JFK on the Press


More than ever, we need a press with ‘abrasive’ qualities, one that fact checks, digs for answers and participates in creating an informed public. 

I turned on the tube to some ideologically-driven punditry and just shut it off.   A statement issued by JFK during my youth came rushing back to me; his words ‘abrasive….press’ had been burned into my conscience (that’s how I found it – ref):

“So I would think that Mr. Khrushchev operating a totalitarian system, which has many advantages as far as being able to move in secret, and all the rest—there is a terrific disadvantage not having the abrasive quality of the press applied to you daily, to an administration, even though we never like it, and even though we wish they didn’t write it, and even though we disapprove, there isn’t any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press.”

I admire the courage and determination of investigative reporters who do the tough work, often with some level of risk, delving into the shadows and bringing out the truth.  A favorite movie of mine is “Good Night and Good Luck”, the story of CBS’s Murrow taking on McCarthy during the 1950’s Red Scare (something Allen West recently seemed interested in resurrecting by stating that 80 house democrats were communists – ref) .  Murrow’s words were brilliant, “No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are his accomplices”.  “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.  When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it”.

Don’t hear much language like that these days.  Although there are some good journalists left worth listening to, they are becoming more of a rarity in this age of ideologically-driven punditry with a handful of corporations controlling the media.   As described here (ref, page 7): “At the end of the first decade of the 21st century the future existence of a vibrant free press needed for a robust democracy can not be taken for granted….In a nutshell, media corporations, after running journalism into the ground, have determined that news gathering and reporting are not profit-making propositions.  So they’re jumping ship.”

Murdoch’s News Corp has done a disservice to the American public and beyond.  The instance of Sean Hannity intentionally doctoring a tape to make it appear that the president was going to raise taxes on all Americans (ref) is but one of innumerable distortions credited to Fox News (ref) where listeners have been shown to be less informed of events than those who follow no news at all (ref).

And our public has shown itself to be easy prey for manipulation.   A friend recently sent one of those viral e-mails asking for my opinion – this one about the president imposing an additional 3.8% tax on the sale of an individual’s home as buried in the Health Care Reform Law.  It took but a few minutes to debunk the matter (ref).  I wrote back about just how many people jump on things like that without fact checking because it is what they want to hear.

I have heard individuals issue such ludicrous statements as the debt under GW Bush was not a problem because we showed how easily we paid off all our debt under Clinton (the individual would have cast a very uninformed vote in 2000).  Or that supply side stimulated the economy (the individual having no idea how our economy is even structured).  Or the reason we were attacked on 9-11 was that Clinton discontinued all CIA covert ground operations and left us vulnerable (tough to explain what Valerie Plame was doing in Europe during those years and the ‘bullet’ that Scooter Libby took for our Vice President following her outing as a covert CIA operative and officer).   We have far too many citizens who are simply sheep and intellectually lazy, willing to jump on anything that supports their beliefs.  And thus they are easy prey for the misinformation and talking points issued from corporate owned, special-interest financed, media.

More than ever, we need a press with ‘abrasive’ qualities, one that fact checks, digs for answers and participates in creating an informed public.  But then again, that is not where the profits lie nor the fulfillment of political agendas that keep the profits coming.  Jay Carney’s recent tongue lashing of the press corps on Air Force One (ref) about their buying into ‘BS’ as ‘a sign of sloth and laziness’ was needed.  But, has Joltin’ Joe left and gone away?

To this day, I remember JFK’s words.