Month: February 2017

The Great Divide: The Media – Its Role and Responsibilities

Journalists in the United States get the right to say pretty much anything they want. Unlike journalists of other countries, they have very little that holds them responsible. The federal government is prohibited from interfering because of the first amendment. However, they take this right as a given with little thought of where it comes from. The reporter thinks they are entitled to this liberty as though there is some higher calling in being a journalist. What the journalist and everyone else tends to forget is that their right to a “Free Press” comes from their U.S. citizenship. It is not an inalienable right. Yet they behave as though their responsibility to there profession is more important than their responsibility to their fellow citizen. The news media’s responsibility is exclusively to the citizen.

The media is always selling this idea of the journalistic ethic. Where is this mythical ethic being practiced? Editors and editorial boards routinely omit stories or place the ones they wish to deemphasize in positions likely to not be read. However, when they want something it is always in the name of the publics right to know. Reporters will comment on information to control the context of how the information is perceived. They cannot just state the facts. Often times the language used is designed to get an emotional reaction over an analytical one. After all, outrage always sells. Ninety percent of these ethical journalists vote along a single political party line. Yet, they would have us believe that their personal perspectives have no impact on the quality of their work. Much of the division we have in this country falls squarely on the shoulders of the news media. They abuse their privilege and only tell us what they think we should hear. They are the first and frontline contributors to our social discontent.

The founding fathers went out of the way to include freedom of the press in The Bill of Rights while denying the federal government the power to regulate the press. However, there was the expectation that the media would be the loyal opposition. Not to a party, philosophy, religion, or institution but to be the opposition equally to all sides of our public discourse. The ethic is to accurately report the news without bias and ask the tough questions equally. Allow for a dialog so that the citizen can decide. When the press becomes the news, takes sides, displays favoritism, manipulates facts, they are not living up to their supposed ethic. They are committing the worst of crimes envisioned by the founding fathers in a democratic republic. The violation of the public trust.

For those who believe that corporations are inherently corrupt or evil, consider the news agency. They make money by selling media and advertising. The more circulation, the more viewership, the more money. Commerce by any definition. However, where almost all other forms of commerce are regulated, the press is exempted. They can put any kind of poison into the public consciousness without consequence. As a consumer, if one does not like a company, or the product of a company, one can purchase from another or not purchase at all. The media however is different. It is like air or a government law. We consume the product without consent. We are effected by the information from sources we do not choose. This happens all the time. Walking past a turned on TV or a radio news report at the top of the hour. It is all there and we are consuming the data. If the information is biased, true or false, liked or disliked, we still consume it. Not much liberty on the consumer side is there.

Unlike any time in history, our technology provides us with a great many advantages, but we do not often recognized the disadvantages. The 24 hour news cycle has changed news. It has had the effect of making mountains out of molehills by what is reported and molehills out of mountains by what is not reported. The immediacy of the communications creates the perception that an event is happening right down the street. Little stories that have huge potential for effecting the future get bypassed or ignored for the sensational, the violent, the horrific. It colors our perspective of our world. We like young teenagers entering puberty are thrown from one emotional reaction to another. Everything is an issue. We can barely get a grasp on the core problem of one issue before we are off on another issue with the next news story. This is all done in the name of some false sense of morality or public service but always better ratings.

It is time for the media to move into a new set of standards that reflects the change in technology and gives the consumer more choice and control. The days of not having enough space in the paper and time on radio and TV are gone. The need for editorial decisions on what is front page and back page information need not exist. Everything that can be covered and should be covered without bias. News should be presented by three contextual categories. The facts, the point of view (POV) of the participants involved, and commentary by pundits who want to color the event or mold the issue. There should be ethics and rules around each category to insure fairness and accuracy. The reports should be labeled with these categories. No more mixing of the categories together confusing opinions and politics with facts. Let the consumer decide what they want to hear and how they want to hear it.

Journalists like to cloak themselves in airs that what they do is a calling similar to being a priest. They throw their moral tones on right and wrong around like manhole covers informing each of us how to feel and think about what they report. The practitioners of this profession should be held in far less esteem than they currently are. They are simply not as smart or ethical as they make themselves out to be. The media does not own the corner on morality. We as consumers of news should become far more discriminating. Believe less, question more. Regulating the news: having politicians and bureaucrats control information flow would be even worse than what we have now, but their needs to be change. We cannot have an honest debate over our differences as long as news providers operate outside any ethic and cannot even report the facts.

The Great Divide: Prologue

We as a species are living in a time period unparalleled at any time in our known recorded history. We have gone to the moon. Each one of us has in effect of the Library of Alexandra (the some of human knowledge) at our finger tips through our handheld devices and the internet. Our life spans are ever increasing with some of us making it to over 110 years of age, and the infant mortality rate has never been lower. Human beings has never had it better. Citizens of the United States live in a country where you can pretty much do what you want. Compared to 90% of the rest of the world the average Americans standard of living is far above what other humans experience. Yet our discontent with our society, our government, and in many cases each other has some near revolt. Why?

