By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
In light of the last few years, culminating in the insurrection that attempted to overturn the general election results, many people wonder what can be done to curb misinformation that explodes like a geyser and infects the masses.
Some people point to the Reagan Administration’s elimination of the fairness doctrine which required broadcast companies using the public airways, i.e. television and radio, to present controversial issues of public interest and in an honest, equitable and balanced manner.
The doctrine was instituted in the early days of television in 1949 and was in place for about 40 years.
Once the chains were off, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s radio show flourished. It took the left wing a little while to catch up, but soon there was MSNBC and Rachel Maddow, etc.
None of the shows with a specific political point-of-view do anything that resemble balanced reporting and the more inflammatory the better.
In today’s highly charged political environment, Fox News is not radical enough and has been supplanted by Newsmax and OANN as favored viewing.
While some have called for reinstating the fairness doctrine, with all of the outlets and platforms to circulate information or misinformation, the doctrine would do little to change the situation.
Today the social media sites amplify whatever is distributed for public consumption both good and bad and has been manipulated by foreign countries like Russia and Iran, as well as political organizations of all stripes.
Seeing a video today is not the same as even five years ago. Today’s technology allows it to be altered in many ways making it impossible for the untrained eye to tell what is real and what is not.
The fairness doctrine only applied to those using the public airwaves to broadcast, not newspapers or magazines or other media during that time.
Those were different days in journalism when there was real competition between newspapers and television stations etc.
The competition forced “the media” to be at its best or someone was right behind ready to take your place.
There was a code of ethics and a bright red line between news and opinion.
Today many people watching only their favorite news organization are not able to distinguish what is opinion and what is straight news.
But that begs the question of what can be done to address the massive amount of misinformation that floods the media on all platforms today.
It is difficult to envision a solution, but it has to start with a shared truth. When that doesn’t happen, we have what is today’s media landscape.
When I retired the first time, another, much younger reporter asked me what had changed in the 30 years I had covered the State House.
I said when I first worked in Concord people did not lie to you, they may not have told you the whole truth, but they did not lie to you.
Now lying is standard procedure in the political world. The ends justify the means.
And the lies have permeated our country to the point people today are absolutely convinced of things that are just plain false.
When the President of the United States can convince 90 percent of his party that he won the election when he lost by 8 million votes, “we have a problem Houston.”
And that misinformation was repeated and repeated by members of his party and its politicians endlessly until a sizable number of people believed so strongly the election was stolen they rioted in the U.S. Capitol and hunted for politicians to hang or shoot.
Too many people today do not want the truth, they want to know what they already believe or what fits their vision of the world.
The point is no longer engaging in discourse to arrive at a compromise that does not satisfy anyone but everyone receives a little of what they need.
Now it is take-it or leave-it and when the other side decides to leave it, they are called poor losers or too partisan to work with you.
The New Hampshire legislature has changed substantially in my three decades watching its workings.
The State House was a much more congenial place in the late 1980s and early 1990s as lawmakers grappled with a near recession that took down the five biggest banks in the state and left the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation owning most of the Elm Street buildings in Manchester with other cities and towns having similar problems.
Republicans and Democrats in the House, but mostly the Senate, worked together to develop an economic development package to help the state recover, some of which remains today like the Business Finance Authority.
On the Seacoast, Pease Air Force Base closed making matters even worse with the state’s economy losing hundreds of millions of dollars.
And at the same time, Public Service of New Hampshire went bankrupt under its Seabrook nuclear power plant debt which also sent two other electric utilities into bankruptcy.
How much worse could it get?
The only bright spot in the state’s economic picture was a young new technology company in Rochester called Cabletron.
The good times ended when the owners sued the state over its business profits tax resulting in the business enterprise tax, the one thing the late former Gov. Steve Merrill never mentioned as one of the highlights of his years in the corner office.
It took Republicans and Democrats to work together to pull the state out of its economic doldrums and to rebound with a thriving economy that in the late 1990s produced a federally balanced budget with a surplus.
During that period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, lawmakers agreed on what the truth was, the state was in deep trouble because the banks were greatly overextended, largely in the real estate market, and in some cases were a partner in projects that collapsed.
It was not a Republican problem — they were in control and in the midst of a long run holding majorities in the legislature, Executive Council, and the governor’s office — nor a Democratic problem, it was the state’s problem and both sides agreed to move forward.
Today you would think with the devastation COVID-19 has rained on this country and New Hampshire there would be a similar response.
At the beginning there was a united front, but when $1.25 billion in CARES Act money arrived, that ended much of the cooperation as Gov. Chris Sununu took control.
Today even members of Sununu’s own party can’t agree on what needs to be done.
A large faction of the GOP wants to end his emergency declarations and executive orders and open the state up while the pandemic still rages, not quite as badly as it did, but it still is not under control.
They would like Sununu to be like governors in Texas and Mississippi, end restrictions and the mask mandate.
But the governor and a large segment of his own party cannot agree on what is the truth with the pandemic, much less Democrats and Republicans.
More people need to realize to truly end the pandemic and return to “normal,” whatever that may look like on the other side, there needs to be a shared truth.
Until that is found, it will be two steps forward and three steps back. The pandemic will continue to spread and spread and mutate and another surge will be on the horizon.
And we will wonder when it will ever end.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.
InDepthNH.org is New Hampshire’s only nonprofit, online news outlet dedicated to reporting ethical, unbiased news and diverse opinions and columns.