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Hartford, Connecticut * August 13, 2007 * Copyright 2007 * Stephen Fournier * stepfour@stepfour.com

Why Our Failing Infrastructure Isn't News

When the ceiling of a mine or a bridge over the Mississippi or a Manhattan steam pipe or a New Orleans dike fails catstrophically, that's news. But when information comes to light warning of such a failure before it happens, that's not only not news, it's fodder for the censors.

The bridge failure, the dike failure, the mine failure, and the pipe failure were all anticipated by people in the know, but the deficiencies in these structures were uniformly ignored by our trusted news-mongers. It's not that the commercial media don't want you to know that the facilities you pay taxes to maintain are unsafe and decrepit. That the infrastructure is deficient goes without saying. And so nobody says it. Why trouble people with things they can't do anything about? To keep public and workplace facilities maintained properly is beyond our capacity as a nation. Costs too much.

Consider the cost of restoring the country's bridges: $190 billion over 20 years, according to National Public Radio. The reporter referred to that amount as "staggering. " You've never heard NPR use "staggering" to describe the cost of our latest military adventures: five times as much in only five years. So $9 billion a year to build something is staggering, but $90 billion a year to destroy something isn't. If Walter Cronkite were dead, he'd be spinning in his grave.

Keeping us misinformed is not the principal purpose of the censors, whose motives are purely commercial. Our news reports come from people who are competing for an audience. Between reports, the news-monger presents advertising to this audience, and the size of the audience determines how many dollars flow from the advertiser to the newsman.

Since itís impossible to report everything about everything, someone must decide what facts to report and what facts to withhold or ignore. There are no formal rules or standards for reporters of news, and so the need to attract an audience can function as the sole determinant of what gets presented as news and what doesnít.

Audiences have a short attention span, and they donít like to engage in any deep thinking, and so the coverage of events must be abbreviated and simplified. Complicated stuff has to be edited out. Deficiencies in the infrastructure are considered complicated, even though they describe actual dangers. Compare the risks of terrorism, so much simpler to report and understand because they don't involve any actual facts.

Audiences also prefer the familiar, and so well-known people and places are to be covered at length. To cover well-known people and places, the reporter must have access to them, and the giver of access gets to dictate what the reporter passes on to us. Facts that reflect unfavorably on the giver of access are to be edited out. Deficiencies in the infrastructure are just such facts.

Audiences want to be entertained, and so the concentration must be on the visual, with lots of pictures and vivid description of spectacular events, with musical accompaniment, if possible. Events and conditions that provide no drama, such as the results of a bridge inspection or a mine walk-through, are to be edited out.

Audiences donít like to be criticized or offended. Information that reflects unfavorably on the audience or that causes them undue worry or pain must be edited out. They're especially sensitive to charges that they might have a safer world if they were willing to pay for it.

Audiences donít mind if the advertisers are presented in an unflattering light, but the advertisers do, and so information that makes advertisers look bad must be edited out. Audiences also donít mind if the news-mongers are exposed as dispensers of unreliable information, but the news-mongers do, and so any information that detracts from the credibility of the newsman has to be edited out. Information about defects in the infrastructure would seem to pass these tests, but it gets edited out anyway.

Audiences have opinions, and they donít like to have their opinions challenged by facts or contrary opinion. To guard against this, the news media measure their audienceís opinions endlessly, allowing the editors (or forcing them) to omit facts and opinions that conflict with the prevailing public view. If people want to think they're safe at work or on a bridge, they should be allowed to think that.

Many of us remember chuckling over the plight of the Russians, who used to read newspapers that were named ďTruthĒ but that printed anything but. The poor Commie masses knew they werenít getting the straight story, but they read on anyway. False news must be better than none, we opined incredulously. We were right about that, and we're paying a price for our preference and our consequent ignorance. Hard to believe the world's masses have entrusted people like us to rule. Not that we'd know if they felt otherwise.

F-word Withdrawn From Language

The word "failure" doesn't play well in focus groups, and so it's being withdrawn from the language. Senator Harry Reid uttered it a couple of weeks ago, and Nevada went berserk. It's unclear at this point whether the whole concept of failure has gone out of fashion or just the word.

The problem with "failure" is that foolish politicians like Reid are applying the word to our military adventure in Iraq. If Iraq's a failure, then the lives lost are wasted, and our nation stands defeated. Patriotic Americans won't put up with that sort of thing, and so we're changing the language.

We're ready to acknowledge that the great victory we're winning in Iraq has not yet produced peace or justice or even electricity and water, but that's OK. We know we're winning, because our kids are still dodging bullets there. As long as American kids are getting killed in Iraq, we haven't lost, and the enterprise is not a failure.

So if your kid or your neighbor's kid gets killed or maimed out in the desert, at least you'll have the consolation of knowing he or she was part of a great and victorious struggle to put things right in the world. That's what it's all about, this killing and dying, and it must be worthwhile or we wouldn't be doing it. Heaven knows if we ever quit doing it, we'd be admitting failure, and failure's not an option. It's that simple. And so are the folks behind it.

Lawyers' Group Fails Rule of Law

The American Bar Association went on record last week in opposition to a recent executive order allowing CIA interrogators to employ measures that are generally considered to be methods of torture. The ABA statement was so mild a rebuke that it was largely ignored by the commercial media and will be ignored altogether by the Bush administration.

What ABA should have done was to censure the lawyers who approved the policy. They are among the hundreds of government lawyers who have violated the lawyer's code of professional responsibility to facilitate the usurpation of power by the president.

They knew they were acting unethically when they approved torture, imprisonment without legal process, warrantless spying, suppression of free speech and assembly, armed aggression, politicization of the prosecutorial function, signing statements, and other illegal government actions. They bring to mind the lawyers and judges of Hitler's Reich, who facilitated totalitarian rule in Germany 75 years ago.

Lawyers are not permitted to advocate legal positions that have no basis in law and are obligated to adhere to the rule of law in all professional activities. If justice still matters to lawyers and the ABA, these wrongdoers will be removed from the profession.

Oh, Bomb 'em, Obama!

President Barak Obama, in possession of "actionable intelligence," would order our armed forces to drop bombs on Pakistan. As a lawyer and senator, he knows that in a government of enumerated powers like ours, nobody--not any member of Congress, not any mililtary official, not any president or cabinet official--nobody has a legal right to drop bombs on Pakistan without congressional action. His recommendation betrays him as a would-be dictator.

This should come as no surprise. It explains why Obama has refused to hold the current president accountable for egregious abuses of power: Obama wants to be able to exercise these same powers when he takes office. It may well be that the unwillingness of congressional Democrats to impeach and remove Bush and Cheney is actually a conscious effort to preserve the "unitary executive" for whatever Democrat assumes the throne in 2009.

You would think that sentiments like Obama's would disqualify him for office among large swaths of Democrats. You would be wrong. Democrats don't pay much attention to a politician's convictions or lack of them. Party label will do it. Raise enough money to call yourself a candidate, and you can run as a Democrat or a Republican, take your pick. Either way, it's always safe to promise warfare. Democratic voters like flags and fireworks as much as Republicans do (or at least they don't want to be seen not to).

Voters who think it would be wrong to bomb Pakistan should resolve not to support Obama or anybody who would do what he proposes. If that means giving up on the Democratic party, they might find they're well rid of a loathsome burden.

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