Most mornings, I write down seven things that I'm grateful for in a little purple "grateful book." This practice puts me in the right frame of mind to take on the day. My list is typically a wild mix of blessings that are very me, from small domestic delights to societal issues I'm passionate about.
Here's a recent list: 1) Sweater+boots weather today 2) Saints won 3) My amazing staff 4) purring cats all around me 5) Todd's goat-cheese enchiladas 6) Damn election is over 7) FOX News meltdown.
Social issues and politics are not part of my grateful list every day, but things that matter to me show up there because, well, they matter to me. As a Buddhist-Baptist, which I labeled myself as recently, the state of the world matters greatly to me, especially violence, hunger, poverty, inequality.
I take the role of the press in a strong democracy very seriously; thus, I care about how media help, and hurt, our community. I am concerned when I spot holes in coverage that, if filled, would make us a stronger and more compassionate city, state and nation.
For instance, I read a report recently in The Clarion-Ledger about a budget meeting that Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn held. From the news report, you wouldn't know that the state economist had warned state leaders that increased federal budget cuts (especially with costly Bush tax cuts in place) could devastate Mississippi economically because we're so dependent on federal resources. (The JFP did, however, report that vital part.)
Could this kind of omission be responsible for the weird disconnect of the majority of Mississippians--most of whom are not helped by tax cuts for the wealthy--supporting budget and tax cuts that would raise costs for the state while lowering revenue? Would it explain people supposedly voting for smaller government while not understanding that our state gets far more than its share of federal pork--with Republicans actively lobbying for most of that bacon?
Sure, good citizens should seek out all the facts themselves, but we-the-media have the responsibility to tell people the whole truth, and it doesn't matter where that falls on the political spectrum or which party it makes looks good or bad at the moment. When the JFP reports facts other media ignore, many try to dismiss us as "liberal"--a word used very loosely in Mississippi--regardless of the truth of our reporting or the motives of the politicians they support.
We've seen it happen repeatedly as we've reported facts about the lies and myths behind the Iraq War (that we reported the week it began); the real Frank Melton (Clarion-Ledger hid that he was lying under oath, and endorsed him anyway); the enormous problems with George W. Bush (Clarion-Ledger endorsed him for re-election); the conflicts of interest and unreported campaign donations of Two Lakes backers; the fact that voter ID is costly, frivolous legislation that doesn't target actual voter fraud; and much more.
This information blackout is a national problem. We've all watched 24-hour cable "news" turn into infotainment designed to tell certain views what they want to hear--without much regard for actual facts. Rupert Murdoch's FOX News, of course, has led the way on producing the most unfair and unbalanced and often inaccurate "news" coverage that becomes gospel for its choir. (Go read up on Murdoch's war on Gov. Chris Christie because he worked with the president after Hurricane Sandy to see what "fair and balanced" really means over there.)
I was grateful for a FOX News meltdown on and since election night because I want more Americans to start demanding real facts, not propaganda, and to learn to tell the difference before we end up with another Mayor Melton or an Iraq War we still haven't paid for. It is one thing for a news outlet to do heavy-duty research and then take an informed position based on those facts (what we do) and another to decide a partisan position and say (or ignore) anything to please ideologues. That's not real journalism.
Americans too often allow ourselves to be divided into two distinct camps and told to support a position of one "side" with scant evidence to back it up. This is bad in any circumstance, but it is dangerous when one party swings as far to the extreme as the Republican Party has of late (and Democrats did in previous decades and could again some day). Media that feed extremism are not giving the public the information it needs to make informed decisions.
One side or the other will always to media that report than their side. We've gotten hate mail over the years from the left and the right--and some of the strongest has come from people who think we're supposed to be on their side (such as when we unendorsed Democrats because they were publicly pandering to extremists publicly to get votes).
Years ago, I started saying that a good news outlet "tells the truth with style and lets the chips fall where they may." And the chips will not always fall evenly on two sides of a line. Depending on which political party is being more of a stinker at the moment, telling the truth will likely make one look better than the other. It should. Reporting the truth shouldn't be about taking two opposite opinions and giving each equal time--not when one of them is factual and the other isn't. Dividing a story down the middle when one side is more honest or honorable than the other is anything but "objective." It is journalism malpractice to pretend two sides are even when the facts don't support it.
Partisans will always slam media for not reporting their side as the best or equal one--and they hate factchecking, which should be part of every news report ever published. (It's policy here.) People who dislike Mayor Harvey Johnson wanted us to go easy on Melton and not tell readers he was a devastating choice for mayor. Partisans want us to be "fair" about voter ID, thus concealing that it is costly, frivolous legislation that Republicans have openly admitted is done to help their party win office. Not reporting that, and making up good reasons for voter ID that do not exist, would be the most irresponsible kind of yellow journalism we could come up with. It would be similar to the Ledger's history of biased tort-reform coverage--which left out facts its supporters didn't want in there. (See jfp.ms/hoodwinked).
Incomplete reporting ultimately leaves people feeling cheated as so many Republicans felt election night after their chosen media outlets assured them of a "landslide." The data never indicated that; it was an irresponsible lie, although not as bad as some of the dangerous whoppers FOX et al hyped about a Benghazi conspiracy-that-wasn't, welfare work rules and, yes, voter suppression.
Regardless of your beliefs, you lose when media just tell you what you want to hear. The job of the Fourth Estate is precisely to give people needed if disconcerting information because, well, no one else is going to. Pandering never builds great societies.
Let's be thankful for that.