On Marco Island: Independent Reporting, Documenting Government Abuses, Exposing the Syndicate, Historical Records of Crimes Against the Environment

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Moribund Free Press

Across many regions of the world, attacks on the press are taking their toll. Venezuela's socialist dictatorial government refused to renew the broadcast license of RCTV (Radio Caracas TV) because the station dared broadcast the crackdowns on civil liberties and exposed the Chavez corruption. In Ecuador, both opposing sides are literally targeting journalists as that country deals with the fallout from the forceful undemocratic removal of government officials. In Paraguay the attacks on journalists by government thugs got so bad that after one journalist was killed (Enrique Galeano) the president signed a decree specifically prohibiting attacks on journalists (Declaration of Chapultepec). In Mexico, its almost a running joke (akin to their running drugs into the U.S.). In the last period of the recently departed "democratic" government, 31 journalists were assassinated.

In these seemingly distant places the press is literally dying to stay independent and free. Their
decline are due to despotic governments facilitating their demise through forceful restrictions on their independence and freedom.

In our country the free press is also in decline. But on our soil the approach to extinction is precipitated predominantly through self-inflicted wounds.

To mask why readership has declined over the past 20 years, the press naturally blames factors that have nothing to do with them. False reasons abound. Its the internet. Its 24 hour cable news coverage. Its the bloggers. People don't have the time to read anymore, don't have the attention span to read beyond a mystical number of 200 words, or are just too stupid to read.

The internet may have hastened the decline but as soon as the media moguls realized that they too
could join the virtual fray, they quickly jumped on the bandwagon with the hope of rescuing their waning art - to no avail. The 24 hour cable news coverage is mostly about promoting ideologues masked as personalities. People can still read - especially those that are able and willing to buy newspapers.

True enough - the bloggers have drawn an audience. Though the exceptional bloggers are few in numbers, they are for the most part filling the ever increasing unbiased intellectual informational void being created by the press' abdication of the principles of a free press. As but one example, it was a blogger that exposed the CBS/Dan Rather forged documents on the president.

Clearly, the decline of our free press started with poor quality, questionable practices and non-existing ethics rather than by the pretexts previously described. The suicide began when our free press started selling it's interests to the highest bidder. The bidding came from the usual suspects, i.e., big business, but also from the nodes of the iron triangle that fed them what they needed so as to fill their rapidly expanding intellectual and moral vacuum. Afraid to offend a revenue stream or risk governmental sources drying up, the stories that should be exposed are replaced with gaudy advertisements. They would rather run an ad that peddles an FDA-approved pharmaceutical drug, than print the reports proving that same drug is killing people - until the bodies start stacking up of course at which time they simply join the bandwagon.

In yet another example (as if we need any more), that is exactly what happened to the New York Times (again). In their zeal to protect their sources, they compromised whatever journalist integrity they had left. Such is the case of Valerie Plame Wilson, where reporters went to great lengths to protect their sources. And guess what? Their sources were wrong, but the story, driven by their hatred of the president, would not go away quietly and more importantly would not go away honestly. In a Time May 31, 2007 article entitled "How Libby's Trial Hurt the Press" Time's former editor-in-chief Norman Pearlstine comments "It was a telling example of her willingness to breach journalistic ethics in order to coddle close sources". The "her" in this quote refers to the imprisoned New York Times reporter Judith Miller. Ipso facto, "journalistic ethics" is now an oxymoron.

Whether the press succumbs to market pressures from within or from without is of no consequence to the base that has supported the free press for centuries. A sell out is a sell out irrespective of how the money god has been placated. They could have predicted it given that once you sell your principles, the principled that supported you flee to honest venues.

For it is that very fourth branch of government that we so desperately need. It is its missing influence and oversight that has placed this great experiment in dire straights. We as a free people, whose freedoms are eroding, need the factual debate presenting the side we agree with, but more importantly, the aspect that we disagree with.

