The Center Will Not Hold

I attended a conference on Media Reform last weekend, and came back pretty depressed. Although there were several thousand people in attendance who were determined to save journalism–not necessarily newspapers, or broadcast news, but the essential watchdog function that led our Founders to give Constitutional status to the press–it’s abundantly clear that right now, no one has a clue how to provide the public with the news democratic societies require.

In place of widely-read, credible news media serving the general public, we have “niche news” tailored to our personal prejudices and politics. Thanks to consolidation and corporate ownership focused on the bottom line to the exclusion of journalism’s social mission, we have more “human interest” and “self-help” stories and less real news; more “opinion” and less fact-checking. That we have ever-more dysfunctional government is not a coincidence.

In fact, America seems to be actively dismantling the institutions that create unum from our pluribus: those places in our society that knit individuals into a public.

I’ve written here often about our diminished constitutional literacy, and the likely consequences of that in a diverse country that depends for its very identity upon a common understanding of our form of government.

Add to that constitutional illiteracy the utterly ferocious attacks on public education we are experiencing. Whatever the defects in our public schools, they are and have been the institution that–as Benjamin Barber eloquently put it–is constitutive of a public. When we privatize education, we treat it as if it is a consumer good–skills we are “buying” so that our children can compete economically. But public education should be more than that; it should respect our diverse private identities while providing a common social umbrella.

When we no longer know our common history or political structure, when we no longer meet each other in public schools, when each of us gets our news from different sources operating out of different political and social realities, what will Americans have in common? What will make us a public?


  1. Good afternoon, Sheila.
    I picked up on your article through FB. We have met a few times over the years. I am still licensed in Indiana, but have moved to KY. I hope you are doing well.

    Let me set the table: I am a Goldwater Republican who was enthusiastic about most of what Ronald Reagan did. I fly a Gadsden flag right below the American flag that is up every day. I generally do not find much to be happy about with President Obama’s administration.

    I value your insight into this issue of no central source of commonweal. When I was coming up, Walter Cronkite and company were my source of information. Now I realize that theirs was a distorted view of reality in my country.

    When my heroes, Goldwater and Reagan were politically active, I now understand that their message was often filtered or screened through the neo Utopians lens. Today there is no such monopoly on news that was once so evident. That doesn’t make it better, as you point out. I don’t believe that Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin is any less opinionated than were/are CBS news for instance. The one difference is that those two people admit they are giving opinions and a given point of view, rather than trying to masquerade as newsmen.

    I know the news is slanted, so I attempt to pick my way through the minefields of propaganda that lay at the end of my fingertips via the internet. My youngest is 33 now, but I have many grandchildren who are still in school. I see that their parents have to keep an active hand in what is being absorbed from the various public schools they attend.

    Everything I see tells me that the progressives are a vast majority in the public school system. They attempt to inculcate a point of view that is not necessarily the objective truth about our country. There are numerous examples of this that you know as well as I do. The dumbing down of the curricula, the constant drumbeat of negative views about American exceptionalism and the exhorting of multiculturalism as a world view, dilute the understanding of the America I grew up loving, and still love.

    I have always believed that the three keys to improvement in the population are education, jobs and housing. I despair about the future of any of those right now. I attempt to be a source of objective information to my adult children who in turn share part of that with their children. I believe that families provide the only reliable source of information.

    I pray for our country.

    God is near,

  2. Marion, I remember you well.

    Glad you are doing well. I too was a Goldwater Republican and I voted for Reagan. Contemporary images of both are considerably different from the reality I recall. I don’t think the news is any more slanted than it has ever been; there is simply a lot less of it, and a lot more opinion masquerading as news. I also think that labels like “conservative” “liberal” “progressive” and the like have too often become substitutes for analysis and thoughtful exploration of issues that increasingly do not lend themselves to simple left/right categorization.

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