“A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy…”
This preface to all of our discussions is a segment of James Madison observation praising Kentucky’s commitment to public education. It is also a ratification of the principles of the First Amendment and a free press. Together, the commitment to public education and a free press provide the principal means for acquiring the intelligence to activate our civic responsibilities. Do you agree? What would happen to our ability to govern
ourselves if our systems of education or honest reporting of news and events were deficient or corrupted?
Mr. Jeffrey Bezos has purchased the Washington Post.
If, on January 21, 1964, you had walked into the newsroom of the Washington Post you would have sensed a commitment to providing the American people with all the information necessary to support their civic decision-making. Along the right wall of the great open room were the offices of the editorialists, including Alan Barth and Richard Coe. Ben Gilbert directed ran it all, not from the center of the room, but from a desk fronting the left aisle, not far from the city desks and Al Lewis who covered the criminal courts. From his vantage point he could sense without looking, any activity from the far left desk of William Raspberry (one of three Black reporters, Dorothy Gilliam and Jessie Lewis the others) to the far right corner that led to the windowed office of Herbert Block. The weight of the room was its center where “National” and “Foreign” were named Murrey Marder, Jack Foisie, Chalmers Roberts, Dan Kurzman, Bernard Nossiter, and Carroll Kirkpatrick. Across the top aisle Eve Edstrom held her own and expanded it in hats that also provided cover for a pregnant, braced future ‘Miss Manners.” You would have seen no one who did not belong, who was not committed to produce the best in American journalism.
And yet, within seven months, the deceit of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was not questioned , but hailed in that room.The Washington Post newsroom that Mr. Bezos now owns makes scant pretense to providing you the means to acquire the information necessary to support your civic decision-making. Do you think our soldier/veterans would agree? If you search the commentary about Mr. Bezos’ purchase of the Post, you may notice that the discussion is not about the failures of the Post to provide the information to enable us to avoid “Tonkin Gulf” deceits, but the possibilities of saving financially the enterprise called journalism. Do you think that financially successful journalism is enough to save us from the farce or tragedy of governance by our Corporate Empire?
The Washington Post could be indispensible in helping you and your generation craft and govern your future. In coming discussions let’s note whether Mr. Bezos seems concerned with James Madison’s hopes for it as a “means” of acquiring the information you will need. For Tuesday, picking back up with the elements of national service, take a look at this short video of Franklin Roosevelt’s inaugural speech, and try to define what he means by the phrase “fear itself.”