Worse and Worse

Author: Gary Hart

An old party game has people whispering a secret around a circle until, when it comes full circle, it is a totally different secret. This comes to mind because of a recent story about “outsourcing” background searches about vice-presidential nominees. To its discredit, the Obama campaign and related supportive “progressive” websites are issuing open-source invitations to the world at large to submit any stories they may have heard about the various individuals under consideration. They do not require that the stories be verified or verifiable.

Just when you think American politics has reached rock-bottom, something like this comes along. Has this great nation really descended into the cesspool of gossip, innuendo, and character assassination this process suggests? Now, someone—anyone—can slander a political figure and have the slander endlessly repeated by the political media and opposition political television spots. Accuracy, and integrity, have nothing to do with it. All you have to do is put the story “out there” and the subject of the slander is endlessly required to try to deny and disprove it. And the headline is always: “Senator so-and-so today denied….”

This process is beneath contempt. It is not clever. It is not smart. It is not honest. It is not American. And the fact that the Democratic party is promoting this process is appalling.

Anyone who has lived a long life and participated in American politics knows that the most qualified people in our country are not seeking political office, that the caliber and quality of public servants is not what it was in recent greater generations who asked what they could do for their country. It is not a question of wanting to serve your country and contribute to making it better. It is a matter of preserving personal dignity, honor, and self-respect.

Do we really want to open the most senior leaders of our nation to a garbage-slinging process in which any kind of rumor is added to a negative resume? Not too long ago, respectable media checked sources before printing a story. Then came the era of Murdoch when virtually anything got printed and the so-called mainstream media then felt obliged to repeat the story.

There was a time when I was repeatedly urged to sue media outlets for false and slanderous stories. But too few people know that, because of a Supreme Court case called New York Times vs Sullivan, the plaintiff in a libel suit must prove that the newspaper in question printed the story with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity and did so with malicious intent (“actual malice”). When was the last time you recall a public figure winning a libel suit?

So now we are selecting our leaders using a vicious hazing process in which political parties use the media, and its protections under the First Amendment and the Sullivan case, to engage in character destruction. It is not a question of “having nothing to hide.” It is a question of willingness to submit oneself and one’s reputation to an endless stream of false innuendo and twisted, inaccurate truths.

This is shameful and beneath a great nation.

5 Responses to “Worse and Worse”

  1. Bill Pruden Says:

    Senator Hart has again highlighted an area of American life where the perversion of established standards and practices has served to further undermine our increasingly fragile political system. The historical role of the free press as a guardian of the interests of the people earned it the honorable title of the “Fourth Estate,” but more recently, at a time when the media should be seeking to hold the poltical parties and the aspirants for public office accountable for their promises and when they should be seeking to provide clarity for voters, too many modern journalists are instead engaged in a form of “gotcha” and trivia based reporting that can leave long-time political observers longing for the days of “horse race” based coverage. Interestingly this issue is one that appropriately builds upon last week’s discussion, for here, too, we see the precarious, but critical interplay between freedom and responsibility. Indeed, while few things are more distinctive or more revered about the American way of life than the freedom of speech and press, the recent efforts of the media too often cross that line between freedom and irresponsible license, with the vitality and credibility of our system being the victim. In the end we do not get any of the benefits that should result from a vigilant, responsible free press–but the damages that such action can yield, especially the ever growing distrust of the system and the discouragement of people of talent and character from even getting involved, abound. Given the power and influence of the press, this is not a problem easily solved, and yet, in a statement that very much connects last week’s blog with this one, Justice Brandeis offered some valuable, if somewhat ironic, wisdom when he offered words that that may guide and steel our future efforts: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

  2. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    If, as Senator Hart pointed out, both parties and their candidates use “vicious hazing” via the media to denigrate and malign the opposition, then is it any wonder that no candidate is willing to distance himself/herself for the deceitful and unsupportable propaganda being disseminated by the PAC’s and Super-PAC’s, which is even worse than anything that a candidate is willing to “approve”? Far be it from the candidate to discourage any such action by a citizen or group of citizens exercising their own 1st Amendment Rights to Free Speech, even if the candidate knows that there is no foundation for such slanderous and libelous statements, and would be unwilling to make such statements themselves. What does this say about the personal integrity and veracity of such candidates?

  3. Phineas Says:

    Good for you, calling attention to this. You’re the reason I became a Democrat, and nonsense like this is why I am not one now(nor am I of any other party, for that matter). Politicians from both major US political parties are guilty of these tactics, while all the while they proclaim theirs as the campaign of issues. But I’m afraid we can’t hold the media–and nobody finds our modern media as contemptible as I–responsible for this. The campaigns call out for this, the media may me complicit in that it digs into stories, but it’s important to remember the media isn’t a watchdog, it isn’t an oversight body, and it certainly isn’t our protector. It is a business. And, like a shark, it will go where the food supply is.

    Look, if we Americans are really too stupid to sift through what PACs and Super PACs are putting out there, we deserve this mediocrity which has become America.

  4. Paul G Says:

    Our honorable host rightly cites our increasingly corrupted public discourse as getting ‘Worse and Worse’ in recent decades with the arrival of “the era of Murdoch when virtually anything got printed and the so-called mainstream media then felt obliged to repeat the story.”

    Our 225 years’ history as a republic is replete with corrupt figures in both the public and private sectors, but never has it been so threatened as at present in major part through the corrupting influence of war-monger Rupert Murdoch. Like a precocious school-yard bully, King Rupert is a master of the art of putting perfectly timed “blood in the water” [secrets, rumors] for the public to chatter about as his ever-growing circle of billionaire bankster beneficiaries gorge on resulting wars and economic mayhem.

    As documented by the UK parliament and judiciary his boundless greed for control of world media and even our republic has not abated even as he approaches his 90’s. With able assists from 1960’s War Minister Profumo’s Christine Keeler, and 1970’s President Nixon’s protégée, Roger Ailes, to 2000’s President Clinton’s endorsement of Murdoch as “a good a decent man who’s getting a bum rap,” it should not be a surprise that honorable public servants are increasingly “monstered” or otherwise threatened with the Espionage Act to keep silent while the American people remain confused, angry and robbed even as we remain, like old Rome, “entertained to death.”

    Maker and breaker of presidents and prime ministers for 50+ years, this gossip bully has gone too far. His spell of seeming invincibility was finally broken in the UK with the stories of innocent little girls who became ensnared in his decades-long vicious circles of secrets and lies. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/sep/03/news-of-the-world-phone-hacking-scandal
    His entire media kingdom will be on trial in the old British Empire’s courts throughout 2013 and beyond, but not in the US.

    Aided and abetted by his billionaire business allies of both major parties in the US, his corporate subsidiary jeopardy for systematic bribery of police and other public officials under the FCPA [Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] remains almost entirely hidden from the American people. Our Justice Department’s Exhibit A should be News Corp v Floor Graphics, NJ. That is not a secret; it is a matter of public record, if only our eyes may be opened as the people of Britain finally had theirs opened and the circular spell of systematic gossip and secrecy may finally be broken.

    Then and only then, does this reader believe our people may freely focus on our priorities to restore our Constitution and Bill of Rights; our US economy, our education, our health, our environment; in sum; our republic. Otherwise, as our honorable host writes, it just gets ‘Worse and Worse.’

  5. David desJardins Says:

    I don’t think soliciting stories or information for review and consideration means they will necessarily be repeated or believed uncritically. For the campaign to solicit tips, which they will investigate, is no different from a police department soliciting tips, even rumors or anonymous gossip, about an unsolved crime. It’s what they do with it that matters.

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