Privatizing The Public Good

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Public figures who proclaim their fealty to the public good generally want to minimize their contact with the masses. “If you really go all the way to ‘open,’ you’ve lost the media in the sense of the intermediary that channels what we say, that selects and that broadcasts back out,” Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter said in a lecture at Harvard last year. “So from that perspective too, ‘closed’ starts looking pretty good.”

Slaughter came to her post at Princeton from a stint in the State Department in the Obama Administration. As with many in the diplomatic corps and professoriate alike, she tends to blur over the distinctions between democracies and dictatorships that those outside of the Ivory Tower and Foggy Bottom notice.

“China is responsive to its citizenry in all sorts of ways, certainly not evenly, certainly not in ways that we champion, but it’s not fair to say it’s non-responsive,” she said at Harvard.

“When there are protests there are responses. When I have talked to mayors in Shanghai—and of course a mayor of one district in Shanghai is a mayor of two million people—they talk about protests if they want to put a rail line through or they want to condemn some particular property. There is a sense of responding to citizen protests, citizen engagement. China is not a democracy, but it may score higher on some measures of open government than some countries that hold elections would.”

When it comes to media outlets in the United States that represent totalitarianism, she is also somewhat equivocal, as in her comments on Al-Jazeera, the foreign outlet that Accuracy in Media’s Cliff Kincaid first dubbed “Terror TV” for its benign, if not encouraging, treatment of terrorist groups.

“Al Jazeera Stream defines itself as a social media community with its own daily TV show on Al Jazeera,” she says of the online branch of the outfit owned by Qatar. “If you go on the site, you’ll see a map, and on the map there are lots of little flags that show you where videos have been produced, and it says, ‘Record your own video here,’ and there is a link, where if you click it—I have never recorded a video, but I would believe if you click it you can record your video—and it says, ‘we will show it on the TV show.’ So this is completely open in terms of production. Although I have to think again that there is some actual editing and selection as to what goes into the TV show, the invitation is completely open. And Al Jazeera English as a whole, not just Al Jazeera Stream, but the entire site, defines itself as a community. And it has rules of the community. If you look down, it says these are the rules: We value thoughtful constructive discussion, we don’t want comments that smear an organization or attack an author. We want these kinds of participation. We want information or clarifications on breaking news stories. If there are complaints, here is where you send them and a bunch of other rules.”


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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