Like many people my age, I sometimes catch myself thinking that we live in a singularly politically corrupt age. I usually follow such thoughts, however, with the conclusion that such an idea is likely untrue, and instead it is simply the difference of currently living through a time and paying attention to the politics as opposed to childhood memories or the veneer of the historical lens. After all, from my high school knowledge of American history (combined with modern revelations) I recall Nixon's notoriety as a horribly corrupt man. Going further back, I recall learning about Ulysses S. Grant's corrupt presidency, characterized by nepotism forgiven by the populace due to his popularity as a war hero.
One thing that I think is different, however, about our current state of affairs is the symbiotic relationship of the media, politics, and the economy at large. The major news networks are an unduly powerful political force, particularly now that a number of very disconcerting precedents have been quietly set (namely, the propagation of the idea that there is a difference between commentators and reporters in terms of ties to truth, followed by the more horrifying right to lie Fox News won in court). By straddling the line between mere entertainment and news, television news has entered into a state of phenomenal power (it is still viewed by the majority of the population as a reliable source of news), but is also largely defunct of journalistic ethics. As much as I love the Daily Show with John Stewart, I believe it is primarily a failing of television news networks rather than any sort of uncanny talent for weaving comedy with fact on John Stewart's part that results in Daily Show viewers typically scoring as well or better than viewers of traditional news networks in terms of current events knowledge.
In the same way that we have regulatory agencies designed to protect people from false advertising and ensuring the safety of foods and drugs, it is absolutely vital that our society begin to hold news agencies to a standard beyond simply entertainment bodies. Within the realm of information dissemination, the level of power and influence one currently has is largely not based upon the truth of one's information, but rather the depth of one's advertising budget. To a certain extent these sorts of regulatory boards do exist, such as Media Matters (who recently managed to bring to light a huge conflict of interest with one of CNN's contributors), but they wield no where near the clout of the cable news organizations.
I have no solutions, and I have no power to change things beyond the little network of influence occupied by this blog. The television and computer screen are immune to my snide heckling and indignant bellows, and news agencies will continue to shill for whoever has greased the right palms. As easy as it is to sink into apathy and cynicism, though, that is most certainly not the answer. If anyone has ideas, let me know. Journalistic ethics are important, and they are something worth fighting to restore.