SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 27, 2014

Anderson: There's more to fear than fear

Barbara Anderson
The Salem News

---- — “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

— Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933

Though it’s often repeated in numerous contexts, that phrase doesn’t make sense. There are LOTS of things to fear besides fear itself.

I just looked it up. President Roosevelt didn’t say it at the beginning of World War II, as I had thought, when everyone knew there was good reason to fear Nazis and Japanese imperialists. He said it in the context of a run on the banks during the Depression, and his definition of fear in that context was “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror that paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Well, OK then. My fear for America hasn’t begun to paralyze my advocacy for “needed efforts to convert retreat” from the Bill of Rights and American exceptionalism. But rational fear is a proper response to danger.

What really scared me was the recent news item about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) assault on the “freedom of the press” section of the First Amendment.

This became news, albeit barely covered by the mainstream media, when an FCC commissioner, Mr. Ajit Pai, had an op-ed column published in the Wall Street Journal (Feb. 10), in which he argued that “The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.”

No kidding. But according to Commissioner Pai: “Last May, the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its ‘Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,’ or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run ...

“The purpose of the CIN ... is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about ‘the process by which stories are selected,’” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.” First, the agency selected eight categories of “critical information” such as the “environment” and “economic opportunities,” that it believes local newscasters should cover.

OK, that’s enough to scare the living daylights out of any American. Keep in mind that broadcasters would be out of business without an FCC license, so they have reason to be afraid themselves. And oddly, the CIN study includes newspapers, where the FCC has no authority.

Once this issue became public, the FCC backed down, sort of, for now. Though few media outlets were shouting their First Amendment rights from the rooftops, I’m assuming that phone calls were made to Washington, D.C., some of them from media-mogul Obama supporters, indicating displeasure. They had to be thinking that they can’t count on having their own political biases in charge after the next election, so they don’t want to establish a precedent.

We need media and government to be adversarial. We’ve already learned to fear the union of business and government (fascism) and religion and government (the Inquisition, and now, fundamentalist Islam). America was founded to avoid these fearsome power-combinations; later, it had to fight some of them. It is not reassuring to hear Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel say that “We are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies and in space can no longer be taken for granted.”

Certainly, defense budgets should be scrutinized, but we don’t want a world in which authoritarian mind-sets dominate the seas and the sky!

I recall the Cold War fear, especially the few days of the Cuban missile crisis when we came very close to nuclear engagement. Maybe that memory makes members of my generation, college age at that time, less inclined to think that whatever is scary can’t happen here.

I like to think that the media will return, post-Obama, to critical scrutiny of the privilege enjoyed by Washington, D.C., insiders, as it shares our fear of government intrusion into privacy and any other assault on our constitutional rights.

A friend recently surprised me by saying: “Remember when Michele Obama said that for the first time, she was proud of America? We all thought that showed a shocking lack of understanding of what America was for the first lady: the best country in the history of the world. Well, now I have to say I’m no longer proud of my country. I hesitated to put my flag out on Presidents Day, because it no longer stands for the country I knew.”

Later that week, at a small dinner party, a successful immigrant-American told us, sadly, “This isn’t the county I emigrated to.” He’s lived in countries where freedom can’t be taken for granted. It can no longer be taken for granted here. I understand what my two friends are saying.

But lest we let fear get in the way of productive action, let’s look at what some other people fear. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that “In a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction ... ranks right up there with” other challenges like terrorism, epidemics ... What???

Just in time to help us deal with our fears for America: We laugh. The Obama administration and other liberals will go too far, voters will wake up, and we’ll “convert retreat into advance” to make us proud of America again.

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem News columnist.