I’m going to lay down some Big Truth on big media, politics & corruption but allow me to start with a confession.
I am the problem.
Anyone who gives our current political culture the least bit of thought knows that we’re at a desperate quicksand crisis point. Nobody sane trusts either of the two major political parties. Nobody hanging onto a sliver of reason can name more than a couple of well known politicians that they actually trust and they don’t exactly trust them either, truth be told.
The problem is not exclusive to any political party. It’s systemic and omnipresent.
And honestly, it’s all my fault.
Take note of my opening clause in that last sentence. I begin with And honestly because I want you think I’m honest. In all honesty, however, I’m not about to be honest with you with you in this blog post and that’s why this whole political corruption is all my fault.
Sure, I see the problem just like we all see the problem but in the last six years or so that I’ve been reporting on politics, I’ve also gotten to see the view from backstage. I’ve seen the sausage being made. I’m privy to inside information and off-the-record conversations. I’ve got the real scoop. I know things.
None of this makes me unique or special. I’m part of a large and secretive loose affiliation collectively known as ‘the media.’ Every pundit you listen to, every reporter you read, and every news source that filters, shapes and decides what information you get is part of it. All of them; the ones your like and the ones you hate. They all know things and they aren’t telling the audience some of the stuff they know. A lot of stuff, really.
And neither am I.
Here’s the heart of the problem with political corruption. It exists because the media allows it to exist. All of us. Everyone. Them. Me.
The ugly reality is that corruption exists because the media doesn’t want to piss off the people in power.
Sure, we’ll piss off SOME people. People we don’t like or agree with. That’s the gig, really.
But understand that when I talk about power that I’m not talking just talking about politicians. I’m talking about other people in the media.
I told you I wasn’t going to be completely honest with you in this post and I wasn’t lying. I’m not going to be completely, fully, brutally honest because I don’t want to piss off the wrong people; mainly people in media who I perceive as having more power than me.
That’s the truth.
What Is Power?
Power in the media is nebulous and very concrete, all at once. People with big audiences have power. People who write paychecks have power. People who hire & fire have power.
For everyone who works or wants to work in the media, there are people upstream with more power than you and people downstream with less. This loose power structure changes like boiling water. Your position shifts constantly and the person who was below you yesterday could be an important contact tomorrow.
The difference between Famous Media Personality and Citizen Journalist isn’t just about the size of their platform. Audience reach is directly tied to access. The two blur together. The big platform of a Famous Media Personality means that politicians, activists & other media clamor for their attention. And they access gives them a bigger platform.
This means that if you piss off the wrong people, you lose both access and consequently, a platform.
Here’s a handy formula to piss off people: tell the public uncomfortable truths about them.
Apply this to day to day reality of political reporting and you’ve laid bare part of why the media is so awful; to report the ugly truth about politicians is to lose access.
Not just your access, either. Very possibly the entire organization you work for. Every other reporter there. The editors and publishers, too. Piss off the wrong person and you piss off a lot of people who you work with.
The big media organizations have a certain amount of immunity to this; they are too big to deny access to. However, the reason they are so beige is that they got big by not challenging the status quo too much.
So, built right into our political system is a huge disincentive for the media not to report the truth. It’s a constant, exhausting balancing act to not piss off the wrong people at any given moment.
So the audience is part of the pressure. In world of professional, paid journalism, so are your colleagues. So are your editors. So are the people who depend on your paycheck, like your family and landlord.
The net result is the horrible political system we have that is making our politicians into millionaires. It just sort of hobbles along because to expose is it is to upset the apple cart. And we need the apples.
I’d love to report that I’m completely immune from human nature but I’m not. In Christian terms, we are all sinners; everyone but Jesus. And boy, did He piss off a lot of people.
The media is enabling this monstrosity and as I said, I’m part of that media.
I could give you details. I could name names. I could tell personal stories. I could publish emails.
And then I could throw myself in front of a truck and make my wife a widow and my children orphans.
I’d might as well. I would have just committed professional suicide.
So, I’ll be honest: I’m not going to do that.
If I’m Problem Then Maybe I Can Be The Solution.
As a new Christian who came to Jesus at age 48, I find myself faced with seeing things in a new way. Old thinking habits die hard.
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” says John 8:7
Matthew 7:3 reads “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
When I consider the Scriptures, I realize that my desire to curse other journalists, editors and the media in general is likely just an excuse to not look more deeply at my own failings.
So I repeat: political corruption is my fault. The solution begins with me.
Part of me still wants to say that I wish every journalist would look in the mirror and say that to themselves. I wish every citizen would, too. I think the world would be better place.
But I’m not without sin. I control only myself. So, what can I do to get rid of the political system we have?
I can focus on making the better choice. I can expose the truth honestly and effectively or I can distract myself from the real issues with senseless drama, pointless bickering or just plain fear. I can be diligent or lazy. I can get frustrated that the story isn’t getting traction or I can focus on explaining the story in a better, more effective way.
I see the stories I cover as my stewardship. It’s a constant challenge to rein them in and keep them on track but as Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules says at the end of my favorite Christian film, Pulp Fiction: “I’m trying Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.”