Sunday, September 19, 2004


The Columnist Manifesto -- on the Blogging Revolution.

Is the media and its army of pundits and editors serving the public interest?

Public opinion in a democracy is a crucial check on the abuse of government power, and the ongoing struggle of a select few to shape and control public opinion is therefore a struggle for power. In my view, today’s shapers of public opinion -- our "opinion leaders," our editors who select the news for us, our editorialists and news commentators, our "talking heads," our pundits – are not serving us, the public, very well. They are presiding over what may be the greatest disconnect between opinions and interests in the history of the republic, in which ordinary people are voting in record numbers for political leaders who give us policies most of us don’t want: destabilizing foreign policies when we want international stability and security; environmental plunder when we want environmental protection; stock speculation and Enron when we want secure savings for our old age; the list goes on and on. Pundits may not be the cause of this disconnect, but they are part of the problem -- yet they’re supposed to be part of the solution.

"The media" are the only private enterprise actually mentioned in the United States Constitution, the charter of our democracy. "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." (U.S. Const., First Amendment.) They are a private enterprise charged with an important public trust. As strongly as I believe in a free press, I also recognize that the press – the media – is primarily in the business of making money.

Traditional opinion-shapers are columnists and editorial writers, media figures in front of the camera, and those behind the scenes who decide what stories to run, and how to cover them. They have always been an oligarchy: an elite few chosen by those "media outlets" with sufficient market power to reach large audiences. They tell us what to think – screaming at us across the airwaves, or spinning webs of spin on editorial pages or in their editorial choices on what and how to report the news – and then they take polls to tell us what we think and report that too, as though it were news. And then they tell us what to think about what we think.

I’m offering this, my first blog entry, to join the blogging revolution. A blog is revolutionary because it allows every person to be his or her own columnist. Why should columnists only be those annointed by the monied media? Let public opinion be expressed, not in the polls reported by CNN and USA Today, but in millions of blogs. Let there be a cacaphony of citizen columnists whose voices rise up to shout down the professional pundits and the opinion manipulators who act as mouthpieces and masks for the powerful manipulators who give them air time. Long live the columnist revolution!

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