The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson –
MOBILE, Ala. — It is quiet on Texas Street as people sleep late on Sunday after the first weekend of Mardi Gras parades for 2015 comes to a close. A writer needs some quiet time to reflect. It is supposed to rain later today so I am mostly taking a day of rest.
I’m taking that time now and sharing my thoughts with you, dear readers, hoping someone out there appreciates it enough to join my crusade to save some semblance of a free press in America.
The more I talk to people about this idea, it seems, the more roadblocks I run into. Why is this such a difficult idea to explain and sell? If the smartest people I know still don’t get it, how are we ever going to convince those with an even lower IQ?
Have the pharmaceutical drugs fried people’s brains? Is the food so full of bad crap that it inhibits people’s ability to think? Or has Facebook and Twitter just made attention spans so short that comprehension of the big picture is now impossible?
The big story going around on Facebook today is about the presidential race of 2016 already, and it is a storyline I predicted more than a year ago. Jeb Bush is now the Republican front runner and even 2012 nominee Mitt Romney has bowed out.
There is a story going around that Bush was a stoned bully in prep school. But it is too early in the race for the story and the mainstream media talking heads who will end up asking the questions at the Republican primary and general election debates in 2016 will have forgotten by then. They won’t ask about that anyway.
The questions will be predictable. Are you for or against “big government?” If elected, will you raise taxes? Will you repeal Obamacare? Will you send American troops to fight ISIS abroad?
Will anyone even ask what the candidates will do about climate change due to global warming from the burning of fossil fuels? Or will the question just be: Do you “believe” in global warming or not?
Watch and see. The mainstream, corporate news media in America is useless. What’s left of the newspapers and television news stations are owned by the same corporations that hide their money abroad and refuse to pay taxes. That’s all anyone seems to care about.
While one of the few papers that still does a pretty good job, the Washington Post, talks about the conservative political right being divided, what about the left? Many of the liberals, progressives, unions and environmentalists who helped get President Obama elected in 2008 have abandoned their support. The democrats are as divided as ever.
Down in my home state of Alabama, the trial lawyers gave up on helping Democrats get elected to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals and threw their money and weight behind the likes of Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore, who now sits once again as Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court in spite of being removed from that office for malfeasance by a federal judge. And the lawyers helped him get that job back? What kind of an idiocracy is this?
To make matters worse, while the national unions in Washington are trying to build a Democratic coalition of union members and environmentalists to save democracy, the unions in Alabama are collaborating with Drummond Coal and Alabama Power to attack the Sierra Club out of San Francisco as the root of all evil intent on “killing jobs.”
Were the rednecks just too busy watching Alabama football to check out my coverage of the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference at the Washington Hilton? Too busy bashing Obama to see that he is the one who proposed a major jobs bill to rebuild America’s infrastructure and hire workers at good wages to do the job? Did they somehow miss that it was the Republicans in Congress who refused to pass such a bill?
How is it possible that union leaders in Alabama are now trying to court favor with the likes of Twinkle Cavanaugh on the Public Service Commission and Governor Robert Bentley when the Republicans from Montgomery to Wisconsin have made no bones about their hatred of organized labor?
Talk about cutting your nose off to spite your face.
Meanwhile, what are the environmentalists doing besides posting iPhone pics on Facebook? Nothing as far as I can tell. They must be so afraid of being called “job killers” that they run and hide behind their momma’s skirt. They have certainly not issued any public proclamations to counter the charges against them. I guess they expect me to fight that battle for them for free too.
Look around. The Newhouse newspapers are almost dead. The new buildings they built a few years ago projecting 20 years of growth in the print newspaper business sit empty in downtown Mobile and Birmingham and other states. The newspaper is not daily anymore and if they can’t make enough money soon off of Web ads their new little bloggers will be gone too. You won’t have any media system at all to tell the stories and frame them in a way people can understand what’s really going on.
You think things are bad now? Imagine no newspapers at all. What will the television stations do then? They’ve always depended to a large extent on reading the newspaper to find out what’s going on. How can anyone expect to run a democracy without any kind of press at all?
I am going to say this maybe a few more times before I give up and move out West. Democracy does not work without a watchdog press. Ask Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Paine. Or ask Bill Moyers. Even he is finally retiring once and for all. Who will we have to look to in the future to play this role in our society?
I am going to make this argument in more depth in my soon-to-be-published book. But since I have another month and a half left to spend on the Gulf Coast, I am going to say it one more time here. Forgive me if I borrow some logic from Philosophy 101 to make this point.
If the government is not doing the job in a democracy, and let’s face it, it rarely does. And if the public will not get involved in this so-called government “of the people” by showing up to vote and such. Then forming non-profit groups becomes a necessary condition, a necessary part of the system, to act as a stand in for public involvement. Non-profit groups can push the government in certain directions and even get out there and do things to help get the public involved.
But this kind of activism alone, while necessary, is not sufficient all by itself. These activities must be covered by a well-funded press so that the public can have access to the story from trusted journalists. Otherwise, they will simply listen to what the pundits say on talk radio and cable news and eventually the public will be so confused and divided that our system of governance will collapse.
So building an alternative, independent Web Press then is also a necessary condition. But posting opinions on blogs is not sufficient. It will take more than that.
Like Martin Luther King Jr. told my friend Spider Martin when he covered the civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery in the 1960s, the civil rights advocates could have marched all day long every day and gotten beaten up on bridges all over the county. But if not for photographers like Spider and the New York Times and CBS News in those days covering the story so the world could see the horrors, nothing would have come of it. There would not have been a Voting Rights Act of 1965 without the activism, yes, but also not without the press coverage of the activism.
Go see the movie Selma and notice the scenes with Spider running around taking pictures in his trench coat and funny hat. Watch the New York Times reporter take notes and run to the phone booth to call in his story. Watch the families of the civil rights activists watching television and say to themselves, “There are 70 million people watching this.”
A number of people are trying to build an alternative press on the Web all over the country. There are a few examples that have worked here and there in fits and starts. But like everything else, it looks like one step forward, two steps back.
We have been involved in pioneering this effort since the late 1990s. Yes, we have been ahead of our time.
Some people tell me to take heart. People will come around just in time and we will save the world in the end. Maybe that is true. Some days I see a glimmer of an example where there might be some hope. Other days the light in the crystal ball just goes dark and all I can see is doom.
I’ve asked people to get involved in this effort until I’m blue in the face. I’m getting tired of asking. If you’ve got any ideas about how to save the world from ultimate disaster, I would love to hear them in the comments. But I guess that’s just too much trouble.
It’s Mardi Gras time, after all. Let’s just party like it’s 1999 and watch the world come to an end, right?
Has anybody seen the film Snowpiercer? Perhaps someone should start building that train.
© 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.