This is a continuation of the Globe Watch I undertook yesterday.
The idea behind that post: yes we have a free press in this country, and rightly so, but nothing confers on the press some special virtue by which it is charged with the protection of the American people from the evil intentions of government. Government itself is the main vehicle for conducting affairs in accord with the public’s interest, and the three branch system devised by the founders was the key contraption aimed to accomplish this.
Contraptions are designed to work but sometimes they work and sometimes they do not. Much depends on the nature of the individuals running the contraption.
The free press is not defined in the Constitution and its powers not enumerated or hedged in the fashion that the powers of the three branches are. It is just assumed to be free in the same manner as the speech of individuals is assumed to be free. The Constitution sets these apart as part of a private realm that is a good thing in itself, or at least as something that our inherent rights and dignity require that government not violate. But the framers did not create the press as a kind of fourth branch, in order to assist in the better running of government.
Of course you hear a different theme nowadays emanating from an aggrieved and self-righteous press. It is not uncommon to hear members of the press–self-designated in the media to explain their role to the American people–describe the press as explicitly as a protector of the people, as though that is the Constitutional design, stupid.
Even if the press served this explicit function under our system–and it does not–virtue does not come pre-conferred by means of one’s station. It must constantly be earned, just as the members of the three branches of government cannot automatically be considered virtuous. According to Madison a lack of virtue is the most likely default position, with the result that powers become factions, and factions must be created to counter factions.
If the main powers of government are managed by people that the framers view with skepticism then why would one presume to conclude that the press is automatically virtuous by reason of its ability to engage in free speech? Government can be corrupted and the press can be corrupted too.
So before we all go off on a toot, the way the Globe has done, about the sanctity of press freedom it behooves us to consider whether the press has become corrupted in its own way, and is a kind of faction of the sort that Madison warned against.
That’s why I thought it worthwhile to take a look at some of the stories that a paper with the Globe’s national reputation choose to cover, or not to cover.
The Globe went a long time without mentioning Imran Awan, mentioning the name only after it concluded (incorrectly in my view) that he was off the hook and the story could be wrapped up before they even told it. The Awan saga continues. No Globe coverage.
Ditto Sarah Jeong. No coverage.
One story on Keith Ellison, the one where he proclaims his innocence even before the Globe covered the initial charges. That one seemed to make it to the online Globe site only, and does not seem to have appeared in the print editions.
A couple of stories on the Rotherham sex scandal when it broke in 2014-15. But the story has gotten much bigger and is now not really about the grooming gangs but about a British elite that willfully ignored and suppressed the story for fear of appearing anti-Muslim. No coverage of that story, and no mention of grooming gangs, since 2015.
Here are some more.
Tommy Robinson? No coverage of his arrest, imprisonment and release.
Social Media Bias and Viewpoint Suppression? Pew released a study about a month ago that concluded that “seven out of ten Americans think social media platforms intentionally censor political viewpoints.” An important story, no? How did those Americans come to that view if not for reading about it somewhere? Where?
Not the Globe.
The Globe is fine with Pew generally, and ran with a story about a Pew analysis of teen social media use a few weeks before the study about censorship came out.
But nothing about the Pew social media censorship findings can be found at the Globe.
Shadow banning? How about “shadow banning”. That story is everywhere, and is one of the threads that has led Americans to be suspicious about social media.
The term “shadow banning” appears only twice in the Globe, in two stories dated July 26. In the first, Trump decries Twitter gutting conservative voices and Twitter is allowed to say it does not. That article received only one comment. No surprise, like the Ellison article, this article does not seem to have appeared in the print edition.
Then there is a second article from the same day (July 26) downplaying Trump’s charges and bringing Twitter’s denial to the lede. It is almost as if the Globe decided to more or less replace the story that led with Trump’s charges to one that led with Twitter’s denial. This story gets a few more comments–11–but once again it does not seem to have appeared in any print edition.
Assange? An even better example: Julian Assange. The world knows the walls are closing in on Assange, with Ecuador apparently about to disgorge him to the Brits who can hand him over to Washington. For what? For publishing leaked information. How is what Assange did any different from the Pentagon Papers fracas recently brought back to life in the hagiographic The Post?
You might think that a press which celebrates Ellsberg’s leak and defends the Post’s decision to publish might spare a moment to put in a good word for Assange. But no. The Globe archives indicates his name has shown up a few times in the past few months–months that are critical in terms of Assange’s fate–and that the coverage has mostly been critical. It has never dealt squarely with the main issue at hand: whether WikiLeaks is the press and whether it should be assumed to operate freely.
You can try this at home in other ways too, with variations on search terms related to the free press issues the Globe professes to care about: Facebook, PragerU, YouTube and so on. You will for the most part find a lack of interest at the Globe in the entire complex of issues.
Now, the throttling of social media and the pending arrest of Assange are in my book textbook examples of the kind of free press issues that the Globe is so hot and bothered about. Why then can’t it be bothered to cover them?