From the Archives: Hold Public Officials Accountable

Originally Published June 4, 2021

Do you know the biggest problem we have in this country, politically speaking? It’s not Donald Trump or Joe Biden. It’s not inflation or mask mandates or Saturday Night Live sketches. It’s not even really private political parties or partisan think tanks.

Nope. It’s that there is no system of objective accountability. It’s shifting nonpolitical values and ethics over political decisions. Whose fault is that? Sure, part of it is the political parties, and part of it is the politicians, and an increasingly large part of it is the media. So, here’s what I think:

The Parties and the Politicians

The first part of solving a problem is admitting there is a problem. This will be, without question, the most difficult task for a lot of people. But we have to know that there is a real problem and that partisans and politicos are turning a blind eye to it. And this is just a form of hypocrisy. That’s all it is. It’s not fancy political footwork or evolving philosophy. It’s hypocritical. The hypocrisies start broadly with each source of discontent and trickle their ways down to the masses.

Trump and Obama Hold Cordial 90-Minute Meeting in Oval Office - The New  York Times

Examples abound. Republicans claim to be against big government and extraparliamentary executives. From 2009 to 2017, Republican politicians at the federal, state, and local levels took every chance they had to bash President Obama for his many policies that expanded and abused the authorities of the federal government in general and the executive branch in particular. And, might I add, rightly so on many counts. For example, bombing areas where he knew or should have known civilians would be without legislative consent is not only unconstitutional but it borders on a war crime.

But then from 2017 to 2021, Republicans stood back and cheered as President Trump kept bombing those same spots and did other things to expand the federal government and generally acted like a fool on Twitter. Likewise, Democrats applauded as the likes of President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and others repeatedly said that we needed strong border security and reasonable immigration regulations. President Trump then said a lot of the same things and was labeled a racist, an agoraphobe, a xenophobe, and all sorts of other negative things.

And I want to be clear: I’m not really taking a position on any specific policy in this article other than the fact that I don’t think it’s the USA’s job to “police” the world and bomb Middle Eastern countries without any sort of formal war authority.

There are literally hundreds of examples of this hypocrisy, and the hypocrisy is a bipartisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike have done complete 180s on their views based solely on who was in office at the time. And if a policy depends on who is in office, it’s not really a policy at all, but a weapon to be wielded against the public to keep people uninformed and adversarial.

The Media

Of course, someone has to be getting the messages from the politicians’ mouths to the people’s ears, and that’s where the media comes into play. Fox, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC…they are all partisan and biased in their editorials. Same goes with print sources like The Washington PostThe New York Times, and The Dallas Morning News. They all have a slant, and it’s normally not too difficult to figure out what slant belongs to any given “news” source.

White House Grants Press Credentials to a Pro-Trump Blog - The New York  Times

And what’s worse is they don’t try to hide it. And what’s worse still is that the reporting becomes so sensationalized and subscription-revenue-driven that the factual integrity of the content is compromised. I mean, if anyone only reads one news source and believes everything they consume at the word of the news source, they are stupid. That’s the simple fact. Only believing Fox or only believing CNN are equally stupid things to do. The truth is never offered in a single source. In fact, the truth is rarely offered at all, but instead must be found by diligent citizens who wish to know what’s going on. Different media sources treat the same politicians differently based on the assumed bias of that media outlet’s base.

Don’t believe me? Just watch White House press briefings for the Biden White House compared to those with the Trump White House. The Trump White House was consistently grilled and skewered on even the most trivial things. The Biden White House gets softball questions and fewer follow-ups. The solution is to treat every White House press briefing like the Trump White House was treated. Ask tough questions, don’t let anyone get away with a noncommittal puff, and make the politicians be as honest as possible. The people questioning the Trump White House had the correct strategy, but since most of the press corps works for left-leaning outlets, they won’t treat the Biden White House with the same tenacity.

A Duty of Objectivity?

Doesn’t the media have some sort of responsibility of objectivity in the facts on which their editorials are based? Wouldn’t you think if Fox is going to have a correspondent offer an opinion on the situation in Iraq that that person should at least be basing their facts on what is actually happening in Iraq? And don’t you think if The Washington Post is going to offer an opinion about a Supreme Court justice’s confirmation that they should actually have all the information required to make such an opinion?

