Carole Owens: The truth and the story behind the damage to democracy – Berkshire Eagle
I can still hear the sound the of the screen door slamming behind me. In front of me was a summer day, my blue Schwinn, and a world of possibilities.
Neighborhood pals were asking, “What should we do today?”
A stern voice was clearly articulating, “Be back in this house before the streetlights go on.”
I never knew what would happen if we were not inside before the streetlights came on. None of us ever risked it. None of us doubted there would be consequences,
”Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.” — G. K. Chesterton
Within the lines, ours was a safe, clean place. Within the lines was freedom, excitement and the possibility of the sublime like fireflies caught in a glass jar. My four-year-old grandson has never been out of doors without his hand in the hand of an adult. When I remember, I wonder: how did we come to this?
I sat at my desk in school and listened in wonder to the story of World War II. How could the German people be so gullible? How could they follow Hitler? Believe his lies? Turn a blind eye to dirty deeds and cruelty? I was smug: We would never be like that. Americans, I thought, would never be taken in.
”… 70 percent of Republicans now say they don’t believe the 2020 election was free and fair.” — Politico
Polio was a fearsome thing. There was a picture of a child confined in an iron lung in every classroom. I was afraid to look — afraid if I stared, I would be teleported into that metal monster immobile with nutrition through a glass straw. Why glass? A glass straw was as horrifying as the metal breathing machine. When the vaccine was available in 1955, we lined up eager to be protected. Feeling lucky.
”This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And it’s caused by the fact that despite America having an unprecedented and successful vaccination program, despite the fact that for almost five months free vaccines have been available in 80,000 different locations, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot.” — Joe Biden on Sept. 9
We had the first TV on the block. No one cared. There was nothing on it until evening. The programs started as they ended with a test pattern and the national anthem. The news was fifteen minutes delivered soberly by a trustworthy-looking man in a suit and tie. Suddenly America had mass media, but mass media went off-air at midnight.
Politics were not always with us.
With a new-found mass market came a new-found income stream. There was the Ed Sullivan Show (1948-71) and color TV (1953), but commercials were limited to four per hour, either 30 seconds or 60 seconds each.
Ronald Reagan instituted the deregulation of advertising at the start of the 1980s. This allowed companies to market as much as they wanted. Stations needed more viewers because the rate charged per advertising minute was based on the number of viewers. Entertainment sought audiences by being more and more daring, but the news was sacrosanct. It was short, to the point, fact-based and commercial free.
In 1989, a New York magazine article by staff writer Eric Pooley is widely credited as coining the unofficial motto of TV news: if it bleeds it leads.
News took on the aspects of a well-written drama with conflict and dire consequences. Violence led. My mother bought a German Shepard guard dog. She was not alone. The women in her circle talked frantically about the increase in crime or did something about it. Anxiety about crime and safety went up, but did the incidences of crime rise or just the number of TV reports? Where was the line between rhetoric and reality? Where was the line between selling and reporting?
Decades passed. Media transmitters became body parts; no one touched the off switch. Oddly as the information became more lurid and more constant, it became more fact-free. At the same time, a lesson was learned: Anything could be sold on mass media — products, ideas, lies even politicians.
”Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” — Mark Twain
The rhetoric about the USA being the strongest, greatest country on earth increased as the statistics measuring strength and greatness decreased. The notion that we were invulnerable at home and abroad was proliferated as we lost war after war and our country divided. The idea that the Republican Party acted out of fear of Trump or had simply lost its mind was spread but never substantiated.
”The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” — “The Usual Suspects”
The greatest trick the Republican Party ever pulled was convincing America that there was good cause for minority rule. There are many names for rule by a minority — autocracy, oligarchy, stratocracy; there is just one name for rule by majority — democracy.
Carole Owens, a writer and historian, is a regular Eagle contributor.
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