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This one time at Writer's Camp…

Scientia Potentia Est

We’re all gonna die!

Well, eventually. But if you read the news, you’d think it’s going to happen every single day.

I’m not sure why the human psyche craves sensationalism. Even in the days of ancient Greece, sensationalist news and information was far more digested by the populous than actual cold, hard facts. It’s something I’ve never been able to wrap my head around, the human collective need for exciting news.

I’m not immune to this. I’ll be the first to admit it. When I see a breathless reporter talking about something, and the way they are intent on the actual subject (instead of the usual, dispassionate reporting of, say, Johnny Neighbor’s tax dispute with the city) usually gets my attention. It’s deliberate on the newsies part, no doubt. It has to be. To be that skilled of an actor or actress (and trust me, that’s all they are… actors and actresses under the thin veil of a Visual Media/Telecommunications degree), you have to be able to engage the thousands and millions of people at home. That requires a degree of acting, to look at the camera and sound like you’re reaching into the living room or home of the people watching. Walter Kronkite was amazing at this. Barbara Walters was as well.

Now, we turn around and complain about this, but look at history. We’re a social animal. Yes, we’re anti-social in terms of those outside our “clan” or “family”, but that still doesn’t mean we aren’t curious about others. Basic human curiosity, combined with the social habits of man, and you’ve got… well, us. History has shown that time and time again we need to know. Scientia potentia est.

Knowledge is power.

Sensationalism aside, the media was once our most powerful ally in the fight for freedom. There is a reason that the First Amendment is first.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

That seems pretty clear-cut to me. We have free speech, we have the right to a press, to peaceably assemble and demand from our government an answer. The government works for us, not vice versa. We owe the government nothing, since, you know, we already give a hefty chunk of our money to it. What more could they want? Then there’s this little amendment, which people often forget about because the “Big Two” (1st and 2nd Amendments) are usually the ones at the forefront.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Without looking it up online, can you tell me what amendment that is? It’s not the Fifth (my brother swore for years that it was, until I made him look it up). That’s the Fourth Amendment, by the way. One that protects our personal privacy from the government. The government that is now eroding this amendment by simply tacking on the words “security” after any excuse they might have after getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Spying on US citizens? Security. Detaining US citizens without pressing charges? Security. Bombing US citizens in other countries without trial? Security.

I don’t think that the original drafters of the Patriot Act had planned for anything this broad, this sweeping, when they drew up the law after September 11. If they had, then they are evil. And should be put on trial.

But how, you may ask, does sensationalism in the media tie into the First and Fourth Amendments? Ah, perfect. I’m glad you’re thinking that way. Because as a curious animal, you’re mind is already trying to draw a connection.

Good little monkey.

Have you ever heard the term “wag the dog”? I’m sure you have. It’s a pretty popular saying that maybe 40% of the people who say it truly understand it.

To ‘wag the dog’ means to purposely divert attention from what would otherwise be of greater importance, to something else of lesser significance. By doing so, the lesser-significant event is catapulted into the limelight, drowning proper attention to what was originally the more important issue.

So… sensationalism. Freedom of speech. Privacy rights. I’ll ask you a simple question: have you noticed whenever another spying scandal breaks, something really minute and trivial is brought to the forefront and slathered all across the news wires? Like the NSA getting caught with their zipper down (hey guys! nice to see you! yeah, nothing interesting on my computer but if you do find a file labeled “Harridan” let me know. I started writing that book years ago and can’t seem to recall where I stashed it, and my search function isn’t working so well) on another spying scandal, then suddenly Pres. Obama’s on the news for taking a selfie during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. Can you believe that Russia has Edward Snowden? Now, can you tell me what he released to the public?

Yeah… you knew he was in Russia, but you had to think about what he released in the first place.

I’m not saying that the media is in bed with the government (that would be silly… nobody in that abusive of a relationship keeps coming back… right?)… okay, maybe I am. But why would a media, who is protected by the First Amendment, be so eager to be the lapdog of any government? What could possibly force them to cozy up to any administration for scraps from the table? Has investigative journalism gone the way of the dodo? Or is there a deeper fear? The fear of being arrested due to “security”? Did you know that, even if you’re a journalist, you could be arrested for trying to investigate allegations of wrongdoing at any government entity? IRS, NSA, CIA, FBI… in the name of security, you can be locked up and not charged with a crime for a very, very long time. Barnett Brown was the first example I found when I looked online. What, you haven’t heard of Barnett Brown? No? Why not? Huh.

Well, let me give you the run-down on Mr. Brown: In September 2012, Barnett Brown, an investigative reporter, was arrested in a FBI raid on his home after he had posted a previously-posted public link to a leaked file from Stratfor, a private intelligence firm who works worldwide in a varying degree of information and intelligence forecasting. Mind you, somebody else had hacked Stratfor, and somebody else posted the link. All Brown did was repost the link which, according to the whistleblower laws on the OSHA government website, means the government attacking him for him doing his job as a reporter violates their own laws (don’t worry. the government breaks its own laws all the time. laws are for people like us, not the towering entity of our government, who we should trust to do what is right and good all the time… if you haven’t rolled your eyes yet, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you…). Now, he deserves to a speedy trial, which he… didn’t get. Why? Well, he was arrested in September 2012, and will finally begin trial at the end of April, 2014. Mr. Brown has sat in jail since that time, and now that a judge has issued a gag order on the trial, Mr. Brown can’t even talk about why he was arrested or his trial at all.

Privacy. Security. Apparently we need to decide which we like more. You would think that only authoritative regimes like Iran and North Korea would treat their reporters spies, but apparently we do to. I never thought I’d see the day when a place like Colombia has better free press than the country which was founded on the idea. The idea that our First and Fourth amendments could be circumvented terrified me. The idea that our journalists are complicit with this should give everyone the chills. And the very knowledge that every day, a “wag the dog” scenario is occurring should terrify each and every one of us.

Rights are not given to us by the government, despite what they would have you think. We have rights to prevent the government from what it is doing right now.

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