Government watchdogs non-existent

The response from the American press? They have been dutifully silent, content to report on the latest petty and paltry pleasures de Tocqueville warned about.

Neither of these men will be confused with John Jay or Alexander Hamilton, but for the current day and age, any voice in the wilderness will do.

From the time of the Federalist Papers, right up to the era of Watergate, the media understood and accepted its role as watchdog, digging to uncover wrongdoing by politicians from either of the ruling parties. It’s now become a lapdog, happy for the occasional morsel that might fall from the table of the ruling elite. Cutting edge journalism has become who gets the newest Anthony Wiener pic out first.

Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels saw the importance of a complicit media when he wrote: “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which government can play.”

While we have all been collectively distracted by the minutia of our own lives, our government has quietly but decisively learned to play the media like Goebbels’ great keyboard. Even the “opposition media” of AM talk radio serves as little more than a launching pad for the books, CDs, t-shirts and even iced tea hawked by the carnival barkers who pass for the voice of the opposition in this country.

Even on the local level, government controls access to the media with an iron grip. State workers fear for their jobs if they speak to the media. Even the state’s public information specialists cannot answer freely, instead insisting questions be submitted in advance, so answers can be vetted by elected officials, when answered at all. The top DOT official in Essex County recently claimed he was targeted by the state for speaking to the media, and was forced to retire.

Many saw the internet and social media as the last great bastion for democratic thought and political dissent. While that certainly exists to some extent, with the recent revelations of government spying, how long could a political dissident survive online before coming onto the government’s radar screen?

A meaningful national shield law would be the first step to righting this listing ship, if it hasn’t in fact already capsized. There is currently a bill before the shuttered government called the Free Flow of Information Act which, if passed, would be a baby step in the direction of journalistic freedom.

Even if this law is passed, without an aggressive and inquisitive national media, the law would be all but irrelevant. National journalists currently have nothing they need to shield themselves from, except possibly the most recent Anthony Wiener pic.

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