“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and to be understood.” – Ralph Nichols
“You’re not listening to me!”
“Don’t you hear what I’m saying?”
“You don’t understand me at all.”
“You’re twisting my words.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“Stop putting words in my mouth!”
Is there any human need more vital than the need to be heard and understood? Some people, like Ralph Nichols, argue that the need to be understood is even more vital than the need to be loved. Certainly, many among us spend a considerable amount of time trying to express our opinions so we feel heard. As Americans, we value the expression and consideration of ideas as much as any other freedom set forth in our country’s founding documents. To express the truth is vital to our country’s existence.
We all want to be heard, but we don’t all have the means to express our opinions. Who, then, is responsible for disseminating the honest thoughts and opinions of the people of the United States in accordance with our founding principles? That responsibility is taken on by our media.
Ah, the media. Many of us have our own opinions about the media, and many of those opinions aren’t very favorable. The media is defined as “the main means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing and the Internet), regarded collectively.” Okay, that’s the definition – but our interpretation of this definition can vary wildly. What exactly is the purpose of this mass communication? More specifically, what value does it bring to society?
Some would argue that the media adds no value and is simply a nuisance. Some would argue that the media gets in the way of solidarity and prevents groups from coming together. We’ve recently heard the President’s Chief Strategist argue just that, calling the media “the opposition.” This label makes a lot of sense to a lot of people – after all, the media certainly seems to be creating a lot of buzz and worry and frenetic energy in the world that is causing angst and anxiety in many people’s lives. Wouldn’t it be easier if the media just fell in line and stopped creating such a fuss? Wouldn’t it be more peaceful if the media could just “keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile,” per Steve Bannon’s directive?
Does unity require media silence?
Are you willing to forego honesty in the name of cooperation?
I’m not. I’ve spent the better part of my adult life trying to gain the courage to speak my truth, and I’m not willing to let anyone silence me or those around me in the name of unity.
Honesty is one of the traits most coveted and admired in our society. Our Declaration of Independence from England used the word “truth” in one of its most famous lines: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” We admire people (like our current president) that “tell it like it is.” We crave honesty, truth and justice. In a court of law, the most important instruction is to tell the truth, and every witness swears on the Bible that they will do so under penalty of law. The Ten Commandments also include a mandate for honesty.
What is more important – honesty, or unity? The subject of unity is an interesting one, because unity requires a lot of concessions. Unity often requires compromise and sacrifice of one’s own values and morals. Unity can also sometimes require a common enemy – and right now, the entity being labeled as the enemy is our mouthpiece – the media.
Steve Bannon is trying to convince us to forego discussion in the name of unity. He’s telling the media to fall in line under the guise of cooperation. If he succeeds in silencing the media, we will each lose our individual ability to be heard. We will be able to hear what our leaders say, but we, ourselves, will not be permitted to speak.
The media is not the enemy. The media is our spokesperson. They ask questions, push for answers and disseminate information. Labeling them as the opposition is not just irresponsible – it’s dangerous. It goes against everything we stand for as a democracy. In order for the people’s voices to be heard, there must be a press that investigates and reports on the will of the people.
The media isn’t always a pleasant thing to content with. Politicians and business leaders alike would probably agree on this simple fact. The goal isn’t to be pleasant, however. It’s not enough to just get along. Cooperation means nothing if cooperation means ignoring crucial facts and sweeping uncomfortable subjects under the rug. Playing nice should not be a goal in and of itself.
If one person in America is allowed to tell it like it is, then every person in America is allowed to tell it like it is. That’s what a democracy is all about. Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Blaze? CNN, NBC, PBS? Fox News, Sean Hannity, Breitbart News? Yes, yes, yes and yes. All of the above.
Why would we ever encourage someone to cover up the truth? Why would we muzzle those who ask questions? Why would we condone any individual, especially one in a position of power, mandating the silence of those whose very duty is to question, clarify, inform and express the varied views of the people?
The purpose of the press is to enlighten and inform as well as to express the views of the people to ensure the government is following the will of its constituents.
But please, don’t take my word for it. A few of our country’s presidents have things to say on the matter as well.
“There is a terrific disadvantage in not having the abrasive quality of the press applied to you daily. Even though we never like it, and even though we wish they didn’t write it, and even though we disapprove, there isn’t any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press.” – John F. Kennedy
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.” – Thomas Jefferson
“The intoxication of power rapidly sobers off in the knowledge of its restrictions and under the prompt reminder of an ever-present and not always considerate press, as well as the kindly suggestions that not infrequently come from Congress.” – William Howard Taft
“Absolute freedom of the press to discuss public questions is a foundation stone of American libery.” – Herbert Clark Hoover
“To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” – Theodore Roosevelt