Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Covering Up the Past

In 1935 author Sinclair Lewis published It Can't Happen Here, a satirical novel that details the struggles of a lone reporter against fascist US regime that had come to power. Sinclair's novel, while verging on science fiction, was a warning that an oppressive government could sweep into power anywhere, if citizens and a watchful media were not vigilant. Recounting the last eight years under George Bush and the extent to which that administration sought to consolidating and abusing power, one is left to ponder just how close to Sinclair's alternate reality we may have all found ourselves.

Yet, despite all warning signs, our mainstream media culture ignored or downplayed the threat. And even now that the past regime is out of office, many seem reluctant to revisit the past. What's more, seeming numb in the face of power, most seem to have accepted the Obama administration's and Democratic leadership's timid approach to investigations.

The Democratic and Executive reasons for reluctance are clearly obvious, even if not always agreed with, and often stated. As journalist and media activist Eric Alterman points out, "Obama's calculation is clear: investigations would threaten the aura of bipartisanship he seeks in order to pass his ambitious agenda."

But exactly how does this stop the US media establishment from doing its job? Why is big media reluctant to go back and do its own investigation on possible past violations of our rights and liberties? Alterman may have hit the answer on the proverbial head:

But in the case of the mainstream media, the motivation is simply the mindset: admit the dangers posed to our democracy by the Bush administration, and you're admitting that democracy's watchdog was sleeping (or cowering) just when he, and she, were most needed.

Could it be that our media establishment, fearful of its own silent complicity, willful negligence or even propagandizing, now wants to ignore the past--in the hopes that we all forget their role? If so, that's a tragic statement on the status of journalism, whose job it should be to print any past misdeeds into history if only to make certain we have a record--and perhaps ensure that it doesn't happen again. To not do so, and not shoulder their own responsibility, says perhaps that even after those last eight years they managed to learn nothing.

Read Alterman's full article here.


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