America On Mute: Censorship & The Deafening Sound of Silence

America has long celebrated being synonymous with the word Freedom. Freedom has given the American people a bold and sometimes arrogant swagger. Freedom is loud. America is the global television that other countries dial into to watch intently as our compelling story unfolds.

Some countries throw shoes at the TV in condemnation and disgust, others watch in amusement, and some in reverence. We are a captivating, diverse group of people. America boasts protecting and maintaining freedoms not enjoyed by other countries such as:

  • Speech

  • Religion

  • Press

  • Assembly; and

  • Petitioning the Government

To name a few, making America the freest country in the world. Political revolutionists believed in these concepts. Throughout history, Americans have died to defend these beliefs, some even for merely discussing them.

An overwhelming amount of Americans not only agree with these concepts of freedom but exhibit direct support of these beliefs in the face of adversity, including censorship.

The problem - these beliefs are easy to cosign on in the abstract. In actual practice, it’s complicated. Americans’ enthusiasm to exercise freedoms is not accompanied by an equal amount of zest for tolerance & temperance of these freedoms.

Tolerance & temperance are the unwelcome byproducts of freedom. When there is freedom, opinions and behaviors will exist that you disagree with. Temperance is the ability to dissent constructively about those unacceptable behaviors and ideas.

The Art Of Constructive Dissent

Disagreement is inevitable in a free society. It happens daily in business and personal relationships. It happens within domestic government buildings and exchanges between our country and foreign entities.

Government leadership is tasked with the responsibility to set an example in the well-versed mastery of constructive dissent. Leadership is held to a higher standard and should represent the best part of us. Leadership should be result-driven. Expectations by the American people from our representatives to move democratically toward ideal results are the very reason they were elected.

Emotions need to be checked at the door and have no place in government. Politicians should be prepared to encounter opposing viewpoints and discuss them with cool heads and a goal-oriented focus. The price of failing to do so is devastating.

Leadership’s belief in their cause should overpower the urge for poor conduct, which would be detrimental in completing their objective. The gift of living in a democracy means there will be debate, negotiation, and consistently working with people that disagree with your perspective.

Political diplomacy demands finesse, stature, persuasiveness, and creative thinking to get results. Energy should not be placed in punishing one side for their beliefs and spinning wheels on proving them wrong. Moving forward is impossible if politicians occupy their time running in place.

If your feelings are easily hurt, or you cannot compose yourself from lashing out with insults under pressure to your adversary or your constituents, do America and democracy the honor of resigning before you damage the possibility of reaching your goal.

Overcoming your primal need to throat punch the person in front of you is the biggest challenge of dissenting constructively. Transitioning from defensive to diplomatic keeps the focus on the real problem and takes steps towards the solution, or at a minimum, middle ground. Not everything can be won in a day.

Leadership that demonstrates consistent rules of engagement wins the respect of their colleagues and the American people. The opposition is more pliable when not being attacked because voices are being heard, and ideas are being discussed. You teach people how to treat you.

Establishing decorum and rapport within chambers ensures result-driven, meaningful debate, and resolution. Keeping the discussions in those chambers is equally crucial while discussions are tabled, and nothing is definite.

The Importance of Griping Up

Who leaders talk to and how they conduct themselves both on and off camera matters. Poor conduct influences the climate of the American people, especially with issues that are unresolved or in a discussion. Why is this important?

Unfavorable actions on the outside can hinder that discussion. There is an iconic scene in Saving Private Ryan where Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) instructs his crew on how to express dissent (LinkedIn):

Private Jackson: Sir... I have an opinion on this matter.

Captain Miller: Well, by all means, share it with the squad.

Private Jackson: Well, from my way of thinking, sir, this entire mission is a serious misallocation of valuable military resources.

Captain Miller: Yeah. Go on.

Private Jackson: Well, it seems to me, sir, that God gave me a special gift, made me a fine instrument of warfare.

Captain Miller: Reiben, pay attention. Now, this is the way to gripe. Continue, Jackson.

Private Jackson: Well, what I mean by that, sir, is... if you was to put me and this here sniper rifle anywhere up to and including one mile of Adolf Hitler with a clear line of sight, sir... pack your bags, fellas, war's over. Amen.

Captain Miller is a firm believer in ‘griping up.’ Meaning, his crew will never hear him complain about policy or mission. He exerts a chain of command where he gripes to his superior officer, not in front of, or to, the people under his command. Reiben pushes for an answer on how Captain Miller would gripe to his commanding officer, and Captain Miller responds:

Well, in that case... I'd say, "This is an excellent mission, sir, with an extremely valuable objective, sir, worthy of my best efforts, sir. Moreover... I feel heartfelt sorrow for the mother of Private James Ryan and am willing to lay down my life and the lives of my men - especially you, Reiben - to ease her suffering."

