Some time ago I started writing about how endless lies have impacted civilization throughout world history. Everything is based on a lie, or at least an exaggeration, in some way or another. Back in ancient times people got their information from a town crier, who was usually employed by the ruler to make themselves look good. That was all. The media began as propaganda. And so it remains today.
Now I do not wish to go off into some right-wing or left-wing rant about ‘fake news’ or ‘the lyin’ media.’ All this has long since been established. But in our modern age, when technology has opened the door to ‘alternative facts’ and no such thing as the absolute truth, we can no longer sift through the lies and approach reality. But I would like to veer off from this endlessly repeated discussion and talk about the press exposing the truth.
The press has always been a weapon. Back at the dawn of The United States of America (for example), the press was at war. Federalist/Anti-Federalist, Whig versus Democracy. The idea of establishing a Republic with one true king versus a tripartite system that provides a check on absolute power. People believed in both sides. They argued over the ideologies. They generalized their opposition into some inhuman sludge so they could dismiss all opposing viewpoints. We have lived in divided nations from the very start.
But the press also has the capacity to ferret out the truth, and there is always an element of this even in the most outrageous stories. Almost all the bad news is certainly true. When attacking a leader’s beliefs, not so much. Those are editorial comments. But when attacking their actions . . . that is where a President (for example) is compromised. Nothing ever lives up to the promise. We always need someone to blame.
Traditionally we blame the leader, even if some things aren’t their fault. This is natural. Who else can we blame other than ourselves, something which most people will never do? But recently that norm has been uplifted and turned around. When a leader starts blaming the people for all the troubles and praises him or herself with messianic words, you are no longer living in a Democracy. You are trapped inside a cult.
The media is our last defense against this. Sure, some commentators lie, or employ a political agenda that has been handed to them by partisan power brokers, but there is always something sinister that will leak out. If you attack the press, why shouldn’t they fight back? And the best weapon is to point out the inconsistencies in the leader’s actions. To expose hypocrisy. To correct lies. To search for an ultimately unknowable truth.
Bad press has always been the best weapon in politics. Since we vote for our leaders in most nations, public perception is extremely important. Smearing someone with lies is sometimes very effective. Exposing hidden truths that leaders desperately try to cover up or deflect blame, well, this is devastating. A stain will always hover over this leader. Even supporters start to realize that their chosen one isn’t who they claim to be. Motives are added and conspiracy theories erupt. This is not the media’s plan, but it is another dagger in the heart to a crooked leader trying to get their way on everything.
The media, filled with liars and awful people as it is, provides a dire and significant service to the public. They tell the people about something going wrong. They take time to explain what things happening might mean to everyone. They argue and debate with themselves and with the public until such a firm grasp on public opinion is formed that the only thing that can change the world is that floating kernel of truth, racing down a waterfall and shattered into a million different beliefs.
We need the media as it is today, not to form our opinions for us, nor to pat us on the back for already believing something they do too.. No. The press is there to challenge us and to open our eyes, because even the most degenerate liars have followers who demand the truth be exposed. And so we run to the media. This is how people learn to remain free.