Friday, July 9, 2010

The wonder of the digital public square

In his editorial in Newsweek at the end of June (the issue I took with me on vacation) Jon Meacham comments on the reaction to Obama's Oval Office speech about the oil spill. He contrasts the usual carping with a well thought criticism done by Rachel Maddow. His closing paragraph will warm the heart of my friend and debate partner.

Criticism is a crucial thing (the lifeblood of democracy, the fuel of freedom -- choose your noble phrase), but the problem is that there are many more carpers than critics. That fact that anybody can say anything does not mean that anything anybody says is worth hearing. Is this an elitist view? Probably, but I am not arguing for even the remotest limitation on what people can say. The beauty of democracy and the wonder of the digital public square is that more people can express themselves more freely to more eyes and ears than at any other time in history. Such liberation is to be celebrated and honored and defended. With power, though, comes responsibility, for all of us. We can learn, I think, from Maddow -- sigh when you think you should sigh, but then have the courage to be constructive.

In that same issue Howard Fineman notes that a few of the new GOP candidates -- Rand Paul, Meg Whitman, Sharron Angle -- are weird, prickly, and novices and are doing all they can to avoid answering questions from the press. Not long ago no candidate would dare do that because the press would make a big deal of it. But today we have a decline in newspapers and a still underdeveloped digital press, so candidates can pick and choose whose questions they answer. Will they get away with it? Probably not. Video phones are everywhere and disagreeable stories leak. But it may not matter if the economy is weak enough and Obama unpopular enough.

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