I've long had a theory that the road to our current political/social Hell began being paved as part of the aftermath of the Nixon Watergate debacle.
First, I know that there are a lot of people like me (I don't think I was the only one) who's sense of innocence was shattered by the events around Watergate. I couldn't stand Nixon, but it had still never entirely occurred to me that Presidents could be criminals, that the level of cynicism which those men operated with could even exist. One of the worst things that happens when innocence is shattered is that it can turn to bitterness and cynicism. But I think we all would have gotten over that if something else hadn't happed at the same time. And that's what happened in the media.
Unhealthy as a cynical public can be, a cynical media is profoundly dangerous to a nation's intellectual and psychological health. After Watergate, the media's approach to news underwent a profound sea change. Every reporter wanted to be the next Woodward and Bernstein, and instead of searching for truth, the media began searching for lies. A hunt for lies is a very different pursuit than a quest for truth and it bears different results. First off, a hunt for lies leads away from the truth as often as not. Second, a hunt for lies is much more subjective than a hunt for truth and as a result it taints whatever truth it happens to trip over. The third - and perhaps worst - aspect of a cynical media is that the energy of cynicism (especially in a media saturated society like ours) permeates our consciousness. It seeps into our way of looking at the world, into our thinking.
I first became aware of this years ago when I began hearing a nasty little voice in my head. There would be some report in the news about someone donating money or doing something good and the little voice would mutter "hah, I wonder what's in it for him." Now that voice is NOT me - or at least it didn't used to be. And when I heard it muttering and looked for where it came from, I was led right back to the way news was being presented to me.
Added to this is that somewhere along the road, in subtle stages, reporters stopped reporting and began opining. Except for PBS, very little of what is presented to us as news is factual reporting any more. I like to use the following as an example because it pissed me off at the time and because I think it makes the point relatively clearly: After the whole Monica Lewinsky story broke, there was a trivial piece about Clinton attending a prayer breakfast and saying he repented. If we had a healthy news media, THAT would have been the story. He attended the meeting and he said x, y,z. A healthy media would have let us draw our own conclusions. Our media instead, talked at length about whether his advisors had told him to repent, whether he was sincere. Most of our news these days is covered this way. It's so pervasive that I don't think we even notice it. It's cynicism presented as facts. It's skewed truth or flat-out untruth.
This isn't a trivial problem. It's corroding us from the inside out. Cynicism sees no hope. Cynicism says that everyone is a crook, everyone is lying, everyone has an ulterior motive. Angels could descend from the heavens bringing good tidings and our media - and we along with them - would spurn the gift or question it's authenticity. (What's God's angle?) And in the populace, this translates into things like: "Why vote, they're all a bunch of crooks anyway." Alas, that may have become true to some extent, but I wonder which came first, the crookedness or the cynicism that feeds it.
This pervasive semi-conscious cynicism among the public, paves the road for professional, criminal cynics like Bush and Cheney to do their worst. They even use it to their advantage. It's an aspect of the Rove - a true cynic's cynic - strategy. You no longer have to prove scandal, you just have to whisper things into the wind and they stick to the web of half, distorted and un-truth in which citizens of our society are trapped like flies, while criminals like the current administration feed on the corpse of our hope, our prosperity - and the spirit of our nation.
I don't know how we can escape this net, but we had better do something because the spiders that spun the web are eating us and our way of life alive. Maybe it's part of why Obama's voice is resonating so strongly with people right now. I don't know that he's the best choice for president - I think Dennis Kucinich would have been - but perhaps his optimistic passion is waking us out of the torpor of the crippling cynicism in which we have been slumbering for too long. I hope so.
Here's what I know. I want a return to a media that covers all the candidates, that reports news and not opinion. I want a media that is peopled with idealists who are hunting for truth, not lies. And I want my own idealism back. I want my hope back. I want my country back. Hopefully, if we become aware of how cynicism has poisoned our media and our own consciousness, we can begin to take the country back. I hope so.