Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Prosecutor Attacks the Media

Among the disturbing aspects of St. Louis Prosecutor Robert McCulloch's announcement last night of no indictment of Darren Wilson for his killing of Michael Brown - aside from that appalling no indictment itself - was McCulloch's lashing out at the media, social and cable, for stirring people up and spreading falsehoods about the shooting of Michael Brown.

If McCulloch had any familiarity with history, he'd know that blaming the media is a time-honored dishonorable tactic of demagogues, politicians, and public officials unhappy with the public's reaction to their policies.  It's the reason totalitarian societies are quick to keep the media on a short leash, and why even the world's leading democracies castigate the media which are not under government control.   Democratic and Republican Presidents both blamed the media and its reporting for the growing public opposition to the Vietnam War, when in fact the opposition was based on an increasing number of Americans not wanting a war with a country which never attacked us. Margaret Thatcher was so unhappy with the BBC's coverage of the Falkland War, that she not only criticized the channel but put it under closer government control.

Social media have indeed added a new kind of headache for the public official who wants the world to see things his or her way, that is, maintain the monopoly of knowledge which the public official is able to wield to make the official look good or get what the official wants.    Government officials can and do appeal to traditional media to delay reporting on certain stories, for the public's so-called good.   But there's no executive to appeal to when it comes to social media.

And that's what makes Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr so crucial to our continuing democracy.   McCulloch can impugn the witnesses to Michael Brown's killing all he wants.  And, indeed, since his speech didn't take place in a court of law, where opposing arguments and cross-examinations could have been offered, he could dominate the stage as he did for half an hour last night.

But he cannot dominate or dictate to the world at the large, and the way people now communicate in this world.  As John Milton once observed, people are rational, and when given presentations of truth and falsity, people are sooner or later able to discern the truth.   Social media now play a critical part in that presentation.   And with their help - which is none other than the help of the people - and traditional media as well, I think there's a good chance that the truth will come out in the killing of Michael Brown, before the books are closed on his terrible death.

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