Tuesday, February 20, 2007


The second Moyers article is an address he gave to the National Conference for Media in Memphis, entitled “Life on the Plantation” (www.truthout.org/docs_2006/011807B.shtml).

He quotes something long ascribed to Ben Franklin, that pithy public observer: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner: Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting that vote”.

In that image we can see the motivations of the Founders, eager to protect the nascent United States from the shrewdly ravenous appetites of kings and empires, and the necessarily lamb-like People from the inborn darker proclivities of the government power. And we can see the motivations of Abraham Lincoln, resolutely determined to deploy the government power to protect the United States from the inborn proclivity of all federations to spin themselves apart over time. And we can see the motivations of Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt who realized that the government power when properly wielded is a powerful weapon with which to defend the People from the darker inborn proclivities of entrenched Property and corporate power and wealth.

But – typically American – the ‘well-armed’ has been seen as something material, something tangible, whether an actual firearm or a statutorily-erected ‘right’ enforced by the government power on behalf – ideally – of The People. And since we are a nation of laws, then laws and their vigilant enforcement constitute an indispensable weapon in Our defense against Power, which most surely and ceaselessly does go about, seeking whom it may devour.

But law is not Our first line-of-defense, not Our fundamental weapon. For Us to be well-armed we each must be well-matured – in spirit and in the ‘higher skills’ that constitute the human birth-right, the human nature, the human gift to the vast Life of which humanity is so marvelous a part. Without being so armed, We will be incapable of ‘guarding our guards themselves’, incapable of Peopling the intricate and monstrously powerful engines that our civilization has erected and switched-on.

One of those ‘engines’ so surely designed to work almost directly for Us is the media, once known as ‘the press’. If We are not adequately and accurately informed of what is being done in the myriad nooks and crannies of our intricate and vast civilization, then We will not know what actions need to be taken. We collectively are the captain of the vessel (Yes, I’ve said it – the President is Commander-in-Chief of the military, not of the country and not of The People). The captain needs to know everything so as to be able to devise and decide the best course. We are collectively ‘the captain’. We must guard Our vital prerogative to be kept informed, and preferably as early on as possible.

Thus the vital role of the media – truly Our media. And in that regard, Moyers very rightly pinpoints the disastrous Telecommunications Act of 1996 as a fateful turning-point in the history of this Republic.

We have to stop and really give some thought to this. It’s understandable – but hardly justifiable – that We cannot be fully alive to doings that took place long decades and centuries ago in the history of the Republic. But 1996 was a mere 11 years ago; the ‘90s themselves were the decade immediately preceding the present decade. So much was done then. The pandering to corporations, so stereotypically the preferred prostitution of the Right, was matched by a hugely ill-considered (perhaps more accurately unconsidered) pandering to the Left. To mollify the demands of this or that Advocacy, to surf the waves of this or that ‘panic’ or ‘mania’ huge gaps were hacked out of Constitutional protections.

The media, which had already compromised themselves in the decades-old relinquishment of the search for Truth and even accuracy and truth, in order to ‘help’ and to ‘advocate’ (not their task in the vital engineering scheme of the Republic), were so compromised by the mid-90s that it is no surprise that they were seen no longer as a vital ‘institution’ of the Republic but simply as a commercial, cash-flow producing opportunity, much akin to entertainment, but enjoying the huge advantage of not being considered ‘fiction’ the way Hollywood movies and TV shows were.

If the robustly talented manipulations of a Rupert Murdoch could essentially create ‘shows’ that were endowed with the status of ‘news’, the media had done almost as much to themselves in the preceding decades, helping to enforce the ‘political correctness’ that stifled Our deliberations as to the assorted gambits – many not clearly desirable or workable – of the assorted Revolutions.

Moyers sees this 1996 Act as contributing to a “plantation mentality”, surely toxic to any Republic. In the scheme of the plantation, The People were reduced to status of the field-hands (May I respectfully not adhere strictly to the analogy by calling them ‘slaves’? It is too freighted a term to use here.) The ‘masters’ would be the corporate biggies, faithfully abetted by a national political class that had given up on the idea of ‘uniting’ the now-Balkanized citizenry and instead settled for pandering to and distracting the various sub-sets of citizens while accepting ‘contributions’ from the ever-reliable corporate deep-pockets; a time-honored form of non-sexual prostitution that the Framers had done everything they could think of to prevent.

And the media, impartial servants of Truth’s flame, already weakened in spirit for decades as aforesaid, were formally put on the auction-block, marketed to the highest bidder (the afore-mentioned corporate deep-pockets). Historians will one day point to this as a gravely dangerous milestone on the road that led down and away from 1776.

Moyers asserts that there are “two basic pillars of American society – shared economic prosperity and a public sector capable of serving the common good”. He’s right. And to see that the sustained economic prosperity of the post-1945 period is no longer ‘operational’ is the beginning of American wisdom. And to consider that Supreme Court Justices and the White House are cheer-leading the torture-happy, boyo-swaggering blood-blasting of a show such as “24” is to sense the tremors triggered by a profound rot.
But if those are two pillars, then the foundation is The People. It is The People who – through the working of the Constitution – ground the three Branches. An educated and an informed People is the indispensable foundation of the whole thing. No longer informed by the media, insufficiently educated so as to be able to process what information might be received, The People cannot anchor the whole apparatus. Its still-tremendous power begins to fly off in increasingly wild gyrations, domestically and in foreign-adventures. To Our great detriment. And to the detriment of all the world’s peoples, whose hope in the American ideal is bitterly dashed even as weapons rain upon them.

And if, beyond being un-informed by the media, The People are mis-informed, if The People are doused not simply with misinformation but with untruths so complexly interwoven as to constitute a sort of anti-information, then the rot is greatly advanced.

I wrestle with Moyers’ characterization of the media as being “sitting ducks”, set up by the plantation mentality. As indicated above, I think that the turn from ‘accuracy journalism’ to ‘advocacy journalism’ was a lethal self-inflicted wound, decades old by the mid-90s. The Fundamentalistic-neocon Ascendancy is not simply a disease but an opportunistic disease; it made use of what it found, of the weakened no-longer-robust condition of the media’s character and dedication to its original and first principles as they were presumed in the schematic of the Republic.

But he knows – without a doubt – still many journalists who are seeking to fulfill their calling and to discharge their large and ancient (in American terms) responsibilities. It is on that remnant that Our hopes must be pinned.

And perhaps that the infamous Act might, among so many other more recent infamous Acts, be repealed or at least greatly repaired.

We must indeed be an inquiring People. We need to know. We must want to know. Not only does the buck stop with Us, but it is our buck (trillions of them) to begin with. Virgins or not – and We are now too deeply enmeshed in the recent doings of our government power to claim that status – We must be wise, robustly and vigorously and authoritatively and unsleepingly wise.

“Soldiers”, famously, “are citizens of death’s grey land; they draw no dividends from Time’s tomorrows”. If We have sent many of our young on that vividly somber journey, and We have, then We must do all that We can to arrange matters so that they might still have cause to hope in ‘tomorrow’, that they and all of our young may live lives forelit by the possibility of just dividends that will enable them to bear the dark battles that must be borne today. It is Our responsibility to ensure that they do not return to a plantation life, facing the life of field-hands then even as they now bear the burdens common to all soldiers sent on missions such as this errand into the wilderness to which We have presently committed them.

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