How to Put a Spotlight on the Powerful

How to Put a Spotlight on the Powerful

It’s been quite a month for political ethics, hasn’t it?

South of the border, the excited Congressional Republicans decided that the first thing they would do with their shiny new majorities and an incoming GOP president would be to…gut the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).

(You know you’re in a hall of mirrors when Donald Trump has to instruct you in both ethical and political wisdom, but that he did, and the Republicans backed off.)

Meanwhile, our Prime Minister is currently trying to swat away accusations that he flatly defied his own Open and Accountable Government rules by accepting helicopter rides from the Aga Khan to his private island in the Bahamas.

(No word yet as to whether anyone in the PMO is being fired for not warning that perhaps vacationing on a billionaire’s private tropical paradise did not provide the best optics for the leader of a country struggling with economic challenges during a cold winter.)

Down Under, government ministers and other MPs are dropping like flies over use and misuse of various allowances, including one cabinet member buying a vacation apartment while on a government-sponsored trip, an apartment worth $800K that she tried to excuse as an “impulse purchase.”

(No word yet as to whether anyone on her staff whispered into her ear that maybe the electorate might not sympathize with her equating the acquisition of a luxury condo with grabbing a pack of gum.)

In each case, these dubious decisions were flagged by a combination of oppositional politicians and a nosy, noisy press. Both were doing their jobs, and we are all the better for it.

Let’s leave aside for another time our natural tendency to view our political opponents in the worst possible light, seeing everything they say and do as perversely obstructionist rather than dutifully challenging. But I pause to tip my hat to any such “loyal opposition.”

Today, let’s consider that serious news media, of whatever stripe, continue to struggle for funds in a highly precarious market.

Yes, too many of them haplessly succumbed to the “information wants to be free” nonsense that assumes hard news–industriously mined, prudently refined, and powerfully presented—can just emerge from a million folks typing on a million PCs into a million blogs. Nope. We can all do first aid, and should, but only experts with expensive resources can perform surgery. If we don’t have enough of them, and that means paying for enough of them, we won’t have what we need. And our major news organs have been starving and shrinking.

So what can we do? If we are satisfied with only the “news” that comes to us from the publicity departments of major players—governments, political parties, industries, activists, studios, ad agencies, and the like—then fine. Just boot up your lap top and open up the floodgate.

If instead, however, we want someone, somewhere, to do what “Spotlight” did in Boston—or even what the good old daily press did with these three stories above—then we have to start putting our money where our mouths are.

In a word: subscribe.

Yes, some media ask a lot. (I personally don’t get why certain Canadian media price their subscriptions so high.) But many really good ones are still so desperate for subscriptions that they can be had at a bargain price.

The Bible is full of prophets who warn the powerful, and warn the rest of us about the powerful. But they had God speaking directly to them about what was going on. Most of us nowadays are left, under God, to our own devices to bring to light the actions of our leaders. That kind of work takes courage, care, persistence, skill, and frankly enough financial clout to withstand the threat of a lawsuit.

Pick one, or two, or three of your favourite media: the ones you’d badly miss if they disappeared. And pay up, so they don’t.

(Good) information might want to be free, but it almost never is.

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