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Modern Media Maze: Navigating the American Free Press

Nothing political happens for no reason. Public trust in the government plummeted after the Vietnam War. It recovered, and then fell again, perhaps irrevocably, over the course of the War on Terror. Nixon lied about the senseless death of America’s twelve years in the war. (Although technically, Johnson and Kennedy were to blame for initial escalation.) The War on Terror, while still seen as necessary, is now seen as a rich man’s war, not based on values or necessity, but instead on a dependence on the oil of the Persian Gulf.

Photo from theatlantic.com

And so, we have plenty to blame on our government, despite its high status on the world stage and its pioneering of the past (almost) 250 years. However, corruption and failures come and go in any government, and if you want to live in a morally-superior, fairer and more-democratic government, you still won’t live in the world’s greatest economy, and best-sustained large country. But what exactly could have caused the media to lose its position at the height of American society? The Constitution declared freedom of the press to be chief among the values of the newborn United States. I think it’s important to talk about the importance of freedom of the press throughout the world.

The checks and balances of the American Government must extend beyond itself- Washington must also be kept in check by the media. If the government is allowed to be the only source of information to its citizens, a dictatorship is just a second step, and the failures of the government could be completely ignored. The American media is meant to keep the government constantly self-aware of its failures and limitations. If the populace is made aware of as much as possible, they’re meant to elect an official much better for themselves.

However, just as the media is intended to foster a closer relationship between elected officials and their electorate, a voting system with two easy options alienates the electorate from the decisions they’re making. ‘True’ or ‘false’ questions are much easier than multiple choice questions, and multiple choice remain easier than free response questions. Further, the American media has started to pick sides, completely negating their positive influence on the American political process. When a significant portion of Americans get their information from news sources that are suddenly motivated to be just as flawed as the government they’re observing, or possibly even worse, just as flawed as the part of the government they prefer, the entire process of democracy is threatened by misinformation.

So, for all of journalism’s importance in the modern world, President Trump isn’t entirely wrong as he condemns “fake news.” But one must understand - “fake news” isn’t completely fabricated, but can be simply “spun”, pieced into half-truths and omitted information. By this definition, the kind of journalism that can influence otherwise free-minded people, fake news comes equally from both sides. The problem with the modern world is that these two things- journalism and the government- are so inextricably linked, and no longer in a good way, that this style of media has become a culture. There’s no realistic way to separate partisan politics from the mainstream media as it now stands.

Beyond the realm of politics, journalism has also been tainted by its own accessibility. Before the modern age of digital publication, it was pretty hard to get one’s voice heard. To publicize your views, you had to either be intelligent or charismatic enough to be respected, or you had to have enough money to print some pamphlets or agree with a popular political cause. In the modern day, you need a phone and some degree of literacy to have a chance to get noticed. To the naked eye, this seems to produce a golden age of true democracy. The common man is given a chance to share his views, with no limits due to their education, social status, or other factors. However, when so many people have a voice, and it’s easy to rise up simply because you agree with the majority, the value that can be afforded to any speaker greatly diminishes.

Of course, the idea of popularity increasing the value of a person’s words is simply a part of human nature via mob mentality and peer pressure. This has become an absolute epidemic in the modern world. It’s come to infect the media from two fronts; its everyman-ization and its politicization. When the American public can’t know what’s been influenced by opinion, or even what’s incorrect or fabricated, one of the most fundamental steps in a fundamental democracy has been deeply compromised. Now, people have to make a concerted effort to understand issues from all the sides, even as the world gets progressively more and more confusing on its own; wars are no longer two-sided, international relations are much more complicated than they used to be, and global-scale issues are popping up and being presented on the international stage. For all the flaws the world and, apparently, the United States have, it’s even more worrisome that the news may simply stop addressing them based on public and political pressure.

By:: Tyler Colborn

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