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 by Jon Burras
2016 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
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The Freedom of Information Act
The Scourge of Our Time
        How often these days are you glued to your television set watching another mass riot after a controversial police shooting or the beating of a citizen? Often these incidences have racial implications as a white officer is usually being blamed for the harm or death of a black citizen. We see videos of police shootings, read testimonials from grand juries and are bombarded daily with another police "mug shot" of a celebrity who has been arrested for acting badly.
        We are deluged with images and videos that have come from public documents and records. The mainstream media then is allowed to create narratives and story lines around these images and documents. The media can demonize a group or individual or can praise and uplift someone. These images that the media use to conduct their story-telling are obtained because of a rather recent law in our history. That law is the Freedom of Information Act. If not for the Freedom of Information Act we would not have most of the riots, social unrest and the racial tension that we have today. The Freedom of Information Act is the direct cause of most of these social acts of unrest and it is time to remove it from our society as the scourge that it is.
        Most people receive their news or vital information from mainstream media outlets. These sources could be from television, radio, newspaper or now from the internet. Just like a bon fire needs wood to burn to keep the fire going, media outlets require content to keep their business model flourishing. As Macys and Target department stores require merchandise to sell in order to remain in business the media requires controversial stories as their product in order to keep an audience and attract advertising dollars. In today's world of excitement addiction and gossip driven stories the media needs drama, trauma and tragedy to attract viewers and listeners. Throw in a few celebrity drunk driving arrests and a couple of high speed chases and now you are complete.
        A common theme in today's media is that "if it bleeds it leads." This phrase implies that the more frightening and bloody a story is the more viewers it will attract and now you have "Breaking News!" to startle you awake and keep viewers in a panic phase wanting to know more. A tree falling on a car is not so exciting unless there is a person trapped inside or a "high wind event" of extreme weather knocking over semi trucks can be used to lead off with in order to panic the audience to want to know more.
        Sources for news stories come from several main areas. Many large media outlets have their own reporters on the ground and in the air out looking for stories or following a police scanner to arrive early on scene at tragic events. Stories also come from television celebrity gossip shows as well as internet gossip. The other large area of media story collection comes from government documents, videos and files released to the public. This is where we now have a problem. The Freedom of Information Act has created a mecca of information to be used for media storytelling that should never be allowed.
        In essence, the media is stirring up public sentiments and creating social chaos because it now has access to information that it is using in its business model of "if it bleeds it leads" mentality. Riots, racial tensions, political turmoil, sit-ins on college campuses and unfocused emotional driven activism most often stem from a media trying to make money off of data collected from government sources and spinning it in their favor to create more viewers. News is not reported; news is created. The perception is that the media is the "eyes and ears" of the public watching over government. It is not. The media is a business designed to make money off of controversy.
        Stirring up the societal plots of perceived injustice just creates more ratings for media companies. Using government videos and other data to do so has become one of the main sources of this explosion of gossip and drama based reporting. The art of journalism has dramatically changed in the last few years. There are actually very few real journalists left these days as most are more interested in narratives on gossip and drama. Journalism these days is more like entertainment than conveying of useful information.
        The Freedom of Information Act came into existence on July 4th, 1967. Many amendments, additions and subtractions have been added to it in order to bring it up to date with today's modern media times. Essentially what the Freedom of Information Act states is that a media outlet can have access to government documents. The hope was that by passing this law Congress was trying to assure the public that it was operating with transparency and had nothing to hide. Media outlets and watch dog groups could peruse through government documents to keep an eye on government operations. There are many exceptions to the law. For instance, classified information is protected. Military war plans are protected. Names of government spies and informants are protected. Sealed court documents and sealed police files are protected. However the bulk of city, state and federal data is available for the media to have and to use in whatever manner they desire. This is like giving the keys of your Ferrari to your fourteen year old. Only bad things can happen.
        Your private information is being exploited by this law and media outlets. For instance, the government is required to release such private documents like how much you paid for your house, how much you sold your house for, any police report written on you, mug shots, divorce papers, marriage licenses, tax statements, tax deductions, charitable contributions and pretty much any business that you have had with a city, state or federal government agency. The media can have access to your information about your driving record, if you ever had a speeding ticket, attended traffic school, how much water you have used to water your lawn or whether or not you have taken out a permit to build a new bathroom in your home. Media outlets use these documents to create the bulk of their so called "news."
        For instance, if a celebrity is arrested for drunk driving the mug shot and the police report are readily available for the media to publicly shame and blast this picture all over their television screens to attract viewers. Courtroom testimony, interviews with police and other actions are completely allowed. Your "dirty laundry," finances, bankruptcy and any other action with government are fair game for the media to use to build a story around. In essence, your dirty laundry is being hung out by government agencies. Your individual relationship between you and government is being violated by third party media outlets who are stoking their fire of gossip reporting with your personal information. There is no longer any human dignity when it comes to our relationship with government. Anything said, written down, video taped or photographed and in the hands of the government no longer belongs to you.
        Back to recent events. Media outlets have access to videos, photographs and reports for police officer involved shootings, murders, crimes scene reports and photos, celebrity trials, and much more. Before the blood can dry on a shooting where a police officer has shot a citizen the media has already obtained the dash cam video or the police officer's body cam. Before a thorough investigation is complete the media has already blasted images and sound bites out to the public to boost ratings and to incite controversy. The media and the public then become the judge, jury and executioner without ever seeing all of the evidence. The media plays on the emotional savagery of a victim based culture who are always on the look out for someone to blame for their own personal misfortune. Demonizing police officers, politicians and public policies are always a common theme.
