Saturday, April 25, 2015

Are there chaotic risks in informing the public?

I once worked with a radio newsman and editorial writer who returned to our office from one of his broadcasts with a puzzled expression.  "What's the problem, Dick?" I asked.

 "I think I just incited chaos in my commentary by calling for everyone to become active in public affairs.   If that happened, there would be no way we'd ever get anything done," he said.

More than a half-century ago the   columnist-philosopher Walter Lippmann  wrote his similar concerns about public activism:

"The one effect of inviting everybody to judge every public   question is to confuse everybody about everything.  It is not in fact possible for all the people to know about all  things, and the pretense that they can and that they do is a bad illusion."

There's a downside to that,  too.  In our alleged  communications age, political candidates, toothpaste advertisers and over-the-counter health fixits (for constipation?) can still exploit public ignorance to advance their goals.  And those videos that seem to expose every police shooting these days still don't deliver active scenes of so many other  critical issues that might get no more than a line or two in the hometown paper or  before the sports and weather at eleven.

A stronger media effort to inform the public is worth the risks of chaos.  


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