The media will not save you.
The news media – even opinionated and outspoken parties like this opinion section – will not save Kansas or the United States. I wish more people understood this, because if you want our nation to experience a revival of civic participation and progressive values, you have to take action.
Twice in the past month, Kansas Reflector has published articles that show the challenges ahead. Editor Sherman Smith’s analysis »How the Kansas Legislature avoids scrutiny by hiding in the darksums up years of frustration with how the people’s business has been obscured by legislative leaders. My own review of how a “Report on ‘far-right’ Facebook group lawmakers doesn’t tell the true story of Kansas extremismdug deep into what various Republicans believe.
Each offers a clear message if implied. If you want more transparency on what bills lawmakers pass and how, the process needs to be changed (I highlighted a handful of options in a tracking column). If you want to know what your legislators think, they need to be challenged and held accountable by voters.
But Kansas Reflector can’t do any of those things. Only you can.
Since the era of Watergate, the public has grown to misunderstand America’s news media and what it can accomplish. Yes, the dogged reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein helped bring down a president. But he only did it because the public paid attention and the lawmakers who represented him took action.
Here’s the brutal truth: Editors and reporters have limited power by ourselves. We uncover facts, weave them together into a cohesive whole, and publish our findings. Those of us on the side of opinion include our informed judgments and impressions. But no one needs to talk to a reporter. And no one should take seriously what journalists send out into the world.
We are doing our best. We tell the truth. Then we publish.
Reading, understanding, decisive action – we are not equipped to do these things. We are not a group of activists, working to bring together a diverse coalition of community voices to bring about change. We are not a political party trying to influence potential candidates and voters to pass real laws. We are not a branch of government that writes regulations or enforces the law.
I lost track of commentator times news media reprimanded during the Trump presidency and beyond (regardless of whether these same commentators are themselves part of the news media). Why did TV news broadcast his rallies? Why did we allow this horrible man to come to power? Why didn’t we hold him accountable as he rampaged through Washington, DC? Why didn’t the two dismissals lead to his dismissal?
Lately we have seen similar complaints following horrific gun violence. Why don’t the news media intervene show children’s faces killed in school massacres? Surely that would change the public debate, wouldn’t it?
These people are fighting with the wrong people. Journalists did a good job to cover Trump, not the least of them being David Farentholdwho won a 2017 Pulitzer Prize covering the corrupt real estate mogul for The Washington Post. Post Office and New York Times staff both won the following year for their coverage of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. And whether or not you agree with the broadcast of Trump’s rallies, you can hardly argue that the candidate didn’t make news during them.
If people still decide to elect Trump as president, what are journalists supposed to do?
If clear and compelling coverage of gun violence does not bring about legislative change, what are journalists supposed to do?
We tell you what happens. When we can, we let you know about options to make things better. But you can’t force a single person to vote a certain way, and you can’t force a single legislator to change his mind. Journalism – even the most militant and militant – is not designed to achieve specific political or electoral results. Those who write stories and those who read them do our nation a disservice when they do otherwise.
We can do important things. Kansas Reflector has shown time and time again that we can hold the powerful to account. We can shine bright light into dark places. Through this opinion section, we can call for a better society and give activists a platform to share their ideas and dreams. My first column as an opinion writer, in August, laid out my beliefs. This section has and will raise powerful, resonant vocals. But who will actually create the change that Kansas and the United States desperately need?
It’s up to you.