A free press: The antidote to authoritarianism
"The day will come when Americans will have to choose between freedom and security. If on that day they choose security, we're done for."
My father, John B. O'Reilly Sr., said that to me in 1979. The decision day my dad predicted back then arrived on September 11, 2001. On the days that followed, Americans chose security over freedom time and again. We've been done for ever since.
As terrible as 9/11 was, we have to demonstrate that we're strong enough to take such blows without sacrificing the principles that define us as a democracy: Government of, by, and for the people.
Here's a modest proposal: Let's roll back to pre-9/11 rules. No Patriot Act, no Department of Homeland Security, no TSA, none of it. Also no Citizens United, no warrantless wiretapping, no designating of American citizens as "enemy combatants" and holding them without charge. (The American Civil Liberties Union lists the Top Ten Abuses of Power Since 9/11.)
What about Trump? Ignore him -- he'll dry up and blow away eventually. When he comes on TV, turn it off. Don't read newspaper articles about him, don't listen to radio reports about him. Block him on Twitter. Shun him. Refuse to acknowledge his existence, let alone his authority.
Trump is the product of ignorance. Trump is hate. What breeds hate is fear. And what breeds fear is ignorance. The solution to hate begins with education. If you want to prevent the next Trump, spend more money on schools.
Hate will exist after Trump is long gone. Our struggle is against that ignorant hate that compels something like 30 percent of the citizens of the United States to support him without question. These people refuse to acknowledge that the man is the worst politician in our nation's history.
Trump's not the cause, he's the symptom.
Of course I know we can't ignore Trump. Apart from being impossible, doing so would be irresponsible from a citizenship perspective -- we have a duty to stay informed of what's going on through the reporting of a free press.
A free press is required by the Constitution
Now might be a good time to remind ourselves of the role the Constitution dictates for a free press. In Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214 (1966), Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black wrote in the majority opinion the following:
"[T]he press serves and was designed to serve as a powerful antidote to any abuses of power by governmental officials and as a constitutionally chosen means for keeping officials elected by the people responsible to all the people whom they were selected to serve. Suppression of the right of the press to praise or criticize governmental agents and to clamor and contend for or against change... muzzles one of the very agencies the Framers of our Constitution thoughtfully and deliberately selected to improve our society and keep it free."
In New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971), Justice Black emphasized in a majority opinion the role of the press as a protector of democracy against governmental abuse of power:
"In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.... Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people."
The Republican Party is complicit in Trump's authoritarian attacks on a free press, as Adele M. Stan explains in a June 28, 2017, article on the American Prospect. The April 26, 2016, Weekly discussed the very real threats facing the news business, and the June 21, 2016, Weekly looked at the dangers of having only six corporations controlling 90 percent of U.S. media.
Yet reliable sources for news continue to thrive. (Well, maybe not "thrive," but at least "persist.") The July 5, 2017, Weekly reported on the list of trustworthy online news sources published by the group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting.
Will Google and Facebook soon be paying a 'journalism tax'?
There's nothing wrong with newspapers, magazines, and other media that more money wouldn't cure.
The Pew Research Center's Newspapers Fact Sheet documents the sharp decline in newspaper circulation and revenue in recent years: from revenues of almost $50 billion in 2005 to $18.3 billion in 2016. The rise of Google and Facebook as twin rulers of the online advertising industry coincides exactly with the crash of traditional media revenue.
U.S. newspapers are petitioning Congress for an exemption from antitrust rules to present a united front in their attempt to receive a share of the online-ad pie that is now in the clutches of the Google-Facebook duopoly. Todd Cunningham of the National Law Journal reports on the publishers' plans in a July 11, 2017, article on the New York Law Journal.
The News Media Alliance is comprised of about 2,000 publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. As Cunningham writes, being awarded the exemption requires one or more representatives to write and propose legislation exempting the group from federal antitrust rules. The NFL, Major League Baseball, labor unions, and the insurance industry are among groups that have been granted antitrust exemptions.
As if journalists weren't feeling enough heat from politicians and economic upheaval, now comes news that artificial intelligence may soon replace local reporters and news operations. Forbes' Bernard Marr writes in a July 18, 2017, article that the U.K. news agency Press Association is working with Urbs Media, a news-automation company, to publish 30,000 localized news reports each month via robots.
Urbs Media uses "natural language generation," the technology that powers Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, and various chatbots, according to Marr. Open data sets from government agencies and public services are used as sources for machine-written "regional" and "local authority-based" stories that number in the hundreds. The system relies on humans to choose the data sets, "define" story templates, and perform other tasks.
Eventually, the human element will be reduced -- perhaps eliminated. Marr claims that the journalists' jobs were lost long ago by the inability of publishers to adapt to the internet. One result is that local issues aren't getting the coverage they need for people to be kept informed about happenings in their own backyard. As Marr puts it, "robots could turn out to be the saviours of local news, rather than its executioner."
Trump's six-month scorecard confirms he's the worst: Speaking of newspapers, a column in the Dallas News written by Carl P. Leubsdorf provides all the proof anyone needs to confirm Trump as the most damaging politician in our nation's history. (I got wind of the column via a July 18, 2017, post on AlterNet by Tom Boggioni.)
The sole accomplishment in the 45th President's first six months in office was the confirmation of his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Oh, wait -- that's the seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13, 2016. By rights, that place on the court should have gone to President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Republican obstruction prevented hearings on the Garland nomination. So that's a Trump "accomplishment" that never should have been.
Now to the list of Trump-induced calamaties: embracing autocrats, compromising an ally's intelligence sources, further dividing the Middle East, "creating uncertainty in the nation's health care system," investigating "unproven allegations of voter fraud," filling government watchdog posts with corporate-friendly nominees, and declaring war on the media.
Oh, yeah, leaving the Paris Accord. How could I forget that? The overall result, according to Leubsdorf: "unprecedented global disdain and embarrassment."
It isn't just politicians who lie: Imagine spending four years analyzing Google data. That's what Seth Stephens Davidowitz did. He describes what his research discloses about us in a July 9, 2017, article on the Guardian that's an excerpt from his book, Everybody Lies: What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are.
The primary thing the analysis disclosed is that people don't always tell the truth.
Okay, that's not a "Stop the presses!" moment. Studies have shown the propensity of individuals to lie since at least the middle of the last century, as Davidowitz points out. But the incredible revelations of Google searches constitute "the most important dataset ever collected on the human psyche," according to the researcher. From anxiety about sex to the truth about hatred and racism, Google knows all.
For example, the "overwhelming majority" of African-Americans believe they "suffer from prejudice," as Davidowitz writes, yet very few white Americans admit to being racist. The reason? White Americans "may mean well," but their "implicit prejudice" and "subconscious bias" influence how they treat African Americans.
Davidowitz claims the Google "truth serum" can benefit everyone in three ways. First, we learn that we are not alone in our "insecurities and embarrassing behaviors." Second, the Google data "alerts us to people who are suffering." And third, the data helps "lead us from problems to solutions."
I think that last part is easier said than done, but hey, it's worth a try!