The Animating Principle

Is this still true?

But people who find themselves in a Fourth Estate situation — “If the public knew what power was doing, power would not be allowed to do it anymore” — have power themselves now. If they have the goods, if they have the will, if they have “a tongue which others will listen to,” they can speak to the nation. And some will! The Fourth Estate is really a state of mind. Some in the press have it, some don’t. Some who have it are part of the press. Some, like Ladar Levison and Edward Snowden, are not.

Power would not be allowed to do it anymore. Yet power does. The truth doesn’t always change everything. Liars can keep on lying. Once upon a time, exposure meant it was over, and people took the cue and amscrayed. Now? Now, in the shadow of the Bush years, when incumbency meant fuck you, and public opinion meant nothing if you had a cowed Congress on your side?

Would Nixon have stayed in office, and kept on lying? Part of me says yes. What’s the difference? An entire political media machine dedicated to telling us that a) IOKIYAR, b) It’s Not Okay if You’re A Hippie, c) who’s running for president in 2016 anyway because this stuff is boring and OH LOOK A DICK PIC.

Look at the reception Snowden’s NSA information and Greenwald’s story got from our vaunted “fourth estate.” We spent the first couple of weeks debating how long Snowden should be waterboarded, and if Greenwald should have to watch or actually be waterboarded himself. Then there was about an hour of “Greenwald is an asshole,” which is about as relevant as “Greenwald had a turkey sandwich for lunch today.” That only lasted as long as it did because there are only so many ways to say asshole. After that was a healthy round of “what did you expect from a bunch of spooks” and “my president’s illegal shit is better than your president’s illegal shit,” which is super productive.

Then somebody made a Hillary Clinton movie.

There were, of course, sober evaluations of the programs themselves, but since none of them quoted NOT PRESIDENT McCain, it was kind of hard to get them any traction. Traction, of course, being a thing we care about, which is arbitrarily determined, possibly by God. Besides, lately our press only covers things if they “surface,” and seriously, is there anything more poisonous than passivity?

I believe in what Rosen’s talking about above. I believe in my bones we are better off knowing than not knowing, and I believe that our job as human beings is to find out the most truth we can about everything and tell as many people as we have the voice to tell. And I believe, my anger notwithstanding, that people taking the hint and taking action and all of that is secondary to journalism having done its job of informing them, and you can’t use “nothing’s gonna change anyway” as an excuse to shirk your own responsibilities.

And I believe if more people thought as he did, and fewer as David Gregory and his ilk did, we’d have the world Rosen’s outlining, where if people knew what power was doing, power couldn’t do it anymore.


One thought on “The Animating Principle

  1. I would find it difficult to agree more with practically everything in this post. I, too, think we’re better off knowing (and knowing officially) than not knowing. That definitely includes the stuff that “everybody knows” but that doesn’t officially exist, like internet snooping.
    And “nothing’s gonna change anyway” is the first and best cop-out used by the powers that be, their protectors (witting and unwitting), and persons who think they’re proof against power’s encroachments.

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