Are Americans Still Capable of Self-Government? - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Are Americans Still Capable of Self-Government?
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Joe Biden last Thursday not addressing his classified-documents problem (City News/YouTube)

In a 1789 letter to the British philosopher Richard Price, Thomas Jefferson observed that “wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.” By that standard, it’s no longer clear that the American electorate is equipped for the task. Jefferson was, of course, an ardent advocate of a free press whose primary function would be to provide the voters with enough information about the government’s actions to assess the soundness of its policies. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that he would dignify today’s corporate media with the appellation “free press.”

Jefferson’s definition of the term would not, for example, apply to “news” organizations that collude with government officials to suppress debate on important national issues such as the COVID-19 lockdowns. Nor would it include the major broadcast networks that collectively refuse to report a major government-censorship scandal like the Twitter Files. This kind of story is why First Amendment protections for the press exist. They allow honest journalists to report government skulduggery without fear of retaliation. Yet the Media Research Center reports that the Big Three broadcast networks devoted 128 seconds to the story.

Last month when Tesla founder and Twitter owner Elon Musk began tweeting out former Rolling Stone editor Matt Taibbi’s explosive reporting on how Twitter (under pressure from government agents) suppressed the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story.… Not a single journalist on ABC or NBC … touched the story. MRC analysts reviewed ABC, CBS, NBC morning, evening and Sunday roundtable shows from December 2 (when the Twitter files story broke) through the morning of January 18 and found only CBS (barely) covered the Twitter files story.

The dereliction of duty by these networks deprives millions of voters of information they need in order to assess the character of the man who lives in the White House and the powerful security state over which he presides. The broadcast networks are hardly unique in their failure to keep the public informed. Their print counterparts have been equally negligent. Anyone who relies on the New York Times as their primary news source, for example, will know very little of the Twitter Files. Indeed, Elon Musk called out the Times for ignoring the story, referring to the Gray Lady as an “unregistered lobbying firm for far-left politicians.”

Not coincidentally, Musk’s remark is reminiscent of Jefferson’s description of the press once it has been co-opted by a despotic regime. In a 1785 letter to Dutch statesman G. K. van Hogendorp, Jefferson wrote, “You know well that [the British] government always kept a kind of standing army of newswriters who without any regard to truth, or to what should be like truth, invented and put into the papers whatever might serve the minister.” It’s difficult to think of a better description of today’s “mainstream” media. Nowhere is this clearer than in the coverage of President Joe Biden’s irresponsible handling of classified documents.

The corporate media has, for all intents and purposes, adopted the White House’s talking points. They insist that it is somehow disingenuous to compare Biden’s handling of classified material to that of former President Donald Trump. The latter, they claim, was resisting attempts by the National Archives to retrieve certain documents, and his intransigence eventually forced the FBI to acquire a search warrant and conduct a dawn raid at his Mar-a-Lago home. Biden, they tell us, is cooperating with the Justice Department and National Archives. Cato Institute’s Patrick G.  Eddington, however, raises a few issues in which the corporate media have no interest:

Why were the materials at a Biden think tank and at his Delaware home long after he left office as Barack Obama’s vice president? Who took the documents there — Biden himself, Biden aides, both? How long were the documents in the two locations? Who else had access? Are we talking only about paper copies, or is digital media involved? Is there reason to believe that any material at either location is missing or was copied and removed from either location? These are just some of the many questions needing answers.

The faithful guardians of “our democracy” in the Fourth Estate are obviously more interested in protecting our president than in fulfilling their primary function of keeping the public informed. Consequently, as with their failure to cover the Twitter Files, they are deliberately depriving millions of voters of information that would help them decide whether Biden deserves the second term he will almost certainly seek in 2024. On the other hand, the corporate media will ensure that the voters get all manner of salacious information about his probable opponent in that election — whether or not it has any basis in reality.

None of this is meant to suggest that there was once a golden era in which the press always lived up to Jefferson’s ideal. Indeed, the Sage of Monticello occasionally made use of some pretty unsavory “journalists.” But the immense power wielded by today’s corporate media is unprecedented. On the other hand, their power isn’t absolute. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 partly because he used social media to circumvent the media and communicate directly to the voters. And, in February, the Supreme Court will hear a case that may end up weakening the unholy alliance between Big Tech and the corporate media.

Moreover, there are still news and opinion outlets — including the one you are now reading — where voters can get the truth about the machinations of our government and its officials. And demand is growing for alternatives like Fox News, which in August became the first cable news network to attract more viewers than one of the Big Three broadcast networks (ABC) during prime time. But self-government is not a passive undertaking. It’s our duty as citizens to keep ourselves informed enough to know the difference between propaganda and news. That can’t be done by sitting on our couches and kvetching at the television screen.

David Catron
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David Catron is a recovering health care consultant and frequent contributor to The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter at @Catronicus.
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