The death of American accountability – John McQuaid

But it’s increasingly clear that our “systems” are simultaneously both too complex and not sophisticated enough to deal with the problems at hand. The disappearance of clear-cut mechanisms of accountability is just the most obvious sign.

I have been railing about the collapse of accountability for years. This article sniffs around the edges of the problem, and makes some important points, but it completely misses the role that right wing think tanks like Heritage, Media Research Center, and of course, Fox News and the broader corporate media have played in the deliberate deconstruction of accountability and social responsibility. 

When the public is convinced that there are no empirical facts, and that one version of events is as valid as any other, they become desensitized to the reality of most crimes and their consequences, and are far more compliant and forgiving of those accused of abusing a trust, principle, law, company, office, nation, and population.

The cynical and professional manipulation of the public by the right wing can be seen in this one short video, where  @CNN's Alex Castellanos, a professional PR professional presented as a pundit,  is dispatched to proclaim Obama as "divisive" for trying to reform wall street, and that the "rehabilitation of George Bush is well underway."

The Media—and especially @CNN—have been pimping these faux memes relentlessly for years, as our national dysfunction deepens more and more each week. But their preoccupation with quarterly profits has so deadened their sense of ethics and journalistic responsibility, that such propaganda hawking is done with almost no apology whatever. They've been so conditioned by institutionalized imperatives, and their own self interest, that they—with a perfectly straight face—represent such predatory propaganda as "balance."

How can anyone or anything be held accountable in this maelstrom of self interest which our Fourth Estate has become?

And we're all to blame for it. Even the big names on the progressive publishing team, largely wring their hands about the lack of accountability or ethics.  They waste barrels of liquid and digital ink with the busy work of bullshit that now characterizes the vast emptiness that most American journalism has become. 

Even the most well intentioned of reporters have become more focused on surviving next week's staff cuts, or being invited to the next big Twitterized event, than consistently digging for and exposing truths. There are no Pentagon Papers, or Watergate level exposés anymore, because no one is paying for them, and without that, few journalists have the financial freedom to pursue them even if they wanted to.

For years, many have felt  that a new and smaller scale, less bottom-line oriented media might change this situation. Sadly, too much of that  so-called alternative media is rapidly turning into the same old mainstream media party with a few new faces on the buffet line.

Most of the big blue blogs and publications go from one outrage to another, with almost no follow-up about anything, encouraging and facilitating a kind of national Attention Deficit Disorder about the most important foundational issues of our culture, like war, civil liberties, torture, health/campaign/finance/media reform, etc..

Ever so stylish, and in steep competition in this new "link economy," they will publish thoughtful, well-researched articles about the latest outrage, milk the Technorati and Twitter streams for traffic, and then get right on with chasing the next outrage before the other guy does. There is plenty of high-minded rhetoric and posturing about a higher purpose, but no demonstrable interest in investing in any longer term strategy of truth telling about any big issue at all.

Avenues of change will surely not be opened up by the right wing media. And until publishers on the left start opening a few, working toward fostering a more consistent climate for accountability, I am not sure anything is going to change this situation—or save us from ourselves.

If we cannot count on the press itself to make demanding accountability fashionable, there's not a lot we can count on.  But if anything might serve as a baby step toward salvation, it could be some kind of meaningful campaign finance reform. Removed from the shackles of special interest money, politicians can rise above some of our daily socio-emotional frays, and serve as role models for when and how to stand up and scream, "WTF?"  When citizens and their children start seeing people again addressing real issues without the taint of incentive or special interest, it might nurture a national realignment of priorities and perspectives that foster a kind of second Renaissance. In such a new context of enlightenment, science, ideas, philosophy, facts, and empirical truths might once again be respected just enough that we again start to care about holding those who denigrate them accountable for it.

It's not nearly enough, but at least it's a start toward reforming America.  And without a start, there's only an end.

Of all the great ideas Jay Rosen has had, I never really understood what made this one anything but self-evident.  Fact-checking the news in real, or-near real-time, has been an obvious need for over 20 years, and the technology to do it was old school even before blogging, Twitter and Facebook.  It's just that no one did it.

But sometimes it takes a famous journalism professor and social media geek to make the MSM see the obvious thing.  And actually making them DO the obvious thing is a remarkable achievement; especially in this era of entrenched mediocrity in almost everything. With assists from people like me on Twitter, Jay Rosen hammered this idea home with Meet The Press, ABC, and just about anyone else that would listen. Jake Tapper finally did.

  1. Read The Brief ABC/Jake Tapper Post…

  2. Then Read Jay Rosen's Idea That Inspired It

But in fact the whole Sunday format has to be re-thought, or junked so the news divisions can start over with a new premise.  Of course the problem is that the people who would have to make that decision are the same people whose entire knowledge base and skill set lies in producing the "old" style of political television. That is what they know, so that is what they continue to do. I guess it's not hard to understand complacency of this kind.  But do they really think we don't notice the growing absurdity of bringing to a common table people who agree on nothing?

Bags of kudos to Rosen for putting it on paper in his typically cogent way, and to Jake Tapper for having the good sense to nibble at his master's reigns and try something different.

This entire project is near and dear to my own work, so I have a vested interest in seeing ABC do this for more than a week.  But even if I didn't, it would still be a big interest of mine.

There are clues to our future in projects like this, on many levels. So I will tune in to this on Sunday, and see if I can help it gain a little traction.

Please Retweet this post below using green button below.  This "experiment" deserves everyone's support.



About   —  a project in which its reporters and editors "fact-check statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists and interest groups"

About Jay Rosen — Jay Rosen is a press critic, a writer, and a professor of journalism at New York University.  He is a strong supporter of citizen journalism, encouraging the press to take a more active interest in citizenship, improving public debate, and enhancing life. His book about the subject, What Are Journalists For? was published in 1999. Rosen is often described in the media as an intellectual leader of the movement of public journalism

Further Reading

Press Think (NYU) Rosen's Journalism Blog  — Today we say media instead of "the press." But it's a mistake. The press has become the ghost of democracy in the media machine, and we need to keep it alive.

Jay Rosen:  He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User

Frank Rich Writes in today's NY Times:

Are these politicians so frightened of offending anyone in the Tea Party-Glenn Beck base that they would rather fall silent than call out its extremist elements and their enablers? Seemingly so, and if G.O.P. leaders of all stripes, from Romney to Mitch McConnell to Olympia Snowe to Lindsey Graham, are afraid of these forces, that’s the strongest possible indicator that the rest of us have reason to fear them too.

Read; The Rage Is Not About Health Care