Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What's All This Press Criticism Got To Do With Jesus?

N.B.: This is one of those boring "meta" posts that I am sure most people find dull. Skip at your leisure.

I feel the need to do a bit of self-justification here. I think I feel that I do not spend the proper amount of time dealing with "church" issues here, dealing rather with political ones, very often zeroing in on the way the major media and pundits attempt to frame our national discourse. I think it is important to make some kind of connection between the two, not only for readers who come here thinking they might find some good religious stuff and come away stumped, but also to clarify things for myself.

Part of it, as should be obvious, is personal. I am dealing with stuff that interests me. I suppose, however, that should not, nor never really, be enough to justify what I am doing.

Part of being a Christian in America is that we have the freedom to relate our faith to our public life without fear. We also have the responsibility to do so wisely, thoughtfully, and carefully, never allowing our judgments to end up being, "Because the Bible says so," because that's not an argument. In order to figure out how we should live responsible public lives as Christians, we need to carefully, and prayerfully, consider the best information possible. Too often, however, our major media outlets - the four networks, the cable news shows, the national dailies (except for The Christian Science Monitor, which deals more with international news), and the pundits - offer us meager fare at best. Now there are many who inhabit the left wing who insist there is something somewhat nefarious about the stupidity that reigns in our national discourse; Bob Somerby is the best example of this. Others, like digby and atrios, I think attribute it to some kind of social cohesiveness, similar in many respects to the kind of social networking in any small community. Still others highlight bad reporting that betrays simple ignorance of the underlying issues; Glenn Greenwald's recent smackdown of Joe Klein is a great example of this kind of thing.

I guess I dismiss the "partisan" argument out of hand. The other two, however, I think capture more of the reality we face than anything else. Underlying the silence of much of the Washington-based media on the issues that are the hottest topics here on the Internet - torture, the crimes of the Bush Administration, impeachment, a desire for serious campaign coverage - is a belief in the integrity of any Administration. While the Nixon Administration should have been an object lesson for any journalist who may have harbored such beliefs, whether they were active at the time or not; while the Reagan Administration served as another example of lawless behavior on the part of the Executive Branch; I believe the media accept the maxim that there is no qualitative difference between the actions of the Bush Administration and others. Their actions may or may not be popular; their policies may or may not be driven by purely political, even partisan, reasoning; underneath all these differences, however, is the simple fact that the mechanisms of government, the institutions of Congress, the Presidency, the courts, all seem to be working, functioning as they always have. There is the presumption that any serious breaking of the social and political and Constitutional contract our governing class has with the American people would be accompanied by some kind of institutional breach that would be blatant. That we have been witnessing the whithering of this self-same contract over the past seven years has been obvious to anyone who pays attention to the details. Perhaps they haven't been paying attention.

In order to be faithful citizens, we need to have the best information possible. This is not an ideological concern (or at least it shouldn't be). It is, or should be, the concern of any citizen who loves this country and wants it to function within the bounds of the Constitution. When there is abundant evidence that is is not, nor has for many a year, faithful citizens need to ask what is the role of faithful citizens in dealing with this dilemma. Do we concern ourselves with "social" or "cultural" issues such as the rights of sexual minorities or abortion, the content of cultural products such as movies, music, television, and video games; or, do we seek to redress the grievance that our government has broken its side of the compact with the American people to operate within the letter and spirit of our Constitution, thus betraying the faith of the people?

We can't begin to address these question, however, if we do not have a proper bead on things. This is where the failings of our Washington Press Corps become a scandal - they are part of the process of letting the American people know what is happening, as well as putting it in context. If they fail to do so, for whatever reason, they fail in their role as faithful reporters of the realities we face. If we do not have the information we need, how can we figure out, no matter how prayerful we are, no matter how earnest we are, no matter how concerned we are, how we should respond, or even be proactive in the public sphere?

It isn't necessary to salvation to be active politically. It is a part of the life of any Christian, however, to be active in the life of the community. To do so, we need to know what is really happening. When the vehicle for getting this information is broken, however, we are limited in the ways we can be faithful citizens. The failings of the press burden us all with the struggle to find out what is really happening.

Virtual Tin Cup

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