The problem is, for one reason or another we as a people regardless of group, category, or classification do not believe that we are living in a just society. We do not trust our institutions, our representatives, or each other. The primary reason there is no trust is the lack of integrity in our interactions with our institutions and each other. This in turn effects the perceptions of having little or no opportunity and a fundamental feeling of no fairness. We see a society without justice, integrity, and opportunity. Our unhappiness has us screaming at each other an neither side can hear or is willing to hear the other.

Any one of us can look and anyone else and make judgments. We can put each other into any combination of categories we want. The only category that counts is whether you are a human being. That should be enough to treat each other with integrity. The truth of our quality can only be determined through our actions. The same is true of organizations. They can package themselves to sound and look like anything. But its the actions that organizations and institutions take that tells you who and what they are. We got to get past the slick packaging. Every group of people that has ever existed in history is guilty of having done something to another group of people. It is time to turn the corner and move on.

We have so much and we are so conflicted.  It is easy to feel. A little critical thinking would go a long way. There will always be disagreements and conflict. It is our nature. However, an honest dialog where we can hear each other would be a step towards some resolutions. Maybe its time to have a serious discussion about what our societal standards are going to be moving forward

The Value of Respect

At the end of the Civil War at Appomattox Courthouse, General Robert E. Lee met with General Ulysses S. Grant to secure the conditions of surrender. After Lee had secured the conditions beneficial to his men it was required that every member of the Army of Northern Virginia was to surrender to union forces. Of all the officers of general rank that Grant had to give the honor of receiving the surrender to. He chose Brevet Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain a Medal of Honor winner at the Battle of Gettysburg. Chamberlain requested that in addition to his current unit that the Maine unit he commanded at the Battle of Gettysburg also be allowed to take the surrender. The request was granted.

The Army of Northern Virginia arrives to give their surrender and receive their parole. Given the viciousness of the war and number of dead on both sides, one can only imagine what the surrendering confederate soldier would be feeling. The condition of the Army of Northern Virginia is horrific. They have been harried for weeks with little or no sleep. The army is starving. Many of the soldiers are down to eating shoe leather. Leading the surrendering army is a Georgian cavalry officer named General John Gordon. He is mounted on a white horse. Chamberlain calls his men to attention and orders present arms. The rifles of the union soldiers crack in salute. General Gordon recognizing the gesture and the fact that the union soldiers are not jeering his men, gallantly wheels his horse and returns the salute by dipping his sword. Later as the men intermingle Chamberlain overhears several southern soldiers comment on the gesture saying that had the roles been reversed, they doubted that they would have treated the union soldiers with the same respect.

Years later Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain writes a book called “The Passing of Armies” in which he describes the final months of the civil war including the surrender. The book sets off a firestorm of criticism by those who feel that reconstruction is to good for the secessionist states and that Chamberlains gesture was inappropriate. General Gordon upon hearing of the controversy writes and editorial article in a local newspaper calling Chamberlain one of the knightliest soldiers in the union army.

Treating each other with respect, even people with whom we disagree with or are enemies with can go along way. Showing ones quality might just get you allies from unexpected quarters. One never knows who might come to your aid because of the example have you set.

The Forgotten Promise

Every two years and again every four, the U.S. citizen has the opportunity to go through the process of reselecting their representatives. Each individual running for one of the public offices promise all kinds of actions and behaviors that they will perform in order to get the support of their constituents and those offering money. The truth is that the promises made by the candidates that win election are not binding. It is only the threat of losing their financial donors or constituents support that has the potential to hold them to their promises. What has been forgotten is that every public office holder swears an oath of office. The mantle of authority of that office is not conferred onto that individual until the oath is taken. That oath is supposed to be binding. It is no different than taking an oath in court to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. The oath of office establishes an affirmative obligation to execute the office to which they have been elected and to uphold the promises, limitations, responsibilities, and authorities set in The U.S. Constitution. It is in the failing to uphold the oath of office and the citizens losing the meaning and source of that promise that the country is being lost and the promise of the country forgotten.

What is the Promise? Is it a guaranteed a living, job, or home? Is it free health care or  education? Where is the promise written? The promise can be found in the Preamble of The Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and  our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The Preamble is the executive summary for the intent of everything that follows it. The Bill of Rights are the a limit to the authorities of not only the Federal government but the State governments as well. It is the contractual rights of the citizens of the United States. There are many that talk about the idea of a social contract. The Constitution of the United States is the social contract. Voted on, confirmed by the States and citizenry. Reaffirmed in blood and by oath generation upon generation. However, it is not just an agreement between the government and its citizens, or an agreement of the division of powers and responsibility between the States and the Federal government. It is an agreement of conduct from one citizen to another.  Every citizen has a stake and responsibility to uphold this contract. Not just those holding office.

The Preamble can be broken down into five obligations, guarantees, or promises. The establishment of Justice, the ensuring of domestic tranquility, the providing for a common defense, the promoting of the general welfare and the securing of liberty. These are the core promises of the country.

