Mainstream media seem to have surrendered political discourse

A new executive order by U.S. President Barack Obama is inflaming the right wing, which claims it lays the groundwork for martial law in peacetime.

Other points of view say the measure is nothing more than what other presidents have issued and simply repeats much of a 1950 executive order.

The order in question is the National Defense Resources Preparedness that showed up on the White house Web site Friday.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the debate is that the traditional news media does not seem to be involved. A Web search engine shows page after page of commentary, some supporting Obama’s action and others expressing fear for the Republic. But absent is any reference to what may be considered the mainstream press.

An exception is Canada Free Press. Editor Judi McLeod. She said in her publication Sunday:

“…Early Sunday morning and the AWOL mainstream media has missed the proverbial boat on the latest Executive Order signed Friday by President Barack Hussein Obama. Executive Order ‘National Defense Resources Preparedness,’ in effect nationalizes all the energy, food and water currently existing on American soil. The EO is cunningly covered under the auspices of Peace Time Martial Law at the discretion of one man.”

A.M. Costa Rica staffers arrived at the same conclusion about the media independently, and found that various blogs and political Web sites have been writing about the executive order extensively since Friday. In the five pages checked in a Google search not one publication that could be considered mainstream is mentioned. That includes The Washington Post or The New York Times. That means there is no well-researched, impartial treatment of the executive order. A check of the various postings show most have some political point of view.

The Drudge Report published the executive order in full and then published a commentary Sunday afternoon.

The mainstream media is supposed to be objective in its treatment of the news by giving relevant sides of an issue. Newspapers are supposed to lay out both sides to advance public discussion.  Not so subjective blogs.

With the growth of easy access to publishing via the Web, the possibility exists that the traditional media is being eclipsed by politically motivated sites.

If that is true, the world of journalism has come full circle because the initial U.S. newspapers were financed by politicians and carried a political banner. In fact, the U.S. revolution against England was advanced in part by the pamphlet writings of Thomas Paine, whose propagandistic pro-war works were published widely.

Some 40 years earlier Peter Zenger, operator of the New-York Weekly  Journal, set the tone with repeated attacks on the colonial governor. The libel trial of Zenger is considered a landmark in U.S. press freedom. Less known is that Zenger, a German immigrant, was not fluent in English and many of the offending newspaper’s articles were penned by local politicians.

The tradition of the party press was highlighted at the end of the 18th century in the political battle over the Alien and Sedition acts passed by the Federalists in fear of fallout from the French Revolution. Many opposition editors and even a congressman were jailed under the sedition provisions, which were interpreted to mean criticism of President John Adams or his administration. Newspapers generally served as platforms for political diatribes. Thomas Jefferson, the next president, issued pardons.

The tradition of journalistic political partisanship continued to the Civil War when the fledgling Associate Press news service realized that an impartial approach to the news would allow it to get more clients. Eventually this point of view won out, and newspaper opinions were supposed to be restricted to the editorial page.

Still there were some major exceptions, mainly to win circulation. William Randolph Hearst promoted the war with 1898 Cuba and was the man for whom the term yellow journalism was coined. In Chicago, Colonel Robert R. McCormick gained fame for his journalistic crusades and his anti-Communist coverage.

There is great discussion in the journalism field about the meaning of objectivity. Much can be said and slanted in a few headline works. Most academics say that objectivity is impossible and that the goal should be fairness. The point of view of owners and editors influences coverage.

But fairness is not the goal of many Internet sites and even some mainstream television stations. Many push a political point of view, and in that way, society has returned to the era of the party press. The good news is that alternate views are easily available with a simple click.

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