Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Off The Record

Every morning, while having our coffee and checking our iPhones for messages (Tom) and Twitter updates (me), Tom and I watch about the first hour of a program on MSNBC called Morning Joe.

We don't watch it live because it starts at 5:00am central time and we don't get up that early. Instead the program is recorded on our DVR every morning and I can fast forward through the commercials and sports segment to condense it down to about 35 or 40 minutes.

The program is named for its host, Joe Scarborough, a former Congressman (1995 to 2001) now political analyst, writer and staunch-to-moderate Republican. As a life-long progressive Democrat, it will not be a surprise that I do not agree with Scarborough on a host of issues. However, Scarborough is, in my view, right about one issue in particular: the need for civil political discourse.

Morning Joe guests are not limited to Republicans, but rather people of all ideologies are welcome to the discussion table and that's why I watch. Though not always balanced, the discussions are, for the most part, intelligent, thought provoking and generally calmer than most of the other political shows, and teeming with respectful disagreement laced with humor.

There are mornings where I sit quietly and shake my head in agreement with the subject being discussed. Other times I have to reach for the remote, hit the pause button and yell at the television. I would not be a good Morning Joe guest.

So, that's why I even bother to watch the show...just in case you were wondering. But that is not the topic of this post. The topic is transparency and the media's complicity in the government's efforts to hide the truth. The truth about what? The truth about anything.

I follow Michael Moore on Twitter and this morning he posted this tweet:

"I'm posting bail money for J Assange today. I wont stand by and be a witness to a railroading. @WikiLeaks has saved lives http://j.mp/i0vgv5"
The URL in Michael Moore's tweet links to this article in which Moore discusses the necessity of transparency and openness in government.

Now, before you get your panties in wad, I have to say that I have very mixed feelings about what Julian Assange and Wikileaks posted recently. I don't believe any of the information or cables released put anyone in physical danger, although some of the information may have compromised diplomacy with some countries and embarrassed a few people involved. On the other hand, if the negotiations were more transparent and open, the release of documents would have been something everyone already knew.

Michael Moore points out in his article:
"We were taken to war in Iraq on a lie. Hundreds of thousands are now dead. Just imagine if the men who planned this war crime back in 2002 had had a WikiLeaks to deal with. They might not have been able to pull it off. The only reason they thought they could get away with it was because they had a guaranteed cloak of secrecy. That guarantee has now been ripped from them, and I hope they are never able to operate in secret again."

Why do we need WikiLeaks? Because the main stream media and journalists aren't doing their jobs.

This morning on Morning Joe, Scarborough and his guests were talking about Obama's tax cut bill and its passage in the Senate. The Senate voted 83-15 last night to advance the tax cut bill, but only 5 Republicans voted against it: Coburn (OK), DeMint (SC), Ensign (NV), Sessions (AL) and Voinovich (OH).

Interestingly enough, Scarborough commented, "I've got to say, even among Republicans, tax cuts for millionaires doesn't make sense."

Comments such as this are made repeatedly on several roundtable style political shows, including Morning Joe. Journalists and pundits comment frequently about "on the record" and "off the record" comments and the whole idea infuriates me.

Take Scarborough's comment for example. If there are Republicans who believe this bill doesn't make sense, but they are voting "Yea" anyway against their core principles, shouldn't we know who they are? Instead of feeding the public the organized and canned political spin from each party, shouldn't we know the truth? I say name names, point fingers and out the hypocrisy and do it in plain English and do it often. I want to know who says one thing privately, another thing publicly and votes contrary to their beliefs. I want to know who is having an affair while they are screaming "family values." I want journalists to report about their lack of access to the likes of Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Christine McDonnell and Joe Miller, then commence digging AND reporting on their own. I want to know about the "secret" meetings between the President and members of Congress and bank CEO's, health insurance and pharmaceutical companies. I want to know specifically where the money comes from for these almost billion dollar campaign coffers. Rest assured, it does not come from the American people. We don't have much disposable income these days.

It seemed so odd to me when Michael Hastings wrote his Rolling Stone article about General McChrystal, many complained of the "culture of exposure." It occurred to me that perhaps that thinking is somewhat skewed.

We know every single thing there is to know about the most inconsequential people in America ~ celebrities ~ and little more than carefully edited and disseminated biographical information about our government leaders. While the paparazzi are photographing Britney Spears' who-who and following Lindsay Lohan to and from jail and rehab, our professional journalists are writing articles about John Boehner weeping in public or asking him questions about tanning beds.

All too willing to protect the "secrets" of the politicians they cover in exchange for access, mainstream media journalists repeatedly regurgitate the "on the record" political spin, never allowing us more than a brief glimpse of the "off the record" information that would provide significant insight into the power-grabbing, deal-making and unscrupulous greed that permeates the political process and leaves the average American with little to no real information on which to base an intelligent vote.

The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics states in part 'Seek Truth and Report It." But the truth is more often than not spoken 'off the record.'


altadenahiker said...

Coming from The Times and years in newspapers, it's my belief there is no mainstream media anymore. Mainstream media required enormous funding, which no longer exists. And enough money in the house to resist pressure from all sides, including their readers and advertisers. Gone, gone, gone.

It worries me, though, to have information without context and some reasoned parsing. Maybe it shouldn't worry me; maybe I'm underestimating the public's job to do that themselves. Or maybe not. I think many people just turn to smaller channels to do the thinking and the spinning for them. And what happens at Fox News chills me.

Jon Carroll said...

You can't hide from CSPAN. Unfortunately, people want to be told what to think, as well as what to eat, drink, wear, drive, etc.

Wilf said...

Excellent post, Terri.