I haven't been all that impressed with the linkage of Sarah Palin to the Tucson shootings. There. I said it, and I'm glad. She sure hasn't helped her cause by stoking her persecution complex the way she always does, but I still think the connection between her and Mr. Loughner is rather tenuous (do we know for sure that he obsessed over SarahPAC maps?), and (more importantly) I think we've used her a bit too much to stand in for the real problem: the manipulative media culture which she represents. And, perhaps not surprisingly, said media culture has misdiagnosed the problem as a "lack of civility in public discourse." The problem isn't that our politicians and talking heads aren't "civil" enough, or use too much violent language -- it's that they're bought-and-paid-for liars, doing the bidding of their corporate paymasters.
The arrest of one Charles Habermann, for threatening to kill Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), instructs us more, I think, about the real problem with the media. Mr. Habermann thought Mr. McDermott a "Communist," which, not surprisingly, is a word many right-wing commentators have used to describe Mr. Obama and other Democrats, despite the fact that Communism fell over 20 years ago and most Democrats today stand to the right of Richard Nixon on domestic policy matters. Mr. Habermann is also apparently concerned about taxes, though federal income taxes were considerably higher when he was 8 years old and even higher than that when he was 2 -- and, not surprisingly, the Koch brothers-funded Tea Party movement received a lot of uncritical coverage on "liberal" media outlets over the last two years for protesting "high taxes." And, finally, Mr. Habermann was outraged about Mr. Obama's right-wing health care overhaul, which the "liberal" media covered almost exclusively as if it were the most left-wing option anyone could imagine -- even as clear majorities in poll after poll preferred single-payer. Now, if Mr. McDermott really was a Communist, really did believe in usurious taxation, or had really fought for single-payer health care, I wouldn't be concerned about Mr. Habermann's "lack of civility" (though, of course, I'd still be concerned about his alleged criminal behavior). But I submit that the media did enable (if not outright manufacture) Mr. Habermann's grievances.
Don't misunderstand me -- no "liberal" media knucklehead should go to jail over anything I've just described, and I assume there must be something unique to folks such as Mr. Habermann and Mr. Loughner that makes them break the law and foment tragedy while the vast majority of their ideological brethren get all the catharsis they need from watching Glenn Beck's clown act. But a sane, moral, and healthy media -- one that gives people the information they need to know, without all the drama and spectacle and emotional manipulation of today's sick, immoral, and decadent media -- is an end worth fighting for in and of itself, and would allow us to isolate sociopaths a lot better than we do now. And the first step toward a sane, moral, and healthy media is to loosen the bonds between the media and corporate control. After all, all the media behavior I described in the previous paragraph played into the corporate madness for mammon, did it not? The stock market continues to break records, and corporate profits were just at an all-time high this past quarter, all while official unemployment remained a hair under 10 percent.
Loosening the bonds between corporations and media is a big job, and despite large Democratic majorities over the last two years (including, you know, that crucial one-seat majority in the President's office), it has, if anything, become an even bigger job. Fighting corporate control of the media begins with all the things we've been doing here over the years -- demanding a la carte cable packaging and solid net neutrality protections and more low-power FM stations, while opposing consolidation and cross-ownership of media outlets. The fight continues with much more comprehensive policy prescriptions -- Constitutional amendments preventing corporations from enjoying the rights of personhood and from owning one another. Over the next few weeks, I plan to codify these ideas, and others, into a Newswatcher's Bill of Rights (suggestions for a better title greatly appreciated), which I hope will focus our thoughts more concisely on a matter that, quite frankly, has broad and deep support across the ideological spectrum. Look out for it.