It is as if we got our information from Pravda or Granma. How objective, how educated, and how reasonable could we be if forever presented with the same side, the same slanted side day after day, or of with no side at all? Well, that is pretty much what we have in this country, except that the press is not peddling anti-imperialist propaganda as Pravda did and Granma does; it is peddling what makes us feel good interspersed with biased political rhetoric suffused with neutered suppositions of municipal corruption spun as "he-said she-said" and peppered with the commercialization mania that drives this country.

It is unclear who is influencing whom. The influence however is obvious to the point of absurdity - akin to the cynically comical exchange when Captain Renault is announcing the shutting down of Rick's because he is shocked, shocked to find gambling as a croupier hands over a stack of cash and says "Your winnings, sir". The press is influenced by their own organizations lest the wrong group gets offended by an honest article and an ad revenue stream dries up. The press is influenced by self-proclaimed "community leaders" whenever their community does not fare well in print (you know, like when asbestos is dumped and the city manager blames the citizens as the contractor that dumped the toxic stuff gets paid to remove it and then members of the Hate Slate demand the firing of the reporter that dared write articles about the whole mess). The press does not want to upset the corners of the triangle lest a source of propaganda stops feeding it propaganda.

And it is in this last influencing scenario that is the most challenging to understand. The press does not want to do the right and honest and fair thing if that "thing" goes against city hall because they will be locked out of information. This author was told just that! Which was obvious anyway given the lack of meaningful, serious, professional coverage of the present governance's illegal and illicit transgressions.

We can and should excuse the community paper for after all it's a community newspaper. And in that it does quite well, and goes out of its way to cover a modicum of the local shenanigans honestly and objectively.

And yet there is a component of the other ("near local") press that has no such fortune of intellect. It hosts a character (literally) that merely regurgitates whatever undemocratic anti-citizen Tuckerisms occurs to him in between reminiscing about days at the network and ... well days at the network that was second (only to CBS) to compromise its neutrality. The classic was when this Village Idiot attacked the citizens of Marco Island for exercising their constitutional rights because it would cause the city money - despite the fact that it was the city that chose to unnecessarily spend the money to thwart what a federalism does. Don't expect any vitriol from the Village Idiot on how one of the richest communities in Florida is nearly bankrupt, has a toxic dump, and pumps fetid water onto the streets - all courtesy of his mentors on the city council - since such would offend the feeding node of the local triangle.

It was not so long ago that we could count on two very strong forces to keep the iron triangle in check. One was the citizenry itself. Every now and then the citizenry take a stand and thwarts the corrupting effects of the triangle. Recent national victories, such as the temporary defeat of the illegal alien amnesty legislation, and recent local victories, such as the defeat of the city of Marco Island's illegal mandate to hook up to the sewer system in 90 days, are testaments to how the will of the people can prevail. The other counterbalancing force to the iron triangle was the free press. As Alexis de Tocqueville said, “The power of the periodical press is second only to that of the people”.

But the press' influence for anything other than political purposes has waned and has for the most part embraced the triangle as a needed source for what keeps it on life support. Hence we can still sort of count on one good force, the other we can discount.

In other countries, the free and independent press has to be forcefully shut down to prevent them from documenting the transgressions of government, some worse than others. In the U.S., the free press migrated to the auto-censorship mode so as to chase the almighty dollar and grease the propaganda feeding trough.

On Marco Island we are sort of sputtering with some good on-island local coverage. But the near local coverage mostly resembles the best of Das Reich. What we don't have is that spirited investigative journalism that would flourish given the Captain Renault-style abuses by the present Marco Island governance.

If the near local press had been contacted by Deep Throat, it would have called Richard for a comment, printed that comment verbatim as the concluding remark to an article covering a petty burglary by some crazy Cubans, dropped the entire story and had a Village Idiot besmirch Frank Wills for reporting the open door.

In other lands, the press is literally dying to stay free and independent. In this great country, the free and independent press is simply just dying.


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