Monday, October 26, 2009

LET THE CROWD ROAR

By now you have heard about last week’s White House debacle, when FOX News was temporarily shut out of scheduled interviews with Treasury Department pay czar Kenneth Feinberg. After it was revealed last Thursday that Fox would not be given access to Feinberg, remarkably, execs from all four of the other major news networks stood together and vowed to refuse the Feinberg interview unless Fox was given equal access. The White House caved and everybody got to interview Feinberg.

Make no mistake: It is not that ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN all hold FOX in high regard. They do not. They may be in awe of the network’s overall ratings, but organizations that brought the likes of Eric Severeid, Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley and Tom Brokaw to the public forum surely do not extend extreme respect for one that brings us Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilley. It’s not about respect. It is about freedom. These five networks work in a pool agreement with the White House, and share access and information. After all, what is freedom of the press if not access and information? Someone at the executive level of government forgot that, apparently, or worse, tried to compromise that freedom.

It is important to realize that in this country we have already lost enough freedoms. We lost our freedom of privacy when technology advanced faster than our creative ability to cope with it. We lost our freedom to feel secure on city streets and even in our own homes when urban crime spiked in every major city in America. Chicago is exhibit A. I live in New Orleans, also high on the example list. What we can’t afford is to lose is our freedom of information. And we cannot afford for all of our information to come from entities deemed acceptable by the White House. And we certainly cannot tolerate a government that would try to stifle the voice of those who question it. That is precisely what the White House tried to do on Thursday, in the ongoing ideological battle between the administration and FOX News.

This has nothing to do with whether you or I appreciate or detest Fox New. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the mix of ideas from disparate sources that allows you and I to hear all perspectives on issues, and then decide for ourselves what we believe is right and wrong.

The Obama administration is in a tough spot with FOX. Millions of Americans are buying into the ideology of some of the network’s most vocal extremists. Their clear message is that the country is on the wrong path and President Obama is the misguided pathfinder. As one who believes television is a tremendously powerful and influential force in our culture, I get it. The White House would like Beck and O’Reilley(right), et al to shut up. But as one who believes the right to speak and to freely express is paramount in this country, I know that the worst thing that could happen would be for the White House to decide who will share information and who will not.

I trust the common sense of the American public. This is the citizenry that recognized that Sarah Palin was not ready for her political closeup, and saw to it that she didn’t get it. This is the same populus that will most likely, in a historical minute, recognize the right of all people to share their lives together legally, regardless of their sexuality. We are also the people who knew that Iraq was a mistake all along, and ultimately, we, the people prevailed and those who wanted to further the war had to step aside. So, what I know is this: The American people will not tolerate a government that ever tries to place its powerful hand over the mouths of dissenters. I, for one, hope I never have to see it try to do that again.

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