Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Power vs Right

So in the wake of the Journal-News nonsense, wherein they published the names and addresses of a bunch of N.Y. gun owners, Gawker comes along and does something similar.  Which brings up the all important question of right versus power.

Since this information is available to the public, anyone can file a request to obtain it, and then do with it as they please (for the most part, but the outer limits are pretty wide before you run afoul of the law in a civil or criminal context).  It is the right of the public to have that information, and most of us realize that information is a form of power.  Organizations that control information (government) and disseminate information (media) find themselves in positions of power on a daily basis.

One side argues that "just because you can do something that doesn't mean you should do it" and another side argues that "it's public, it can be out there, it is of no consequence."  I fall in the former category.  All power is a double-edged blade and the use of any power may have long-reaching consequences.  Furthermore, the use of power, as it goes on, is susceptible to the law of diminishing returns.  Use of power is also often a sort of moral hazard, in that the costs of the consequences rarely, if ever, impact the wielder thereof.

I think it is beyond debate that the media is, at best, only thinly veiling their agenda here, that agenda being to cow and terrorize the law abiding among us.  Media does not like that law and they do not like those who choose to abide by it, so they want to wish us away.  Being that they do not have such supernatural powers, they do the next best thing and engage in widespread intimidation.  Earlier on, the pushback was also in the form of implicit intimidation in the form of names, address and images of those working for the Journal News.  While I'm not sure that was a mature thing to do, I noted that there was no false veil of purpose - we admitted to wanting them exposed and vulnerable, shamed and intimidated.  After all, this is what they had done to gun owners, and the Journal-News folks deserved nothing less than the best.

So, is that the proper role of our media?  To intimidate and cast aspersion upon people?  Last time I checked, and granted it has been a while, the media existed to report facts and relevant information for patrons to consume.  The press was never meant to be a branch of executive power (the de facto outcome, here), nor was it ever meant to terrorize fellow citizens (I thought the government did a good enough job of that on its own, but perhaps I'm mistaken).  Is the media exercising its rights, and in the process abusing its power?  I think the answer is a resounding 'yes', at least in some quarters.

I suggest that we terrorize them back, where it hurts - in the wallet.  There are plenty of alternative media outlets to follow (many digital, at that) who still adhere to journalistic principles.  They are by no means perfect, but they are not of the old guard.  It's time to cast off the bonds of Mass Media Power, embrace alternative-but-accurate sources of information, and let the overgrown vines die under their own weight.

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