My first thought upon seeing this week's subject was to think of the free speech that was recently granted to underprivledged corportations, who have for so long been forced to stand by mutely while their concerns were being weighed by the unwashed many. I remember thinking that, in our political process, there is really no such thing as free speech. It would cost me thousands of dollars to shake hands with a major candidate and get my ten seconds to blurt out my story. It would take millions to sit down, one on one, with this President or any other. Only corporations and a select few wealthy individuals will ever get that chance.
I suppose as far as freedom of the press goes, you could argue that things have never been freer. In Ben Franklyn's day, anyone who owned a printing press was a person to be reckoned with. Nowadays, all you need is a computer and access to the internet. Somewhere between those two extremes is where the rubber meets the road. Government and Corporations have hordes of well paid, very comptetant people to present the facts as they see them, or as they want you to see them. To clear through the underbrush and get to the essential truth of things, you need resources of your own. Most of us don't have the time, the skills, or the forum to counter what these other behemoths are putting forth as the truth.
This is the role that newspapers fill. They are supposed to be the ones who have professional truth seekers checking the veracity of whatever claims are being made by anyone. It's already clear to me that newspapers don't scare liars any more. If there was another Watergate, who would do the digging? I found an article buried in the Chronicle stating that government investigators do not believe that BP deliberately comprimised safety to cut costs. That means, that for all the breathless coverage of the well leaking oil, the fire that killed eleven, the frantic efforts to boom off wetlands, the fact that they used seawater instead of drill mud to control the well, or that they used procedures that fell far short of accepted standards in practically every aspect of the project, there will be no legal consequences to speak of.
Some fines will be levied, some wrists will be slapped, mabye even a few folks well down the food chain will be punished, but essentially, they're going to get away with it, and our own government is facilitating it. If we could get Woodward to quit hanging out with the high and mighty, and get down to actually investigating something that is rotten clear to the bone, we might actually get a measure of how ready we are to drill in very deep water. But I don't think Woodward is interested in stories that take bulldog persistance any more, and if he was, who would pay for it?
We are moving into an era when our news is free, and worth every penny. I could write about this stuff from now till I die, using every resource that is available to me, and likely end up with a bunch of restraining orders if I got anywhere near an actionable fact. A fragmented press, pursuing any story that will tittilate or outrage, will probably be able to do all right, as long as they don't bog themselves down in the kind of story that takes researchers and people on different continents working together. Joe Schmo might be more likely to just disappear than someone from the New York Times, who could raise a holy stink if one theirs went missing.
So, I guess I'm back to my original point. A free press costs money, and we don't like to pay for anything any more.
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