Monday, April 20, 2015

Modern Media Work Magic

Critics lamenting the vast changes in American news media continue to mutter throughout the land, and my voice has been among them for some time. The main concern is the disappearance of investigative reporters as newspapers continue to decline and die.

We oldsters reason that without ethical media watchdogs to create awareness of government, corporate, or ideological excesses democracy cannot flourish, or perhaps even exist. But recent events bring hope. Perhaps the old dogs simply are being replaced by a whole new breed that may prove capable of doing a better job of guarding the public interest.

Recent events in Indiana show that internet media can expose unsavory political actions and force change. And they can do it with remarkable speed and effectiveness.

On March 26, Governor Mike Pence expressed pleasure as he signed into law a "religious freedom" bill that supposedly had the benign purpose of defining  rights generally protected by the U.S. Constitution. The measure had overwhelming support in the legislature. Laws in one-party states, such as Indiana, enacted by wide margins and enthusiastically supported by the governor usually are impossible to overturn or modify without major electoral upheaval or campaigns that can take years to develop.

Justice was served remarkably quickly.
Yet the Indiana law bit the dust in a matter of weeks. The opposition said the law clearly would allow discrimination against a minority, in this case LGBT people, and that was intolerable. A huge storm of protest erupted within days. Statements by individuals on blogs and in social media led the way. Facebook and Yelp participants played major roles in the outcry. Businesses and organizations took action to penalize Indiana economically by canceling meetings, postponing investments, or threatening to pull operations out of the state.

Gov. Pence quickly went on television to explain that the law really did not promote discrimination. He failed miserably to make the case. As criticism and punitive actions mounted, he surrendered and backed a change in the law to make it clear it will not permit discrimination because of sexual orientation.

The fallout from the protests was dramatic. Pence's approval rating within Indiana plummeted. He went almost instantly from consideration as a presidential candidate to a man fighting for his political life.

I doubt any such change would have happened in the past when newspapers, radio stations, two press associations, and three television networks constituted our media.The Indiana law signing might have rated a couple of paragraphs in the Indianapolis Star. The Associated Press might have condensed that to a few sentences if its editors decided to circulate the news at all. Chances of the item drawing any national media attention would have been extremely low.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which keeps an eagle eye out for injustices, perhaps would have launched a protest. And probably few people would have paid any attention to it. It is doubtful the law would have become any sort of factor in Indiana or national politics.

Our traditional media developed over many years. Internet media still are the new kids on the block. The newcomers just proved they can work magic in righting a wrong that the institutions being replaced could not match.

Many questions of responsibility and ethics surround the internet as a news purveyor. But there always were similar issues with traditional media. Perhaps we critics of media change should relax a bit and just watch the new kids grow up and see if they mature into solid citizens.


Tom Sightings said...

I think it's great that this reactionary law was brought out into the open and resulted in public outrage. But I still wonder why some issues seem to catch fire and spark lots of dissent, while other equally important issues simply escape the public eye, or just elicit lots of bored lip service. Why is it that gay rights and women's rights have won the day; but racial equality has languished? Why is it that 4,500 presumably wasted American lives in 10 years of war in Iraq bring horror; but people just yawn at the 450,000 lives that were wasted on American highways over the same time period?

Dick Klade said...

Good questions, Tom. I think we are seeing a surge of interest in racial equality issues with media attention to excessive police force against blacks in some areas. Can't say the same about highway deaths.

Anonymous said...

In many ways, the religious community is more at risk than the LBGT community. The effort in Indiana was clumsy and I followed it with great interest. Apparently, the majority of people these days feel that any attempt to regulate behavior is discrimination.

I agree tha tLGBT folks have civil rights but am not sure what "civil rights" are any more. Just a few years ago, a man in NJ beat his wife to death with a hammer and said his religion told him he had the 'right" to do this because she had disobeyed.

The federal law which is somewhat like the Indiana law protected an "American native" whatever that is, when he shot a bald eagle because he needed the feathers for for religious purposes.