Establish Justice It is a requirement that the laws instituted be equitable and principled. The adjudication of the law be evenly applied for every citizen.

Ensure Domestic Tranquility This is a guarantee that the interaction between the States and the federal government and the States are peaceable. Some think that this also includes public safety. However, there is no formally established power for public safety in the Constitution. The only mention of safety is in respect to Habeas Corpus.

Provide for the Common Defence This is an obligation which the U.S. has as a nation. The Constitution also reaffirms the authority with very specifically defined powers in both Article 1 and Article 2. The States have also historically been held the same obligation.

Promote the General Welfare This is both an obligation and a promise to create conditions by which citizens may enrich themselves. The Constitution grants a limited set of authorities to do this within Article 1. There are simply no powers granted to provide for the General Welfare.

Secure the Blessing of Liberty This is the ultimate promissory note. It has been the delineating difference between the United States and almost every other nation in history. It is the promise to govern with the smallest amount of interference or restriction on the lives of its citizenry.

Liberty is not a term in common practice in our daily discourse. When was the last time anyone heard a legislator oppose a law because it violated the liberty of the citizenry that they represented, federal or state? Better still, rescind a law to restore a lost liberty? Every time a new law, a new tax, or a new fee is created it steals in increments, pieces of liberty. Some of these trade offs may be reasonable, many are not. Citizens should be aware of what they are allowing their representatives to take from them.

We have forgotten the importance and value of the oath. Everything comes down to the oaths we take. The entire system of government is based on the oath, from the local up through the federal. Every elected, appointed, or hired individual receiving taxpayer money is required to take the oath. The quality of the these individuals determines whether the promise of this country is realized. When anyone takes an oath to The Constitution, regardless of office, they are assuming the responsibility to deliver on the promise of liberty and justice for every citizen. It is an affirmative obligation. Every citizen should be holding the system and these individuals accountable.

The requirement of the oath was not only enshrined in The Constitution, but also into law. The current statutes being,  5 U.S.C. §3331 and 2 U.S.C. §25.

U.S. Constitution, Article VI, clause 3

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

It is of note that the statutes 5 U.S.C. 3331 and 2 U.S.C. 25 have no proscribed legal recourse if violated by the institution applying the oath or the oath taker. Is it appropriate and ethical that the most powerful citizens holding the greatest power and influence be not held to their oaths? Should any publicly elected or appointed official be treated any different that the average citizen? Members of Congress and civil servants take the following oath.

“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

What is the point of having a law that does not require or proscribe enforcement? Do the individuals who take this oath or an oath like it know what it is they are swearing to? The affirmative obligation of the office holder or civil servant is not just in the execution of the office or job. It is to insure the entire system is being upheld in all of their participation. Its in the oath. An oath that should be legally binding.

It seems that every decade there is a change in dialog that decides which group of people are more special, more deserving over another. Each of these categories assign attributes and moral value attempting to grant special privileges to a given group. The results being more divisiveness and the eroding of the promise of what this country was envisioned to be. The Constitution only recognizes two categories of individual. The citizen and the non-citizen. No one citizen should have any more or any less in treatment, opportunity, or obligation than another. There is never a discussion about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Like liberty it is never discussed. Many who argue the rights of non-citizens confuse the inalienable rights (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) as the same thing as the Bill of Rights. These are not the same. The Bill of Rights is for the citizen. A citizen has a vested interest in the promise of the United States of America. They have responsibilities to pay taxes, participate in the legal system, and be called to the defense of the nation. Those elected or appointed officials who argue a privileged status to the non-citizen are essentially representing individuals who are not entitled to representation in The United States. They are violating their Oath of Office.

The Founding Fathers considered the violating of the public trust to be the most egregious of behaviors of a elected or appointed public official. The elected and appointed official have a much louder microphone than that of the average citizen. It is supposed to be that way. It is called representative government. However, when a public official uses the bully pulpit of the office to endorse the use of power or public largesse for things the are outside the protection, guarantees, authority, and responsibilities established in The Constitution. They are then in violation of their oath of office and violating the public trust. The public official may not abdicate the responsibilities of their office to another office or institution. They may not represent organizations or individuals that cannot lawfully elected them over the interests of their constituents, nor may they represent the interests of non-citizens over the interests of citizens. The Public official should be held to the highest of standards. Citizens who hold public office have the same rights as any other citizen. However, the use of their public office should be limited to its role and authority. Securing the blessings of liberty means that the public office holder will first look for ways to not use power, not create more governing authority. It is truly a lost concept. The first lost promise.

The promise of this country is to insure that justice and liberty are guaranteed to every citizen. This responsibility is not only on the public official but also on the citizen. Defend each others liberty, insure that justice is fairly applied and principled. Do not ask for more advantage from your representatives than what is promised. Hold the elected official and appointed official to their oaths. The Constitution of The United States is the social contract. Every citizen has an interest and responsibility in its fair and honest application.