His response is not a gripe - further enforcing his message that he will not gripe in front of his men even in the hypothetical. The significance of his iron, true grit is that these men need to fight together as a unified front requiring cooperation and unyielding loyalty and trust in each other.

If Captain Miller were to falter, the firm foundation of belief that these men fight for would be dismantled, and they may be reluctant to act. It would also split the group into those that find the cause worthy and those that do not.

Leaders that do not operate with a clear mission and a belief in that mission cannot rally the support of the people. The point is, disagreement happens, and expressing dissent should be both respectful and to the right people.

The right people being those that have the influence, contacts, or authority to remedy the situation being griped about. Griping down breeds hostility because people feel the resolution is outside of their control. Griping up yields results and fosters ideas.

Leadership has an overwhelming responsibility to maintain the status quo. In the past decade, I have watched government leaders and career politicians express their dissent in the loud public forum by:

  • Blame-shifting

  • Name-calling to each other and their constituents (we the people)

  • Demeaning people publicly

  • Scream at, rather than talk with

  • Focus on taking away liberties rather than restoring them

  • Focus on insignificant, rather than achieve the goal

  • Insight public hostility and shaming

and other disrespectful, vile conduct that sends the message to the American people the government is incapable of any semblance of cohesion and collaboration. If the leaders can’t work together, they have lost purpose and do not function. There is no hope to reach a resolution. Dissent has become increasingly ineffective and dangerous.

The lack of civility and meaningful exchanges is infectious and spreads like wildfire on social media. News broadcasters feel emboldened by leadership’s bad behavior and use similar berating tactics and belittling each other across networks. Network producers allow these insults and unproductive, inflammatory behaviors to target other journalists & their stations. As well as extend the abuse to politicians and the American public.

The American people then feel empowered and justified to incite violence and treat each other the same way we see our government and leaders treating each other. When leadership does not know how to dissent constructively, the results are groups of like-minded people fueled by mob mentality to exert their dissent by force.

These groups weaponize freedom through violence to person and property in a struggle to get control of America’s remote and turn up the volume so they can be heard. They feel they are not being listened to because the representatives they elected are not successfully conveying their messages and finding a resolution. They see their representatives frustrated and lashing out with their backs to the wall.

These groups act in direct correlation with what they see being portrayed as a failure to act by leadership in both response and action. This is broadcast on TV and social media with blaming and the hateful speech by both sides rather than focusing on the issue.

The irony is politicians avoid being associated with these groups like the plague; however, they are often credited for their actions. The media swarms around the violence to promote whatever cause for the week, and politicians scold each other in the chaos. Are we this lost?

We have become a nation that cannot cope with people disagreeing with us. The inability to cope festers in the form of dislike. And the inability to communicate that dislike amicably turns to hate. Resolving any differences at this point is like proving unicorns exist.

Leaders need to stop chasing the unicorn and take their responsibility seriously. Right now, it’s just exceptionally emotional, irrational, and unproductive.

Peter Parker Principle

With great power comes great responsibility. The Spiderman comic may have made the quote famous, but it actually stems from the French Revolution. The French Revolution was in response to social and economic inequality.

The French government was in debt leading to depression and high food prices. The monarchy and elite openly refused reform. Some rather condescending about it (talking to you, Marie Antoinette).

The Elite’s contempt for the people and lack of responsibility in their power and spending while people suffered was their downfall. The cry for democracy became louder from the people, and the American Revolution was their poster-child. The King lost his head, and the rest is history. How you lead and treat people matters.

When leaders approach each other with unbridled spit and venom, it increases public dissent and elicits anger, distrust, and breeds violence. The world has become an unsafe environment to disagree because the rules of engagement have reset to a shallow bar. Emotion is allowed to dominate the political arena resulting in shaming and assault.

Disagreement should be seen as an opportunity to learn, to expand, to see the other side's point of view to find the middle road between the two without extremes. No one is all right or all wrong. Emotionally driven assaults are the death for any collaboration of meaningful and innovative ideas.

Control your emotions—gripe up. Maintain composure. Rational discussions create opportunity, collaboration, innovation, and dissolve unrest because all voices are heard. Leaders, the nation as it now stands is on you. Wear your responsibility to the American people with some care. This not only includes what you say but what you let us say.

Censorship: Good Intentions Pave the Way to Hell

Freedom without tolerance and temperance leads to abusive censorship. On our quest to protect freedoms, policies dripping in good intention have overstepped and encroached on the American people’s fiercely independent nature.

Censorship’s fingers frequently push the mute button on material that is obscene, objectionable, harmful, uncomfortable, or even- inconvenient. Governments, private institutions, and other controlling bodies hold the remote of America and manipulate the buttons to whatever channel they see fit to display.

