As one reader intimated, when the press -- be it print, TV, radio or Internet -- fails to report the truth, the American people, and their liberties, are in peril. The average Joe does not have the time or access needed to investigate, query, and report. That is the domain, indeed, the responsibility, of the media. And when the media squanders its opportunity to spend our attention informatively, instead mobilizing its hypnotic, high-production-value machine to disingenuously opine, we end up merely filling our minds with self-serving sound bites: victuals of vain veracity that tend to only cement the increasingly bitter bedrock of belief that divides mother from daughter, father from son, free man from freedom.
Forty-seven years ago yesterday, on April 27, John F. Kennedy gave a landmark speech to the members of the American Newspaper Publishers Association. At 19:11 in length, even without the visual aids of television (the event was not videotaped), one is still able to quickly discern the way our greatest modern American President moved from congeniality and humor, to sobriety and urgency. (Note: To obtain a PDF copy of the text, and a link to the soundtrack, click here.)
JFK's speech was prescient then -- today, it is haunting.
It is therefore no wonder that in our microwave-on-demand-multimedia-mashup world, portions of this speech have been selectively edited and spliced, matched with photos of America's darkest day, and presented on the little TV screens linked to You Tube and Google video. One can google "JFK secrecy" and from your choices, you will find that Kennedy's references to secrecy and secret societies in his April 27 speech, are without exception included in virtually every presentation:
The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.
Add a bit of dark music, or sullen piano, and you've got yourself a 5-minute creepfest that lingers long after the screen-saver kicks in.
But taken in its entirety, the speech, dubbed "The President and the Press," was more about the increasingly urgent need for a solution to the question of balance between open reporting, and tempered restraint on matters of national security.
This is a challenge that still faces us today.
...Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed--and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy.
And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment-- the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution- -not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply "give the public what it wants"--but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion. Forty-seven years later, our true dangers have yet to be stated, while they prey on the uninformed, arouse little suspicion, and thrive in the fertile environment of misdirection, justified by giving the public what it wants.
Would any President have the courage to speak as freely today? And if not, why not?
Sadly, JFK may have posthumously answered that question for us.