Guest column: Consider the source
Decades ago, we were taught that America is a nation ruled by law and not men. That is quite a high ideal, but one which is subject to human imperfection and that selfish streak we all seem to have.
As James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
Women have told me, much to my surprise, that not all of them are angels, either.
Suffice it to say none of us are angels, including those government officials we elect to make, interpret, and enforce the law.
Since government officials are not angels, it is our duty as citizens to hold them accountable for their actions.
However, this would be difficult to accomplish if the only information we received about an elected official came from them.
Understanding the need of voters to receive independent information, the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights established essential rights for holding government officials accountable.
As citizens, we have the right to use our vote to decide who represents us in our government, and the right to use our voice to make our complaints known.
However, only a well-informed citizenry is equipped to effectively use the power of their vote and their voice to hold government officials accountable.
Recognizing that voters need an independent source of information to hold government officials accountable, our founders established freedom of the press as a fundamental right.
The First Amendment prohibits Congress from passing any law “abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.”
However, that amendment has not prevented members of Congress and other politicians from attacking the legitimacy of news outlets for decades.
Republican attacks on the press began at least as long ago as the 1950s campaign when Senator Joe McCarthy tried to paint the federal government as infested with communist sympathizers.
When the conspiracy-based rantings of McCarthyism were exposed as lies by Edward R. Murrow, McCarthy turned his attacks on the media, turning many of his supporters against the news media.
Attacks on “mainstream media” by “conservative” politicians have been amplified for decades through the rantings of right-wing media stars from Rush Limbaugh to Tucker Carlson.
Those attacks reached a disappointing low point when former president Trump called the press “the enemy of the people.”
While millions of Americans have accepted the premise that “mainstream media” is dishonest, that idea is ridiculous on its face.
A huge majority of reporters earn their title by finding and reporting facts with the goal of keeping the public informed.
News is a highly competitive business where the work of reporters is in the public domain and open to inspection every day.
Dishonest reporters have no place to hide and everything to lose. Dishonest reporters soon lose all credibility along with their ability to earn a living.
Dishonest elected officials have everything to gain by convincing voters that media is unreliable.
Elected officials who have convinced voters that media is dishonest effectively become the only source of trusted information.
Voters convinced that the news media is dishonest are left at the mercy of elected officials who can weave any story they choose.
Recently, Republican members of Congress have continued weaving the fantasy of electoral fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
That conspiracy-based fantasy has become popular among those who have lost confidence in the news media.
When I brought questions about the reliability of information to my Mom, she used to tell me to “consider the source.”
Voters looking at discrepancies between “mainstream media” and the words of politicians would do well to heed her advice.
— Tony Choate has lived in the Ardmore area for more than 50 years. He earned his master's degree in political science from Purdue University after earning a bachelor's degree in legal studies from East Central University. He worked for several years as an adjunct instructor for Murray State College, teaching courses in American history and American government and politics.