A few years ago, I participated in a "write-in campaign" to "encourage" the powers here in Washington DC to allow the Wicca pentacle (instead of the Cross, Crescent, Jewish star, or one of the dozens of other specialized religious markers paid for by the VA) to be placed on the graves of Americans buried in Arlington cemetery.

WE won our argument (against the Bush admin) through existing laws that protect ALL religious groups, and today you will find the pentacle in cemeteries across the US.

As you can see, I've given this religion versus the state conflict a great deal of thought.

As for media bias and investigative journalism. Good if they are "fair, balanced, and unafraid." Howard Kurtz on FOX (Sundays before Chris Wallace) is a good example. So are some of the reports on PBS News Hour. Some of the same 'talking heads' like Judy Woodruff have appeared on both channels, and CNN. Like you Listen to all sides before I form an "informed opinion."

PiedType said...

Social media have notorious shortcomings (especially compared to traditional news media), but they reach into every corner of American life and communicate instantly. Very little escapes their attention, but whether a particular item goes viral is still as much a matter of whim as of newsworthiness.

Still, the response to the Indiana law was immediate, nationwide, and deeply gratifying to those of us watching both traditional investigative journalism and our election system circle the drain.

Dick Klade said...

Dianne--The religious community is not at risk. Very few in the U.S. object to anyone practicing their religion. What growing numbers object to is the more fanatic religion followers trying to force their beliefs on others.

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on which religion you practice and where you are located in the US. I know several people with religious group membership who feel very vulnerable.

Our neighborhood Unitarian church facilitates services for many minority groups in this enlightened community, but the enlightenment is not universal.

One of my granddaughters is LGBT and she and I have had many interesting discussions about religion.

On the other hand, her sister "protested" the protestors demonstrating at the at the chick-fillet stores during the imbroglio over contraception a few years ago, which many don't recall although the owners won their Supreme Court case.

Catholic bishops wrote a piece for the Post on their opinion regarding the right to disagree concerning gay marriage. I don't think many if any protest civil unions. The question is whether churches should be forced to conduct same-sex marriages if they disagree with this practice.

Because the feds have already tried to force some churches and privately owned businesses to pay for forms of contraception they disavow, these unhappy people think future might mean being forced to conduct religious services they disavow.

The owner of the pizza joint in Indiana, when asked a 'theoretical' question about serving gay customers said she would "serve anyone in her store, but owing to her religious beliefs, she didn't think she could cater a gay wedding."

She is in hiding following death threats. Not everyone is as free from fear as you suggest.

Dick Klade said...

Perhaps because I am a Unitarian I have trouble supporting any of the hate and fear stuff no matter what ideology it comes from.

Hadn't heard about any groups or individuals trying to force churches into extending their sacraments to people they don't choose to serve. I would be opposed to that.

However, people who open businesses that are designed to serve the general public should serve all in the public equally, in my opinion.

I haven't met any church members in recent years who don't practice some form of contraception, so I think the attacks from the far right on programs designed to help with sensible population control and female health and control of their bodies are a farce, or at least manifestations of hypocrisy.

Jhawk23 said...

Odd, I see a clear analogy between your original comments on media and the direction this discussion went (religion).

In both cases we may at first regret the changes as traditional institutions have to adapt, and we feel something is lost. Yet if we take a Namaste moment, we may realize the old system wasn't really perfect. Here, it's because both traditional media and traditional religion straitjacketed attitudes and outcomes. Newer forms become more flexible and (perhaps) more democratic. That pendulum may swing back in time.

Meanwhile, I've been intrigued by a Baptist church near my house that put up banners a few years ago saying they are "A Church For All People." The mischievous little boy in me wants to gather a few of my Muslim friends and go check out a Sunday service there some day...

Dick Klade said...

Well, JHawk, if those Baptists survive your Muslim invasion, I can perplex them further by bringing in a group of Unitarian-Universalists.

Wonder how the Baptist preacher would react when those free-thinking UUs say, "Happy to be here; we'll listen to you respectfully, but then each of us will select the parts he or she chooses to adopt."