In Nineteen Eighty-four, George Orwell put a telescreen in every room. The screens can be turned down but not off. They spew propaganda all day every day. Orwell was prescient about some things. While the screens in modern American life do not generally send as well as receive (so far as we know), they are pretty much everywhere.
With the election only four weeks away, those screens spewing information, disinformation and misinformation are a problem. For people who pay little attention to politics, it is difficult to know who is telling the truth. Worse yet, the most damaging lies tend to have a grain of truth in them.
Not long ago, I arrived at a physician’s office to find a TV installed in the waiting room. To my horror, it was tuned to Fox News. For several weeks, I suffered in silence, believing that everyone has the right to his or her own politics, pretty much the same way people are entitled to their own religion. Then came the day that Glen Beck was ranting and raving about some conspiracy to destroy the United States. The conspiracy, of course, originated in the Oval Office and naturally all true patriots blah blah blah. You get the picture. That was the day that I quit biting my tongue and complained.
It is perfectly acceptable for people to watch clearly unbalanced commentators in the privacy of their own home, but forcing me to watch them is out of line. Disseminating the rubbish commentators like Beck spew for free is a destructive practice, particularly in doctors’ offices, where the audience is not only captive but also encouraged to view the physician as an authority.
There is no constitutional right to hear or not hear what one wants, but it is an imposition for a business to push its political views on innocent patrons. Few businesses would dare to play religious programming the way they play Fox News.
There are ways to keep informed without subjecting oneself to propaganda. The sad fact is that very little of what is on TV is trustworthy. Now that corporations have the same rights as human beings to free speech, one believes political speech on the airwaves at his or her peril.
There are simple and painless ways to find out what elected representatives are up to. Congress.org (1) allows subscribers to receive a weekly e-mail that tells them exactly how their representatives voted on the bills that come before them. Some newspapers carry Thomas Voting Reports on the opinion page. Their Voterama website rates members of congress on a Left-to-Right scale (2). The best place to get unbiased information about any legislation can be found at the Library of Congress Thomas website (3). Here it is possible to read any legislation, including bills, proclamations and public laws.
Two final websites of note are Project Vote Smart (4) and Open Secrets.org (5). Anne Burgin Diallo wrote an excellent article detailing Project Vote Smart’s usefulness here (6). The organization strives to report what politicians say and do without any spin. Workers are not allowed to talk politics while there, and the board is comprised of an equal number of conservatives and liberals. Open Secrets.org reports on campaign finance. It explains a lot when a representative votes against environmental laws if one also knows that she received large contributions from industries that pollute.People with real information make better choices.