Freedom of the Press is NOT Free

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The Big Picture
by Glynn Wilson

It is a cool 72 degrees in the foothills of the Appalachians, a time of year we long for during the long, hot dog days of summer.

The cooler temperatures and the ability to get outside without sweating and dodging mosquitoes relieves some of the pressure from the modern struggle for basic survival, in a place where there are precious few guarantees anymore of a job, basic health care or even a decent meal — much less the prospect of a safe retirement.

As a number of authors having recently pointed out, my generation and the one right behind us is in serious jeopardy of falling through the economic cracks in real time.

As a recent headline in the Atlantic online put it, Welcome to Middle-Class Poverty: Does Anybody Know the Way Out?

I have a couple of confessions to make on this beautiful Sunday. I won’t make them in any church, unless you consider the great outdoors nature’s cathedral.

First, I do know the way out.

I have been preaching about this for the past six years right here on this Web site. There are many days when I get incredibly frustrated when people don’t listen or grasp the crux of the message, which leads to my other confession.

I am and always will be what critics called a “muckraking journalist” back in the early 20th century, a time when workers got together to fight for themselves and began to create the American middle class.

Even in my early days of newspaper reporting I had the muckraking instincts. I have provided many examples of this already over the past six years so I won’t go into more details about that here.

Just consider this.

As Georgetown History professor Michael Kazin, co-editor of Dissent and the author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation, recently put it in a Sunday opinion column in the New York Times:

During the early 20th century, a broader progressive coalition, including immigrant workers, middle-class urban reformers, muckraking journalists and Social Gospelers established a new common sense about the need for a government that would rein in corporate power and establish a limited welfare state. The unbridled free market and the ethic of individualism, they argued, had left too many Americans at the mercy of what Theodore Roosevelt called “malefactors of great wealth.”

It is not Kazin’s place to emphasize it, so I want to make this point crystal clear. None of the reforms that led to the financial security of the so-called “Greatest Generation” could have taken place without courageous American journalists. None of them.

People like to say, “Freedom isn’t free,” meaning American soldiers must from time to time lose their lives in war to protect us. Consider an alternative slogan. “Freedom of the press is not free.”

There is a reason the Founding Fathers placed freedom of the press in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They knew an experiment in democracy could not survive without it.

While the term Muckraking journalist took on negative connotations and was attacked by big business in America in its day, especially the big oil companies in the early days of the development of the field of public relations, without them who would have provided the cover for politicians to create Social Security, pass the minimum wage laws or establish the 40-hour work week?

Do you think Richard Nixon would have established the Environmental Protection Agency or passed the Clean Air Act without pressure and cover from the press?

Of course not.

When I first started this Website from that Maryland kitchen almost six years ago, I thought bloggers were going to be the new muckrakers who would help save the world from run amok corporate capitalism.

Now the term “blog” has been co-opted by the mainstream media, and most of the non-corporate bloggers have not developed the business models to fund real journalism. Many of them are still hidden in the anonymous closet, mostly stealing reporting from newspapers and wire services to make their snarky comments, which are only being read by people who already agree with them.

That is not going to change the world, my friends. It only reinforces the one we already live in. Are you happy in this world? Chances are if you are reading this, you are not.

At that time, I also thought the new class of professional environmental activists might be of some service in this fight, but I have recently come to the conclusion that they may in fact be part of the problem, not the solution.

In the early days of fighting for the environmental cause, I raked a lot of muck back when newspapers would still fund such efforts. In those days, most of the environmentalists were volunteers, but we managed to win just about every fight. Now, the environmental groups around here seem so intent on creating a safe little clique to raise the funds to pay their own salaries that they may as well stop using the term “activism,” because they clearly do not know what it means.

Then, surely, I thought, liberal trial lawyers, who face the constant corporate attack to destroy jury rights — and their ability to make a living suing corporations — would join the fight to help fund the new alternative, independent Web Press so we could get the message out. Instead, the lawyers are trying to figure out a way to join the Republican tea party, rather than to take it on.

How smart is that? It is a strategy that is guaranteed to fail.

Then, when the unions in Wisconsin began to surround the capitol in Madison and stand up for their collective bargaining rights, I thought yes! The unions around the country will wake up and join the cause to save themselves, their jobs and their families from the tea party scourge.

But even as the weather takes some of the pressure off, I can’t help but get this nagging fear. It is a fear that once again, the people who must come together if we are going to see change in our lifetimes will sit back down on the couch in front of the TeeVee, and say to themselves, their wives, kids and grandkids, “it is hopeless. Let’s just say a prayer and hope god saves us from these problems,” they seem to be saying, even though their so-called “savior” himself said: “God helps those who help themselves.”

This is NOT a time to play it safe people! No amount of copy-cat blogging is going to replace what can be done by a courageous American muckraking journalist.

You are not going to be able to out-PR the corporations. You must find and fund a journalist who knows what the truth is and how to tell it, and build a new populist movement. You can’t do this using social networking programs alone like Facebook. You will end up just preaching to the choir, or just arguing with each other.

This movement must reach out to the great undecided, independent masses, those who have an Internet connection and are searching into the wee hours of the morning for answers.

The establishment protecting New York Times is NOT going to save you. No anonymous blogger is going to save you. If you don’t fund this thing you see right in front of you, chances are, you won’t be saved. In other words, and to quote another great American writer, you are doomed.

© 2011, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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