But instead, it’s a political alignment and nothing more. I would be willing to bet that if you went through every issue of The Washington Post from January 2017 to January 2021, you would find less than ten positive things said about the Trump administration. And look, I didn’t like Donald Trump, but the fact is racial minority unemployment hit all time lows, racial minority income hit all time highs, and for the first time since 2006 or so, more younger people were buying houses, and those are all good things. But, of course, people who subscribe to The Washington Post don’t want to believe Donald Trump was capable of anything positive. They just wanted stories that reinforced their already fiercely held views that Donald Trump was a stain on America’s history.

Same generally goes for Donald Trump’s portrayal in right-leaning media. FoxNews didn’t hold Donald Trump accountable for tweeting stupid things or his myopic, twisted views of immigration, or his continued activity in the Middle East, or his suspected issues in dealing with Russia and China both before, during, and after his 2016 election. But people who want to watch FoxNews don’t want the news, they want pieces of information that will maintain their existing philosophy.

I would argue that there is not currently an objective news source available in the United States. Even the Associated Press and Reuters have had issues with bias. But information isn’t sexy, and facts don’t sell newspapers or cable subscriptions. Facts are for boring people. Information is for suckers. No one wants to take in raw data and process it through their own individual mind. Nope. People want to be spoonfed whatever stupid thing Fox or CNN or The New York Times or The Drudge Report says.

The Fauci Connection

Three key takeaways from Dr. Anthony Fauci's emails

Let’s take the most recent available example: Dr. Anthony Fauci and his emails. A few media outlets made requests under the Freedom of Information Act and received about 3,600 emails from Dr. Fauci’s work email address. These emails are mostly mundane correspondence with other doctors, concerned citizens, and myriad other public and private people. However, there are a few emails that have indicated Dr. Fauci may have suspected Covid-19 was synthesized in a lab and released by a lab, and that masks were really only needed by people who already had the virus to protect those who were as yet healthy. More emails talk about how trivial the vast majority of Covid cases were.

Predictably, the emails are being treated much different by different news outlets. Fox has been apoplectic, calling Dr. Fauci a fraud and a conman. Senator Rand Paul, who himself is a medical doctor and has been saying for over a year that Fauci has bungled the Covid response, has been on FoxNews at least three times in the past few days to talk more about it. And for the record, I do think it’s very concerning that Dr. Fauci said some of the things he said. Because he’s a doctor but also a public figure, I have an inherent distrust of him, but then again I don’t have a medical degree, so I will generally hold his medical opinions in higher esteem than my own.

But what about CNN? The Washington Post? NPR? Well, they have taken a different approach. NPR published an article called “5 Things We Learned from Anthony Fauci’s Emails,” which also contains the entire email stash for review, if you’re interested. But the things we “learned” from the emails, according to NPR, are things like Dr. Fauci replies to a lot of emails, and that he receives a lot of emails, and that he was uncomfortable with becoming a celebrity but found the silver lining. I mean…that’s not really journalism. Why would anyone publish those “learned” things? Who couldn’t guess that the guy who was the face of the Covid response would receive and send a lot of emails? How could anyone have predicted that he had mixed feelings about suddenly being in the public eye? Is disgraceful to even publish that because it downplays the seriousness of the content of the emails.

NPR did mention that Dr. Fauci repeatedly told people he was not a mouthpiece of the White House and was not being muzzled by Donald Trump, but it’s buried in that stupid bit of pedantic puffery. NPR did not mention the reservations of masks or the new information that shows Covid was synthesized in a Chinese lab. But by God they really made people understand that one of the most important figures in America at the time got a lot of emails every day. Unbelievable.

The Politicos and Public

And, of course, there’s the public themselves. People don’t know how to have informed discourse. Not just on Facebook, where people in every possible demographic consistently spew hate, false information, and all manners of race-, sex-, and socioeconomic-based incendiary crap at each other, but everywhere. I’ve seen people arguing in parking garages, at restaurants, over the phone, and once even at a driving range.

People don’t want to consider the fact that they might be wrong. It’s against human nature, I guess, but I don’t really know. I became a much happier person when I realized that I might be wrong about a lot of things. When you allow yourself to consider that you might be wrong, it’s very liberating. Don’t misunderstand me: I still think I’m right on most things, but I don’t think I’m infallibly correct all the time, and if new information becomes available, I will adjust my point of view accordingly.

