Interestingly enough, the Vermont blogosphere is saturated of late with posts opining the failure of the media and press corps to do, well, journalism.  From the liberals at Green Mountain Daily, to the new Vermont News Guy, to the recently (and apparently reluctantly) resurrected Broadsides, there’s a small but sudden on-slot against the dismal state of what passes as “journalism” around these parts.  And while the regressive state of reporting (especially, as all these folks are focusing on, political reporting and governmental oversight/accountability) is far from anything new, there is a place where the up-tick in criticism makes sense at the current moment.  The facts of the matter are hard to underestimate and too numerous to exhaustively list: in a state known far and wide as the “most liberal in the country” (not that I’m entirely endorsing that axiom) a “free market”,divisive, reductionist, career bureaucrat like Republican Jim Douglas has somehow managed to attain the status of un-defeatable incumbent whose political star is somehow still rising (Senator, college president, any job he wants next is already his); in the meantime, the ravages of Vermont’s power supply, agricultural system, transportation infrastructure, social safety net, health care system, educational system, and budget- all problems underway for years but drastically accelerated on Douglas’ watch- are un-addressed and un-explored by the very body- the press- who’s sole job it is to do so (well, that’s not entirely true, they do faithfully re-state the governor’s statements about all these problems being the fault of the legislature and the Democrats).  On top of all this, Vermonter’s- like the rest of the American population- are confused, scared, and rapidly reaching “panic” mode as a result of what is increasingly (and rightfully) being described as the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  People want to know what’s going on, and they want a solution; and they want whoever (or whatever) is responsible for this “crisis” to be held accountable.  The Four Estate- the people’s real system of checks and balances on the government- is simply no where to be seen.  Sure, there’s myopic reporting about jobs being cut, banker’s and industry’s asking for (and receiving) hand-out’s from the Federal government; and sure, Monday’s paper may have an op-ed about the need for a more socialized system- that’s usually followed by an op-ed on Tuesday about the wisdom of the marketplace, Wednesday’s piece about how Obama’s own $500 billion (or more) plan will save us all, Thursday’s…. well, you get the picture.

But op-ed’s are op-ed’s, and not journalism; not reporting, accountability, and most certainly not reasoned contributions towards a public discourse about our cultural and economic values.  They’re flash in the pan opinions by someone who thinks they have an answer that hit us without context, without sufficient background, and often without any need to place themselves in any context whatsoever concerning where we’ve actually come from, and where we’re hoping- as a society- to get to.  Which brings me to Vermont News Guy’s incredibly important conclusion: Vermonters are politically/governmentally ignorant.  (To be fair, that statement isn’t just true of Vermonter’s in general, but of the entire U.S. population).

Several of the commentator’s I’ve read who are exploring the dismal state of journalism look pessimistically at the cut-backs that the major media outlets have made over the past several years in number of reporters, which, fair enough, effects the quality of reporting and the depth of coverage we could expect.  But even if magically we were to double, triple, or more the number of reporter’s on the scene little would change.  That’s because the problem is systematic.  There are two main branches to the problem, and they both grow directly from the same seed: capitalism.

The media- sometimes excluding but often including small, family owned enterprises- have a vested interest in profits and the status quo of business.  Privately owned, for-profit (capitalist) press cannot be expected- in any but the very slightest of ways- to act against it’s own self-interest.  It will not bite the hand that, literally, feeds it.  But the interest of the people- you and me- is for a media that informs us of our world, most specifically of the power-centers over us, our interest does not in any way rest in the profits of one entity or another or the success of one particular economic system.  Our interest is social, is our community and our society and our rights and livelihoods, and a press corps that is directly interested in something other cannot reconcile with our needs.

Of course, this brings up a huge problem to which there is no easy or obvious solution: if not funded privately, who pays the costs of the journalists?  In other places, the answer is the State.  Now, a democratic government is, at least in theory (and in actuality only in theory) controlled by the public at large, and thus in itself is a more progressive entity than a privately owned one.  In theory, the appendages of government are accountable to “the electorate” and so could be trusted to inform, investigate, and hold accountable, as we should want.  But just as private, for-profit media fails miserably at holding the system under which it lives accountable, so too a State-run media fails miserably at holding the system (the State itself) accountable.  The only real solution- one which we would not expect to see played out in any reasonably expected near future- would be for the media to be publicly funded and run in the same way we do our libraries and other such not-for-profit, not-private corporation, not-State run entities.  Perhaps this is a seemingly impossible scenario from where we stand now, but it is the only actual systematic solution to the problem of divorcing journalism from being entrenched behind whatever systematic entity pays its bills.

Secondly, the population as a whole are under-educated, and worse, mis-educated.  By and large, the educational system that we spend sickening amounts of money and energy on fails grossly at merely teaching people to think critically.  Education reforms enacted during the Bush Administration (and supported by our own Jim Douglas) took this pre-existing problem and exasperated it by putting even more focus and attention on rote memorization and fact (“fact” actually) regurgitation through expanded standardized testing.  Not only this- not only does the educational fail miserably at teaching our children to think well, but things like economics, civics, how government operates, an objective look at the role of business, money, the State (etc)… these topics are all but ignored in favor of Columbus, the civil war, and just general mind-numbing dribble.  Americans (and Vermonters) are not taught- by and large- how to frame or think critically about anything political at all, and are not taught any of the context whatsoever that got us to where we are in the first place.  So when there’s a breakdown of the financial markets, most of us don’t have a clue how or why or what the financial markets do or how they came into being; of course no one “gets it” or understands clearly how it effects them or what the pros and cons of one solution or another are.  If you put a broken-down car in front of me and told me to get it running, there are about three things that I could check and fix before I’d have to completely give -up and ask someone else to solve the problem for me: no one ever taught me anything (except those three things) about cars.  Well, no one ever taught us anything about politics or economics, except maybe for three things.

And so, again, the conclusion we rightfully arrive at: a systematic problem.  The government- the capitalist State– is immeasurably invested in just this scenario: teach us those three things, and if (when) none of them solve the problem, we go back to sleep and leave it to the “experts”.  “I don’t know what’s wrong with the economy, or the health care system, or the roads…. you fix it.”  So we’re leaving the problem to be addressed by the very people and institutions that created it in the first place!  One time I took my car- my perfectly working car- in to have a simple tune-up; when it came back, there were noises and mis-fires and all sorts of things amiss.  Well, I was foolish enough once to go back to the same shop and ask them to fix whatever was wrong- it came back with one noise gone, and another (more troubling) noise.  The lesson I gained quick: don’t ask the fuckers who break the thing to repair it for you.  Well, the same should be said for the problems of our broken economy, and broken government: the broken meida who let us sleep our way to this point should not be trusted to fix it, nor should the institutions of the broken system that got us here.