focus of the major parties by demonstrating the popularity of ideas like the direct election of U.S. Senators. A higher percentage of the
population participated in elections because they could express their opinions on the issues that were important to them even when they didn't like the candidates who were most likely to win the election.

       Journalists often criticize the role money plays in election campaigns, but the news media can alleviate the problem by assuming the responsibility of informing readers and viewers about all candidates for office.

Branch Davidian

     Stories about the FBI assault on the Branch Davidian compound last spring demonstrate how a government agency can divert attention away from government mishandling of a situation.  Stories about the assault have concentrated on the question of who started the fire that destroyed the compound and killed most of the people inside.

     Reporters have generally ignored the fact the fire wouldn't have occurred when it did if the FBI hadn't forced the issue. Regardless of who caused the fire, the Davidians died when they did because of the FBI's action. If the Davidians set the fire, the FBI assault was the equivalent of yelling jump to someone standing on a ledge.

     The FBI has yet to provide any justification for the assault. If they were as concerned about the welfare of the children as they claim, why didn't they make a serious effort to rescue the children?

     The FBI claim that it hoped the mothers would send their children out to protect them from harm ignores the fact that the Davidians believed they were going to heaven and the rest of the world was going to hell. Sending the children out would have been the equivalent of condemning them to hell.

Abortion - The False Dichotomy

     The abortion issue provides an example of how groups involved in political conflicts can create a false dichotomy by presenting the more extreme positions as being the only options for dealing with the issue. Reporters tend to give the greatest amount of attention to those groups that strongly favor or strongly oppose all abortions because these groups are the most vocal.

     Those who strongly support abortions believe the only rights involved in the abortion issue are those of the pregnant woman. They believe a woman's right to control her body means she has the right to have the pregnancy terminated by killing her offspring at any time during the pregnancy.

     Those who strongly oppose abortions believe the offspring has rights that include the right to be born. They oppose abortion anytime after conception.

     An alternative approach exists that should eventually appease both groups if they are presenting an accurate statement of their positions. The government could allow women to
artificially terminate a pregnancy in the third trimester, but require the doctor to make every reasonable effort to deliver the child alive. The state would take custody of the child, provide
necessary medical treatment and attempt to find parents to adopt it.

     Doctors can fertilize an egg in a petri dish and place it in a woman who cannot conceive to develop into a normal baby. They can remove a fetus from its mother, perform an operation, and return it to the womb. Doctors can transplant various organs from one person to another. Thus medical science conceivably could develop the necessary procedures to move a fetus from a woman who doesn't want it to a woman who does want it for further development.

     Abortion opponents should support this alternative if their goal is to save the child's life rather than to force a women to continue an unwanted pregnancy. Abortion supporters should
support this alternative if their goal is to allow a woman to decide whether she wants to be pregnant.

     Democracy can survive many types of threats, but only if citizens have access to accurate information about all sides of major issues. A free press requires more than simply the lack of direct government control of the news media. A free press requires a diversity of political points of view rather than just the views of one or two different factions.




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