September 12, 2015 • By Dennis Beaver

You might not have seen the movie, “Network,” but it is almost certain that you’ve heard one of its powerful and enduring lines spoken by Howard Beale, a longtime news anchor suffering a meltdown on the air.

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore,” he encourages viewers to shout from their windows, which is exactly what thousands of people across America do. As a result, ratings skyrocket, Beale’s on-air antics are encouraged, turning a serious news program into nothing more than entertainment, all for the sake of building a larger audience.

To Phoenix-based attorney and author, Robert McWhirter, “This 1976 film gave us a disturbingly accurate picture what many — if not most — television news/talk shows have become.

“Dennis, in the past handful of years when watching any TV talk show, even many of the news or financial programs hosted by very intelligent people, civility — just being polite and listening to others express their opinion without interrupting or yelling at each other — was thrown out the window, and replaced by anger.

“This rudeness and talking over each other harms our country — especially the younger generation — as the refusal to listen and thereby losing the ability or desire to compromise appears perfectly acceptable. Now, toss in all the thousands of blogs made possible by the Internet, and no one is talking to anyone else unless they are yelling.

“Our children will see this as the way adults talk to each other and it’s not healthy for our democracy,” he maintains, adding, “Because it gives a bully the power to shut down dialogue.

“When the Pilgrims arrived in the New World, they brought something credited by historians as being critical to establishing a level of freedom which led to the First Amendment rights we all enjoy today. Any idea what it was? ” McWhirter asked.

“Beads to buy Manhattan with?” we guessed — wrong.

“With survival a daily challenge, among the first things the Pilgrims brought with them on the Mayflower were printing presses – making information accessible to everyone who could read a pamphlet or newspaper,” he enthusiastically notes.

Until the early 1900s the press was the great mass-communication technology, then came radio followed by television. All three require:

  • Fact checking and procedures in place to assure accuracy, so that not just anything is printed or broadcast.
  • Editors, who look for errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar and terminology.

To McWhirter, “One significant weakness of the Internet is the lack of editors. Yes, today more voices are able to reach a broader audience — which is a positive aspect of what this technology accomplishes.

“The lack of editors — lack of filtering, and appalling grammar — these go beyond merely weakness. Technology is the greatest challenge to free speech — indeed, to our freedom — as it gives more power to government or any other group with the sophistication to harness the power, for example, the recruitment ability of ISIS.

“One of the problems of technology is that everyone has a mic and listens to who they want to. So, we go on line and hear certain information but do not hear the nation’s voice — what others are thinking — which makes the press even more necessary, ferreting out problems in a community — corruption for example — and helps to mold and have intelligent debate.

“When a newspaper closes its doors, our very liberty takes a hit, as there is no debate, no brilliant light focused on those who would do us harm. If you want to control a country, then first, control the sources of information.”

Why America is great – What we need to teach

Speaking with Bob McWhirter is a Vitamin B-12 shot of those things which Americans have the right — have earned the right — to be proud of.

“We were founded on ideals of tolerance and acceptance of others and other cultures. We must give people a basic understanding of why America is great, and we are not great because of having landed on the moon or having the most powerful aircraft carriers.

“America is great because anyone can speak their mind. And we have developed a political system that allows freedom to occur.

“Are kids taught why we are great, about tolerance, free speech, or the concept of a nation, of our nation and what we stand for?” he asks.

“We are now being tested like no other time in our nation’s history, fighting terrorism, while being true to our roots of free speech and maintaining a tolerant and diverse society.”

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.