The phone hacking scandal engulfing News Corp. is another reminder of the failure of the media to serve the public. I wrote in Rolling Stone recently:
"Unlike access to the 'public square' of early America, access to television requires large amounts of money. Thomas Paine could walk out of his front door in Philadelphia and find a dozen competing, low-cost print shops within blocks of his home. Today, if he traveled to the nearest TV station, or to the headquarters of nearby Comcast — the dominant television provider in America — and tried to deliver his new ideas to the American people, he would be laughed off the premises. The public square that used to be a commons has been refeudalized, and the gatekeepers charge large rents for the privilege of communicating to the American people over the only medium that really affects their thinking. "Citizens" are now referred to more commonly as "consumers" or 'the audience.'"
It is positive development that in addition to ongoing probes in the UK, the FBI has launched an investigation into the conduct of News Corp. employees. These inquiries must allow for a full public airing of the behavior of these irresponsible news outlets. If criminal behavior is found to have occurred, I hope those liable are prosecuted.
However there is also a need for a broader conversation about how the media has fallen down on its responsibilities -- not by tapping the phones of celebrities, politicians and victims of crimes and terrorist attacks – but by failing to insure the public is truly informed about the most pressing issues of the day.