May was an interesting month in Bangkok Thailand. Thousands of protestors, “the red shirts” had been in Bangkok for almost a month. Although they had caused financial hardship for many businesses by effectively shutting down a portion of the downtown, their protest of the current government was pretty quiet. More like a picnic than a protest. And for many of the protestors, poor farmers from across Thailand, it was more of an outing than a protest.
That all changed in late May when the government decided that enough was enough. The military declared a State of Emergency and the protestors were surrounded and told to leave. As the military closed in, a handful of the protestors turned violent; setting fires and shooting into the military lines. Although the violence was confined to a very small area of the city, for a week, Bangkok was a surreal place to live.
Where I live, several kilometers north of the protest area, life went on pretty much as normal. For me, the most significant impact of the violence was to meet more of my neighbors as we gathered around the pool to watch the large columns of smoke from burning tires that were visible in the distance. A number of my co-workers, however, had very different experiences. Several of them recalled stories of running from their apartment entrances to the protection of the military barricades, sometimes under fire. One colleague was standing a few meters away from a reporter that was shot by one of the protesters.
Later that evening, that same colleague was quite surprised to read the media reports of the violence in which the media claimed that it was the military firing into the protestors, not the protestors firing into the military. So, the next day, behind the safety of an armored vehicle, my colleague asked a reporter why they were lying about the military doing the shooting, when quite obviously it was the protestors doing most of the shooting. The reporters answer; “the truth is not the story we want to tell”.
The truth is not the story we want to tell! That statement is far scarier than the violence, and has far more serious implications to society. The media are willing to deliberately lie to promote their agenda. They are willing to lie in order to tell us the story they want to tell.
Over the years, we have had glimpses of the media’s suspension of the truth. Reuters was caught altering pictures with Photoshop. At CBS, Dan Rather was fired for lying about George Bush’s military service. The New York Times alters the truth so frequently that they are the poster child for Newsbusters.
We have been willing to dismiss these incidents as isolated and more the result of media bias not an outright willingness to deliberately lie. That there is a liberal bias in the media is undisputed. MSNBC’s Keith Matthews reports feeling a thrill running up his leg with Barack Obama. CNN had Octavia Nasr “objectively” covering the Middle East for 20 years before they realized she openly supported the terrorist group Hezbollah (Dan Gainor, 15 July, 2010 Obama Hates the press and journalists can’t handle that truth). And of course we recently witnessed the Grand Dame of White House journalists, Helen Thomas, show her bias in a hate-laced anti-Jewish rant.
The conventional wisdom holds that this media bias reflects the philosophical alignment many in media have with liberal ideals coupled with an elitist attitude that isolates journalists and prevents them from seeing issues objectively. However, the reporter’s statement in Bangkok that “the truth is not the story we want to tell” implies that the issue could be much more sinister, that is, that journalists are fully aware of their bias and will deliberately lie to promote it.
A free society is dependent on the truth. Many countries grant the media incredible freedom so that they can tell the truth without fear of reprisal. This “freedom of the press” is considered one of our most sacrosanct protections, a protection designed to ensure that we are protected from Government abuse. We need look no further than Venezuela to see what happens when freedom of the press is restricted.
But, should the principal of freedom of the press provide protection for the media when the media lies to promote their agenda. What do we as a society do when the watchdog needs watching?
Recently there have been calls to regulate the situation, implement some sort of truth in advertising rules or to license journalists. Unfortunately, the media have so abused their right to freedom that it is appropriate that we examine ways to ensure that the media is held accountable. Levying heavy fines when a media outlet is shown to be lying, deliberately or not, is one possibility. Being more willing to file lawsuits for libel is another. Perhaps we even need to consider charges of sedition when those lies materially weaken a country’s sovereignty.
However, many of our politicians benefit from the media bias. Some, as is the case of Barack Obama, owe their election to it. Others use the media bias to help them pass legislation to advance their agenda. Therefore, it is unlikely to expect our politicians to pass any legislation that would hold the media accountable.
Reflecting on this, I have come to realize that perhaps the problem is not so much with the media, nor with the politicians, it is us. We know that they are lying to us. Yet we sit by on the sidelines and enable it. We continue to watch the news, or buy newspapers when we know that they are spinning the news to fit their agendas.
So long as we are willing to sit by and allow these lying liars to continue to lie, then we risk losing our freedom. If on the other hand, you cherish your freedom and desire to see it restored, than we must stop enabling and rewarding liars. We must stop electing politicians that lie to us. We must stop patronizing those media outlets for whom the truth is not the story they want to tell. We must stop buying their papers or watching their channels. We must stop advertising with them, and stop patronizing the businesses that do advertise with them. We must send them a clear message that the truth is the only story we will pay for!
The famous Jack Nicholson line (A Few Good Men) comes to mind; “You can’t handle the truth!” Frankly, I am quite sure that we can; and I am positive that we deserve the chance.
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