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We have too much information today, not too little

Thursday, July 11, 2013 - 12:01 am

And our responsibility is to listen to many voices for the truth.

The mainstream media have come under fire lately, especially from commentators on the right, for their overly kind treatment of the Obama administration. Multiple controversies touching the president and his team are skipped over lightly. Just this week a headline on a story linked to by numerous conservative blogs said, “MSM protect Hillary from scandal.”

We act as if this unseemly coziness is something new, as if the press has somehow veered off its proper course. But consider a little historical perspective. Ray Begovich, a journalism professor at Franklin College, has found footage of FDR being pushed in his wheelchair, depicting a secret that was hidden from the public until the president’s death. Stricken with polio, he was unable to walk without leg braces or assistance. The president used a wheelchair in private but not for public appearances. Most news photographers cooperated in concealing the disability, and those who didn’t found their camera views blocked by secret service agents.

Numerous other examples could be cited. We know for example that the press of President Kennedy’s time was scrupulous in ignoring his sexual peccadilloes. And the press has been notoriously unkind to Republicans, when, like Richard Nixon, they deserved it, and when, like Ronald Reagan, they didn’t.

Partisanship has been a part of journalism from the beginning. The first newspapers were political scandal sheets that praised the virtues of one party and damned the sins of the other, throwing in a little news as an afterthought. That’s the legacy today’s press inherited, not some mythical era of fairness and objectivity no one can exactly find the evidence for.

And it’s only going to get worse. The rise of the new media has helped intensify the partisan divide. Popular conservative Internet sites push their cause without pause, and liberal ones push theirs. They rarely present the arguments of the other side, and mostly they throw a little news in as an afterthought. And those of a political bent have taken to following only their side’s sites, so it’s becoming increasingly unlikely they will stumble across anything resembling a reasoned debate.

Our growing problem is too much information, not too little. With fewer gatekeepers to sort things out and fewer people paying attention to the ones that are left, it is harder and harder to separate the pertinent information from the frivolous and misleading.

What was true at the beginning is even more important today. From many voices, truth – and it’s our responsibility to listen to as many as we can and pay attention.