Thursday, July 5, 2012

Journalists shouldn't be nosy? Then what are they for?

In a recent editorial for CNN LZ Granderson has argued that US citizens should be less nosy about what their government is doing:
Times have changed. Yet, not everything is our business. And in the political arena, there are things that should be and need to be kept quiet.
I know that's hard to digest in a society where pregnancies and marriages of D-list celebrities make the cover of People magazine, but there comes a point where the public's right to know needs to take a back seat to matters like national security and diplomacy.

Putting aside the clear false analogy between celebrity gossip and governmental policies, Granderson never makes a clear argument for why this kind of willful ignorance is valuable and important. The general tone of his editorial suggests that he would rather be spared the messy details of some of the uglier aspects of US foreign and domestic policy because then he would feel bad about his country, but I am merely speculating here. Personally, I am quite amazed that someone who calls himself a journalist would argue that investigative journalism is a bad idea, but I guess if Granderson doesn't think his job is worthwhile, he should probably quit. I must also disagree with the idea that things need to be kept quite in the political realm. As we have seen time and time again, when people don't pay attention to politicians and politics awful, horrible, disgusting things happen. Lastly, the claim that what goes on in the political arena is none of my business is unbelievably wrong-headed. I pay for it through my taxes, the people who do it are my representatives, and if they screw up I personally may be the one to suffer. How could this not be my business?

As moronic as this editorial is, perhaps the most moronic part is a non sequitur Granderson commits towards the end of the piece. A non sequitur is a fallacy in which the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Granderson commits his non sequitur when he writes:
Much in the same way, Project Wide Receiver and Project Road Runner -- the earlier versions of Fast and Furious under President Bush -- were executed with the hope that they will do more good than harm. Hardly anyone in the public knows the finer points of these programs.
Were they legal?
Hell no.
Were they effective?
Who knows?
Were they done as a way to keep America safe?
The non sequitur lies in the claim that these programs kept America safe. However, if we have no idea of the effectiveness of these programs we can't conclude anything about them. For all we know, the may have made America less safe, or perhaps had no impact on the safety of America whatsoever. Without knowledge of their effectiveness, we can't draw any conclusion whatsoever. Yet, for some unstated reason, Granderson thinks they made America safe. 

And this brings me back to the inanity and absurdity of Granderson's editorial. He seems to have absolutely no understanding of the purpose of journalism in a democracy. Though this is somewhat surprising, it is actually a fairly common view among main stream journalists in the US. Democracy requires a free and aggressive press in order to inform voters about politicians and their policies so that voters can make informed decisions when they go to the polls. To instead argue that we should all just stick our heads in the sand is deeply disturbing, and really calls into question the integrity and legitimacy of these "journalists" and the media outlets they work for.

h/t to Glenn Greenwald


  1. ...nothing to see here, move along...
    Another excellent post - and, one which I happened to read after just having read the following quote from Madison elsewhere on teh interwebs:
    “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
    — Letter from James Madison to W.T. Barry (4 August 1822)
    If the 4th Estate were not co-opted, would Wikileaks be necessary? Exist?

  2. Fantastic quote, and very apropos! I am going to use that for the media unit in my classes.


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