The Pathos of Politics (87) The Press

The Press

A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will in time produce a people as base as itself. ~ American Hungarian newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Because of a prize in his name, Pulitzer is now celebrated for excellence in journalism. This comes from his leaving $2 million to Columbia University to found its school of journalism. Pulitzer made his money as a newspaper publisher with yellow journalism: offering no real news, instead pandering to the prurient interests of the public with sensationalism.)

Decisions are made upon available information, demarcated by bedrock beliefs, which are formed from cultural indoctrination. Where popular opinion guides polity, belief systems act as a double-edged sword: they both secure societal cohesion and endeavor its division.

Without an informed people, there can be no democracy. ~ American political reporter Helen Thomas

The hope that underlies democracy is that people are capable of informed rationality. It is an attempt to validate the exceptional to prove a rule.

You can fool too many of the people too much of the time. ~ American humorist James Thurber

What is indisputable is that the press serves a vital function in making democracy appear viable. Hence, the health of the press is perhaps the best diagnosis one may make as to the assured sanity of a polity.

Journalism is not a perfect vessel of truth. Its coverage of politics is based on unspoken, often unconscious, and sometimes unjustified assumptions. Its narratives are based not only on a familiarity with the communities it covers but on an alienation from them. Journalists are torn between understanding the world from the viewpoint of the sources they talk to – at the risk of being manipulated – and suspecting that their sources are lying or spinning – at the risk of cynicism. ~ American sociologist and journalism scholar Michael Schudson

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Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens. ~ English economist William Beveridge

To the extent that free flow of information threatens the powerful, those in power will seek to suppress it. ~ Russian American computer scientist Sergey Brin

Pursuing their own self-interest, governments try to repress unfavorable press while promoting claimed successes. Information control is especially ham-handedly in countries like Russia and China, but the practice is universal. The US is exemplary.

The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for ensuring the safety of consumables for Americans. The FDA tries to tightly control reportage about its purview.

The FDA assures the public that it is committed to transparency, but the agency denies many reporters access, and even deceives them with half-truths to handicap them in their pursuit of a story. At the same time, the FDA cultivates a coterie of journalists whom it keeps in line with threats. And the agency has made it a practice to demand total control over whom reporters can and can’t talk to until after the news has broken, in violation of its own written policies. ~ American journalist and author Charles Seife

The FDA has good reason to try to control its coverage: the agency needs to hide its incompetence. 1/3rd of the drugs approved by the FDA as “safe and effective” are later shown to be dangerous. The FDA approves medical implants that have not been sufficiently tested for efficacy and safety.

The FDA is a captive creature of the pharmaceutical and medical industries that it regulates, referring to them as “customers.” The FDA prides itself on “customer satisfaction.”

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The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge. ~ Trump White House aide, on US water pollution

In 2018, the Trump administration suppressed a federal water pollution study, conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services, that showed that many American water supplies are laced with industrial waste chemicals which are toxic at levels far lower than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) previously called safe. A Trump aide had warned that publishing the report would be a “public relations nightmare.” So, the report was quietly buried, and the mainstream press never covered the cover-up.

The water pollution report was just a single example of a concerted campaign to suppress public knowledge of the destructive impact of the market system and governmental failure to rein in its destructions. (A private initiative called Silencing Science Tracker exposes the Republican science devastation campaign in detail.) States helmed by Republicans are abetting the endeavor to blot out science and keep the public in the dark.

The most vigorous vector involves obliterating federal support for investigation into and reportage of climate change and pollution. Federal employees are silenced from expressing facts under threat of persecution. Expenditure for scientific endeavors of all kinds has been slashed, regardless of Congressional funding (an illegality that goes unenforced, as governmental oversight toward rectitude is a sham). This includes health research and science education. The Trump administration is even crippling the ability to detect and publish weather data.

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The police everywhere can be counted upon to relate as little as possible that casts them in a bad light, airing their dirty laundry only under intense political pressure.