In Praise of Extremism

I found this Frank Rich essay in New York magazing to be extremely thoughtful. It is well worth your time. As he writes:

This delusional faith in comity reached its apotheosis in the debt-ceiling showdown. With the reliable exception of Paul Krugman, who shuns Washington and calls centrism “the cult that is destroying America,” almost every Establishment observer in our own time bought into the magical thinking that the radical Republicans would never go so far as to risk a default of the American government. Only when the tea-party cabal in the House took Washington hostage did it fully dawn on the Beltway gentry that the country was in danger.

The Dangerous Intermingling of the Press and Politics

The Telegraph's Peter Oborne has a must-read analysis about how Rupert Murdoch's media empire created an alternative system of government over the past few decades in England, under both Labor and Conservative governments.

Since this crisis appears headed our direction, seeing what has happened there is incredibly useful. And scary.

When I went to work in the House of Commons as a lobby correspondent nearly 20 years ago, I assumed that the British constitution worked along the lines we had been taught in textbooks at school and university. Which is to say: Britain was a representative democracy; the police were reasonably honest; and the country was governed under the rule of law. I naively expected MPs to be honest and driven by a sense of duty, and ministers to be public-spirited.

During my first few years at Westminster, I came to appreciate that most of my assumptions were hardly true. In particular, it became clear that power had seeped away from the Commons, which had lost many of its traditional functions. It rarely held ministers to account, and ministers no longer made their announcements to the House, as Erskine May, the rulebook of Parliament, insisted they should; instead they were leaked out through journalists.

What was the impact of this? Pleasing Murdoch was at the top of the agenda.

The effect on government policy was wretched. Decisions were determined by consideration of the following day’s headlines rather than sound analysis. Furthermore, private favours were dispensed; Blair when prime minister spoke to his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi about one of Murdoch’s business deals in Italy. Of course it was all kept secret, though details did sometimes leak out. All recent prime ministers have insisted that their meetings with Murdoch were confidential and did not need to be disclosed, as if they were somehow private affairs. Mercifully, Cameron – who has partially emerged from the sewer thanks to his Commons statement – has put an end to this concealment.

Can we doubt the same, if at a lower level, has happened here?

They say sunlight is the best disinfectant. The muck under these rocks have not seen the sun in far too long.

Good Journalism Isn't Free

The Center for American Progress' Eric Alterman has a thought-provoking column examining the problems with for-profit media today, and what may need to be done to ensure robust local reporting survives. As Alterman explains:

With the core news function of for-profit media increasingly on life support in the United States, we need to find ways to preserve investigative journalism and well-informed discourse as a public good, just like public safety and clean air, lest we be left with what Michael J. Copps, a visionary commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, describes as “a seriously dumbed-down democratic dialogue, diminished civic engagement and the absence of meaningful public interest oversight.”

The airwaves, believe it or not, are owned by the public—not the corporations that profit from them. And yet media companies are able to reap billions from their use of the airwaves with nothing but a “postcard” process of renewal every eight years to determine whether they are even pretending to serve the public interest.

Alterman points to a camapign for a BBC-style journalism paid for by the public as one potential solution to the problem. He notes countries with a BBC-type system receive the best marks from both liberal and progressive watchdog organizations for media freedom.

More important, Alterman argues that without a vibrant media sector

the future of informed democratic debate the United States, public education on crucial issues, and grassroots organizing for citizen action is in jeopardy.

And that is why we should pay more attention to this issue.