The Media Gaslighting Of America
Poor woman. Yet she’s better off than I am; she had only to worry about that one abusive guy, and once she escaped him the entire rest of her country was grounded in sane reality. I’m in the opposite boat: a happy, healthy home life too boring to write about, but the rest of America’s been gaslighting me ever since the World Trade Center went down. Never has the insanity been greater than with the recent inexplicable controversy surrounding the TSA nude scans and grope-downs.Is the light of freedom dimming in America, or am I imagining things? Among my journalism colleagues, a large contingent swears it’s just me. Like many of my fellow Americans, I’m outraged by the notion of government sexual assault masquerading as security. Yet when we say “My freely chosen bedmates and doctors are the only ones allowed to see my naked body or touch my genitalia,”there’s no shortage of respectable mainstream pundits telling us we’re selfish at best and crazy at worst.
“Shut up and be scanned – The airport security devices may be intrusive, but they're also a necessary evil,” said some nameless editorial writer in the Los Angeles Times. The Today show ran a sympathetic feature about TSA agents who spend their workdays fondling people’s genitalia, and think it’s unfair when flyers get all rude and cranky rather than passively adopt submissive-criminal poses while the fondling takes place: “Being a TSO means often being verbally abused. You let the comments roll off and check the next person; however, when a woman refuses the scanner then comes to me and tells me that she feels like I am molesting her; that is beyond verbal abuse.”
In Politico, Michael Kinsley urged compliance in a long screed which boiled down to “I’ve never had problems with the TSA, so why should anyone else?” William Saletan of Slate called the Opt-Out Day protest “idiocy” and told travelers, “Ignore these imbeciles. Their plan would clog security lines and ruin your holiday for no good reason.”
Even my Guardian colleague (and former editor) Richard Adams disagrees with my opposition to the new TSA procedures, but – well, he’s British. I don’t know how things work in the UK, what lofty national principles make idealistic Britons proud of their country, but “American constitutional freedoms” surely aren’t it.
My fellow American journalists are different. We all grew up hearing about the importance of first amendment guarantees, especially free speech and a free press, and every newsroom in America has at least one employee with Thomas Jefferson’s quote tacked above his desk: “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
The “opinion of the people” doesn’t matter to TSA authorities. And Jefferson wasn’t promoting the Fourth Estate so it could make the other three look good. Even in the most oppressive totalitarian societies, there’s perfect freedom to write paeans to the glory of the state. The first amendment isn’t about journalists urging our fellow citizens to suck up any misgivings about government misbehavior and go along to get along; it’s about shining a light on government power, not denying when the lights go dim.
Mass gaslighting isn’t the only way American journalism’s changed these past few years. The internet vastly altered the media landscape, and our legal system thus far seems reluctant to grant mere “bloggers” the same first amendment protections as official “journalists.” If the government believes journalists enjoy constitutional protections other writers don’t, sooner or later it’ll establish a bureaucracy to set officially sanctioned journalists apart from the rest. The Department of Journalism Licensure will naturally need a proper logo, and I know just what’ll work: a picture of a vacuum cleaner and a rooster – whose lovely multicolored tailfeathers reflect America’s rich tradition of Diversity – with both items paired over the motto “Government’s cock will not suck itself. That’s what a free and independent media is for.”
The lights are getting dimmer here, no matter who denies it. I won’t shut up and meekly submit to TSA tyranny, and I won’t wear any rooster badges either.