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December 12, 2006

Jeane Kirkpatrick On The Unaccountable Media

Of course she passed away this Friday. She will be missed.

MRC reprints a terrific forward for an MRC book by her. It's worth reading in full, but here are some choice bits:

This whole problem of controlling arbitrary power is, in short, one that has been with us throughout our national life. It inspirits all our basic documents and our political culture. We developed the whole notion of separation of power as the response to the desire to control arbitrary power over our lives and times and national affairs. Popular government itself is regarded by our Constitution and by democratic theory in general as the most effective means of controlling arbitrary power, on the grounds that if government can be kept responsive to citizens, and rulers can be forced to be accountable to the people whom they rule, then we will truly have government by the consent and control of the governed.

What's the point? Obviously, the point is that we have always sought to control (not to destroy, but to control) important, significant powers that small groups can exercise over ourselves and our society. ...

New powers have arisen: among them, the power of the media. Some people believe, and I am among them, that the power of the media today constitutes the most significant exercise of unaccountable power in our society. It is unaccountable to anyone, except for those who exercise the power. I believe that the domain of culture is as important as the domain of government or the economy. My view is that the domain of culture is more important than that of economics or government. It conditions the economy and it conditions government. When we talk about what comes first, the chicken or the egg, I believe that it's the chicken. Whether economics controls ideology and culture, or whether ideology and culture control economics -- and I believe that it is ideology and culture.

Our ideas about what is true, what is good, what is important, what causes what, what's worth doing, what's legitimate -- those are the very essence of our culture, and they shape our behavior in the economic and the governmental sphere. No domain is more important than the domain in which the media operate.

I believe that it is terribly important that the same principles that concern limitations of arbitrary power apply to the media and in the domain of culture. It is very important to realize that the electronic media, which provide mass audiences, have made our culture much more manipulable than it ever was in the past. Typically, historically, cultures have been slow to change. Ideas about what's real, what's important, and what causes what, change very slowly in history. They are grounded in the experience of peoples, and respond only to additional, cumulative experiences of peoples.


The electronic media are many times more useful because they manipulate images as well as ideas. Images are very easily manipulated -- pictures speak a thousand words and all that. People are more readily manipulated through images than just with words.


It's about time the media voluntarily agreed to be held accountable, through close questioning of their reportage. They're in favor of accountability, sunlight-the-best-disinfectant and all that, for everyoe in America except themselves.

They are a powerful force in America -- so powerful they happily call themselves "The Fourth Estate" of government. Why should this one powerful body not have to submit to tough questios and grilling the same as every other influential organization in America?

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posted by Ace at 01:46 PM

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