Control of the news media is an instrumental, key feature to any totalitarian government. In contrast, the primary reason this experiment known as the United States has lasted so long under relatively free conditions is due to the preservation of free speech (and press) via the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In case you haven’t read it in a while, here’s the text:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Nowhere in there do I see an exception for “conspiracy theories,” but apparently Constitutional scholar Barack Obama has an alternative interpretation.
Pittsburgh (AFP) – President Barack Obama on Thursday decried America’s “wild, wild west” media environment for allowing conspiracy theorists a broad platform and destroying a common basis for debate.
Recalling past days when three television channels delivered fact-based news that most people trusted, Obama said democracy require citizens to be able to sift through lies and distortions.
“We are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to,” Obama said at an innovation conference in Pittsburgh.
“There has to be, I think, some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests and those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world,” Obama added.
“That is hard to do, but I think it’s going to be necessary, it’s going to be possible,” he added.
“The answer is obviously not censorship, but it’s creating places where people can say ‘this is reliable’ and I’m still able to argue safely about facts and what we should do about it.”
The above may sound good on a superficial level to people with zero critical thinking skills, but even the most elementary analysis exposes it as the obvious and dangerous attack on free speech that it is. Let’s zero in on a few things he said in closer detail.
He describes the media environment as the “wild, wild west.” Kind of sounds like an environment in which people are free to say, publish or record whatever they want, and let the chips fall where they may. Seems consistent with the first amendment to me.
He notes that there needs to be “some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests and those that we have to discard.” This sounds good on the surface because, after all, who doesn’t want truth? The problem lies in the fact that governments can and do lie all the time about stuff of monumental significance. Let’s take the Iraq war for example. As I discussed in August’s post, Questioning Hillary’s Health is Not Conspiracy Theory:
Of course, the New York Times rendering judgment on those pushing conspiracy theories would be downright hilarious if it weren’t so sad. For example, the paper itself exhibited no such restraint when it came to peddling U.S. government conspiracies about Iraq in the run up to one of the most inhumane, unnecessary and destructive foreign policy blunders in American history. In fact, the paper was ultimately so embarrassed by its own behavior, it issued a statement in 2004 titled, FROM THE EDITORS; The Times and Iraq.
Meanwhile, there were millions of people in the “wild west” of opinion making yelling and screaming that the government was misleading the public about Iraq in order to go to war. So who got it right, the New York Times, or the wild, wild west?
If Obama had his way, those people who asserted that the public was being mislead into the Iraq war would have been dismissed as “conspiracy theorists” not worth paying attention to since they refused to agree with government “facts.” Obama’s position is such an obvious authoritarian slippery slope, one has to ask why he would dare go so far.
My view is that there is a full on panic occurring right now at the very top of America’s shadow government due to the fact that the public is no longer falling for corporate media propaganda. Once again, let’s turn to something I wrote in the post, Questioning Hillary’s Health is Not Conspiracy Theory:
As I look at the landscape in 2016 to-date, I observe emergent signs that alternative media is finally beginning to take over from the legacy mainstream media when it comes to impact and influence. The mainstream media (unlike with John McCain in 2008), had decided that Hillary Clinton’s health was not an issue and chose not to pursue it. Many in the alternative media world took a different position, and due to mainstream media’s failure to inform the American public for decades, the alternative media drove that issue to the top of the news cycle. That’s power.
This is an incredibly big deal, and the mainstream media intuitively knows what it means. It means a total loss of legitimacy, prestige and power. All of which is well deserved of course.
So here’s the bottom line. 2016 represents the true beginning of what I would call the Media Wars. Alternative media is now capable of driving the news cycle. Mainstream media now has no choice but to fight back, and fight back it will. It will fight back dirty. This is going to get very ugly, but by the time the dust has settled, I think much of the mainstream media will be left as a shell of its former self.
By ugly, I didn’t expect the President of these United States to so publicly and radically advocate in favor of free speech restrictions, but here we are.
Let’s conclude by tackling another portion of his talk, where he states, “the answer is obviously not censorship, but it’s creating places where people can say ‘this is reliable’ and I’m still able to argue safely about facts and what we should do about it.”
Who exactly is supposed to be granted the power to create such spaces and verify things as factual? We know that government lies all the time, yet when they lie, they present such falsehoods as fact. It is the duty of the people to decide what to believe and what not to believe. This is not the job of government, or anyone else for that matter.
Yes, it’s true that there’s an unbelievable amount of garbage out there on the internet, but yet we manage. What seems to be happening here with Obama is a not so subtle attempt to blame the rise of Trumpism on alternative media as opposed to the actual culprit, his oligarch coddling policies. It’s a sign of pathetic desperation from a man who has completely and utterly failed the American public while protecting the rich and powerful. It’s an ugly manifestation of an executive who cannot come to terms with the justified anger of a public who feels betrayed by him. Sure a compliant, preening and entirely propagandist media would make Obama feel a whole lot better about his miserable legacy, but we shouldn’t sacrifice the first amendment to achieve this.