I'd been so impressed with Morris Berman's "Dark Ages America" that I tracked him down in Mexico where he recently moved, convinced, as he brilliantly demonstrates in that book, that there is no hope for America in the foreseeable future.
Among other things, he told me he has always believed that peoples get the governments they deserve. Personall, I've periodically verfied that belief, which had been handed down to me when I trained under the head of the French News Agency in Rome, and found it to be generally true.
The one thing that always bothered me about it was, precisely, the role played by the media in shaping the judgement of "the people".
If you missed "Democracy Now" on Memorial Day, look it up on the web. It's an hour-long expose of the way the American media covered the lead-up to the Iraq War, with comparisons of how it covered the wars of the twentieth century. A brilliant documentary, I'm sorry I did not write down the name of the author, as I was still moving furniture around in my new and even smaller apartment.
You have to wonder why someone like Dan Rather took so long to see the light: an after the horse got out of the stable mea culpa is not much use. Of the big names, only Phil Donahue spoke out forcefully against the war before it started - and lost his job as a result.
But the big question is this: how far back can you reasonably chicken and egg the responsibility of "the people" for what they get? Are the ill-informed "people" responsible for the prevalence of biased news that keeps them ill-informed?
To the extent that there are the Amy Goodman's and Jeremy Scahills out there who do what's right rather than what brings in big bucks, one could say that Joe Sixpack could listen to them - that he could seek out alternative media sources even if they're not readily available. But he'd have to know that these sources of information exist! It was from a woman at a US Cuba Sister Cities Conference that I first heard about Democracy Now, and when I publicize it, even in progressive circles, it's news to most people.
You could argue that today the average Jane or Joe could put out his/her own news and opinions by blogging. But isn't the problem for bloggers that they reach so few people unless they can afford to advertize - which brings us back to square one?
So in the end, do people get the government they deserve?