Corruption in America and the Need to Remake Public Service Media



Recent polls indicate that, despite steady improvements in the economy and reductions in unemployment since President Obama took office in 2009, more voters trust the Republican Party to make decisions about economic policy than the Democrats, reflected in the 2014 mid-term election results. The possible factors which help explain this development are worth careful examination.

An excellent place to start is Bill Moyers’ recent interview with Zephyr Teachout and Lawrence Lessig. Teachout is a law professor at Fordham University in a unique position to comment on these issues having just published her well received book, Corruption in America, which traces our history regarding concerns about elected officials and public servants neglecting the public interest for private gain. Running – and losing –  in this year’s Democratic primary for Governor of New York adds a critical perspective to her years of research about American political corruption and the need to redefine serving the public interest in public affairs.

Lessig is a Harvard law professor devoted to campaign finance reform and raising public awareness of the pernicious influence of deep-pocketed special interests which undermine the interests of ordinary voters. Dana Milbank’s column in the Washington Post about the very real limits to the rousing populism of Senator Elizabeth Warren simply underscores the challenge faced by those who support campaign finance reform so cogently argued by Teachout and Lessig.

Relatively few citizens are aware of the degree to which billionaire special interests determine public policies which favor those same interests over strong public support for campaign finance and tax reform, reducing income inequality, more responsible gun control, net neutrality and non-partisan redistricting, to name several critical issues. What’s needed is greater civic engagement and grassroots involvement in these issues, something the commercially driven mainstream media do a very poor job of illuminating, as discussed in the second part of Moyers’ interview with Teachout and Lessig.

Restoring democratic control of government from powerful plutocratic interests has happened before in our history, a story more thoroughly explored by public media, e.g. Ken Burns’s excellent PBS documentary series, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.   New ways must be found for remaking public media in America if the critical issues of our day are to be analyzed, discussed and voted upon as the founding fathers envisioned. Those who value trustworthy independent journalism must take up this challenge.


The Internet Regulation Debate and Public Service Media

DR show re net neutralitySix months ago we took the position that not classifying the internet as a public utility is a policy disaster. Suddenly this issue took on new urgency when President Obama publicly asked the FCC to use its discretionary authority to authorize greater regulatory oversight of the internet by formally declaring it a public utility. This is a terribly important policy issue which requires a careful balance between the needs of private enterprise and the public interest. How the issues involved are presented and discussed in the media, both commercially driven and public, reveals a great deal about the public service dimension of all media.

Such a quintessentially complicated policy debate has no easy solutions. Senator Ted Cruz dismissing President Obama’s advocacy for net neutrality as “Obamacare for the Internet” does not help citizens understand the difficult issues needing to be resolved. This excellent discussion on the Diane Rehm show on NPR is testament to the best ideals of public service media by presenting informed arguments from different perspectives without commercial interruption or sponsorship, something too few citizens are privy to in our contemporary American mediascape.