November 4, 2001


Our nation's major television and print news media are long overdue for doses of constructive scrutiny and criticism from the viewing and reading public, particularly when the American people's health, safety and survival are virtually at stake. Indeed, local news media fed by networks, the Associated Press and government are inextricable parts of the problem.

Simply put, since the terrorist attacks stunned the country, the news media reacted in the only way they knew how: saturation coverage with emphasis added to heighten dramatic effects, overly repetitive prints and replays of devastation, parades of pundits and unprecedented competition between cable and broadcast news networks, each asking viewers to stay with or depend on them for covering the attack on America and the war against terrorism.

Then, of course, it went from bad to worse when anthrax terrorism hit the media and government in the mail. But, instead of handling the situations with restraint and common sense, reactionary government and the purveyors of questionable information spread their own fear and anxiety throughout the country, day after day, week after week.

Over the past decade, government and the news media were very adept at promoting confusion and uncertainty about nearly everything in our lives. They have become experts at putting on mass political shows and public spectacles, foreign and domestic, to further their ratings and political agendas. However, this is not business as usual and it's no time for showtime.

This is not O.J. Simpson, Princess Diana, JFK Jr., Elian, Monica or impeachment. It's not the Gulf War, or media-driven wars in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo. And it's certainly not a time for self-serving political posturing. Rather, this is absolutely unique to the most serious foreign and domestic policy matters that have been festering for as long the United States has been dependent on Middle East Oil.

This is brooding hate, bitterness and discontent that has turned even more personal, religious and very deadly for the long term, simply because our leaders and our news media have established a shameful record of placing selfish interests, partisan politics and shallow reporting ahead of common sense, compelling wisdom and America's future.

Witness what is happening and we can already see childish impatience, nit picking and mixed messages about the war on terrorism, switching gears to Afghan victims, and continued leads and headlines hawking anthrax scares and every conceivable terrorist threat. Clearly, life in government and media cultures amount to chattering classes of superficial anxiety societies, but that's not the way it's supposed to be out here in the homeland, and it's certainly not the way most of us want to live.

We need a responsible press and a highly efficient democratic government with the public's interest at heart. The people's interest, not blatantly hyped commercialism and unbridled partisan politics. It's surreal and grossly disturbing to see that the news media and government bureaucracy seem almost clueless about how to handle the new world of terrorism and counterterrorism. Indeed, years ago something like the Boy Scout motto should have been adopted. "Be prepared," meaning: be always ready, keep strong, meet problems and never be taken by surprise.

Alas, the way things are shaping up, the economy and jobs are waning faster, knee-jerk government spending is escalating, and our casualties of terrorism are becoming double victims at the unwitting hands of inept media and government. We are ordinary people living in extraordinary times. Surely, we must get our acts together soon, or we might not survive act two or three. President Bush and company have bigger knots to untie and at least they are trying to do the right thing. Congress and the national media are not.

Daniel B. Jeffs, founder
The Direct Democracy Center