Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Irresponsible Corporate Media Makes Responsible Government Impossible

Last Sunday's Boston Globe had a column by David Luberoff which clearly explains the origins of the emerging Big Dig disaster. He points out that the project, originally funded through the federal highway system, lost a lot of its federal support half-way through. Instead of facing that reality, the politicians in Massachusetts didn't make up the difference with state and local taxes and tolls. One of the truest things in life is that while you often don't get what you pay for, you never get what you don't pay for. You know that's true when you are dealing with a large corporation like Bechtel with armies of bean counters making sure that they get maximum profits from their projects.

What went wrong in the face of warnings by people who knew what they were talking about - Massachusetts has probably the highest percentage of those on the continent- is just beginning to be studied. While they are looking at that I hope someone will look into the more general political atmosphere that led to the bad decisions. I don't only mean the steady stream of Republican governors during most of the Big Dig.

Given their refusal to monitor themselves for accuracy and responsibility, we won't get the media's role in promoting gross irresponsibility in politicians. At least not from them. But it really does largely fall on the media. Through call-in shows, wise-guy on-air personalities, connected owners and those who have created today's media sewer, anyone who steps up and tells the truth, "You want this done, you are going to have to pay for it," gets their head handed to them. They make lying and dereliction of duty requirements for retaining a political office or civil service job. Reporting with enough time or column space to really explain an issue costs more while the truths uncovered are insufficiently entertaining to maximize profits. And some of those truths might be most unwelcome at the club.

The Republican Party, who used to pride themselves on responsibility, now specialize in this kind of winning through lying. With the media fully in support they tell lies designed to win elections. Most people have a weakness for believing what they want to hear. The busy public, without the technical knowledge or time to look at the details buys the lies until reality strikes and they can't ignore it any longer. How else do you think Bush I lost to Bill Clinton despite the insane press adulation following Bush War I and the war they waged against Clinton as soon as it was clear he had a chance to win?

But if you want good government, safe and effective civil engineering projects, the rest of the benefits that only government can deliver, then we can't wait for the disaster to deliver the real news. The cost in lives, time and remedial action are multiplied many times by the lies and propaganda spread by the media.

The often repeated line, "Good, fast or cheap. Pick two." sums up the current political climate that this irresponsibility has produced. But as the Big Dig is beginning to prove, good is the only way to get faster and cheaper. Maybe the same applies to news media getting it right. But getting it right isn't what today's profit-driven and cynically self-interested media is all about.

Today's Globe has an article in which Michael Dukakis defends his administration's role in the Big Dig. Having read about the project from its beginning, he makes a good case. But Dukakis is just a boring detail guy the press rejected two decades ago.

Note: Thanks to Portia for pointing out today's excellent H.D.S. Greenway column, Israel's perilous overkill. See: http://boston.com/

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