Censorship has infiltrated movies, books, art, speech, and every form of expression and content throughout history. Freedom of speech tends to be the hot button these days, so what does the First Amendment say:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Sounds pretty solid, right? But you can’t just say anything. There have been a few adjustments along the way. What freedom of speech includes:

  • Not to speak (this points at the right not to salute the flag - 1943)

  • Students can wear black armbands at school in protest of war (1969)

  • Certain offensive words and phrases can be used to convey political messages (certain, hmmm, thank you, Captain Vague - 1971)

  • Contributing money under certain circumstances to political campaigns is a go (there’s that word certain again - 1976)

  • Symbolic speech (specifically burning the flag - 1990)

Things freedom of speech does not include:

  • Inciting actions that could harm other people (like shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded room - 1919)

  • Make or distribute obscene materials (1957)

  • Burn draft cards in anti-war protest (1968)

  • Students cannot print article in a school paper objection school administration (1988)

  • Students cannot give an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event (1986)

  • Students cannot advocate illegal drug use at a school-sponsored event (2007)

There are some very vague lines in the sand on what is and is not protected under free speech and where that free speech is protected, which brings me to media & social media.

The Media & Social Media Double Standard

If you look up the definition of ‘media,’ it would read something like this:

The main means of mass communication in forms such as broadcasting (news agencies), publishing (print), and the internet (social media).

Interestingly, social media (it even has the word media in it) is defined as a bulletin board and therefore not under the same restrictions and laws as other forms of media despite the fact the definition of media includes the internet. A bulletin board is defined as:

A website or web page where users can post comments about a particular issue or topic and reply to other users' postings.

What it does not say is social media also collects user information to be used in (simply look at their policies on the platform):

  • Providing information to third parties

  • Analysis of buying behavior

  • Provided to the government

  • Takes a political stance and suspends accounts or deletes them all together

Wait, what? I thought they were a posting board? According to the definition, anyone can post anything and comment; however, they want to on any topic as long as they operate within the free speech framework. It seems there is some gross overstepping here. Posting boards don’t have opinions, do they?

Technically, the media isn’t supposed to either. However, depending on what channels you watch, you will be provided with completely different versions of the same story or not provided the story at all.

Indeed, if leaders have a responsibility to the American people to act with decorum, then the media has a responsibility as well, no? At Least the public has the expectation that it does.

Media - The Fourth Branch Of The Government

The media wears the unofficial title of the government’s fourth branch. They are often seen as acting in the stead of the other three government branches in influence and action. This isn’t limited to the media; the beast of social media sits precariously on this branch as well. These actors, in part, are what is known as the ‘deep state.’

The deep state is made up of unknown, secret, or unauthorized networks of power that operate independently of each other on behalf of government leadership to run their agendas and goals.

Being the fourth branch of government expressly implies that the media is not independent of the government. The media is often credited with the responsibility to inform the populace for a healthy functioning democracy.

The media’s message is often a reflection of leadership's behavior. The political agenda of news agencies was highlighted in 1959 when Douglass Cater stated he was:

“Convinced that, insofar as the press did act as a true political player (rather than an unbiased observer of politics), it corrupted itself and went astray from its primary responsibility-to convey important information and to act as a nonpartisan watchdog for the public against all trespassers on their rights.”

In 1985, Walter Annenberg added that several commentators indicated the fourth branch of government was at least if not more powerful to direct public policy than the other three branches because of its intimate contact with the people and its protection under the first amendment, so there was no responsibility for what they report.

Social media, on the other hand, asserts the same, if not more power, simply by the reach of interaction and exercises as a media source with even less responsibility than the media. There is very little oversight on either type of entity and no accountability, holding public unrest in the palm of their hand and throwing it at whatever cause they deem unworthy.

For more than a century, the rich and powerful media outlet owners (including social media) have controlled propaganda in the guise of benefiting the public. The media, ideally, would serve as the backbone of democracy and remain independent, professional, and exercise its power with the responsibility to inform. This concept is lost.

The media breeds censorship through paid sponsors, tilts the story to serve their interests, and openly discusses the ‘idiocy’ and ‘uneducated’ portions of the population that do not rally in support of the story being broadcast.

Social media reinforces this tilted agenda by publicly shaming individuals with suspended accounts, deleting specific ‘keyword phrases,’ and blocking apps from the server empire.

The media has lost significant credibility because of the lack of responsibility and integrity in delivering news. News that has been thoughtfully composed by:

  • Digging into the subject matter

  • Checking references

  • Talking to diverse groups of people

  • Double-checking facts

  • Reporting both sides of the story

  • Sift out the lies and corruption

  • And report it - all of it, without embellishment and scare tactics

I want Lois Lane, not yes, men/women. The American people deserve better, and the media is too far gone to deliver it.