And if someone presents you with some new information, it’s okay to change your position. That’s what critical thinking, rational interpretation, and reasonable debate are all about. Can you imagine how unhappy you would be if you had never altered your opinion based on new information? You’d be a toddler. You would have some conceived notion of how stuff works, but you would never investigate it for accuracy, would never even so much as listen to new information, and would ultimately end up throwing a tantrum over some menial crap that doesn’t matter.

Triceratops | Description, Size, Fossil, Diet, & Facts | Britannica

When I was in elementary school, I thought cavemen lived among dinosaurs. I mean, I watched The Flintstones and was studying dinosaurs in school, so I thought that there really could have been a time when a human being, speaking English, would have had a pet triceratops. Or maybe they could send a letter, written in English on a piece of paper with a ballpoint pen, via pterodactyl, to some pen pal in another area. Can you imagine still thinking that? Not only were humans not even close to existing when the triceratops lived, and not only did the triceratops and pterodactyl live about 40 million years apart, and not only was there no paper, no ink, no English, no concept of language, no pen pals, no modern boundaries, no complex thought, and very few places which would have even been habitable for a human, but the actual physical layout of earth was different.

But that’s what some people want. They want to believe what they believe, without evidence and without contradiction. Really, that in and of itself wouldn’t be too bad, right? I, for one, try to maintain a live and let live policy with anyone’s personal beliefs, religious, political, or otherwise. But the problem is that those same people insist on not only harboring those views, but sharing them and trying to convert people to that way of thinking. Three years ago basketball player Kyrie Irving said he wasn’t so sure the earth wasn’t flat. He said that to a huge audience of people who respect him. That’s dangerous because it gave the idiots who actually do believe the earth is flat some sort of platform to spread their incredibly stupid point of view.

Kyrie later balked and even apologized for his comments. And that’s the most beautiful part of it. He recognized what he did was wrong and dumb, took responsibility for it, and apologized to people. To be fair, I haven’t seen anything actually recanting his actual belief in something so stupid, but he at least learned that people are impressionable and it’s dangerous to put stuff on social media like that.

The Solution?

Up to now, this article has mostly been complaining. But now I will try to offer some sort of solution.

We need to hold public officials accountable. We need to hold news outlets accountable. Government and media are necessary to society. They just are. And for something so fundamental, they need to be done as correctly as possible. Politicians get away with lying, backtracking, defaming, and generally taking advantage of constituents and other citizens every day. They flip-flop on issues based solely on whether their party controls the White House, and generally stand for some party values over what is objectively right and wrong. The parties force this because they can cut campaign funding for anyone who doesn’t preach the Word of the Party, which was one of the reasons the Founding Fathers in general and George Washington in particular were against political parties in the first place.

But we as a citizenry need to hold them accountable. Call your congressmen, call your city councilmen, reach out to the White House public input line, and demand that politicians tell the truth and act in the best interest of their constituents and the nation rather than the best interest of their political party.

Same with the media. A principled person of any party persuasion should be upset at the biases found in media. If I was a Democrat, I would be furious at The Washington Post and CNN for publishing inflammatory crap based mostly on the perceived opinions of subscribers rather than actual fact. By publishing that drivel, it hurts the credibility of the news outlet and in fact the entire Democratic philosophy. Same goes with Republicans and Fox. If I’m a Republican and I see Stuart Varney say some idiotic thing first thing in the morning, I’m going to be pissed because he’s injuring the reputation of the philosophy, not just himself and the network.

Newspapers in particular are hurting financially and publishing divisive, partisan crap is their way to try and hold onto existing subscribers and possibly get new ones. But regardless of the reason, the media is biased. The media is supposed to be the messenger between the government and the people, but when that message is partially influenced by political leanings, the quality and integrity of the information suffers.

Let’s hold people accountable. Let’s hold Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, and Anthony Fauci accountable for what they do. Let’s hold Fox and CNN accountable. Let’s get back to a time where elected officials act with honestly because they are afraid of the reaction of their constituents to dishonesty. Let’s make the government more accessible, and let’s get back to being friends with earnest but friendly political differences rather than the warring factions that the papers and government want us to be.

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