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Sunday, February 19, 2017

John McCain is right

when he warns that calling the media the "enemy" is "how dictators get started."

I hear so many people following President Trump's lead in labeling the "mainstream media" as "fake news." Mistrust of the media has built for a while, and Trump has fed on it and nourished it in turn.

And there are good reasons to mistrust the media. They are made up of human beings as prone to error and bias as anyone else, though hopefully with training that will help them detect and control their bias and avoid glaring errors. Sometimes they make errors anyway. Sometimes reporters are deliberately dishonest.

But the role of the media in a free society is to be a counterbalance to political power. The "mainstream" media were certainly open to criticism under Obama, because they did cut him far too much slack. But on principle, no matter the relative positions of the President and the media, one should be slow to dismiss media stories critical of any U.S. President. And if they go against one's own bias, one should take them particularly seriously.

These are just basic, non-political rules for how to avoid being any more deluded than we have to be. Truth is hard. We make it unnecessarily hard for ourselves if we dismiss stories that don't suit our bias or have negative implications for someone we admire. And maintaining a just and free society is hard. We make it unnecessarily hard for ourselves if we try to silence or render irrelevant dissenting voices that pose a challenge to the most powerful person in the world, no matter who happens to be playing that role at the moment.

This is also why I am suspicious of "pro-business" government policies. It's not that I think the government is necessarily purer than business. It's that business and government are _both_ extremely powerful. I don't want them working together. I want them checking each other.

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