A lot of people ask me what is wrong with politics in America today.
[Aside: How many people actually ask me that? It comes up more often than you'd think, I guess because I worked in Washington, in politics, and write this sort of sub-par blog. In my view, this is the rough equivalent of a fifteen year-old boy publishing a diary about his emotions and general feelings of confusion, and then having someone ask him to diagnose serious, complicated mental disorders in broad swatches of the population. There's no doubt most every fifteen year-old boy experiences a complex roller-coaster of confusing emotions, but that doesn't make him a sociologist or a head shrinker.]
I usually give one of two answers, or both, depending on where I think the person is coming from.
One centers around money in politics and campaigns. I have yet to meet a reasonable thinking person of any political persuasion who thinks the way we fund political campaigns in this country is just hunky-dory. It is a profoundly broken system and at some point someone is going to have to get serious about fixing it. It will be an ugly job, but nothing less than the future of our country is at stake.
The other answer centers around our flat-lining media apparatus. In many ways, this is a worse -- and more complicated -- problem than the money in politics issue. Most folks know what to do about money in politics: limit it or take it out altogether. And by "most folks," I mean everyone but the United States Supreme Court.
The point is, the problem of money in campaigns can be addressed by talking about money. The problem with the media collapse is that you have to talk about people. Money is money wherever you go, but people are different.
The role of the media and journalism in American society is not insignificant -- in fact, it is a critical piece of our democracy. Somewhere along the way, we corporatized media outlets. I don't know when this happened, I'm not an expert -- remember, fifteen year-old pimply teenager with issues -- but it definitely happened. And as it has happened, the institution of journalism has gotten weaker.
This means the chief role of journalism and journalists -- that of watchdog -- in America has weakened. A great example, if you need the proof, is that of Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone. Taibbi is the only actual journalist I know who has called for -- and continually calls for -- the heads of the Wall Street crooks who drove the global economy into a very deep ditch (remember, I'm talking journalists, not bloggers -- bloggers offer something different, are something different; more on that in a moment).
Why? Why is the voice of the American conscience on the financial meltdown a guy who writes for a maganize that more likely has Lady Ga Ga and scenes from Bonaroo on the cover than anyone else?
There should have been a cacophony of editorials and columns and in-depth, Pulitzer-level articles on who did what, exactly, and who engaged in what criminal behavior when. There should be a hundred thousand Matt Taibbis. There are not. [Note: I do know that there has been other good journalistic work on the issue of the financial meltdown; there has been not nearly enough, which is my point.]
Not for nothing, but I assign blame to the media with respect to institutional failures and lies leading up to the War in Iraq. Journalism should also feed our national conscience, which with respect to the Iraq War and the profound lies told at the highest levels of government, it is apparently bankrupt.
So this critical piece of America is quite possibly DOA. Yes, bloggers have provided an important voice, but I don't consider blogging journalism. This isn't a knock on bloggers -- many of whom do practice real journalism. It's just that blogging and journalism are two different things. Journalism is based on research and facts and interviews and often a painstaking process of fact-gathering. Bloggging is just different (see: fifteen year-old).
All of that to say this: For all the writing and sharing with the public journalists and media organizations are supposed to do, they've been pretty good at hiding the ugly parts of their demise.
Slate has a great piece today on journalists who were fired or quit and... well, what they had to say about it. Click the link. Read it. Digest it. See what you think. Draw your own conclusions.
Hey, just like in journalism. Now, let me tell you about my emotions...