Social media is not a mere posting board. These few powerful platforms are acting as the filters for what can be said or opined. This is not the characteristic of a passive post-board; itis demonstrated control over what we see, hear, and say.

Social media selectively applies censorship not only to politicians but to all of us. Flagging content deemed inappropriate, putting warning labels on accounts, abruptly changing policy to ostracize a dissenting viewpoint, and deleting content and accounts without explanation, and in finality, there is no course of action for the ostracized. Why do they have this, right? Or do they?

Media As A Business

People will argue that media and social media are businesses and therefore have the right to select what they will broadcast and what they won’t. There is nothing written that there needs to be truth and transparency in the media. There is nothing written that directs them to the service of the American people as an unbiased agency.

There is no Hippocratic oath taken by any media platform to promote ethical codes, principles, obligations, and guidance to serve the public trust. The title is unofficial as a fourth branch of the government. The reality, they need not serve anyone but their interests. The allegiance to the American people’s expectations is traded for ratings to pay for agendas with no consequence.

The Harvard Business Review put it eloquently in a magnificent piece:

“The news media and the government are entwined in a vicious circle of mutual manipulation, mythmaking, and self-interest. Journalists need crises to dramatize news, and government officials need to appear to be responding to crises. Too often, the crises are not really crises but joint fabrications. The two institutions have become so ensnared in a symbiotic web of lies that the news media are unable to tell the public what is true and the government is unable to govern effectively.”

The ironic thing is that most of America seem to know this. Some fun facts courtesy of Pew Research Center (2019):

  • 72% of U.S. adults say news organizations do an insufficient job telling their audiences where their money comes from and are not transparent

  • 50% of Americans have confidence in journalists acting in the best interest of the public and believe that the news organizations care about the people they report on

  • 61% expect the news they get to be accurate

  • 69% believe the news cover up mistakes when they happen

  • 55% say there is careless reporting and attempts to mislead the public

  • 80% of Americans think that financial and corporate interests influence the news, and the news is not forthcoming about conflicts of interest

  • 57% of Americans say their news outlets don’t value them

  • 59% say their news outlets don’t understand them

  • 63% say they don’t feel loyal to their news outlet

Americans are overall unhappy with current news reporting; however, I don’t see this public opinion swaying any media source any time soon. Why? Because there is no incentive or enforcement of accountability for the media to change. The dollars are reaching the right people, and government leadership is clenching the remote. Business is good.

Each year news stations and news castors are awarded outstanding achievements in recognition of the magnificent jobs they are doing in bringing the public news. Awards like the Edward R. Murrow Award presented to networks who proudly give acceptance speeches, receiving standing ovations from everyone in attendance.

“So this is how liberty dies...with thunderous applause.” - Senator Padme Amidala.

And we know. And we watch in silent acceptance. Where is America’s rebellious spirit?

American Spirit Revealed

COVID still has America by the proverbial short hairs. As COVID raged across the world, information flowed in waves through media and social media, some correct, some not. I thought to myself, this will unify us - a common threat that unifies the world, and we work as one voice to conquer the threat.

The optimistic patriot in me saw the world’s potential to come together and work towards a solution at an accelerated pace. I thought of how much the world was going to gain in knowledge, collaboration, and maybe even working together to cure cancer along with COVID through exchanging knowledge. I thought COVID was horrible and had faith there was good that could come from it, and that belief provided comfort.

Why would I think this? Because when 9/11 happened, I had never seen such unity and patriotism blanket our nation. The news reported events, and I saw empathy, compassion, altruism, leadership collaboration, and outreach.

Songs were made, people were united, we mourned as one nation and rallied support in our American defiance of the violent intrusion on our ideals and our lives. I saw America for the first time in a long time, and she was stunning.

Fast forward to COVID and my shattered America. I couldn’t figure out for the longest time why we reacted so differently. Why were we even more divided and working against the goal of a solution? Why was there so much hate coming from every direction? It finally hit me.

9/11 was an assault on America’s abstract ideals of freedom and democracy. This is something the people could support as a nation. COVID is an intimate, individualized attack centered around restricting people’s independence in their daily lives.

The abstract idea of freedom is very different from what individuals define as freedoms. The lack of agreement and dissent among leadership on these very individual restrictions are why we did not align swiftly under one voice as we did in 9/11.

Leadership splintered and conveyed different and conflicting messages as the people looked to them for direction. The unclear statements infuriated the masses and, coupled with personal restrictions that some leaders did not follow themselves, elevated the already boiling temperature.

The actions of leadership and media combined negatively influenced and virtually missed an opportunity to come together as a nation and a world. We were unable to act quickly, inform accurately, focus on the solution, and formulate a plan of action for the country as a whole.

The fracture was seen in how every state handled the crisis, and it is ongoing. The tremendous influence that the media and government have over a nation cannot be understated.

Feeding the Beast Of Government Influence