One of the most interesting videos I have seen lately shows broadcasters from the Sinclair network all reading the same script about the threat of “false news,” and how fake news threatens our “democracy.” The video can be seen here.
My favorite part is the last section where anchor after anchor (15 of them by my count) declares with great conviction—as if they just thought of this profound statement, “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
My purpose here is to address two issues: first, the issue of so-called “fake news.” I think it’s a given that in a country where our Constitution forbids the government from abridging the freedom of the press, some might abuse that freedom and declare what is false. There are legal and societal remedies for that. Besides, who gets to define what is “fake news”? Sometimes “fake news” seems like it’s the other guy’s story. Or the other network’s report.
WorldNetDaily.com has a great slogan along these lines: “A free press for a free people.”
Thehill.com reports (4/4/18) that Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) is calling Sinclair broadcasting on the carpet because this “undercuts the journalistic integrity of local news anchors who are required to deliver corporate-scripted messages.” Mark Levin on the radio (4/5/18) called Durbin a “tyrant” over this.
He writes: “A vast right-wing conspiracy is taking over America’s newsrooms. That’s the narrative that has taken off with the release of a video by the popular news site Deadspin, which shows news anchors on multiple local stations reciting the exact same lines. Those local stations are all owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, a media group that is generally considered conservative or right-leaning. According to the Washington Examiner, Sinclair owns ‘193 TV stations spanning over 614 channels in 89 U.S. markets.’”
Stepman concludes, “It is that desire to shut down alternative media, not the editorial slant of private media companies, that would put our institutions and liberty at risk.”
Writing about this recent controversy, veteran broadcast news journalist Sharyl Attkinson notes at sherylattkinson.com (4/4/18) what she thinks is the real danger: “The more worrisome trends (to me) are when national news personnel censor entire themes or viewpoints, shape stories in ways that aren’t reflective of the facts, bend to the will corporate advertisers, layer news stories with reporters’ opinions and biases, uncritically use talking points du jour from political and corporate interests, report unsubstantiated and sometimes false information, and use ‘consultants’ without disclosing their conflicts of interest. I’ve written extensively about how I believe these conflicts have woven their way into many national newsrooms.”
Second, what is a republic and what is a democracy? And does it matter? It certainly doesn’t matter when newsmen or politicians or teachers refer to “our democracy” in that they mean “we the people” are to be in power. But technically it does matter in the sense of how we the people have our power.
A republic is more stable, whereas democracy is subject to the whims of a bare majority. Witness nations like Greece, that seem to change direction and leadership on a dime.
A republic does better giving voice to all, including marginalized groups, who are drowned out in a pure democracy.
A republic is governed by elected representatives. That’s how “we the people” are supposed to rule—through our representatives who are empowered by the “consent of the governed.”
Pure democracy is essentially rule by the mob. But mobs don’t rule well. Think of the French Revolution. Pure democracy leads to anarchy. Anarchy leads to tyranny. The blood spilled in the anti-Christian French Revolution paved the way for the rise of Napoleon, who tried to take over the world.
John Adams once said, in arguing for the superiority of a republic over a democracy: “There is no good government, but what is republican; for a republic is an empire of laws, and not of men; and, to constitute the best of republics, we enforced the necessity of separating the executive, legislative, and judicial powers.”
In an email to me, best-selling author and speaker Bill Federer wrote: “The United States is a hybrid [of a democracy and a republic], where representatives of the people are democratically elected. Additionally, they are not free to do whatever they want. They are limited by the Constitution. Pure democracy, as a political structure, is unpredictable, as it is subject to those who control what information the people receive. The danger in a democracy is that people can be swept up into an irrational mob frenzy, where rights are insecure.”
Our democratic republic is truly at risk when only a few self-selected people get to decide what is true and what is “fake news.”