I am a staunch supporter of democracy, by which I mean the principle that government should be run by people like me. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s politicians who bore me with details: which people will be affected by what law, how many it will take to enact that, or why the constitution says you can’t do some other thing. That’s all gobbledygook to an ordinary American like me. I know what’s what, and I don’t need some wonk or a bunch of newspaper reporters to tell me what is and is not happening. That’s why I’m a big fan of Corey Stapleton. He sees things the way I do: vaguely.
As Montana’s secretary of state, Stapleton is tasked with helping commerce thrive, promoting democracy and recording history for future generations. Last week, he promoted the vision of democracy we share by sending a long email from the secretary’s office to its 130,000-odd subscribers, titled, “Be careful what gets your attention.” Just from that subject line, you know you’re about to get a dose of common sense. It reminds me of my self-published book, Don’t Just Pick Any Book Off the Shelf and Flip Through It, which I expect will become a bestseller any day now. Anyway, Stapleton’s email warns the reader of a “huge problem with mainstream media in America.” To wit:
“It has diminished profitability, and as a result has increasingly begun chasing the tabloid headlines and venomous tweets of personal destruction, in an effort to survive financially. Instead of focusing on the policies and impact of leadership decisions across the political spectrum, mainstream media has become obsessed with the sideshows of personality and politically incorrect language of today.”
That makes a lot of sense. The mainstream media, which previous generations called “the media,” doesn’t make money anymore. Newspapers used to rake in billions by publishing page after page of nuanced policy analysis, but now they write about people. Where previously you would open up the paper and read 7,000 words on how a shift from the gold standard to a “free silver” approach would affect the farming sector by releasing credit and simultaneously diluting existing debts, now it’s just who said the n-word. Where once newspapers published articles, now they just run headlines — plus the venomous tweets of personal destruction, which are less ethical than the tweets of old.
“When I get an email from the secretary of state, I want it to read like a Facebook post from my uncle. That’s how I know democracy is in good hands.”
The important thing about this analysis is that it contains no examples whatsoever. Recognizing that in a robust democracy, the voter’s time is precious, Stapleton skips past the evidence phase and goes right to telling us what we already know. Take, for example, his claim that “our media is … consumed with exercising its muscle gained by increased modern surveillance of people.” He doesn’t get bogged down in explaining how the media conducts surveillance, which was previously the work of government agencies, or how it has gained all this muscle amid diminished profitability. He cuts right to the main issue: The media is bad, and also there is surveillance now. Everybody knows that.
That’s what we need in government today: not career politicians who can’t see past their specialized skills and detailed understanding of specific issues, but big-idea types who wield the same understanding as literally anyone you could pull off the street. When I get an email from the secretary of state, I want it to read like a Facebook post from my uncle. That’s how I know democracy is in good hands.
Stapleton’s warning that the media is bad now reminds me of another issue on which he was bold enough to tell us what we already knew: voter fraud. This summer, he announced that fraud had marred the special election to fill Montana’s U.S. House seat, particularly in Missoula County. He couldn’t cite any specifics, but he pointed out that just because we hadn’t seen fraud in Montana before didn’t mean it isn’t happening now, and that Missoula contains a bunch of Democrats. We all know what that means. Then, in November, he announced that he had looked into it and found that fraud wasn’t a problem after all.
Do you see what our dishonest media does to a man of integrity? As secretary of state, Stapleton came to us with a warning about the very validity of our democratic elections. Yet, in an effort to survive financially, the media shouted him down with venomous questions like, “What kind of fraud?” and “Can you name an example?” Faced with nitpicking demands that he “prove” what he said was “true,” Stapleton was forced to back down.
But such a lion of democracy can be kept at bay for only so long. Sure, he may be temporarily set back by the need to catch and eat a specific gazelle. But he knows game animals are out there, generally, and he is roaring — roaring as loud as he can.
Dan Brooks in on Twitter at @DangerBrooks.