        The media wins when they can create a high drama story because it gives people something to talk about for a while and the more emotionally charged the situation the more violence and repercussions happen in society. This leads to more media coverage and more business for the media. In essence, using The Freedom of Information Act, the media obtains government documents and videos almost immediately after an incident and uses that data to create a bon fire of controversy which creates more business for the media. They now have more "Breaking News" to cover when the average citizen riots or protests because they have seen a sound bite replayed over and over again. Sounds bites and ten second video clips can incite a small group of people or an entire nation whether the story is true or not. The average citizen is not patient enough to wait until the entire story comes out and instead is driven by emotional blame. Blame based individuals will cause anarchy at the perception of injustice. One of the tricks of the media to attract viewers is to create a narrative where there is a perception of injustice.
        For example, the media obtains a video of an police officer involved shooting. The media reports this right away and replays it over and over again with its own commentary. Usually the commentary is to demonize the police officer. Citizens are told partial stories and dramatic highlights. The whole story is not told. Riots ensue and the media takes no responsibility for their actions. Months later after thorough investigations it might be revealed that the shooting by the police officer was justified. It is too late. The media has been stirring up the crowd with its video highlights for months, riots have burned down neighborhoods and more people have suffered. What if the media were never allowed this public information in the first place and a full investigation was allowed to take place?
        The media is being allowed access to information that should remain in the public vaults. Grand jury testimonies, witness testimonies in a crime and documents about which celebrity is getting a divorce are now fair game. Why should the media be allowed in your personal business? For instance, a divorce document will list the reason for the divorce. Why should the media be allowed to tell the world that you and your spouse have "irreconcilable differences" and that is the reason for the divorce? Why should the booking photo of a celebrity being arrested be allowed to be posted on the airwaves for the public to shame and ridicule? These stories make good television and improve ratings in a gossip driven culture as public information has become one of the most prevalent sources.
        The media claims that it needs The Freedom of Information Act to watch over government. The irony to this statement is that the mainstream media is not a watch dog group but a private business designed for one thing—to make money. The media outlets are in business for their own self interest and that is to appease their shareholders. The product that they sell is not truthfulness or honesty but controversy. The more controversy that a media outlet can create the more viewers and hence more advertisers. Media companies are taking private information that is being held in the hands of government agencies and using that to make more money for themselves.
        Imagine if the rest of our lives operated like the media by telling partial stories and then creating controversy around them. You would be eating at a restaurant and half way through the meal the waiter would show up and give you the bill while taking your plates away. You would only be allowed a partial meal. The waiter would then ask you how the meal was. Imagine if you were on an airplane flight from Los Angeles to New York and the flight suddenly landed in Oklahoma and let everyone off. You were only allowed a partial flight. The flight attendants would smile and ask you how your flight was. Imagine if you went to your dentist for a teeth cleaning and the dental hygienist only cleaned the top row of your teeth before ushering you out of the chair and presenting you with a bill.
        The media is doing the same thing in part because of The Freedom of Information Act. With its sound bites and fifteen second video clips the media is telling partial stories and we keep believing that we are getting the whole truth. The media is not trying to improve society; the media is trying to sell as much sensationalized content as possible using government held data.
        There is a very different world these days. There have always been a few police officers who have acted as bullies and have taken the law into their own hands. There have always been a number of citizens committing crimes, resisting arrest and disrespecting law enforcement. We have always had some celebrities who have been caught doing bad things. What is different these days is that by using The Freedom of Information Act the media is able to team up with the public, tell a partial sensationalized story and become the jury and executioner in such events.
        Through its access to government files the media is able to build these dramatic stories. The "terror in wonderland," the "crisis in utopia" and the "horror on the high seas" are examples of sensationalized story headlines the media is able to create while accessing police documents and videos to dramatize an event to make more money. What once was sacred has since passed. For instance, in order to compete with the "blood and gore" of Hollywood movies media companies now take police videos of suspects being shot and murdered and replay those videos over and over again. A line has been crossed as the viewing of a person being murdered would not be socially acceptable years ago but now it is totally normal. As cameras have been brought into court rooms we are able to see every drama acted out like a soap opera in progress for high profile court cases.
        No, evidence should stay in evidence lockers and not given to media outlets. Cameras should be left out of churches, locker rooms and court rooms. Your personal information that is collected by the government should be held safe by the government and not exposed to a ruthless gossip driven media. Videos from police dash cams and body cams needs to stay in house and never released to the public.
        This is the way things should work. An event happens. This could be a shooting, plane crash or other disaster. Government agencies collect as much data as possible including videos, bystander testimonials, expert opinions, crime scene investigations, judges rulings and opinions of outside independent review boards. A conclusion is found. For instance, a court makes a decision and that decision is then reported to the media. End of story. The media does not have the right to be the judge, the jury or the executioner. The media does not have the right to gather each day's testimony and feed it out to the public to be the jury on the case. After all the data is collected decisions are made and the media just reports the decision as a fact and not as an opinion or a commentary.
         There is a medical law called HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) where a citizen's medical records are private information. Occasionally a hospital employee will be fired or sued for giving the medical records to a media outlet when it concerns a celebrity. Why isn't all of our private information being kept secure by the government and not released to the media as our medical records have been? The Freedom of Information Act has created a chaotic social experiment that is widely out of control. The media now has the freedom to make money off of your information. The media has the freedom to team up with the public to tarnish your publish image, to shame you and to put you on trial. The Freedom of Information Act only benefits the media at the expense of society. It is time to eliminate this dreadful law and allow our privately held information to be secured in government vaults and keep it where it belongs—private. When do we put the media on trial and end this farce?